Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Modern Cooking: 5-Minute Chocolate Cake

No, it's not a joke. Does it happen to you on a regular basis every once in a while that it's about 10ish pm and suddenly: the need for a chocolate cake. If you are in the States, you have at least the option of driving to the next grocery store and buying one. Here in Germany, by 8 pm at the latest everything shuts down, and you are all by yourself with your cravings. A few weeks back I found this too-good-to-be-true recipe on Pinterest and had to try it immediately, if only to proof that it can't work. And was I surprised that it not only worked but was also DELICIOUS! I played a little bit with the recipe to minimize the damage to the kitchen during the late-night quick-baking sessions and came up with the following goodie:

Combine in a small bowl or large cup:

5 slightly heaping tsp of flour
3 - 4 tsp of sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 slightly heaping tsp of cocoa
3 tsp vegetable oil
enough water to make a slighly but not too runny batter

microwave on high for 2 minutes and


Yes, that's it. Chocolate cake in 5 minutes or less. And the taste reminds me of my (also vegan) 3-hole Devil's Food Cake.

Enjoy your quick-cake just as is or with some whipped topping or vanilla ice cream. If you are totally bacon-crazy and a meat-eater, you could even try to sprinkle some cooked and crumbled bacon on top or to mix it in the batter (totally gross to me, but I've seen people actually doing it!!).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

25 'Till 30

Since yesterday, I am officially in my last year until the big 30. I can't believe it. Sometimes I dread it, on the other hand, I am looking forward to this new decade in my life. Since my plans at New Year were quite general, I was thinking about a list of things I would like to do or accomplish in this last year as a 20-something. While I am looking forward to quite some events happening in the next year, I did not include them in my list of 25, because they do not require any efforts on my end, except of getting my butt off the couch and go there. The two events I am most looking forward to is a friend's wedding in July; Lily and Violet are going to be her flower girls, which makes the event double-exciting! The other event is Lily starting into her pre-school year and Violet starting kindergarten in September. I can't believe how my two girls are growing up!

Back to the list: I hope this won't let me appear all too vain, but I have gotten the feeling as if I am letting myself go a little, that I have to take care of myself a little better. And I really want to create some more memories for the kids to remember. Lily keeps asking me for vacations on the beach, but I don't know if we'll be able to go this year with the house being built and all, but we'll definitely do some fun stuff this year.

Ok, here are my 25 'till 30:

 1. Build the house.
 2. Plant an apple tree with Lily.
 3. Decorate the house and create fun rooms for the girls.
 4. Get in a date with the hubby once a month.
 5. Wear nail polish for a month (without excess chipping).
 6. Find a red lipstick that fits me and actually wear it.
 7. Go swimming with the family at least twice a month.
 8. Try one new recipe per month.
 9. Organize an all-girls Indian Curry dinner.
10. Take the girls on a movie date.
11. Run a 10k.
12. Wear decent underwear (those Snoopie undies aren't even early-20s-appropriate!!).
13. Sew a dress and wear it.
14. Let my hear grow out.
15. Get in a family vacation (non-US).
16. Visit Sea Life in Munich.
17. Go to at least two big fairs this fair season.
18. Visit a theme park.
19. Get a massage.
20. Practice with the new camera.
21. Buy new running shoes.
22. Practice 30 minutes of yoga every day for at least a month.
23. Learn patience from the girls.
24. Get organized and keep it that way.
25. Learn 5 new things about myself.

Yes, that's it. I think this coming year is going to be stressful but fun and provide a new chapter for our family in our new home. I will keep you updated on the progress!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Birthday Weekend Recap

Today, I celebrated my 29th birthday. The weekend and today was everything I could ask for and more...

Got off work late; not the best start into my birthday weekend, but as I opened the door, Richard was pulling his over-yummie stuffed shells out of the oven. Strike!!  After putting the little beauties to bed, we had our friends over for Friday night gaming. I did not get killed; actually no-one did and everyone had a great time.

Baked raisin buns for breakfast and took the girls to Erlangen later to have Lily's glasses fixed and Violet's adjusted after having to get it fixed on Friday. Afterward, I took them for a hair cut. Violet got her cute bob again and I had mine cut off a bit to have the back at the same length as the bangs. Still not sure where I want to go from there. Suggestions are appreciated! After doing some grocery shopping, we headed home.Started to watch an afternoon movie with Richard while the girls napped or rested, which we later finished after the girls had gone to bed. We had a nice family dinner of fresh vegetable soup to warm up after the snowfall of the morning.

That was my surprise day!! Richard and I took the girls for a winter walk in the woods with their sled. Later, I baked the mandarin cheese cake for my parents' visit the next day and some raisin yeast bread. After Richard left for a game of Eberron with his friends, I took the girls to pick up some stuff from a friend's house, planning a quiet afternoon with a movie at home. 4 hours later I left after an awesome girls' afternoon. Lily and Violet got to play with another little girls and I enjoyed just hanging out with 3 wonderful women drinking champagne (not me since I there with my car), trying on clothes from the yard sale, chatting, and just goofing off. I did not expect this day to happen like this at all. I made new friends and can't wait for a repeat and getting to know them better. Leftover dinner after a totally giddy me arrives home just minutes before Richard. We got the girls to bed and had a fairly early night ourselves.

