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Friday, November 22, 2013

It is the eve of Hannah’s sixth birthday. Cake is baking. She is playing with her sister and her friend from Kindergarten upstairs. This home is her fifth official address in her lifetime. She is tall and lean. Her hair is impossibly curly but fine, and she has been cursed with a tender head which makes the maintenance of those curls an affair fraught with pain.

Six years ago on this night, Mom and Dad brought Jens and I Thanksgiving Dinner to St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. We didn’t know it was Hannah in there. We could not even fathom how our lives would change. And now, somehow, it feels like she has always been a part of us. Her little sister, too.

Six is a big one. Six is officially “kid.” Not baby. Not toddler. Not pre-Kindergarten. I especially notice it when I check on her sleeping form before I go to bed. Who is this LONG kid filling up this bed? This strong, lean, clever girl who asks me such amazing questions? This exhausting girl who has such strong opinions about how she wants things?

However, it is not just Hannah who has grown in these last six years. It is me. It is Hannah who has inspired me to be my best self. For her and for her sister. They deserve the best mom they can get. They deserve a mother who continues to learn and grow with them. And while I fall short nearly every day, I haven’t yet stopped trying. And this endeavor is hard work. It has forced me to really examine myself in an honest way I wished I had years earlier, but next to mothering, becoming myself is tied for the most important work of my life.

While you can roll your eyes from all the people who approach you with young children and say “Enjoy this! They grow up so fast,” it is so true. It is a truism that you cannot understand until you have lived it. While in the exhausting midst of it, I have become fond of saying, “The days are long, the years are short.”

And they are. Where have the last six years gone?

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Made In Germany

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I promised in June, via Facebook, that I would post my “translated and transcribed” version for German grocery stores and weights and measures. This came about as I wanted to bake something “American” for the girls’ last day in German “Kindergarten”, which they attended the entire month of June. The German versions of these cookies that I have tried before only disappoint.

There has been a slight delay because I think I slipped a disk (while alone with girls and in-laws in Germany), and my left leg and foot are numb and the left side of my butt has been hurting so intensely I can’t sleep. My apologies. I am still in pain, but these cookies help.

The recipe is the conversion of this excellent (new favorite 4ever) recipe for Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Smitten Kitchen. It was also made possible by my iPad, my in-laws’ WiFi and all those great people who have covered standard to metric conversions and other substitutions online in such detail.

260 grams all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda (Natron -at dm markt oder im Supermarkt)

1/2 teaspoon salt

340 grams butter, melted

220 grams of “American brown sugar” (*see below)

100 grams regular refined sugar

1 little pack of Vanillezucker

1 egg

1 egg yolk

300 grams of semi-sweet chocolate (I bought the cheap store-brand 100 gr bars of “Zartbitter” and cut/broke them up fairly small, but do not grate.)

(*American brown sugar can be created by putting 1 cup of white sugar with approx 2 tablespoons of molasses, deutsch: Zuckerrübensirup, in a food processor and blending until you have that magical, somewhat sticky consistency. Note that you CANNOT use “German brown sugar” and expect a decent cookie. Just don’t do it.)

For your convenience, I have cut and pasted the rest of her instructions in English here, with full disclosure that they are the work of Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.

3. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

4. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time (for giant cookies) or a tablespoon at a time (for smaller cookies) onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake larger cookies for 15 to 17 minutes, or 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones (check your cookies before they’re done; depending on your scoop size, your baking time will vary) in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

My girls. Right now.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This is my new favorite photo of my girls. It is who they are right now. Who we are. They are facing another day of being their small selves.
New Favorite

Their room is finally becoming the cozy place I’ve wanted it to be as our house is finally becoming our home.

E could run for office with this expression. She is never this serious. Happiest girl I know.

This is a more honest morning picture of H. She is the dark, cranky cloud to her sister’s consistent, persistent morning sunshine. And she is about to whine (I mean, look how rough she has it here).

And I love these two little people more than words will ever express.

The termites are dead. My baby started camp.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Yep, David the Termite Guy arrived and foamed ’em out just 30 minutes ago. Much ado about a relatively small nuisance. We still love our house and are glad to have it. We had better love it.

Both girls are in “camp” for the second week. It is my first time away from my 18 month old since she was born. I was so ready to have this time alone. The waterworks that gushed on as I drove away from her Montessori school last Monday surprised me. I was downright weepy the whole morning, and it was only three hours I spent away from her. I was just so worried that she would be somehow “damaged” when she looked for me and I wasn’t there after I had always been there.


