Friday, February 25, 2011

Foreigner Friday: Coyotes and Armadillos and Alligators, Oh My!

When I first moved to the States, I became fascinated by the wildlife here. It is fabulous, but also sometimes a little scary. Not only is the climate very different, the entire flora and fauna are still a total mystery to me. There are so many plants and animals here that I have never seen before.
Living in SC, we have pretty much everything that creeps and crawls- nasty insects, huge spiders (I have a bad case of arachnophobia), venomous snakes, weird looking mega rats that are called Opossums with a silent ‘O’, etc. They are not just hidden away and you have a vague idea of their existence. They are everywhere you go. I remember finding the skin of a rattlesnake in our mailbox one morning- I have since learned never to stick my hand into anywhere without looking first...
I went for a walk in a nearby state park with my dog. The further I got from the main path, the scarier and more unfamiliar it got. I felt like I was an explorer, making my way across undiscovered terrain. I sometimes wonder how it must have been for the settlers from Europe to arrive here and be confronted with all of these strange creatures. Can you imagine seeing an armadillo for the first time, not knowing of its existence? It must have been very scary.
Wildlife in Europe has become almost extinct. Some species are recovering from their near eradication, others are gone for good. I suppose that’s the price you pay for very dense population. So any time you saw anything remotely wild in Germany, it was a very big deal and extremely exciting. I remember coming across a small snake in the woods (non-venomous, of course; there is only one venomous snake native to Germany and its venom only causes slight discomfort…) and having a huge gathering of people around it, thrilled to find something so fascinating on their walk.
In South Carolina, people aren’t that excited about finding wildlife. I sometimes tell people in a thrilled voice about the coyotes and alligators that can be found in the reserve just down the road. They are usually confused by my enthusiasm. I think it’s fabulous! I can’t wait to show my parents when they come in the spring.
The US has so many beautiful spots. Americans are very lucky to have so much room and so many different climates. Your country is so vast that you can literally find any type of living environment you could wish for. My wish is that people will start to understand how lucky they are to have such an amazingly spectacular country to live in and that they will appreciate all the wildlife in it, protecting it from any harm. I hope we can preserve this natural beauty for all the generations to come!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Feelings of Inadequacy

Some days I feel fine. I don’t think about my self-worth much and just go about my business. But some days I feel like I am not good enough. This happens quite a lot, actually.
My house never seems clean enough. The colors on the wall aren’t main-stream enough. I am too fat. I don’t read enough. I don’t cook as well as I want to. I don’t know how to sew or knit. I look like I’m a teenager and no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself look older. I am not nice enough. My clothes aren’t what I want them to be, but I’m waiting until the baby weight is gone. My hair just hangs. I’m no good at doing my daughter's hair. I watch too much television. My writing is mediocre. I wish I knew where my place was in this world. My skin is not very nice. I suck at applying make-up. I’m not always nice to my husband. I yell at my daughter and my dogs too much. I don’t spend enough time taking care of my animals’ needs. My windows haven’t been cleaned in a year. …
I could go on forever. In my head, I usually do. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and cannot fall asleep because I’m thinking about all the things that I am not good enough at. When I used to sing more, I always felt as though it was never as good as it could be.
Then one day, quite recently, a friend of mine said so many nice things about me, admiring certain things that I do. I was really confused. She was admiring the same things about me that I envied about her. I started to realize that I wasn’t the only one feeling inadequate, there are a lot of people (my guess is that it is mostly women) who think they are not good enough.
To all of you ladies: You are all wonderful! There is something beautiful about each and every one of you! I can promise you that there is at least one quality that you have that is admired by another person. You are worth just as much as every other human being on this planet. Just think about something you’re good at and be proud of yourself. Life is too short to think about the levels of perfection that we have not reached.
I for one am not proud of too many things. That does not mean that I will stop doing the other things. E.g. even though my writing isn’t as good as I would like it to be, it is good for now. I am practicing and I will get better. I guess it is good not to feel too confident and arrogant about ourselves, but we shouldn’t be too hard, either. I am hopefully always going to keep working on myself- there is a lot that still needs improvement…

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recipe Tuesday: Pork Tenderloin à la Crème

Sorry for the poor picture quality- both kids were screaming...

I am not a big fan of pork. However, I decided that I could no longer deprive my poor husband of eating pig. I found a delicious recipe that I hope you will enjoy. I have to admit that I loved it and ate two big plates full. It is, as always, Gluten free and relatively simple to make.


1 whole pork loin, if possible without added ingredients, fresh from the butcher
4 shallots, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4oz bacon, cut into small squares
6-8oz mushrooms, sliced
2 cups cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dry red wine

·         Cut the tenderloin into medallions. Add salt and pepper on both sides. Preheat oven to 200°F.
·         In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil at medium-high heat until sizzling. Brown the medallions well on both sides. Remove them from the skillet and put them in the preheated oven.
·         Sautee the shallots, garlic, mushrooms, and bacon in the skillet until the mushrooms are tender.
·         Add the wine, then the cream. Let it reduce for about 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.
·         Put the tenderloins back into the skillet (also pour in any juices that have accumulated in the oven), reduce the heat, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

This is a German recipe, so the traditional side dishes are Spätzle or potato dumplings (Knödel), which are not widely available in the US. We served the tenderloin with mashed potatoes and green beans.  I hope you enjoy!

