Thursday, April 29, 2010

Little Person, Big Personality

My friend Ebony is currently expecting her second baby. In order to make her son, Toure, feel more included in her pregnancy, I got her "The Sibling Book" (a baby book for siblings) for her and Toure to fill out together over the next 17 months or so. Out of interest I flipped through it and stopped at a page that compared the older sibling to the younger one. This made start thinking about my two girls, and how much they already differ from each other in terms of personality, temperament, likes, and dislikes. It is amazing, how such a small person, who should be utterly occupied by eating, sleeping, pooping, and trying to adjust to the world outside in general, can already display such detailed character and even communicate that to us parents.

The most striking differences between the girls in the first months: Lily was 100% a Daddy's girl. She wanted to be with him as often as possible and was only looking for me when she wanted food (after realizing that Daddy wouldn't give her any, no matter what). Violet, in contrast, is a lot more comfortable with me, even though she also enjoys her Daddy mattress. Lily was very active from the very beginning (her pediatrician was surprised that her motor skills at 2 months equaled those of a 4-months old baby), while Violet takes it easier (who would have thought after how she beat me up during pregnancy). Violet is a very social person, who hates being by herself and loves being held, while Lily didn't mind at all spending time by herself in the swing (as long as it was on her terms; if I needed to attend a lecture, she most definitely had to be there too!). Violet does not sleep well unless being swaddled, and also likes the comfort her pacy provides. Lily in contrast would not even stay bundled up in the hospital and wiggle out of her blankets only a few minutes after the nurses had wrapped her up to a perfect baby burrito; she also didn't care for a pacifier except for a few weeks when she was several months old and teething. Lily was also a very outgoing and outspoken baby (as "outspoken" as babies can be), whereas Violet seems to be a lot more quiet and relaxed, rather spending her time on my or Richard's arm looking around rather than on her play blanket trying to crawl and getting frustrated with herself.

We already notice that, even though they are sisters, Lily and Violet have very different personalities. It will be an interesting challenge for Richard and me adjusting our parenting style to the girls' individual personality. We can't wait to see how they will develop and are looking forward to every new aspect of their personality we discover. Who would have thought that Lily, who doesn't even look at dolls for the most part, would be such a dedicated big sister? Well, having spent time with her before and during my pregnancy I realized how much she wanted a little sibling and how excited she was once she found out that she would indeed get "her very own baby". Seeing my girls together is heartwarming each time, and even though they are very different personalities, we will support them in any way possible to become the best people they can be in their own way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Box Full Of Memories...

As most people already know, the Powell family is on the move again. This seems to be a pattern: once we have a kid, we pack up and move. When Lily was about 5 months old we quit our jobs, had the Army pack up our apartment, and moved halfway across the country from Kansas to Washington. Now, we are even going to top this by packing ourselves up and moving halfway across the globe with our 2-year old and a 2-month old baby (this will hopefully be the last of those moves, I'm not going to do it again!).

In preparation for said move, we drastically have to reduce our belongings. Most of our furniture has already been claimed by friends (we'd rather see our furniture go to people we know will cherish it rather than sell it to just anyone), Richard has someone interested in his car, most of his books are sold (I know the sacrifice you made, my heart, and I love you even more for it!), a few boxes full already on their way to Germany. Now, it was my turn to reduce my personal belongings. When we cleaned out Lily's closet, that has served as storage space for the last two years, I found several shoe boxes full of old letters, postcards, and other odds and ends. I decided that I would fit everything that's really important in these boxes into my "personal box", a small cardboard box with just random stuff and memorabilia that I keep in my nightstand.