Yes, a three-day weekend! And mother nature gave me an awesome birthday present as well. Snow, snow, snow!! Loved it. Barely got the car out of the driveway to get Lily to kindergarten, but we made it. We decided not to drive to the store but to get the necessities in the nearby store and took off with Violet on the sled. After getting home and shoveling some snow, Violet and I enjoyed lots of cuddle time and I even got a lttle nap in. Later, I picked up Lily with the sled as well. My parents came over and took us out for lunch to a nearby 50s-style diner which we had wanted to try out for a while. The food was awesome, we'll definitely have to take our American friends there! The mandarin cheese cake for dessert at home had turned out well, not bad for a completely imporvised first! We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon at home; Lily did a jigsaw puzzle with her Oma while Richard, Opa and I played a game with Violet. Richard took off not long after my parents left for home; since he is playing 1st bassoon at the upcoming concert he couldn't skip tonight's rehearsal. So I brought the girls to bed by myself (Lily sang "Happy Birthday") and am now enjoying some SATC and recapping the weekend. I couldn't have asked for anything more and am very thankful to my wonderful husband, daughters, friends and family to make it so special for me!!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Social - This could become adictive!!

Sunday Social

I found this great networking social and have to admit, I love it! A set of questions is issued every week; remembering myself at middle or high school (yes, exactly the time I've been trying to erase from memory) has been interesting. I know quite some people who would love to be back in high school again. I, however, love where I am now and would never want to go back to a teenager. But since my 10-year high school reunion is coming up this summer, here I go down memory lane...

1. Biggest Middle school fashion mistake:
 Do you remember carrot-cut pants?? The ones which are baggy around the hips and thighs and tight at the ankle?? The ones that flatter absolutely NO body type?? If you do, imagine those in a pastel coral shade on a slightly pudgy teenager. Yes, it was horrible!!

2. Who were your best friends in hs? Pics?
Sonja, Hands down! We're still friends today and have kept in touch all those years even though for 4 years I lived an ocean and half a continent away (Germany vs. Kansas). she was the first one to come visit after I had Lily and is named the  girls' custodian in our will. Yes, that's how much I love this woman!

3. What was a typical weekend like for you in hs?
Oh dear, do I have to talk about that?? Ok, I partied. I partied hard.I spent most weekends before my 18th birthday drunk as hell with a whole bunch of Harley Davidson bikers. Afterward, you could find me mostly sober at the notorious clubs. Not necessarily too proud of that time...

4. Did you have any boyfriends/girlfriends? Tell us about that
I had two noteworthy boyfriends at the time, with whom I still (occasionally) talk today. First, we had my teenage love, Brian. We wanted to get married and were kind of unofficially engaged. He was  in the Army and 19 years old. I was 16 turning 17. Yes, it was illegal, but we were in love. A few months before I turned 18 he had to leave for the States, and our lives separated. Then, we had Martin, who I met a couple of months after Brian left at my martial arts dojo. It was awkward at first, since I was not nearly over Brian, but in the end I quite fell for him. We broke up about a year later.

5. Did you have any secret codes with your friends? Spill your secrets!
6. If you could relive one day/moment/experience from middle school or high school, what would it be?
Honestly, I am done with that time. Probably, I shouldn't have downed the bottle of vodka at the  school party and puked all over the parking lot, which was recorded for eternity in our graduation newspaper....
Looking forward to the questions next week!

Challenge 2013 - Book 2: Borderliners

I have recently written about my all-time favorite book, "Smilla's Sense of Snow" by Peter Høeg. Since I did not read this book as part of the Book Challenge 2013, I am now presenting another novel by this author. I have always wanted to read more of his books, just to find out whether "Smilla" was an ingenius incident or if Peter Høeg was just an exceptional author. At my work's employees' library I came across "Borderliners" and went for it.

The hard facts:
Title: Borderliners
Author: Peter Høeg
277 pages
Publisher: Picador (2007)
ISBN: 978-0312427115

Find it on Amazon

The Story:
Peter, an orphan and, at twelve years old, petty criminal, who has spent his childhood at different state institutions, is sent to attend Biehl's private school in Kopenhagen after an incident at his last home. There, he meets two other students, Katharina and August, who, like himself, seem not to fit into this rather expensive private school. At Biehl's, time dictates everything and all students are under constant supervision. Personal contacts are frowned upon and suppressed. Nevertheless, Peter manages to exchange letters with Katharina, who lost her parents through cancer and suicide. August, they learned, is also an orphan, who shot his abusive parents. The more they observe their environment at school and special treatment through therapists and isolation, the more they suspect an ulterior motive. Peter and Katharina are caught twice exchanging information and they are put under even closer supervision. After their third exchange has been noticed, they are separated completely and Peter is set to be sent away from school. During a desperate attempt to flee with August, who is held at the infirmary of the school and has refused to eat for weeks, August is killed by his attempt to set the school on fire. Peter is removed and loses all contact with Katharina, who most likely dies soon after. Peter manages to get adopted by extorting a letter of recommendation from Mr. Biehl, the founder and principal of the school. As an adult, he again takes up the investigation on what had happened at Biehl's private school that took the lives of two of his closest friends in life.

My opinion:
Time is the central motif in this book. I have to admit, it is much different from "Smilla", more philosophical and less story. During the first 50 pages or so I contemplated to quit and take on another book, but felt as if I had come too far to give up. And soon after, the book truly sucked me in. Not in the way "Smilla" did, but the remaining 200 pages just flew by. It offered a lot of theories to meditate on, circling around "time". I can definitely recommend this book for any book club, since it offers plenty of topics to discuss. It is definitely not meant for easy and casual entertainment.