Recipe translated and adapted from

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Want 'Made in the USA'!

Almost every product you can purchase is made in China. And quite frankly, I am sick of it. Here’s why.
I never thought too much about where and how products were manufactured until I had children. Suddenly I had a very critical eye on everything before buying it for my daughter. The more I tried to avoid purchasing things that were made in China, the more frustrated I became. It’s not just clothing and toys I’m referring to, it is literally everything from food to furniture to American flags. As a challenge, go to your local Walmart and see how many items you can find that were made in the USA…
The last straw for me was when I was looking around for a Gluten free food for my baby to eat. I found a packet of Baby Mum Mums and got super excited. Not only did they seem to be Gluten free, they were also organic. I started reading through the ingredients when something caught my eye- Made in China. I couldn’t quite believe it. I stopped feeding my dogs chicken treats made in China because their stomachs got upset. I was most certainly not going to buy food for my baby that was produced thousands of miles away!
The other day I was grocery shopping with my sister-in-law. She needed to buy garlic salt and I read over the ingredients to make sure it didn’t contain any Gluten. Again, my eye catches the little inscription Made in China. On McCormick garlic salt. Really???
To my friends in China: I have nothing against China as a country. I just don’t see why products that are consumed in the US cannot also be produced in the US. It is not only a matter of quality control issues, but also one of principle.
There are several aspects that I do not comprehend. The first being that the US is anti Communism, yet they are willing to let everything they use on a daily basis be produced by a country that claims to be communist. China couldn’t be further from being communist- it is a nasty dictatorship and has absolutely nothing to do with Communism, but that’s beside the point. On principle, America should not want to give them their business.
The second issue I have is that of human rights. China treats its citizens very poorly and should not be rewarded for this. US companies should not be allowed to participate in the exploitation of the Chinese worker, just to save money.
The third issue is that of the economy. We hear people all day long complaining about the state of the economy and the high unemployment rate. How can this be a mystery to anyone if every job is outsourced to other countries? If nothing we buy is made here, there will not be enough jobs. It’s a simple equation.
The fourth problem I see with this state of globalized outsourcing is one of power. Let’s just assume China got very upset with the US for whatever reason. If they stopped all exports, what would we do? Somehow we have allowed China to gain a very large portion of power over the US- that is extremely scary to me and definitely not worth it.
The fifth and last issue is one of quality control. I am not saying that China isn’t a place that is capable of producing trustworthy products. I just think that if I were a factory worker getting paid a minimal wage to work hours upon hours manufacturing things that nobody in my country is ever going to use, I wouldn’t care one bit about the quality of the product…
Maybe we can all start actively looking for products that have been made in the US. Let’s support the companies that are brave enough to keep the jobs in this country. E.g. check out this website that lists toy manufacturers who produce in the USA We as consumers have the power to make it worth it for companies to produce locally again. Let’s put an end to all the recalls and toxins in our kids’ environment. I want ‘Made in the USA’ to be the new norm!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Foreigner Friday: You've Got A Fast Car

Americans love their cars. And they spend so much more time in them than people in Europe. A lot of my friends back home don’t even own cars- they just use public transportation. The US is so vast that a good network of public transportation is not realistic. Big cities like New York have great subways and busses, but when you get to Columbia, SC you really do need a car if you want to get out of the house.
Cars are so much bigger here. It seems that as soon as you have kids you MUST own a van or an SUV. My husband convinced me to get one, too, but I would never have chosen to own one. They are practical, of course. They are just so awful for the environment. Now that I have my second child, I am very glad my husband convinced me to buy the bigger vehicle. These kids need so much stuff that we have a hard time fitting everything into our SUV…
I gave my husband the whole speech: “When I was a child, we just had a very small car and all five of us fit in it. We didn’t even have air conditioning! And this is how we drove the 14 hours to France for our vacation. Children nowadays are so spoiled!”, etc. (And then we walked to school in the snow without shoes on, uphill both ways…) Then I remembered that sitting in the back seat, cramped in with my two annoying brothers while sweating my behind off was really no fun. I’d be willing to bet that those trips were no fun for my parents, either. This is why I agreed to buy a bigger car.
My husband is a car lover. At the moment, we have four cars at our house, two of them old VW Beetles he is working on. So one day he decided that he would really love to own a sporty fast car. We talked about it for a long time and I was not happy about the idea. What wooed me was when he said: “I promise, it’s the last thing I’ll ever want!” with a puppy dog look on his face. So, even though I knew that that wasn’t true, I agreed.