This task sent me down memory lane last night. I found gems like a birthday card I received for my 6th birthday (that was 20 years ago!!!), old letters from my best friends, a ton of postcards I've received over the years from all over the world, the first Valentine's card Richard gave to me, etc. I sorted through cards we have received for our wedding, Lily's birth, the holidays, and so on. Making the decision on what goes and what stays was extremely difficult, to a degree that it made me feel like a hoarder. But in the end, I had to make my cuts, mostly based on how close I still am with the sender. I kept all correspondence with my best friend, but got rid of said card for my 6th birthday. I thought at some point that it would be neat to be able to show it to my daughters at some point, but then wondered whether they would even care to see a card their mom received from a distant relative who died long before they were born. But I kept all the cards we received for their birth and the birthdays, just to be able to show them one day how much they meant to people they might not even remember any more. Many people we have come to be close to here will stop staying in touch, some have already started, while others have become virtually family, so that they will always be part of our lives, no matter how far we live apart. I think this will be a good lesson for our girls to learn some day. Today, it was time for a second round of cuts, getting rid of envelopes that take up space, and revising some decisions from yesterday. I can proudly say, that everything fits in the little box now (does that mean I'm a recovering hoarder?), and the trash containers downstairs are a little fuller than they were before (just to prevent me getting up at 3 a.m. and again revising some decisions, I've taken a huge box of trash out at 10:30 p.m.; wonder what the neighbors thought...).

Looking at the little box next to me on the couch makes me a little sad right now, but I also feel very much relieved, as I always do after much-needed decluttering, as if I can see clearer, and I feel a little bit lighter too.. The coming days and weeks still hold plenty of sorting and decision-making in store for all of us, with some decisions being easy, others extremely difficult. But in the end it is all worth it, since it leads us to our new life in Germany, with endless opportunities for all of us.

Monday, April 26, 2010

5 A.M. Revelations

Our queen-sized bed we bought as newlyweds is getting crowded these days, with not only Violet occupying her due space after her 4-5 a.m. feeding, but also Lily claiming her place around 5 a.m. Lying there, half awake, with our two little girls in between Richard and me, my mind started wandering.

I started thinking about how our lives have changed over the last 4 years since we've bought this bed. I remember the day we went out to buy our first bedroom set, after having just signed the lease for our first apartment and bought our first car. We had been married for about 4 months and wanted a queen-sized bed so we could sleep closer to each other. About 18 months later, Lily joined our family. We trained her to sleep in her own bed from the beginning; I simply couldn't sleep with her in the bed, too scared to roll over her or suffocate her in the pillows; but we established the rule that she could be in our bed after sunrise. I remember those early days as a family of three, when we would sleep in until 10 a.m. with Lily sleeping in between us after her early morning feeding, and we thought life couldn't be more perfect. A move half-way across the country and another 2 years later, we were a family of four. A few months back, Lily had started to crawl in bed with us in the early morning to cuddle and sleep another hour or so. Now, we share the very same bed with our two girls, and can't wait to buy a bed that will actually accommodate our growing family so that Richard and I have more than 3 inches on the far sides of the bed to balance on while the girls occupy the middle.

Thinking about the "history" of our bed while watching the girls sleep peacefully like little angels, I realized, that this bed held everything that is important to me in this world. Everything outside this bed at that moment didn't matter. As long as our family is together, nothing can get to us. In the last 6 or so months we had to make some difficult decisions and faced a lot of criticism and aversion because of them. But all this has only made us stronger. We are sure that our decisions are the right ones for our family, and no-one could have made those decisions for us. Over that time we have learned who our real family and friends are, and who only accepts us on conditions. Some of these revelations have been painful, but only confirmed us that we chose the right path. We are looking forward to the future and all the changes we have ahead of us.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Life After Dairy: Day 3

Today started off with the last milk substitute in our fridge: almond milk. I actually expected it to be the best of all three choices as a plain beverage, but the surprising winner in this category was actually oat milk (it surprised me!). Almond milk tasted exactly like it sounds, liquid almonds; I expected it to be sweeter than it actually was, but it is lowest in calories compared to rice and oat milk (about 60 calories per serving in comparison to the other to options that have about double the calories). Since I wasn't too convinced by almond milk by itself I simply tried it as hot chocolate, and it tasted pretty good. I guess almond milk would work well as a milk substitute in all recipes that can use some additional almond flavor (a good tip would be to check the sweetness, since I noticed that the hot chocolate prepared with almond milk needed some additional sugar, but that is simply my personal taste). Going from there, I decided to use our wonderful parent group as a test audience and brought a dish of vegan oven-baked pancakes for our Sunday brunch. I think it meet broad approval there, based on the fact that most of it was eaten. For everyone interested, here's the recipe:

lots and lots of your favorite fruit, cut in bite-sized pieces if necessary (I used 5 pears and about half a bag frozen raspberries)
2 cups + 4 tablespoons of flour (I used regular white flour, but whole wheat would work as well)
~ 3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups + some extra almond milk (the "some extra" means add enough to make a smooth, not too thick batter)