Disclaimer: This review reflects my own opinion only. I found the book in the remains of Richard's library and was not compensated by, Scholastic, Inc., the author, or any other party. I would gladly review books sent to me. If you are interested in having me write a review for you, please refer to my Sponsorship/Disclosure-section for information.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Confessions of a Casual Gamer Girl

I consider myself a casual gamer girl. Some people will claim that I am not a gamer girl at all since I am not at all into anime or online gaming. My passion is table top role playing, my favorite hands down D&D 4th Edition.

Why I enjoy it? My life is much too often very matter-of-fact. Creativity is limited in my job, and fantasy is often not appreciated when juggling numbers in the financial services department of an international corporation. In my spare time, creativity is certainly required when playing with and entertaining two little girls. However, then there's the household to take care of and we're back to routine.

Once gaming Friday comes around, things change. I put on my cloak and go out with the guys (and sometimes girls) to save the fantasy world of D&D. I can be everything from a serene elf druid to a sassy tiefling bard, or a sneaky gnome rogue and I love it!! Together with my friends and companions I go on great adventures and fight all kinds of monsters from goblins and kobolds to spiders, zombies, and skeletons. Yes, sometimes our adversaries sound and look scary, but most of the time we're getting out alive.

A couple of sessions ago we started on a D-20 Modern campaign, leaving the fantasy world behind to fight the paranormal foes of Appalachian Maryland (as Richard, our wonderful Game Master with a new-found love for killing his players, puts it: just imagine Buffy...). I am playing Lisa McNammee, a thirty-something librarian working on her Ph.D. at the local university. Our group is an interesting bunch of people being brought together by the investigation in a number of unexplained disappearances in town and the mysterious "Slender Man": Archie, the local Army recruiter (whose partner is missing), Bob, a local private investigator, who was hired by the families of a few of the missing college kids, Tristan, the local rich kid, and May Power, a somewhat shady petty criminal who was supposed to meet a contact in town that has gone missing as well. We've already lost Max during a shoot-out with a local Southern Baptist priest, but were joined by Joseph Jessiah Miller, a local redneck hunter.

I might be writing on here every once in a while about our adventures. I hope I'm not dying this time, but am secretly looking forward to be able to revive one of my all-time favorite characters, the elf Druid Lia in our next D&D campaign!!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gaming Friday

Out today for some gaming  :-)

Imagine Lisa McNammee like that!

PS: Congrats to the Mister for acing the integration course!! Test results came back this week!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Obviously MARvelous

Here I am at my first Linky-Party, graciously hosted by Mar and Chrissy!! I haven't tried it before, but thought why not to check it out. Going to go now, grab a glass of wine and check out a bunch of other blogs!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dear Kindergarten... (Serious Rant!!)

I have a problem with Lily's kindergarten; mostly her teachers, and the state government's kindergarten education curriculum, which states that "religion is to be treated equal to other educational goals", according to the principal, an appointment to discuss our grievance a couple of weeks ago.


I have lived in the United States for four years, where, at least officially, religion is not taught in public schools. I know, that the Conservative Right has sneaked in its Christian propaganda, and it has deteriorated the public school system in the US tremendously. Seriously, no-one will take US students serious in international competition if Creationism is taught instead of true science. Introduce an OPTIONAL class on religion class and be done with it!

But back to the issue at hand: When we signed Lily up for kindergarten, we explained to the principal that we were an atheist family and inquired on to which extend Lily would be exposed to Christian propaganda. We were assured that there was "some" religion included in the curriculum, since topics like Christmas would be discussed, but that the kindergarten was very much secular (since it is being financed by the town). Only a few month later, Lily mentioned "God" for the first time. She mostly sang songs about it that she had learned in class, and Richard and I decided to ignore it. But recently, the religious indoctrination has gone way overboard. A few months back, Lily pointed at a cross, telling: "Look, Mami, that's a cross and means God's love!". We explained to her that a cross was just a cross and that God was a fairy tale, like Snow White, even though some people consider it real.

Several weeks back, Lily jumped into my bed in the morning, exclaiming: "Mami, Jesus lives in my heart!!". That was a shock in early morning! Again, we explained to her that the Jesus she's being told in kindergarten about is a fairy tale, and that she held the people she loved in her heart.

Today, driving home from Lily's swim class, we were talking about JJ, her Grandma Cat's little dog who had died last summer. She asked me: "Mami, did JJ die on a cross??" I asked her why she thought that; she answered: "Well, Jesus died on a cross, so I thought everyone's dying on a cross".

Folks, who thinks that it is a good idea to tell little kids stories like that?? I am pee'd off beyond what I can express here. And the difficult thing is, that we don't really have a choice putting her in a different kindergarten. It's the only one in town, and all her friends are going there. We have thought about sending her to the Montessori a couple of towns away, but she had such a hard time finding her place the first time, and we decided to move and settle down for good in Germany in order to provide stability for the girls. Once she goes to elementary school, she had to make a completely new set of friends again, and Lily needs stability so much.

So we'll just have to grin and bear it; another 18 months until she goes to first grade and will be in ethics class while the sheep can go and listen to some more Christian indoctrination, brought to you by Bavarian State Government!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Weekend Recap

It's Monday already, first day of this week completed again and one day closer to the next weekend (which will be a 3-day!!)

