Monday, May 31, 2010

My Promise To My Daughters

I have recently read an article on a parenting website about judgmental sentiments in the mommy blogosphere. Reading the arguments the author gives for her sentiments, I have to say, I completely disagree with her. From the moment a woman decides to get pregnant, or to continue an unplanned pregnancy, she enters a kind of unwritten contract with her baby to protect him/her from harm during pregnancy and beyond. From this point on, she shares her body for many months, first to help the little one develop, then to nourish him/her; at least that's how it should be. Thinking about this article, I compiled a list of promises I have made to my daughters as soon as I was aware of their tiny existence at 6 weeks and 10 weeks pregnant, respectively.

I promise to do everything in the world to provide you with a safe environment to grow. I will avoid any harmful substance and dangerous situations in order to allow you to develop and prosper until it is time to meet you in person. I admit that while I was a model pregnant woman with Lily (sans the exercise, because I was much too busy to squeeze that in, and I was on my feet a lot at work), I had slips while pregnant with Violet. Nothing bad like alcohol or cigarettes, but during those last few weeks of pregnancy I just couldn't help but drinking my morning joe most days to counteract the effect of the general fatigue of late-term pregnancy.

I promise to educate myself and do my best to achieve a successful low-intervention and drug-free birth. It is common knowledge that vaginal births with as little drugs as possible are best for both mother and baby. This article covers some of the major disadvantages of c-sections over vaginal births. In this category I was more successful with Violet. Due to emotional issues I had extensive and painful prodromal labor with Lily, and after nearly 56 hours of labor and little progress the doctor at the Army hospital decided to put me on pitocin and an epidural to allow me to rest. The drugs made me so numb I did not feel a thing and the nurses had to coach me through the pushing phase. The result was a major tear and many stitches; how many I've never been told. Lily was born screaming, and she wouldn't stop for about 1.5 hours. After about 30 minutes the nurses took her away from me, washed her and put her under a heating lamp. I admit, even though I read a lot, I was not informed enough (and definitely too drugged) to intervene. It took me more than 2 months to fully recover and heal from this birth. My birth with Violet was a completely different story. After the negative experience at Irwin Army Community Hospital in Fort Riley I opted for a birth center this time around. After only about 14 hours of labor we welcomed little Violet into this world. It was peaceful and serene. Violet only squeaked twice before opening her eyes widely and looking around. She nursed right away and we were released home from Eastside Birth Center after only a couple of hours.

I promise to provide you with the best nourishment available. I am aware, that breastfeeding is not an option for everyone. There are people who depend on medication that is incompatible with breastfeeding, and a few women simply don't produce enough milk for their babies. Unless a woman is in one of the two categories, there is no valid reason NOT to breastfeed. I cannot understand women who simply choose not to breastfeed. Why would anyone opt for suboptimal food for their children in those important first months of life. Studies prove that breastfed children are smarter and healthier than their formula-fed peers. I see a lot that women argue that they cannot breastfeed their children because they work. As a working mother myself I like to disagree. When Lily was 8 weeks old I returned to work part-time, when she was 5 months old I started working full-time. I nursed her for 15 months. Was it always easy? No. I spent most of my lunch break pumping, leaving me no time to go out to lunch with co-workers or to work out; but these were sacrifices I made gladly for the well-being of our daughter, and I am not the only mother in my circle of friends who managed to nurse while working full-time. I am currently nursing Violet and plan on doing it until she decides that it is enough, just as Lily did.

I promise to do everything possible to provide you with a safe and happy childhood. I will give you all the love I have, and even though I am not a perfect parent (who is?), I will make decisions to the best of my knowledge and conscience in order to give you the best possible start into our life.

This is to our daughters Lily and Violet, who we love beyond words, who are the center of our lives and the reason for us to try being the best parents we can be. Daddy and Mami love you!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

When There's No Right

Yes, I am depressed. Majorly. I've been battling with depressions since my teenage years, was in therapy as a teenager and on anti-depressants after I started college. About a year later I decided, that I was done with all of it, quit therapy and drugs. Therapy has never worked for me, and when I finally found a wonderful therapist, she was booked and did not accept any clients for the foreseeable future. At this point, all I wanted is being all me again, embracing the sadness as a part of my being rather than battling it. In Richard I found the perfect partner, who understands this part without having to ask questions, to whom I don't have to explain myself.