Layer the fruit at the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Combine dry ingredients for pancake batter and mix; add almond milk and combine with a wire whisk. Pour batter over fruit and bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes (check if it is done with a toothpick).

Important note: the batter will not brown as regular pancake batter would, so don't think it is not done just because the top is still very pale!

My overall evaluation of the three milk substitutes I tested over the last three days is as follows:

Rice milk: Best for cooking (used it to make scrambled eggs today and worked great) due to its quite neutral taste. Not too tasty as a beverage on its own though.

Oat milk: My clear favorite as a plain beverage! Tastes like liquid oat meal. It is great to eat in not overly sweet cereal or for baking (you might have to use a little less sugar as usual).

Almond milk: Tastes like liquid almonds and is therefore good in any recipe that could use some extra almond flavor. Is not nearly as sweet as it sounds, recipes might need some extra sugar.

I am excited to try more recipes in the days to come; I will keep everyone updated if I come across something especially tasty. Otherwise, I will not bore everyone with daily posts from now on, but rather stick to periodical updates on how we're doing. The general plan is to slowly re-introduce some dairy into my diet once Violet turns 3 months, hoping that her system will tolerate it better then (Italian ice cream in Germany, how will I ache to eat you!). Until then I continue to appreciate any tips for recipes or substitutions (ice cream anyone??).

Even though I hate to label my eating habits in any way (I thought about becoming a vegetarian on several occasions, since I'm not a meat fan anyways, but sometimes I just crave a good piece of chicken or Greek meat, so why not indulge every once in a while?) but I think it would be interesting to try an all-vegan diet for a month or so, just to see how it is. Maybe I'll go for it at some point, who knows..

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Life After Dairy: Day 2

Day 2 started right off with my second milk alternative, oat milk. My opinion: yummie! I like it a lot better than rice milk as a beverage by itself. Its consistency is thicker and it actually has some of the oatmeal taste. I can definitely imagine using it for pancakes or for baking. Haven't tried the oat milk in any recipes yet, but plan on using it in the oven pancake dish for the parents group brunch tomorrow. Wish me luck :-) My general notion is, that rice milk will most likely be the better choice for cooking because of its more subtle taste, while I personally prefer oat milk as a plain beverage, for cereal, or recipes where an oat flavor would add an interesting note, for example for baking. I will definitely try to find some recipes for cookies or cakes and let you know about the results.

In related news: my rice milk pancakes also found approval with my friend Danielle and her girls. We enjoyed a nice brunch while Richard was out to sell his books in preparation for the big move. Lily had a blast showing her room to Emma and Ahnna and running all over the place. Her eyes just sparkled, it was wonderful!

For dinner, I tried a vegan version of Semmelknoedel (bread dumplings) a popular German side dish to accompany my Sauerbraten. It actually turned out alright, even though the recipe could have used something like egg beater to hold the dumplings together better. Here's the recipe for anyone who is interested (for the true vegans, these dumplings taste wonderful with a creamy mushroom sauce!):

1 bag hard sourdough rolls (I remove them from the bag and let them sit on the counter for several days until they are hard)
about 1 cup warm rice milk
1 onion
some parsley
salt & pepper
egg beater (equal to 1 egg)
bread crumbs (if necessary)

Cut rolls into small pieces; pour rice milk over rolls until just moist. Cook onion in skillet until it starts to brown; add parsley (fresh or dried), stir, and take off the stove. Season bread mixture with salt and pepper to taste and mash up with your hand. Add onion and parsley mixture and egg beater and mix well. Add bread crumbs if dough is too sticky. Form dough into balls and cook them for ca. 15 minutes in boiling water.