In the morning, I had a nice mother-daughter breakfast with the girls. Hot chocolate for them and cappuccino for me. I had treated myself to some goodness from my second home (i.e. Seattle) and gotten a pack of Starbucks espresso, so instead of the usual espresso, I had a taste of home early Saturday morning. I got the girls ready and dressed and took off to IKEA. I had broken a wine glass a couple of weeks back which needed replacement and Lily still had her birthday coupon. We arrived shortly after the restaurant opened, and boy, there was a crowd!! But we got our breakfast and even found a table to eat it!! The girls had fun at the Smalland while I browsed the store buying some spring deco and checked out potential desks for Lily. Picked up the girls around 11:30 and headed back home. We had lunch an planned a quiet day at home when I got a phone call from a friend who asked us to babysit her two daughters for a few hours. Well, here went the quiet afternoon to relax before the D20 Modern game at night; instead, fun mayhem at the Powell house!  Around 7:30, after my friend had picked up her girls and ours were getting their baths, stories, and good-night kisses, our friends arrived for the game. Richard has a really good story going; I have to admit, I expected nightmares because I'm a wimp. Only one member of the group died (which is good, given Richard's history of TPKs).

Since Saturday was a late night for us, we allowed ourselves to sleep in after Richard made breakfast for the girls and plugged in a movie. The girls went back and forth between playing and cuddling with me, which I really enjoy. I got up late and prepared breakfast for me / second breakfast for the girls. Richard got up about an hour later and had to get ready for another game he had set up with friends, so it was an all-girls day for us. I baked some raising bread and got some work done in the afternoon. After having a snack, Lily wanted to do some crafting, so I showed her how to make little pom-poms with a fork (for a caterpillar) while Violet drew a picture. Lily later wrote me a very cute letter; the text changes a little each time she reads it to me, but it's still mega-cute!! I cooked some pasta with zucchini cream sauce for dinner. Afterward, we played until bath time. Once the girls were safely deposited in their beds, I plugged in a movie I had rented from my work's employees' library and got some laundry done.

Sunday breakfast: Violet's Nutella face

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Living With "The H" - My Personal Experience With Hashimoto's Thyroiditis

I heard the diganosis "Hashimoto's Thyroidits", or "The H" as I call it about 10 months ago. I was feeling the effects of the hypothyroidism again that was diagnosed around the time I became pregnant for the first time. I asked my GYN at a routine check-up for medications and she sent me to see an endokrinologist for the first time in my life.

Already as a small child I remember having issues with my thyroid gland. At this point, it was enlarged - in hindsight probably the early stages of Hashimoto's, when the antibodies start attacking the thyroid gland and it reacts with inflammation and swelling. Since I am from Bavaria, where a nutritional lack of iodine traditionally causes goiters, I was put on an iodine supplement and the family doctor continiued to check the enlargement, until it was gone by the time I was a young teenager. Now, I know that the iodine supplement was probably the worst they could have done supporting the progress of Hashimoto's.

From then on, nothing obvious happened for a long time. I had phases of extreme fatigue and suffered from sometimes serious mental depression, for which at some time I took medications, but no-one thought about the thyroid glands.

When I was 23 and tried to get pregnant, I mentioned the thyroid issues in the past, which run in our family, for the first time to a doctor. I had come to see him mainly for my continuous fatigue, depression, and what I feared the inability to conceive. He sent me away with a prescription for Zoloft and a follow-up visit in two weeks. At home, I researched the effects of the medication, which was, among others, increased risk for early miscarriages, stillbirths, low birth weight and disabilities in the baby. At this point I refused to take the medication and went back to my scheduled appointment with my CPC at the Army hospital. He became quite mad at me, but still I could convince him to order a blood test to check my thyroid levels, if only to proof to me that I was a complete nut-case. Unexpected for him, the levels came back low; and for a reason I still don't know, he ordered a test that is usually given for hyper-thyroidism and would have left me unable to become pregnant for at least 6 more months. I was devastated, but unable to receive help from anywhere else. I was about to schedule the appointment when I surprisingly had a positive pregnancy test. The beta test at the hospital was positive too, and they also checked my thyroid levels again. A couple of days later I received a call at work to come to the hospital immediately. I was scared as I had no idea what was wrong. Obviously, the thyroid levels were dangerously low and I was put on 150 units of syntheroid immediately. The doctor I saw this day told me that he couldn't explain how I could have gotten pregnant with these levels to begin with and didn't give me much hope for a healthy pregnancy and/or child. Still, we welcomed a healthy baby girl 8 months later.

I took my medication until my husband left the Army. I was feeling well for about a year when the fatigue and depression returned. I had an appointment with the GYN and she ordered blood tests and put me back on medication, 50 units this time. This was again around the time I became pregnant the second time. This time, I also had a healthy pregnancy and baby girl.

Again, we moved and I got off the medication. And once again, during a well-woman check-up I asked my GYN (this time in Germany)for a blood test and medication. She looked at me funny and wrote a referral to the endokrinologist. There, I also asked for a blood test and medication, telling the doctor about my experiences in the US. She couldn't believe it! She asked me a whole list of questions, mainly regarding my medical history and prformed an ultra-sound. That's when I first heard the diagnosis Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. At this point, my anti-bodies had widdled down on my thyroid glands which are about half the size of normal ones and black on the ultrasound, which means the tissue is very dense. She put me back on medication after a blood test, 50 units again.