I'm glad to say, that I've barely had any depressive episodes, at least no major ones, since I found out about being pregnant with Lily. Until now. This move is taking it all out of me. At this point, I don't know any more what's right or wrong, if we're doing the right thing, even though all I wanted is to go back to Germany. I had a little depressive phase when my friend Kathrin, whose husband was stationed with Richard in Fort Riley, returned to Germany, and also after we returned from our first trip back home when Lily was 13 months old. It was then that we decided we wanted to go back. When we found out that we expected Violet, we decided not to waste any more time and move back as soon as she is born and we have all the papers in order. This time is now; we have only a good week left here, and I'm in the midst of quite a deep depression. I wonder, if the decision to go back was wrong. Actually, I know that it wasn't; it was a good decision for the well-being and advantage of our daughters. We don't want to be concerned about their education and health care, and we want them to be able to grow up with family.

On the other hand, I am very concerned about the impact this move will have on our family, especially on Lily. We're part of a very tight group of friends, who in these almost 2 years here have become our family. Cat is more the girls' grandma than anyone else. She's known Lily since she was 6 months old, has celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her birthdays with her; she's seen her almost every week, and Lily just loves her and Charlie to death. She spends Friday afternoon waiting for the door ringing, because that means her grandma and Uncle Charlie are arriving. We'll also miss our friends Yi, David, and Danielle, who have been her real aunts and uncle. Danielle's daughters Emma and Ahnna are Lily's best friends, and it warms my heart seeing her take off with the girls as soon as they see each other. Leaving all those wonderful people behind breaks my heart more than I would have ever thought. I am concerned about the impact the change will have on Lily; I know, little kids adapt quickly, but this will be the second time for her, and this move will soon be followed by a second, small move to our own place once we have found jobs. Being 2 is a difficult time for little kids, and I hope that Lily will overcome these huge changes easily, but I am also very concerned, because she's a very sensitive little girl.

We are giving up this amazing network of family-like friends for the security we'll have in Germany. I know that our friends aren't lost to us. We are already planning a visit back to Washington before Violet turns 2, and Cat and Charlie are eying a visit to Germany sometime next year. Technology is also on our side, with Skype, e-mail, and telephone being available, but still. I'll miss the Friday evenings with our D&D group, the holidays with Cat and Charlie, and the almost weekly visits with David. I'll miss seeing Lily getting excited as soon as we pull up Davids house, or when Yi enters our apartment. On the upside, we'll change this for holidays with my families, and visits with my best friend from high school, Sonja. We won't have to worry how to pay for the medical bills when the girls get sick, and whether we can afford for one of us staying at home to school the kids because the school system here lacks in every regard. The girls will still grow up with grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins around. But knowing that does not make it any easier for me.

It seems as if no matter which way we go, it's not right. Staying here would not be good for our family in the long run, while moving is extremely painful at the moment and might cause issues for Lily. We know from economics class, that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term losses, but once emotions come into the equation, it is not that easy. At the moment I wished I could just stop time, still being here with our friends while looking forward to the move, but this is not possible. I'm sure it will become easier once we're in Germany and are too busy getting established to feel sad or depressed; and once we're established, we'll be busy building our lives, and planning our first trip back to Washington. I know, time will fly and sooner than we know it we'll be back. It's just those few weeks I need to overcome, before there will be light at the end of the tunnel again for me. Just go forward.

PS: Listening to HIM really fuels the mood!!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Moving Pains: Update

I promise you, soon you won't have to deal with my posts on moving any more, in 10 days, to be exact; that's when we'll touch German ground again, and officially start the adventure "starting a new life abroad". Until then I'll use the opportunity to update you all on our progress so far. This move was definitely much more difficult and demanding on us than our last two, since we don't just have to write a termination notice to our apartment manager and cancel the utilities, but also sort through many years' worth of belongings, strictly weeding out things we could do without, and packing boxes, hoping the china and stemware would make it to Germany in one piece. Here are the things we have accomplished so far:

As of now, 12 boxes with personal belongings are on their way to my friend in Germany (3 or 4 more are still to be packed and sent shortly before we leave, since we still need those items). Luckily, sending all of them hasn't been nearly as expensive as we've thought, partly thanks to my friend's APO address and media mail, but also the USPS's incredibly low parcel post rates. That's why we'll probably send a couple more boxes than initially planned, for which I am really thankful!