Please feel free to add any mushroom sauce or other recipes in the comment section. I'm open to suggestions!

Tomorrow I'm looking forward to trying the last of the three milk substitutes, almond milk. It sounds delicious, and I can't wait to find out if it lives up to my expectations.

Friday, April 23, 2010

3-Hole Devil's Food Cake

First of all: Thanks to all my friends out there, who support me in my journey to a satisfying dairy-free diet. I'd like to take the opportunity to share a recipe I've gotten almost 3 years ago from my mother-in-law; only recently I have discovered that it is actually vegan, never would have guessed. I love the recipe because it is almost mess-free and the cake is just perfectly moist and chocolatey!

You'll need:
9 x 13 baking dish
measuring cup
measuring spoons
fork or wire whisk

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (regular or extra dark)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups lukewarm water

Sift flour and other dry ingredients directly into baking dish; make 3 holes in mixture and add vanilla extract, vinegar and oil in the holes; pour water over everything and mix well. Bake at 350 F for 30 - 40 minutes.

I usually cover the cake with foil and put it in the fridge once it's cooled. It stays moist forever this way.

Enjoy (let me know how you liked it if you decide to try this recipe!)

My Life After Dairy, Day 1

I freely admit it, I am an unrepentant dairy addict. Without my daily made-from-scratch hot chocolate, milk with cereal (I say milk with cereal instead of cereal with milk, since there's always more milk than cereal in my bowl), and loads of cheese on most of my dinners I am unable to function. Dairy is my comfort food. During the last weeks of my pregnancy with Violet, I even craved cream so badly it went right from the dispenser in my mouth, no cake needed.

Now, along came Miss Violet, and with her (or better: within her) loads of gas. We sometimes wondered why she was not simply floating away with all the gas in her little system. I cut out the most obvious culprit first, my high-fiber cereal. Things improved slightly, but she still cried from gas pain almost every day. I cut out the next best thing, coffee, hoping to improve things; all to no avail. Finally, I had to face it: at our first check-up with our midwife she told us that the most likely culprit for Violet's pain and suffering was my much-beloved dairy. I had to rid my diet of it.. ALL of it.. I cursed myself for not having a ginormous cup of hot chocolate for breakfast, but nothing I could do..

So started my journey to a life without dairy. I consulted several people for viable alternatives (special thanks to my friend Nadja, a long-time vegan for the wonderful tips). After a couple of days without any viable alternative for dairy (and much grieving), I finally went out to buy the most recommended alternatives to milk: an assortment of rice, oat, and almond milk. Day 1 I started with rice milk; the consistency is slightly strange for a 2% fat milk lover, much more watery. The taste is not at all milk-like, but still not unpleasant, even though it has a slightly strange after-taste. My next attempt at vegan pancakes made with rice milk instead of regular milk even earned the seal of approval from my gourmet husband (who had everything but shunned my first attempt of vegan pancakes substituting apple sauce and water for milk). Next, I might even be brave enough and try rice milk hot chocolate, who knows...

At this point, I would like to thank again all my friends, who have supplied me with a long list of dairy alternatives. I see plenty of Thai dishes in our near future (coconut milk anyone? and after all, cheese on Asian dishes is even too weird for me..), as well as other non-dairy treats (vegan chocolate cake!!). Our game plan is to cut out all dairy for now and slowly start to re-introduce some into my diet once Violet turns 3 months; hopefully her system will have matured enough to tolerate dairy better at that point.

Ps.: Keep the tips for dairy substitutes coming, everyone!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Perfect Body

Everyone has those days when you just feel yucky, no matter what. In those days it doesn't help having a nice woman on the radio telling you about the woes of women with two kids: saggy skin on the belly, maybe a few pounds away from your ideal weight, and where is my muscle tone anyways??