For the past 10 months I've been doing well. I will have to go back once a year for an ultra-sound to check for tumors. Ten months ago, I was luckily tumor-free. Once I have tumors, the thyroid gland will have to be removed to prevent thyroid cancer.

It is sometime scary to think that I live with a ticking time bomb in my body. The medication will have to be adjusted should we try to conceive another baby and again during pregnancy, which makes me feel dependent. Physically, I feel well. Most of the time I am fit; mostly physical depressions, however, return periodically.

Once I've received the diagnosis, I have read a lot about the disease and accounts by other "Hashis". I consider myself lucky that the symptoms are mild and I respond well to the medication. But still, the knowledge of what might be ahead remains, and I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

But What If I WANT To Be Home??

The other day I came across this post on Blogher. While I do not think that separation from the mom will cause permanent damage in the little ones as long as they are with another primary caregiver (such as the dad, grandma, etc.). Seriously, which mother who really loves her child and wants the best for her/him would leave their newborn with just someone their child does have no bond with? I openly say that I have gone out without the little ones for the first time when they were 6 weeks old. It was not planned, but each time, the hubby kicked me out to watch a movie with a good friend of mine while he bonded with the baby. Let me tell you, I am completely sure that they didn't take any damage from that separation.

Recently, however, Richard keeps pushing me to go out and take some "me"-time on the weekends, just to relax and get a break. I know, he means well. And there are days, where the girls, especially violet, seem to suffocate me. But even on days like that, I still don't just want to go out.

I think, that this post has really made it clear to me: even though Richard means well and only wants my best, I don't WANT to go out. I don't WANT the "me"-time he offers. I work during the week and usually use my lunch break to go shopping or run errands. The girls have a pretty steady bed-time at 8 pm, which I suppose leaves me with plenty of "me"-time, even though sometimes it still doesn't give me the time to get everything done. But on those weekends, even the ones where Violet won't even let me go to the bathroom by myself and follows me around every waking step, I do not want to go out. That is the "me"-time with the girls; this is where I get to cuddle them, read to them, and watch them play. And even if they annoy me to the bones on those days, or I just haven't gotten enough sleep and am very cranky, I don't want to be without them.

I agree that completely overwhelmed moms, who are only on edge and close to falling off the wrong side, are not help to their children and SHOULD take a time-out if they want to. I cannot call myself a true attachment parent; I practice some things, but not all. However, this is my choice, and for me it is the right one. I WANT to be home with them!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Recap - Valentine's Day 2013

Richard and I hate Valentine's Day with a passion; mostly, we consider it a Hallmark Holiday solely aimed at selling stuff and making money. So, we're all against the commerce part and all for the romance, we rather enjoy the day as a celebration to love as a family and as a couple.

A couple of days before, I told Richard not to worry about dinner that day and that I would take care of it (since I am coming home from work around 5:15, I'm a lucky girl to have the hubby, who mostly takes care of dinner during the week). So for this day, I had some special plans:

Dinner consisted of:

Home-made pizza in heart shape
Caprese Salad for Richard and me
Chocolate mousse with a cherry topping

When I came home, I went to prepare dinner while the girls watched and snuck some snacks from me. Richard and I ate the Caprese while the girls enjoyed their pizza. Darn, those little ones were excited!

After dinner, we played, listened to music and cuddled on the couch until it was bath time. Richard and I showered the girls and got them ready for bed. Richard read the good-night story to Violet while I read to Lily and cuddled her to sleep. Afterwards, we had a nice little date night at home with a candle-light dinner, champagne, and a movie. Luckily, LoveFilm delivered "Dark Shadows" just in time.
Two pizza heats for two wonderful girls

The girls' dinner

Our dinner

For us, it was a perfect, non-commercial V-Day!

Adventures of the Playmobil Fun Park

Last week I took the girls for a fun outing to the Playmobil Fun Park, which happens to be just over 30 minutes away from our home. After lunch and changing from the carnival costume to civilian clothes (Lily), the three of us headed out.

Usually, most of the Playmobil Fun Park is outside; now, in the winter, the outside is closed, but for a very low charge, the play are and climbing park is open for lots of fun. I loved that for just €2,50 each for me and Lily (Violet's under 3 and therefore free), the girls could play at the different Playmobil worlds the entire afternoon and no pick-up afterward. We had a little indoor picknick, and off they went again. Besides Violet's little brawl with a bunch of older boys, we really had a great day. It was so much fun I literally had to drag Lily out of there, that's how much she loved it. I can't wait to go back in summer and enjoy the outside park as well!

Lily playing at the Dinosaur World
Violet playing with the princess castle
Lily by chance met a friend from kindergarten...

That's a BIG Playmobil figure

Violet seems not to mind being over-towered

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My New Scar - A Story In 4 Pictures

 Remember three weeks ago, when I took a quick trip to the ER? Well, I'd like to share the outcome...

Day 1: Just got home from the hospital.

Day 7: Splint gone, butterfly stitches still on...

Day 9: Butterfly stitches and bandage gone; wound glue still on.
Three weeks later: healing pretty good I guess; area around the wound still numb. Hope the nerves will re-connect!