He purchased this beautiful 2008 VW R32. Looks like a regular Golf, but will take your socks right off when you drive it. It is beautiful, I love it! I wish I could be the one who drives it every day. (For those of you who do not know me well, I take great pleasure in driving fast)
Here’s what I don’t get: Why do you need a fast car in SC where the maximum speed you are legally allowed to reach on the Highway is 70mph (for my European friends, that is an extremely slow 110kmh)? There are so many people who are driving these beautiful sporty cars with real muscle that can accelerate at tremendous speeds, only to reach their climax at 70. In my opinion, that is a total waste. 
In my defense, I’m used to the beautiful German Autobahn, on which in a lot of places you can go whatever speed you feel is safe. Late at night when there is nobody else on the road, a safe speed can easily be around 120mph, 200kmh. I miss that very much! Not that the crappy old car I used to have was able to go that fast, but I had the great fortune of driving other people’s cars every once in a while.
Maybe some day we’ll get to take the R32 out for a real joy ride. Until then I just hope that I never get caught speeding. It really is a compulsion, I can’t help myself. Maybe the police officer who pulls me over will have some compassion when I tell him that I’m from Germany…

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Your Baby Can Read? Big deal!

My baby boy is now 3 ½ months old. Time really flies. He is a big baby- at three months he had already doubled his birth weight. This doesn’t make him any better or worse than other babies. I’m quite sure it wasn’t a conscious decision he made to get his fat cells to multiply and fill up. Yet, everyone (and I mean that literally) feels the need to comment on his size. It gets very old, especially since each person- or expert, as they may consider themselves- says something different about him: “My God, he’s huge.”, “Wow, he’s a big boy!”, and my favorite “Oh my, he’s tiny!”…

For some reason, people feel the need to compare children all the time. During the early infant stage, it’s just height and weight. As soon as baby starts moving, it goes on to who is rolling over first, crawling, standing, walking, talking, etc. Then the potty training race begins. Do people really think that their child is going to be better than others because he/she peed in the potty at 18 months? I sincerely doubt it.

I understand that we all secretly think our children are the best- the most beautiful, the smartest, etc. We’re supposed to think that, we’re their parents. We’re also supposed to feel proud of them. It might just be healthy to realize that we cannot pat ourselves on the back for the genetic cocktail that grew into our child. The fact that my baby has gained weight like a Thanksgiving turkey has very little to do with me. He gets the same milk my daughter got and she was nowhere near as big as him. I haven’t done a single thing differently.

We need to keep in mind that while being fat as a baby is desirable and super cute, the opposite is true when the children get older. The race will then evolve around who has the skinniest child. My children are perfect to me, regardless of their body mass index. I’m taking all compliments given to me about my chubby little man with a grain of salt- the same people will be nagging me to feed him less in just a few months.

What it boils down to is this: your children shouldn't be defined by things that are beyond anyone’s control. This is not a competition. I am going to do the best possible job of raising my children, regardless of what you do with yours. Physical traits are unimportant, for the most part. My baby is big now, one day he may be the smallest in his class. I will love him just the same.

If you were able to teach your baby to read, that’s great. Frankly, I don’t care. I don’t think it will make him/her a better person. All I want is for my children to make the most of their lives and be happy. Maybe even do some good in this world. So, unless your child has won the Nobel Peace Prize, I am not going to be awed. There is always going to be someone who is smarter/ prettier/ taller/ skinnier than your child. If you don’t know that then chances are you might be very disappointed some day…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recipe Tuesday: Shredded Beef BBQ

Here is another super easy recipe. It calls for a chuck roast, which is a very cheap cut of meat. We had leftovers for two days, so this is a very economical recipe. It takes a little time to make, but can mostly be left unattended. As usual, you can adjust the ingredients according to your family's taste. This recipe can be made Gluten free by using all non-Gluten containing ingredients.


2-4lbs chuck roast
1 white onion, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 quarts of water
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
4-5 dashes of hot sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
Salt & pepper to taste

Put the roast in a large pot with the onions, celery, and garlic. Fill it up with the water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for around 4 hours or until the meat can easily be pulled apart with a fork. Remove the liquid, saving about 1 cup of it. Shred the roast and add the liquid back to the pot. Add all remaining ingredients and cook uncovered for an hour or until the desired texture has been reached. Done.

Serve it with mashed potatoes or on buns. Enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Quantities of Love

Love is quite the crazy concept. It just kind of happens to us. We give little snippets, sometimes even big chunks, of our heart away. And if you’re like me, those pieces are gone for good. I believe that if you ever truly love someone, a piece of you will love them forever…
There are so many different kinds of love. The love I have for my children is vast and ferocious. I would literally kill for them. It is so powerful that it overwhelms me sometimes, making me cry. The love for each of my children is equally strong. Yet, slightly different. I think that because they are such different people, the love that goes toward them cannot be the same.
The love we have for our parents in return is one that ebbs over the course of our lives. When we are children, our parents are our all. Then slowly during the teenage years an emotional detachment starts until finally we are ready to leave them behind. Which is a good thing- if children loved their parents as much as they loved them, nobody would ever move out and start their own family. A child’s love for their parents must be prepared for loss one day- it is the natural way of life.
Sibling love is just bizarre. Even if you don’t really like them as people you cannot help but love them as your brothers/ sisters. It is mostly stronger than the love for your friends, keeping families together. It is not a love we choose, rather an instinctual love.
The love of our partners is voluntary. It is the most fragile, but in a way also the most valuable. I consciously chose to spend the rest of my life with my husband. I selected him to be the father of my children and to make a home with me. There is no love that is more (s)elective. It is vulnerable. We constantly have to work on it to keep it alive. All the work that we put into our relationship will hopefully pay off in the end. When the children have left the house and the friends have all moved away, my husband will hopefully be the one who will still be by my side. That would be my happily ever after…

Friday, February 11, 2011

Foreigner Friday: How Are Y'all Doin' Today?