We have all travel documents in order and booked the plane tickets, hotel in Vancouver, and finally also an SUV to take us there. The day we applied for Violet's passport, Richard went online to check flight schedules and cost. Luckily, we decided not only to check our local Seattle-Tacoma airport, but also the one in Vancouver, Canada, only about 3-4 hours away from us, and found out that the flights from Vancouver cost at least $200 less than those out of Seattle; an additional perk interesting for families with small children is that the flight from Vancouver is non-stop while the one from Seattle has a lay-over either on the East coast or in Europe. Since our flight takes off shortly after 11am, we decided to drive up to Vancouver a day early in order to take a lot of stress off the trip. Since we decided to book early, we were able to secure an awesome rate at a hotel near the airport. The last obstacle was finding a rental car large enough to take all of our luggage up to Vancouver. Online, only regular-sized sedans were available, which wouldn't be enough for the 4 of us, 3 suitcases, a golf bag, a travel bed, and a whole bunch of carry-ons. Last week we finally went out to inquire at different rental agencies, and finally found a great offer from Hertz. On Monday, June 7th we'll head out to pick up our SUV for our trip to Vancouver, and I'm excited, always wanted to drive an SUV (but never own one).

Last Monday we have sold our Chevy. It was bitter-sweet: on the one hand, we were glad we don't have to worry about it any more, on the other hand it was a little painful to see this car go. We have bought it when we first came to the US in 2006, expecting to own it for at least a decade while building our family. But this is a sacrifice we needed to do; but it's just a car, nothing we couldn't replace at some point.

Today, we finally had our yard sale; last week, the weather and our health destroyed the plans, but today we faced the occasional showers and set out early in the morning to get rid of a bunch of our stuff. All the things we couldn't sell we donated to Goodwill, so again, we're a big step further towards finalizing this move. Comcast and PSE are notified as well, the credit card account closed and all funds consolidated in our checking account. The car insurance for the Chevy is canceled, and Geico notified about the insurance being canceled for the Mazda as well. Yesterday, I finally managed to break the curse of procrastination and test-packed my suit-case, being very surprised that everything fit so far.

All that is left for now is taking all of our furniture to our friends on Friday, weeding out Richard's closet and pack his suitcase, pack and send out the last 3 or 4 boxes, and deep-cleaning the apartment. Looking around right now, it looks as if we were so far from being done, but thinking about the chores left, we're much closer than it appears. Maybe it will become much more real once the furniture is gone and the apartment looks like we're moving. Probably we won't be able to have a farewell party, therefore the remaining 10 days will be busy with getting together with our friends and saying our last good-byes. That's the part I'm dreading most about the whole move, and I hope it will be over quick and painless. I know that the most difficult part will be saying good-bye to Cat and Charlie; I'll try to focus on planning our next get-together hopefully early next year, instead of actually saying good-bye.

Belated: Foto Friday

Lily goofing off just before bed time

Cute little Violet being patient with crazy-picture Mami

Mad Hatter Lily

Still looking for a good caption for this picture; suggestions welcome!

PS: Foto Friday came a little bit late this week due to a wonderful Friday night with a couple of great friend and insightful to silly conversations...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Turning Into Mom

Growing up, I really couldn't understand my mother most of the time. hover-mom, party pooper, and dictator were just a few of the names I secretly gave her over the years. When it was time to look for colleges, she strongly voted for a school about 30 minutes by train from my home town, so I could spend my college years living under her wings. Luckily, my dad supported me in going for the other school offering my major that was too far away to commute every day (even my mom admitted that). So I went and applied, and received my preliminary acceptance letter before I even sat the finals. Four months later, after about a month of being majorly annoyed by my mom obsessing about my moving out, I finally entered my very own studio apartment that would be my home for the next 3 years.