Having given birth to our second child 2 weeks ago, I can definitely see where she's coming from. But luckily, said nice woman gives me the perfect solution: minimally invasive body contouring!!! Together with literally no down time, perfect for us imperfect mothers, right?
This makes me wonder: what the heck this world has come to?? I admit, watching Heidi Klum strolling down the runway in lingerie the day after giving birth to baby no. x is not really what the average woman wants to see, but we need to remind ourselves that this woman is paid to work her tiny butt off to look like that, while we normal women can't even think the words gym membership in between job, family, household, groceries, and maybe 5 minutes of adult time at the end of the day. Yes, I am certainly annoyed and appalled - and admittedly sometimes affected - by these brainless and superficial commercials on the radio every morning. Yes, I am less than perfect, but guess what: I have a wonderful husband, who would even swear that I was the most attractive woman on the planet for him while 9 months pregnant. I don't need to have the perfect body for my older daughter to love me for being silly and rolling around on the living room floor or singing "Wiggle" songs with her. And of course my younger daughter doesn't care about saggy skin on my tummy as long as she can just lay on my chest, listen to my heartbeat and sleep for hours.

There are things much more important in life than the perfect body, which will age and fade away anyways sooner or later. Reminding myself of the love I share with my family always makes up for those moments of weakness, when I look at myself in the mirror and wonder whether I will ever find my abs again.
Thus, I decided to let the nice woman on the radio talk and have her plastic surgery, while I am perfectly content and enjoy my family with my perfectly imperfect body! I liked my body post baby much better than before I had kids anyways; sometimes, watching your body go through those amazing changes gives you confidence you never had before, saggy skin or not (the skin will actually go back to normal after a couple of months, trust me on that!).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

+ 1 Changes Everything

Being pregnant for the second time, I have reflected a lot about the changes this addition will bring to our family. The changes a first child brings are more obvious: they turn a couple into a family, it adds a lot of responsibility and requires many sacrifices, especially when it comes to flexibility and activities, but it more than makes up for it with the kind of love that is beyond anything one can imagine: the unconditional love between a parent and a child. One is also rewarded with the amazing experience of watching this child grow from a completely dependent infant to a more and more independent person, with a unique character.

Being pregnant for the second time, I experienced a lot of "been there, done that" (didn't get a T-shirt though). I knew about what I had to expect of being pregnant, even though this pregnancy was much different from my first (that's why it took us 10 weeks to find out). Of course, the birth experience itself couldn't have been more different, with a prolonged 60 hour labor and a birth under heavy epidural at a military hospital with Lily to a 14 hour start-to-finish labor with a completely unmedicated birth in the peace and quiet of a birth center with just the midwife, the student, and Richard by my side.

But how would bringing this precious little angel home with us change our family? I gave that much thought, especially during the last weeks of pregnancy. How would Lily adjust from being the only child at the center of our family to being a big sister? How would the arrival of a second child change the relationship between me and my husband? How will our family transform to include our second child? Over those questions I could only speculate.

Thus, even though we've done it before, we started our family on a completely new experience bringing Violet home on April 5. Early morning on April 6, after not getting too much sleep due to a restless baby, our little Tornado Lily stormed our bedroom to investigate her new sister. All our fears about her being jealous of her little sister for having to share much of the attention that was focused on her so far, were completely unfounded. Lily fell in love with Violet the second she saw her, and we constantly need to hold her back from sharing her excited love with her little sister. She is sharing her toys and her food (which of course she can't quite do at that point), and wants to hug and kiss Violet constantly. Within seconds, Lily has transformed from our baby to being a protective big sister, and we are amazed each time how much love she displays for Violet despite struggling with some issues of being a 2-year old. We as parents also had to learn a few things, most importantly that even though our girls are siblings, they already show different personalities, as well as likes and dislikes. While Lily as a baby was constantly wiggling around and HATED being restrained, we learned fairly quickly that the only way to get Violet to sleep in her own bed was swaddling her tightly in a couple of blankets. But we also enjoy seeing how much alike Lily and Violet are in other aspects: they both are/were very alert babies, being awake for hours at a time, soaking their environment in like a sponge; they are/were both active and enjoy moving around (Lily could hold her head up for a few seconds within a week while Violet already rolls to her side, since she's a determined side-sleeper).