Some people may have taken my previous posts the wrong way, thinking I am being overly critical of their country. I hope this post will prove that this is not the case. To tell you the truth, I love it here.
I have the wonderful privilege of living in the South. Some cultural differences are difficult for me to handle and some I have become very fond of. I have to say that my favorite thing about living here is the warmth and politeness of the people. I love it! No matter where you go out in public, there is bound to be someone who will greet you politely and ask you how you’re doing. It’s fantastic!
I used to live in Frankfurt, Germany. It is the financial capital of Europe, full of bankers and the likes. It may possibly be one of the most unfriendly places on earth. After having lived in the US for a while, I returned to my home town with a smile on my face. It was usually not returned. I'm quite sure some people thought I had lost it. I have gotten in the habit of excusing myself when passing someone at the supermarket and did the same in Germany. I confused a lot of people. The norm is to just push your way to wherever you need to go and then get back out as quickly as you can. So, at the grocery store, you may be looking at a particular shelf. Another person who does not wish to wait for you to finish looking will basically pop in between you and the shelf and get what they want. Not the politest, but that’s how it is.
Here in Columbia, people are just genuinely friendly. They will ask you how your day has been, comment on the cuteness of your baby, and send you off with a smile. It’s fantastic!
Even when Andy and I went to New York City, prepared for some major rudeness and gruff people, we were shocked by how friendly and forthcoming the people there were. I remember one particular instance in which we were sitting outside Rockefeller Center, just looking at a map of the city. An older couple approached us and asked us if we needed directions. What a kind gesture!
I can hear all my German friends already: But the friendliness is only superficial. So? To be quite frank, I couldn’t care less what the cashier at the store thinks about me. It’s not like I’m trying to marry him/ her. I want him or her to be friendly and bag my stuff for me, then wish me a nice day. (Grocery stores in Germany don’t have baggers- you have to do it all yourself. And pay for the bags…) At the store I used to go to most frequently in Germany, the cashier would always tell me that she couldn’t wait to get off work and that she had a headache. Nobody wants to hear that.
Americans are wonderfully polite people. Southerners are the masters of politeness. I thoroughly enjoy it and am trying to learn how to be more like them. I can now almost convincingly ask “How are y’all doin' today?”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Can't Get No Sleep

I had to take my baby to pediatric after hours care on Sunday. There was a couple there who looked like they hadn’t slept in weeks- their hair was crazy, they looked like they hadn’t showered in a while, they were only partly dressed- half PJs, half clothes, the man wasn’t wearing any underwear. (don’t ask me how I know, it wasn’t a pleasant sight) They had their sick baby with them, who was hooked up to some sort of monitoring device. And yet they had a pleasant conversation with me about how old their baby was- they were so proud of him.
This pretty much sums up everything about the early months and years of parenting. You are so sleep deprived that you are close to losing your mind, yet those little angels make it all worth it. I felt so sorry for those two people, I almost cried. Because I have been there; I know.
People may try to tell you what it will be like when you have your first child, but sleep deprivation is impossible to describe. The first few weeks with my baby were just awful. I didn’t know what I was doing, to be totally honest. I didn’t get any sleep. Two, three hours here and there. It was incredibly horrible. I felt like a different person. It’s almost like an ache that you feel all over your body, a yearning for rest. It impairs your ability to function- you can’t really think straight, trip over your words, bump into furniture.
To those of you who don’t have children yet- don’t be scared off by this. It is only temporary and somehow we all manage to get through it. You will sleep again some day, I promise! Listen to people when they say “Sleep when your baby sleeps”- you will need it. My biggest regret is that I didn’t do that more. Now with my second child I have learned my lesson. Everything else can wait- when both kids are sleeping, I am going to do the same.
R was a very bad sleeper until she was about 15 months old. She wouldn’t sleep longer than two hours at a time. It was very rough. You can really tell when the exhaustion affects everything you do. Thankfully, she did finally learn to sleep for longer stretches, then the entire night. (I felt like a new person, simply fantastic!) To get through this “phase”, I did everything I could to maximize my rest. We co-slept, so I would only be awake a few minutes at a time. I napped when she napped. Sometimes I went to bed at the same time she did. On the weekends, my husband would occasionally let me sleep a little longer.
I understand how parents get desperate for solutions. Being tired is more than unpleasant. Yet, I think that quick fix solutions are not the way to go. I like to compare those quick fix methods to taking a diet pill- it gets you where you want to be fast and without much effort, but isn’t good for you and doesn’t really teach you better habits.