Cheers,   Stephanie

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lily's Pain

Our little girl has been different these past weeks; she's not been her usual bubbly, excited, smiley self. She's been on the edge of tears a lot, moody, threw near-epic tantrums. Richard and I first thought that this was only a phase that would pass soon and tried to work through it with her. Then, she started to withdraw. She would spend afternoons in her room not allowing anyone in. She would sleep at the oddest times and it took us quite some convincing so she would at least leave her room to have dinner with the family. She refused to go to her beloved swim class. She didn't sleep well at night. I started to really get worried about her; I missed my little girl as she spent more and more time in the lonely space she had created for herself.

At this point, I started to talk to her about what might be amiss. I tried to sit down with her to find out what troubled her. I wouldn't accept her "I don't know any more" as an answer when I asked her about her day in kindergarten. So she told me about who she had played with that day. Last week, when she was doing not well at all, I put her on my lap and cuddled her; suddenly, she finally lifted her head, looked me in the eye and told me that older kids in kindergarten were harassing her. This hit me like a sledge hammer. Lily has always been quite a popular kid in kindergarten with many friends. She still has many friends, sometimes too many for us to handle when it comes to play dates, birthday invites, etc. So I am wondering who these kids were. I wonder how they could single Lily out from all her friends. I tried to help Lily understand that she must stand up for herself, to confront the kids who were mean to her. Sometimes, a "why are you doing this to me?" can be more effective than ignoring.

I talked to Richard about it and we went to her kindergarten to talk to the teachers, who claim not to have noticed anything. We will keep our eyes open and try our best to help Lily through this painful time. It hurts me beyond words that our poor little girl has to go through the same crap Richard and I had to go through as kids and therefore do our best to empower her to rise above her tormentors.

What is your opinion on bullying in kindergarten? Are you getting involved? Are you talking to parents, teachers, and/or administrators? What are your experiencing handling bullying at such a young age?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book Challenge 2013: Smilla's Sense Of Snow

I am not counting this book for the "One Book A Month"-challenge for a couple of reason: First, I can barely make it through a winter season without reading this book. I've read it the first time when I was 14 or 15, and it has sucked me right in. One year, I believe it was 10th or 11th grade I managed to get this book on the reading-list for German class, to the dislike of my class-mates. Ok, I will not go into further detail but continue to present my favorite book:

The hard facts:

Title: Smilla's Sense Of Now
Author: Peter Høeg
512 pages
Publisher: Picador (2012)
ISBN: 978-1250002556

Find it on Amazon

The Story:

Jesaja, a little Inuit boy falls down a warehouse building; his motherly friend Smilla doesn’t believe in an accident and starts investigating on her own. She teams up with another of Jesaja’s adult friends, the “Mechanic” Peter Foejl. The deeper Smilla digs, the less sense everything makes: why is the Cryolite Company of Denmark paying a pension to Jesaja’s widow mother? Under which circumstances did his father die during an expedition to Greenland to explore cryolite mines? Why was Jesaja picked up for medical exams every month? How are the Inuit linguist Andreas Fine Licht, the physicians Johannes Loyen and Toerk Hvid, and a decoder named Katja Claussen involved in Jesaja’s death? After being threatened with prison and nearly arrested, Smilla escapes and manages to sign on the Kronos, an icebreaker bound for an unknown mission to Greenland. There, Smilla faces a hostile crew and more secrets on the boat deck. When the ship stops at an oil rig platform to re-fuel and Smilla tries to escape the ship, a fourth passenger enters the Kronos: the Mechanic. Returning on board, Smilla sneaks on the boat deck and learns about the Kronos’ destination: the barren Island Gela Alta. There, the Mechanic discovers her and arranges for her detainment for her own safety the next day. However, Smilla escapes and learns about the true mission of the passengers on board, among them Toerk Hvid and Katja Claussen: a third exploration to the Gela Alta glacier, which contains a mysterious meteoroid; two previous expeditions had been unsuccessful due to lethal accidents during the survey of the glacier and the cavern containing the meteoroid. The puzzle pieces finally fall into place as Smilla tries to prevent the recovery of the rock.
My opinion:
Sorry, I just can’t get myself to reveal the grand finale. As mentioned above, this book is my absolute favorite! Usually, I don’t read books more than once, but this one I have read more often than I remember; in English, in German, I would even like to learn Danish just to read this book in its original version. More often than not, “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” is on my reading list for long, cold winter days and nights; I believe I couldn’t read it during the summer since the cold outside just increases the mood in the book. Peter Høeg just manages to draw you in; while oftentimes, I read books by merely scanning the pages, I have to truly read “Smilla” carefully in order to not be lost in the detail. But still, this book does not contain any boring sections or holes in the story line but increases the suspense by each page, ending it in a bang after some 500+ pages that pass way too fast.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Violet Standing Up For Herself

Today, I enjoyed a very housewifely day with the girls. I am alone with the girls more often, for example when Richard has all-day orchestra practice or is out for a game. Today was different, because it was a weekday with a normal routine for the girls. Getting up early, breakfast for the girls, brushing teeth, washing faces, getting dressed and off to kindergarten for Lily. After dropping Lily off I went grocery shopping with Violet and had breakfast just the two of us. I cleaned the dishes while Violet "washed" her play kitchen dishes in her little sink. I did some more cleaning while she took a nap and already it was time to pick up Lily again. The three of us had lunch and then, as a surprise for the girls, we headed out for a fun afternoon at Playmobil Fun Park. Folks, I can tell you, it WAS fun! The girls got to play with all the expensive Playmobil toys and I could sit back and watch them playing because I knew someone else would have to pick up after them (which is a BIG plus, as this topic often causes arguments at bed time).