Moving out was probably the best move I could have made to improve my relationship with my mom. Having some distance between us helped us actually to become closer. Our relationship improved further after I married shortly before graduating college (which she first adamantly opposed) and moved overseas with my new husband. My mom started to see me more as an equal than her little girl, and even sought advice from me. A good year later I was pregnant and later had our first daughter, and once again, our relationship improved (except for those 2 occasions my parents came visit us, since for some reason, we seem to need some distance between us to get along).

When our daughter was about a year old, I noticed for the first time, that I was actually taking on some of the opinions my mom had annoyed me with for as long as I can think. I had to bug her for about 2 years to allow me having a second set of earrings pierced, and when I came back from a trip to England with two more, she literally freaked out. At that point I decided better not to tell her about the tattoo I had gotten alongside the earrings. A couple of years and a few tattoos later, she finally caught on to my secret addiction when I bent over just a little too much to reveal the latest tattoo on my lower back (I did not reveal the complete body of art until after I was married and was pregnant with our first, at which point she had mellowed out a bit). I don't go into the details of the ensuing argument, but I can tell you, it wasn't pretty. At this point I wondered why she cared, that it was my body to do with as I pleased (and at least I wasn't drinking or smoking; tattoos won't give you cancer).

Now, with two daughters by myself, I come to understand her point of view. When I noticed it for the first time, I was almost horrified. How could I turn into my mom?? Well, it just happened. Richard and I had discussed that we would allow our daughters to have their ears pierced when they were old enough to ask for them and understand the ramifications (pain, risk of infection, etc.), piercings not before 16, and no tattoos until 18. We think this is fair to them. Now, however, only thinking of our girl walking up to me asking to have her ears pierced is painful. Whenever I look at her, I see my perfect little angel; imagining that one day she'll have earrings, piercings, and maybe even tattoos just makes me shuddering. I wished she'd always be my little girl (call me hover-mom), and never asked for having holes put through any part of her body or pictures needled under her skin. I can only hope that her "rebellion" will be to forgo tattoos and piercings, since unfortunately I will have absolutely no credible reasons to give her against it.

Will I ever tell my mom "now I understand you"? Depends, maybe one day. Until then I better watch my actions closely to not turn into my mom. I love her to death, but I want to raise my kids to become independent women who are able to take care of themselves. I know this is easy to say now and a completely different matter when the time comes to let go, but I would definitely not do them any favor hindering their personal development. While I love my daughters to death and would always be there for them, I also want them to be able to take care of themselves and make good decisions for their lives (whether I like them or not). Please, remind me of this post in future if necessary!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Road Trippin'

My second song title as blog title, I need to stop that! Anyways, just listening to the RHCP (guess the song..) with Myth Busters running in the background while I'm typing this; I wonder whether songs are going to inspire me or just distract me from what I really want to say.. I guess we'll see.

With yet another big move ahead of us (yes, I'll write about it AGAIN, because that's what's on my mind a lot these days!), I am thinking about all the trips, big and small, behind me. Growing up, we were lucky that our parents decided that traveling and broadening our horizon is a good thing, therefore we got to go on a family vacation abroad about once a year. Over the years I've been to Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Bulgaria, just to name a few. School took me to Hungary, Ireland, and France. The summer before I started 12th grade I went to a summer course to England to prepare for my English finals. This was my first trip all by myself, and it was the best experience in my life so far. I stayed with an English family, who had 2 kids about my age. We partied at home and went out clubbing together; I got my first tattoo this summer, sang my share of drunken karaok,e and was robbed for the first (and only) time. And of course I improved my English; it was then that I discovered, that I am somewhat talented writing, and that I enjoy it. I think my first attempts at creative writing from this summer are still hidden somewhere in my old room at my parents' house. This trip definitely taught me a lot, not only academically, but also about life; I came back more confident and independent, having learned the one or the other lesson (never EVER put your back to your purse, even if it's to keep your drunk friends from running off).

The next defining trip was the trip with my best friend Sonja to Istanbul. It was the last trip as a single woman, the last before graduating college and starting a life in a foreign country. It was only a long weekend, but we enjoyed discovering an ancient city so full of historic treasures. We ate at little taverns on the streets and had vodka lemon drinks with way more vodka than you would ever get in Germany. We caused confusion about our nationality at the spice market, bought real Pashmina shawls (yes, the ones made of silk and cashmere) for a fraction of their price back home, and acquired a year's supply of tea. We saw Topkapi palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia together, and survived various trips on the local dolmus. I will never ever forget this trip with my best friend, which brought us even closer together.