The pressure I have put on myself as a mother has literally been harming me. Nara Schoenberg describes this  pressure and guilt well in her article that was reprinted in our local paper today. I have been sacrificing too much of myself for my girls. And now, as I try to embrace this much-needed time alone, I have trouble focusing. I actually have to get used to the long-craved, uninterrupted time. I love these girls so much, but being the mother I need to be means taking better care of my own needs. I am always tempted to label these needs as “selfish,” but they are legitimate, and if I am not fulfilled, I cannot be the mom I need to and desire to be. I have been judgmental of moms I know who do take care of their own needs first, as if they don’t “sacrifice” enough for their kids, but I know now that I have just been jealous. Mothering in this world is a whole new ballgame, and I am trying to learn to shut out all the noise and listen to myself. Don’t judge us mothers too harshly. We are usually hard enough on ourselves.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Doubt creeps in on me and lingers like a shadow. You are about to read me working through it after a really crappy yesterday of bad news.

We were always so determined to not buy a house in this crazy city. Besides the flood risk, demonstrated by a rather recent natural and national catastrophe of epic proportions, you have the subsequent insurance premiums, mostly sub-standard public schools, a ridiculous murder rate. Oh yeah, and TERMITES.

Would you have been concerned about this hole?

The tiny termite hole causing all the ruckus.

Well, it turns out that despite paying for any and all inspections, we have a very special, native kind of termites known as dry-wood termites. These are not covered by the current termite contract and can only be completely eradicated by tenting and fumigating our home, at substantial cost. This would then be followed by yet another termite contract just for this special kind of pest, which we would renew each year.
Additionally, today I have also come to learn that the marching band, namely the drum corps, rehearsing across the street each afternoon from noon until 4:00 is not a temporary summer nuisance but rather the high school’s daily summer band rehearsal, scheduled until the end of July. The previous owners worked outside the home all day and could not know about this.

This got me thinking: How much can you really insure for? How long would we remain paralyzed by fear of the wrong decision and continue living unhappily uncommitted to anywhere?

I have found myself understandably stressed out throughout this buying process and move. It is a huge commitment, both financially, culturally and geographically. But the truth is, we have needed a nest. We love our new home. And nothing is guaranteed. Drawing back to the basic tenets of Mindfulness: everything is temporary. Why is it that learning to live in the now is so damn difficult? My husband and I decided at some point we need to get out of our holding pattern and land somewhere. We are two people who need a nest that we can create and develop and care for. We needed a home for our family, and now we finally have that. But society tries to sell you, both figuratively and literally, security: if you are careful about each decision, buy this insurance, pay for this inspection, go to this school, this and this and this should not go wrong. But it can. And it is additionally impossible to insure for that and that and that. And this nest is sometimes going to be a giant, expensive pain in the ass. And/But? it is ours!

We love this city. And hate it sometimes. And I’ve come to find out, that is how even the native New Orleanians feel about this place. That is comforting because it makes us feel as if we are not missing some special insight. New Orleans just is this way, and I cannot constantly long for something different nor desperately avoid the parts that infuriate me. It is time to start noticing all of it: the great, the terrible and the “ok stuff” (aka: “usually ignored”). Who knew that life and motherhood in New Orleans would strengthen my mindfulness?

Moving on.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It’s been a rough month, and I don’t have anything profound to say. Funny stuff has been happening with my girls, who are both learning to talk more. My oldest has become so much more articulate in her first language, German, and the sound bytes I get to hear her speak in English have the sweetest German accent with her second language still a bit heavy on her tongue. It is also hilarious to watch yourself reflected in her grown-up mannerisms that appear without warning, such as when she mothers her little sister with an authoritative tone (the same tone she regularly ignores from me). Like any good German-speaking child, one of my youngest’s first clearly discernible words has become “Auto,” as in “automobile.” We spend too much time in it, but I am hoping to bike more from our new digs. Last night I biked home from a friend’s house in the twilight after the rainstorm. The trailer was too wet for my young passenger (who then traveled with late-arriving Papa in the Auto), so I had a few humid yet beautiful moments alone. I remembered that this is how you fall in love with a place and back in love with life in general: biking through darkening, tree-lined neighborhoods that smell like summer rain where warm life is happening behind the windows.