If you become resentful towards your spouse, yourself, or even your baby, get help! Unfortunately, other people (yes, that includes your spouse/ partner) cannot see inside of you and may not catch on to your desperation. Just ask! i promise you that there are people around you who are more than willing to watch your baby while you sleep a little. Trust me, a few hours of sleep will do wonders. It will benifit you and your baby.
Desperate parents, you are not alone! Find the best solution for your family to get the most sleep you can. Always remember that it is only temporary. You will sleep again. And as long as you put underwear on before you leave the house, you should be alright.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The Wild Emu

Ok, not quite wordless. My husband (then boyfriend) and I were visiting his parents in the US- at the time I was still living in Germany and he was home for leave from his deployment to Iraq. We were driving along and I saw a big brown bird. I had never seen a bird that big in the wild before and got really excited. I said: "Look, Andy, it's a wild Emu!" I don't think I've ever seen anyone laugh so hard! I thought Andy might pee his pants. He then explained to me that it was a wild turkey...
(Of course, I was fully aware of the fact that Emus are not native to the American continent, neither North nor South. My theory was that they might have Emu farms, like they have them for Ostriches, and that this particular bird had escaped, now living in the wild...)

My Wild Emu

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Recipe Tuesday: Oma's Weinbraten (Potroast in Red Wine Sauce)

This is a recipe from my grandmother, passed down for generations. The gravy will have quite a strong taste of red wine, so if you do not like the flavor of wine this might not be a good dish for you. It is very simple, yet delicious. It will take around 3 ½ hours for a 2lb roast, largely unattended. It might take you a few times of making this to get it just the way you like. As with all the other recipes, this is Gluten free if you use ingredients that do not contain Gluten. (That sounds blatantly obvious…)
2lb beef roast, cut of your choice
1 pork jowl or other fatty, smoked pork
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
¾ stick of butter
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1-2 bottles of dry red wine
3-4 beef bullion cubes
2-3 bay leaves
3 cloves
Around 20 black pepper corns
1 cup (8oz) sour cream
Flour or corn starch for thickening

·         In a large pot, heat the butter and vegetable oil until they sizzle. Brown the meats on all sides. Take them out and put them to the side.
·         Sautee the onions until they turn a nice dark brown color.
·         Add the meats and fill up the pot with wine and water, almost covering the roast completely. We used 4/5 wine and 1/5 water, but you can use more water if you like.
·         Throw in all the seasonings and the bullion cubes. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil.
·         Cover and simmer for 2 ½ hours, tasting the stock about half way. Add more salt if necessary.
·         Remove the meat, set it to the side. Pour the stock through a sieve.
·         Bring the stock to a boil and thicken it with flour or corn starch.
·         As soon as the gravy has reached its desired consistency, remove it from the heat. Add the sour cream.

Slice the beef and serve it with gravy. Traditionally, our family used to eat this roast with Knödel, a German potato dumpling. Since these are not widely available in the US (and are mostly not Gluten free), we have been serving it with noodles or mashed potatoes.
I hope you enjoy!

Monday, February 7, 2011

My First Baby's Birth Story: The Heavens Sent Us R

Before we left for the hospital

I have always wanted children. Somehow, by the time I was 29, I still didn’t have any. I had an overwhelming urge to have a baby. So, after convincing my husband that it would be a fabulous idea to add a child to our household, I stopped taking my birth control and got pregnant.
I found out on 07/04/2008, the day my cousin’s little girl was born. I had been having bad cramps the entire week and was sure I was getting my period. I was so sad about not being pregnant, I cried and cried. I took a total of three pregnancy tests during that week, convinced that I must have a bun in the oven, but they were all negative. The girls at work were so sweet, trying to cheer me up. I felt like I was never going to have a baby. On the morning of the 4th, after hearing the news of my cousin’s baby arriving, I was lying in bed and felt really strange. As if there was something inside of me. Something was different and I still hadn’t gotten my period. So, when my husband went to Walmart to buy something we needed for the party later that day, I took another pregnancy test. (I wanted to wait until he was out of the house because he thought I was crazy taking all of these tests) It was positive! I swear, I was in shock. I called Andy and told him the news over the phone- not the way I had planned to tell my husband I was expecting, but I wanted him to get more pregnancy tests. He did and they were all positive. I really was pregnant and I was so excited! I think I was hyperventilating on and off for the first hour after seeing that pink line…
The first half of the pregnancy was harder than I expected. I was really sick during the first 20 weeks, steadily losing weight. After that, I was able to gain weight and feel like a normal person again. I think I enjoyed being pregnant, until the last month when my baby was up so high that I could hardly breathe anymore. The usual discomforts of bearing a child.
I knew almost nothing about giving birth and I tried to keep it that way. When I was 18 I had attended my friend’s labor, which lasted only around three hours, and I hoped my labor would be just as quick. Andy and I attended a birth preparation class at the hospital. It was fun and I learned a lot, but not nearly enough to equip me with all the necessary tools to feel confident about having a baby. Quite frankly, I was terrified, but I kept telling myself that a birth without drugs must be possible, since this was what women were designed to do.
My contractions started at 12:30 in the morning on 03/06, a day before my due date. I had been having very regular Braxton-Hicks for weeks and was already dilated 2cm. My doctor had swept my membranes that morning, a procedure that was uncomfortable, but not too awful. The contractions started around 7 minutes apart and where quite irregular at first. I woke Andy to let him know what was going on. I don’t think he really even heard me- he went right back to sleep. The lady teaching the birthing class had recommended staying home as long as possible, so I was determined to do so. I should have just gone back to sleep- the contractions were uncomfortable, not too painful- but I was too excited. So I took a warm bath. And walked around the house. Then I woke Andy and we took my dog for a walk around the neighborhood. The contractions were coming more frequently, about every five minutes. I was so anxious and excited, I was dying to get to the hospital. So, at 4:30am, we headed out to have a baby.