As the girls were playing, I was sitting at a table with the parents of Lily's friend talking about the usual stuff when I noticed that Violet had gotten in an argument with a much older boy in the Dinosaur Pit that started to get physical. As he pushed her away just a little, she went at him flaying her arms at him. I intervened as he pushed her back hard so she fell. I explained to her and the boy that the toys were for everyone to play with and since there were several sets of everything, there was no need to fight over one toy. Violet went to another area of the Dinosaur Pit and continued playing. I went back to our table, keeping an eye on her. And just a few minutes later, an even older boy pushed her back hard and she fell again. Mommies started to arrive from different areas to find out what happened. Obviously, there was an argument because the boys had hogged all the toys and Violet tried to get some back to play with. When they didn't give her any, she just tried to take them; that is when the boy pushed her. His mom made him apologize and he had to leave for a time-out.

I wonder, when has it become ok for a elementary-school kid to bully a 2-year old girl? I am really glad that she had the chance to stand up for herself and assert herself against the boys, but seriously, the situation should not even have happened! In Lily's kindergarten was a PTA meeting the other day where they introduce a model that's re-emerging, namely separating the age groups. Right now, there are kids from 3 years until they enter school (usually at 6 years old). The older kids learn to be considerate of the smaller ones and help them out while the younger ones can learn a lot from the older kids and also assert themselves. Situations as described above are bound to happen more often, especially if the older ones are taught that the little ones only hold them back and prevent them from doing the really "fun stuff". I, for once, support mixed-age kindergarten groups!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Writings From The Ditch

I am suffering from an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which I like to call “The H”. One of the more common side effects of this lovely condition is depression. While my emotional depressions are usually well under control with the medications I receive, the physical depressions still hit in waves on and off. Right now, I am in the middle of one of them, and it hurts. It is difficult to get up in the morning; all my joints hurt. The light hurts my eyes; it takes almost all my efforts to lift the tooth brush to brush my teeth. It takes about 30 minutes until I am getting somewhat in gear, when the pain subsides and manifests itself as a dull presents in my lower back and knees. That is, when I start feeling the heaviness,  as if I had gained a hundred pounds over night. It’s pressing on my shoulders and slows my steps. I feel aged and tired; I cannot concentrate on my work; sometimes I just stare into nothing for I don’t know how long. I cannot get up to play with the girls. There are moments when I can pull myself together and push through it, but I’m definitely paying for it waking up the next morning, feeling as if I had not rested for a second but rather ran a marathon.

Physical depression usually hits me for a week or so every two or three months. So actually, I am doing much, much better than many others living with “The H”; most of the time I feel pretty normal - besides taking the meds - but every few months I am disappearing for several days, which is annoying for me, and probably difficult to deal with for many people around me. But no matter what, I have plans for this Friday and Saturday, and holing myself up in makeshift cave under my comforter. Since I’m off tomorrow and it will be the girls and me sans Richard for most of the day, who is taking his Immigration Test *finger crossing*, I might just follow through on my promise and take them on a movie date, or take them on another fun activity.

Over and over again, I need to tell myself that I am stronger than that. Depression will not dictate my life, neither my emotions nor my body. I will not look back and see dark pits in my lifeline, but a life that is full of fun and lots of love.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lily's Birth Story - Part 4

The last three days I wrote about the days leading up to our personal D-day, the day we would finally welcome our little baby into this world. At this point, I had been in labor since Thursday morning around 1:30 am and now, it was

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I had called the nurses at the delivery ward at IACH in Ft. Riley 3 times, and each time the refused to let me come in, telling me I wasn't even close yet. We've been timing contractions since about 9 pm Friday evening, and I did my best to deal with the contractions just allowing my body and nature take over. Around 2 am I asked Richard to call in again, because I was sick of them telling me to sit down and relax. I had the suspicion that they would not let me come in as long as I was able to call them by myself, and, what a surprise, when Richard called in, they asked him to take me to the hospital. We packed the final things for our bag, grabbed the rent check which we still needed to take to the office and headed out for the hospital. Richard had to stop twice during the 25-minute drive for me to move around during a contraction. When we finally arrived I walked up to the delivery ward (you will never see me being wheeled around in a wheel chair!!), where they put me on the scales, took my blood pressure and whisked me in one of the exam rooms while Richard finished the paperwork. The midwife on duty came in and checked me for dilation; luckily, I was at 5cm at this point and admitted. When she asked me to get up to be taken to the delivery suite, I saw all the blood on her gloves and on my legs; I was shocked, but the midwife assured me that everything was fine. Richard and I settled in our room that we entered as a two-some and would leave as a family of three. I tried to read, bounced on the birthing ball, and just tried to get my mind off the painful contractions. I was planning a natural birth, so I did not request an epidural at this point. The night nurse stopped by a couple of times, rubbed my back and smuggled in some orange juice. I was not allowed anything but ice chips but started to shake from low blood sugar levels since I had not eaten since dinner, and then only a little bit of mixed vegetables.