Mention it. Manage it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Action verbs. How to talk about death with my 3 1/2 year old? A wise woman at our local “Parenting Center” quoted Mr. Rogers to me this morning:
“If you can mention it, you can manage it.”
Her explanation is that if you don’t talk to your kids about these “unmentionables,” they are going to hear it elsewhere in a version that may be scarier or more damaging. We have been talking to H about “death” or at least using the word “dead” easily with her since we’ve known her. “That mosquito is dead. Oh, that little birdie is dead. Mama’s grandpa, Great Grandpa, died. That is why we are sad.” She still doesn’t really grasp it or get alarmed by it. I was concerned I had done something terribly wrong upon learning a good friend never mentions the d-word in any form. Ever. Everything is “sleeping.” But then kids might become afraid to go to sleep. What if they never wake up?

The Parenting Center guru with whom I discussed this today also told me that these toddler’s worlds are extremely concrete. If we mention “heaven,” it is a real place to them. But even if you don’t believe in heaven, you should still talk about how some believe in it, because they will hear it anyway. And explain to them just what it is that you believe. I thought this was all very helpful. My gut instinct told me to use these words with them before they hold any real power so they can ease into their meaning as their cognitive abilities develop and allow such understanding.

It doesn’t make the loss of a young fellow mother and a dear friend’s three-year-old any easier to bear, but there is nowhere to go right now but through it.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Three-year-olds are not supposed to die. Not in my world. Not the crazy, beautiful ones I know. And not suddenly, without warning or illness or good-byes. The “really bad news” that came in the phone call about a friend and fellow mother is worse than I could have ever even conceivably imagined. Her little one, her oldest drowned just hours before. She spent the normal, mundane hot, humid Southern day with her, ending it with a late afternoon trip to the pool, never even considering it would be her last. There are no words. She awoke yesterday morning and got her dressed, fed her breakfast, let her play with her sibling, fed her lunch, let her nap and loaded her and her sister and all the gear into the car for the pool. And then their lives changed forever.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The German separable verb “to stop nursing” is a mean, abrupt-sounding word. In its infinitive form found in this post title, it sounds like a cruel command. And it is what I feel some of those closest to me are secretly demanding. I am not ready.

Elise is now 17 months old. Two years ago, when Hannah was this old, I was already finished nursing her. Hannah stopped on her own because my milk had changed upon becoming pregnant. I was yet unaware of this pregnancy. Hannah was the first to know because she literally tasted it. After the adventure I had had nursing her with compulsive commitment, I was saddened sitting in that rocker in her nursery where we had spent SO MANY HOURS together, some inexplicably beautiful, some filled with my sleep-deprived rage at her neediness. Stopping our one leftover session each day was something I thought I would initiate, not her.

I am now at that point with Elise. I nurse her to sleep at night. She no longer demands it, although just two weeks ago, she was still waking in the night, calling for me. When I tried to just comfort her without the boob, she would frantically point to the edge of her sister’s bed where I sit to nurse her, demanding it. We stopped this by sending in Papa. And now she no longer wakes at all. I put her down for her naps without nursing. I lay her onto her ridiculously-extremely-soft blankets, and she is happy to be there, with her thumb and without her usual warm, milky “fix.” Tonight Jens said that she would easily go down without nursing, as she sleepily snuggled next to all of us on Hannah’s big bed. That may be true, but I won’t deny her. If she still wants me, I still want her. When I am finished nursing her, I am finished nursing forever, and that makes me sad. While I am eager to have my body back and to finally determine a fixed bra size, once and for all, it is not yet time. I don’t consider myself some fanatical nursing advocate nor a “crunchy earth-mother.” I just know that this is a bond only I have shared with my babies, and I want to savor it just a little bit longer.

Push it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yeah, I can be a pushy bitch, but I try to be this in the nicest way. The closing on this house is delayed yet another day because I am insisting the folks representing me go to bat for me to assume the flood insurance policy of the previous owners. (They are trying to make us get a new one (read: more expensive), based on some new “guideline” NO ONE seems to know about yet because the flood zone has changed since Katrina.) I also want them to float down our interest rate, like they said they could when they were trying to woo me. This is all transpiring two hours before we were scheduled to close. Hey! You gotta ask! “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” During the course of this 30-year-loan, I will likely never talk with ANY of these people again. The funny thing is, they likely think I am so tough, but really I am always worried they will think I am a pushy bitch, which they have to think in order for me to get what I am pushing for. You have to advocate for yourself. No one else will. And I will like myself during the next 30 years a whole lot more if all this works out as I hoped.