When we got to the hospital, they did all the standard things- monitor the contractions and baby’s heart rate, make me change into a hospital gown, etc. They decided to admit me and hooked me up to an IV with fluids. Even though I knew that I wouldn’t be able to move around anymore, I just did what they said was best. The doctor came after having monitored the contractions for a while and told me that they needed to put me on a Pitocin drip because my contractions weren’t regular enough. I refused at first, but agreed after some persuasion and the promise that they would keep it at a minimum dose. Then they broke my water. I wasn’t thinking and forgot to go to the bathroom before they did this, so shortly after I had to get up to go. The water was everywhere- all over the floor, in my shoes, just everywhere. And then the real pain began. I felt like I was spiraling out of control, being sucked into a funnel cloud of pain. I remember watching TV when we first arrived and being super excited about U2 coming on later that morning. I tried desperately to focus on the upcoming performance, but I couldn’t even watch it when it finally came on. I was in excruciating pain and I got completely lost in it. Instead of breathing through them, I was thrashing around in the bed like a helpless injured animal. I thought I couldn’t get through it. Despite my resolution to have a drug free birth, at around 9am I begged for an epidural. I was so exhausted from not having slept and the pain. The final straw was when they checked my progression and I had only dilated to 4cm in almost nine hours. Andy went to get the nurse.
The anesthesiologist came and administered the epidural. I felt guilty, but was so grateful for the relief of my pain. I told the doctor that I loved him… At this point my entire plan of having a somewhat natural labor were out the window. I was strapped to the bed, just waiting to be able to hold my baby. They increased the Pitocin. I could still feel the contractions- just without the pain- and worked with them as well as I could. My entire body trembled, I couldn’t get warm- a side effect from the epidural, as I later found out.  My mother-in-law arrived for support. At around 10:30am, the doctor checked my progression. I was at 6cm. Our dog was home alone and had been for a while, so I asked my husband to drive home (about 40 minutes away) and walk the dog. He was reluctant, but went. After he had gone, the doctor came back in, asking where my husband was. I told her I had sent him home. You should have seen her face! She must have thought I was insane. She asked me to call him back immediately because I would be able to push soon. Nurses were coming in to prep the room. I was confused- I was still 4cm away. So, I decided not to call Andy back. However, his mother thought it best to give him a call and he came rushing back. Thank God he did because before he got back the doctor checked me again and I was fully dilated, ready to push.
I was terrified! During the transitional phase, I had a break from the contractions. I talked to my mother-in-law about how scared I was of pushing. What if I wasn’t able to do it right? She encouraged me, telling me that the actual pushing felt great- this was finally something I could actively do to get my baby here. I was still trembling terribly, from exhaustion, cold, and fear. My husband arrived just as the final preparations were underway. It was time to have a baby.
I started pushing just like they told me to, my husband holding one leg, my mother-in-law the other. I pushed and pushed. It was extremely hard work. It’s like having to run a marathon without having had any training. My husband kept saying “I see the head, I see the head!” I thought he meant the baby was almost crowning, but I couldn’t feel the head coming down at all. They started pushing on my belly and maneuvering me around to get the baby to come down. It made me terribly nauseous and irritated. One of the nurses told me that I needed Oxygen while putting a mask over my face. It stank and made me feel like throwing up, so I kept taking it back off. This nurse was not particularly nice and kept putting it back on my face. The doctor looked concerned and told me she was going to have to use the vacuum to “help me” during my pushes because there was no progress. I agreed to this final intervention that I didn’t really want. What was I supposed to do? You’re so helpless in this situation. With the help of the vacuum, R finally came down. I was able to feel her soft head crowning. It was very unreal. The pressure of the crowning head was incredible. I pushed with all my might to get it out. The head emerged and I was asked not to push anymore. I didn’t have to- the rest of my baby slid right out with the next contraction. It was an indescribable feeling! It was unbelievably wonderful and I felt like superwoman! They brought me my beautiful daughter- the most amazing being I had ever laid eyes on. She was perfect in every way. I was overwhelmed with joy. I couldn’t believe that I had produced such a miracle- sometimes I still can’t. R was born at 12:10pm, weighing 7lbs 7oz. She had dark hair and very blue eyes.