The midwife and my OB also came to check; around 7 am the midwife decided to break my water to speed up progress. I also got my second IV since the first one had clogged. When another hour and a half later I had only progressed to 7 cm, the OB ordered me to be hooked up to pitocin to speed up the delivery. Then he popped the "P"-word, I responded with my "E"-word and asked for an epidural. About 30 minutes later the anesthesiologist arrived and administered  the tube in my spine. The meds started to flow in my back and my veins, and the pain was gone. I was at the end of my strength and fell asleep. I remember the nurses coming in every once in a while to adjusted the baby monitor that was strapped around my belly. At some point, a new nurse showed up and checked me for progress. I was still more or less asleep when she finally became nervous and called for the OB to come immediately because I had unconsciously started to birth my baby; her head was almost out of my uterus. A leisurely 20 minutes later the OB appeared, exclaiming an "oh gosh, the head is REALLY on the way out!!" and prepared everything for the birth. I asked the nurses to switch off the epidural since I wanted to feel the birth but I was told that it was too late for that. They had pumped me so full of medication that I didn't feel a single contraction or the urge to push.

The nurse coached me when to push and when to stop based on the labor monitor, and only 2 pushes in I heard a loud and protesting cry. It took me 2 more pushes to bring our baby into this world. They told me it was a girl.. "We have a daughter", I told Richard, who had been holding my hand all this time. A daughter we had.. and she was so angry. She had all the right to be; my stubbornness had caused an extended prodromal labor and unnecessary stress on her. We tried to nurse, but she would not stop crying. At some point they took her away from me to bathe her and administered the usual Vitamin K-shot and eye ointment.

They put her under the infra-red warmer. She finally calmed down, and I felt so helpless. There she was, my little baby, our daughter, my love.. This little, skinny baby, who carried a piece of my heart inside her. From this point on, all I wanted was to do better, to give her everything she deserved and more. To show her the love I felt for her.

Five years have passed since this day, and still I cry as I write these words. I regret the way she entered this world, but there is nothing I can do to change it. She is now a wonderful, little girl, whose smile brightens the world. She's sassy, independent, and clever... oh dear, does she amaze us sometimes. I am still working on my promise I gave her 5 years ago. When I cuddled her to sleep tonight, holding her in my arms and feeling her peaceful breathing, I know that I have made up for our struggles back then. I love you, Lily, my life!!

Welcome, my Love!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Lily's Birth Story - Part 3

After the midwife’s ominous prediction on Wednesday and my first full day of labor, I started wide awake in day two of my journey giving birth to our first daughter.

Friday, February 1, 2008
Stubborn girl is happy, I’m definitely going to have my February baby!!! However, right now I’m not having a good time. I am pacing the apartment, feeling the contractions on my belly. I cannot read, I cannot watch TV, Richard it getting some rest. I am alone with myself, our baby, and the contractions. Around 2 am I realize that it’s around 9 am in Germany guess I might just as well call my mom to pass some time. She’s home and has some time to talk. I’m telling her about the contractions, which are quite regular at that point. I don’t have real breaks any more, just the 5-10 minutes, if that, in between the contractions. She dismisses the contractions as mere Braxton-Hicks and tells me that I could easily go another 2 weeks like that. At this point I tell myself that I will walk into the hospital by Monday demanding a C-section should baby not have made an appearance by then or the contraction have slowed. At the same time, I am disappointed in my mother that yet again my ability to bear and deal with pain is completely dismissed since she assures me that once the “real” contractions hit, I will know and wish for these “easy Braxton-Hicks” to return. After talking to my mom for a few hours I finally feel the contraction slow down a bit around 6:30 am. My mom needs to run a quick errand but promises to call back in half an hour or so. I try to go to bed and actually manage to fall asleep until the phone wakes me again 30 minutes later. Richard tells my mom that I am currently resting, but at that point, contractions keep me from sleeping again. Stubborn girl has also woken up again and so I call into work that I would be a little late, take a shower, get dressed and head out.
My colleagues seriously cannot believe that I am actually back in the office, but I simply don’t want to be home. Richard keeps calling me throughout the morning to make sure I’m dealing. At some time I ask him for some chocolate cake that I suddenly crave, and around 1:30 my awesome husband shows up at my work with a huge piece of still-warm chocolate cake; I think I almost cried…  Seeing me hanging in there he urged me to go home to rest; I told him that I still had to finish up some stuff and that I would come home afterward. He gave me until 2:30 pm before he would come again and carry me home if he needed to. So I finished up the last files and headed home on maternity leave.
At dinner, I barely ate because the contractions were getting so painful I was afraid I would throw up if I ate. In the afternoon I had called at the hospital for the first time, but the nurses at the OB/GYN ward at Irvin Army Community Hospital (IACH) told me that I was not ready yet and to stay home. After dinner I tried to participate in a lecture but had to quit after only 20 minutes since I could not bear to sit on the chair at the computer any longer. I kept pacing the apartment, calling the hospital again but only received the same response. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom feeling a lot of downward pressure. I was really tired at that point, but knew that there was no sleep ahead of me. Around 9 pm we started really timing the contractions. From the start of one contractions until the start of the next was sometimes only 4 minutes, sometimes up to 8. I called the hospital again around 11 pm, but was still told to stay home because I was not ready yet.
I ended this day pacing the apartment, squatting, trying to breathe through the contractions and starting to pack my bag for the hospital. Yes, I am a just-in-time kinda girl! Richard kept timing, and we both were seriously getting annoyed with the medical staff at IACH.
Read tomorrow the last part of our journey to finally become a family of three...