Our family has truly changed in its very foundations. We are all learning our roles and enjoy the experience, even though it sometimes drives us up the wall. We are looking forward to watching our girls grow up together to be strong and independent individuals. I can't wait for Lily helping Violet on her first attempts to walk, and eventually having both girls storm our bed at the crack of dawn. Thinking about the future makes me smile thinking about all the gifts these two little girls are going to give us without even being aware of it. Being a parent of two couldn't be more different from being a parent of one, but every challenge is met with the so much more rewarding gift of love from our daughters. I couldn't be more grateful for both of our miracle girls!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Violet's Birth Story

Richard, Lily and I are proud to announce that our little Violet Elizabeth has joined us on Monday, April 5, at 5:23pm PDT.
Baby Violet, April 6, 2010

The labor and delivery couldn't have been more different from my birth experience with Lily. After having some issues towards the end of the pregnancy (pregnancy-induced cholestasis, pelvic pain, etc.), I was looking forward to my "due week" in between the original due date of March 31 and the adjusted date of April 8, even though I knew that both my regular midwives would be out of town. I was very sure, that Violet would make her appearance within that week, since Lily also arrived very close to her due date. After spending most of Easter Sunday sleeping and joking to Richard that I was saving up sleep for our daughter to arrive, I woke up around 2:30am on Monday night and started having some minor contractions around 3am. I was not alarmed yet, since I have gone through a very long prodromal labor with Lily, and the contractions were not worse than minor menstrual cramps. Around 5:30am I got out of bed because the contractions suddenly picked up in intensity. I went to the kitchen to get something to eat and drink to see whether that would slow things down again, and also pumped up my gymnastics ball, since bouncing around on one helped me tremendously while in labor with Lily. My contractions indeed slowed down a bit shortly after I heard Lily moving into our bed around 7am, and I joined Richard and Lily in bed for a while. Soon after, however, the contractions picked up again and I got out of bed once more. Richard and Lily found me bouncing around on my ball in the living room, sipping some tea. Around 8am I called my friend Danielle, who would watch Lily while Richard and I were at the birth center, to give her a heads up that we would most likely drop off Lily sometime during the day. I expected it to be sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, with our baby arriving at night or the next morning. Little did we know.. Around 10 am I suddenly felt sick and threw up. Little Lily witnessed the situation and became very upset; I asked Richard to go ahead and drop her off at Danielle's, just to make things easier on her. While he was gone I called the midwife's pager just to get a heads up on how to proceed, submerged myself in the tub to ease the back labor and waited for the midwife to call back. With my contractions sometimes only being about 3-4 minutes apart she told me to come in immediately since we were about 45 minutes from the birth center. I dried up and started packing the last things into our bag; as soon as Richard came back, we headed out to the birth center, where we arrived around 12:45pm after a quick stop for me to vomit some more. Once at the birth center I went in their huge birthing tub, where I labored and vomited for about another 3 hours; the midwife had to perk me up with some electrolyte water and "athlete's goo" because my body had used up all sugar and carbohydrate reserves and started digesting protein. After a quick trip to the bathroom I decided not to return to the tub for now and labored walking around; shortly after, around 4pm I started pushing. Our beautiful daughter Violet was born at 5:23pm; she is 21 inches tall and weighs 7lbs 14oz; she has strawberry blond hair and blue eyes.

Richard was the most amazing partner during this birth I could imagine, and I couldn't have done it without his patience. Our midwife and the midwife student were so wonderful, helping me through the back labor and pushing by compressing my hips and helping Violet through the pelvis. Even though I tore very badly with Lily and the doctor did a poor job stitching me back up, I did not tear at all with Violet, due to the midwife's expertise in easing her arm out from under her chin and helping me stretch. I cannot express my emotions about this amazing experience of completely natural and unmedicated childbirth; it was definitely a lot more intense than my birth experience with Lily, but something I would never want to miss! As soon as I had Violet in my arms the first time, she gazed at me and the world around her. She was just fully there, not under the influence of medications or stress and started nursing immediately. 

We are greatful for this experience and to have another healthy, beautiful daughter!