The afterbirth came out without much effort. I had torn quite badly, so they had to sew me up. R had had her left hand pressed against her cheek when coming out, so I tore on the inside and out. At that moment, I didn’t care. They took my epidural out and I regained complete feeling fairly quickly. I held my baby. We were all in awe and so happy! The nurses and my mother-in-law helped me latch her on and she fed without much trouble for the first time in her life. The last thing the doctor said to me before ending her 24 hour shift at the hospital was: “Thank goodness you changed your mind about everything. I thought you were going to be difficult.”
Breastfeeding was really hard for me. R latched on well and drank a lot, but I had awful pain. My nipples were cracked and bleeding by the second day. At home I would cry while she fed. I was so unhappy about failing and it was so painful. After a week and a half of suffering, I finally went to see a lactation consultant. She was able to show me what I was doing wrong and help me fix it. (I was pressing on my breast, trying to help R breathe better, thereby pulling away from her while she was trying to suck in. Also, my daughter had a very strong suck…) It still hurt for about three more weeks each time R latched on, but it gradually got better. I’m very happy that I stuck with breastfeeding, it was worth it 100%.
On top of this pain came the pain of my tear. I took Motrin for over a week, but still got very little relief. Each time, as soon as the Motrin wore off I would start running a fever. After a few weeks of this I called the doctor to have her check me out again. I thought I might have a bladder infection. They took a urine sample, then sent me home with a ten day supply of antibiotics. I was reluctant to take them, afraid that R might be affected, but also was desperate to feel better. After the ten days my symptoms were still the same. I went back to the doctor. The nurse, who had been nasty to me all through my pregnancy, took me back to a room and asked me why I was there. I told her that the symptoms hadn’t gone. She said to me: “Well, you didn’t have a UTI. The urine sample didn’t show anything.” I was confused and told her that I was still in pain. She turned to me with a nasty look on her face, said: “You’re just a medical mystery, aren’t you, Vivien?”, and walked out. I started crying. I cried so hard about everything- the breastfeeding issues, the pain, the physical exhaustion. I felt defeated, a shadow of myself. The N.P. came in to examine me. Turns out I had a tear in my urethra that they had not seen and therefore they hadn’t sewn up. It was too far along in the healing process for stitches, so they sent me home with a topical analgesic. I have warned every pregnant lady I know of going to this doctor’s office. I regret not having the strength at that moment to defend myself…
The recovery was rather slow, but I did, of course, recover. I had back pain from the epidural for about six months. The area that tore remained sore for a long time. I regret having had so many medical interventions and not enough confidence in my own abilities to have the birth I wanted. I also regret not having informed myself extensively before the birth. I think I will start doula training as soon as my baby boy, now three months old, is a little older. Hopefully I will be able to help women avoid some of the things I agreed to and guide them on their way to their perfect birth experience.
Unfortunately, my second baby’s birth did not go as planned at all, despite all my information. To read E’s story, please click here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My Sunday Resolution

I gathered some suggestions from friends as to what topics they would like to read about in the future. They were allowed to pick any topic in existence, yet most of them picked a parenting/ family related topic. I completely understand this- as a SAHM, this is the topic that is on my mind and heart most of the time. I wish our world would reflect this more.
I have been wondering lately why the world’s number one priority is not children. If you are a parent, I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean. When people have children, most of them are changed forever. Your children and their happiness and well-being are the most important things for the rest of your life.
Those of you who haven’t had children (not yet or just don’t want to) probably think I’m crazy. I’ll try to find a comparison you can relate to. We’ve all been head over heals in love before, right? To the point where everything else becomes totally unimportant; it is all engulfing. Having a child is like that, but stronger. Of course, it’s not a romantic kind of love. It is a different kind of love, but also a lot more intense. And it never fades. Your child is always going to be your child, no matter what person they end up becoming.
My children are still very young and I can’t say how I will feel in the future, but right now I don’t ever want them to be away from me. My daughter goes to a MMO (Mom’s Morning Out) program twice a week for three hours at a time and every time I drop her off I miss her. I get incredibly sad just thinking about the day when my kids won’t need me anymore. I think I will always need them in a way…
What I’m trying to get at is this: if we (the parents in this world) all feel like this, then why is everything in our modern society set up to force us away from our children? We have to work without them, there are vacation spots we can’t take them to, we are supposed to sleep without them, have other people raise and educate them, etc. I wish the world were more child-friendly.
More importantly, why is there so much hatred in the world? I will never be able to grasp how people who love their own children can hate someone else’s. I wish there was a constant reminder somewhere that EVERY human being on this earth is somebody’s child.
My wish for this world is that no child ever has to put up with mistreatment, abuse, neglect, hunger, thirst, homelessness, war, or anything else harmful ever again. I hope that one day the mothers and fathers of this world will unite and make this a planet we feel comfortable leaving our children in.
Enough of my wishes. Maybe this Sunday we can all make a resolution to treat children better- our own and everyone else’s. Hopefully, if we start there, some day our world will be the perfect place for everyone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Foreigner Friday: So Sue me!

My kids are both sick, we had a rough night and are having a rough day. I still feel as though I should write a little something- to lighten my own mood and hopefully yours…
Outside America, people amuse themselves reading about the most ridiculous US lawsuits they can find. It is not too terribly hard to find them- it appears as though people love to sue each other here. After I moved to the States, I started working for an insurance company. I was surprised to find that people really do sue each other over the silliest things and that if you are not careful you could lose all that you own over such nonsense. Because they don’t sue for just a few thousand Dollars, it’s usually hundreds of thousands, even millions. (A while ago, a man tried to sue Bank of America for their bad customer service. He wanted 1,784 billion, trillion Dollars. His case was dismissed…)
Let’s look at a few of my favorite examples. There is the famous lady who sued McDonald’s after spilling coffee in her own lap because it was hot. There is the burglar who got trapped in the garage of the house he was robbing, had to live off Pepsi and dog food until the owners returned from vacation, then sued their homeowner’s insurance for his pain and suffering. And, my absolute number one, the lady who sued the furniture store she was shopping in after she tripped and fell over a toddler, breaking her ankle. It was her own child. Not only did these people find lawyers who were willing to represent them, then a court who would hear it, they all actually WON and were awarded lots of money!
It seems as though people do not want to accept that unpleasant things just happen sometimes. They want somebody else to be responsible and pay for it. I don’t know where this mentality comes from, but it’s scary. It makes you have to carefully consider what you are willing to do for other people because there is a chance that you could get sued and lose everything you own.
As an example, I was considering donating breast milk to a baby in need. This can be done through a milk bank, but a lot of people are unable to afford the cost. So there are ways of privately sharing your milk with someone. I was lying in bed the other night and started thinking about the risk involved for myself and my family. Let’s just assume my freezer malfunctioned without my knowing it, spoiling the milk. The baby I donated it to got terribly sick from the spoiled milk. The people I donated to would probably sue me. I tried to find out online about the liability risk involved when milk sharing. It is a grey area; someone even called it a “legal nightmare”. So, I probably will not put my family in jeopardy, even though I would love to help a baby in need. Isn’t that sad?
Of course, everybody will assure you that they would never sue you. But you cannot believe them! Because over the course of the last few decades, people have sued everybody imaginable over every stupid thing under the sun. That’s why every piece of equipment you buy carries some sort of warning label. When I look at my child’s car seat, I almost have a hard time seeing the color of the fabric because the company is warning me of every possible scenario in which I could use their seat the wrong way- in two languages. That takes up a lot of room. Honestly, I’m so grateful they told me not to place my child in the car seat and leave him at the edge of a high surface because he may fall. I would not have been able to think of that on my own…
In conclusion, I think that this sue craziness should end. It’s ruining fun things for all of us! It makes the things I buy ugly with all the warning labels. Take some responsibility, people. If you smoke, it’s your own fault. Don’t sue the cigarette company for it, they didn’t make you do it. If you didn’t know it was bad for your health, then that’s your problem. Leave the courts alone with your rubbish. Unfortunately, as my favorite TV judge, Judge Judy, would say: “Beauty fades, dumb is forever.” I guess there will always be people with no common sense who need to sue. Here’s hoping they leave me and my family alone…

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Losing Control

I have always liked being in control of my surroundings. I like making lists and organizing things. Which makes me a fabulous administrative employee. Professionally, I have always been appreciated for my thoroughness and accuracy. I used to know what needed to be done, when it needed to be done by, where it was in the process, etc. I have never liked losing control, which is why I hate flying. I have no power over what happens thousands of feet in the air.
Now I don’t go to an office anymore. I stay at home with my children and work as their caretaker, cook, cleaning lady, entertainer, nurse, etc. And I have completely lost control. Children are not exactly easy to steer and they certainly do not care about any lists of mine when it comes to how I would like things to go.
My house is dirty and messy a lot of the time. There is laundry everywhere upstairs. There are toys strewn all about the living room. My daughter has dried cheese in parts of her hair because she wouldn’t let me wipe it off. Just yesterday, I completely failed at nap time. My daughter was screaming in her room because she has a cold and feels miserable. My son was screaming because he wanted to nurse and fall asleep. I attempted to get them both in the bed with me, my daughter lying on top of me while my son lay beside me nursing. My son was able to fall asleep, but my daughter was up for good. She really needed to sleep and I wasn’t able to help her. It’s hard, I can’t split myself in half. Often times, I have no control in this house.
But who am I telling this to? We all know what it’s like! Some of us just manage better than others (I’m talking to you amazing ladies with three, four, five children, twins, etc.) I remind myself of how blessed I am and how great we have it. I am happy, that’s not it. I just need to learn to let go of my desire to be in charge and on top of things because I never am anymore. I don’t miss work, but I miss being good at something and not chasing my own tail constantly. Maybe some day I will have the perfect house that is always clean and put away, animals who behave themselves, children who don’t throw temper tantrums, I could go on forever. Until then, I need to let go and just enjoy the incredible journey that is motherhood.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Recipe Tuesday: Crock Pot Beef Stew

I’m sure you’re thinking ‘Another crock pot recipe???’ This one is just too easy and yummy for me not to post it. Especially in these cold and dark winter months, a nice stew can lighten the mood and warm the body. As with the other recipes, the ingredients can be slightly altered to better suit your own taste.
1lb beef cubes for stew
1 15oz can kidney beans
1 14.5oz can stewed tomatoes, Italian recipe (Del Monte makes them without Gluten ingredients)
½ a bag (about 14oz) of frozen O’Brien style potatoes
14-15oz of marinara or other seasoned tomato sauce
In a 4 quart slow cooker, combine the ingredients in the order they are listed above. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Done.
Isn’t that fantastically easy? Play with the ingredients to create slightly different flavors. Serve with or without cheese and crackers. Enjoy!!!