About 9 months after my trip to Turkey, I embarked on the greatest adventure of my life. Newly married to the most wonderful man in the world and a recent college graduate I entered a plane to the US to start a life with my new husband. We stopped in Maryland where I got to meet his parents and grandma before traveling on to our new home for the next two years, Manhattan KS. Only two years later, we had just become new parents a few months ago, Richard quit the Army, I quit my job, we packed all of our belongings and moved to Washington State to start a new life. Here, we have made our home, met new, wonderful people who have become our family and watched our daughter grow from a little baby to the most beautiful little girl one can imagine. We went through some difficulties, but always came out on top and stronger than before. After a trip back home to Germany we decided on yet another big move back to Germany in order to be able to provide a better life for Lily. When we found out a few months later that we were expecting a second baby, we knew that we had to make definite plans and decisions now, and decided to move once our little daughter was born.

This date is less than two weeks away now. At the moment, both of our little girls are sleeping while I am sitting here, musing about our lives, our past, our future. More than ever I realize, that life is not a straight path to our ultimate finish line; it is all up to us how we shape the course of our lives. In order to have a fulfilled life we must not live for the end, but in the here and now. We should learn from the mistakes in the past, plan for the future, but mostly enjoy the present, with all the gifts in it. Who knows when we reach the finish line; stop looking and realize that your journey is your destination.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

All Those Small Things

This afternoon I found myself sitting in a local short-order restaurant opposite my husband and older daughter with our younger daughter sleeping peacefully in her car seat beside me, munching on my delicious salmon burger and stealing a couple of fries from our daughter's kid's meal. Suddenly, I had to smile. Out of the blue, for no particular reason. Sitting there, looking at those three people that mean the world and more to me, my flowed over with happiness. My husband noticed my smile and asked me what was up, and I just told him nothing. Nothing in particular. I was simply happy.

But what was I so happy about? I suddenly became aware of all the small things that we mostly don't even notice in our day-to-day routine. I am blessed with a wonderful husband and two beautiful daughters. We're all healthy; ok, we're all having a cold right now, but nothing bad, and for the most part, we're healthy. We have friends, who are more like family than some people who are actually related to us. We have people supporting us no matter what. And we're doing fine financially. In this economy, that's a good thing. We're about to embark on an adventure to better our lives as a family, with support from so many sides. And right now, we have so much time to spend together as a family. Probably time is the major thing I am thankful for right now.

In the last two years, and maybe even before that, family time was oftentimes short. In between jobs, commuting time, and other obligations, spending time together was often not possible. Our only family vacation was a stressful trip to Germany, where we had an overfilled schedule of meeting with all the people we haven't seen in such a long time (most of my family I hadn't seen in three years). Once we returned, I was so ready for a vacation, but instead was back in my chair at the office the very next day, jet-lagged or not, I didn't have an option. The only thing we did not have during our vacation was quality time as a family. And once we move to Germany it will be a while until we can just relax and really enjoy time just us 4 together again. In between dealing with living with family, running from government agency to government agency to register our residence, applying for different services, applying for Richard's visa, looking for jobs, etc. there will be little time to relax. And once we have jobs, it will be all about looking for an apartment and moving our little family.

Right now, I am dream-planning a weekend trip for our family to this small hotel in the middle of nowhere in the Bavarian Forest. My parents used to take me and my sister there for family vacations a few time; back then, I was mostly bored, but right now I can't imagine anything better than just relaxing, taking a dip in the pool, sweating in the sauna, and enjoying walks in the forest. My goal is to realize this trip this year, which means our family will be established independently by then. We'll do our best to achieve our goal, and be able to enjoy time as a family again. But no matter what, nothing really matters as long as we four are together, and this is truly the best gift in the world!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The 21st Century Dad

As many of you know, we're definitely a non-traditional family. When Lily was 8 weeks old I went back to work part-time until Richard was done with the Army. When she was 5 months old we packed our life in Kansas up and moved to Washington. I found a full-time job and Richard ended up staying at home with our daughter. This temporary arrangement became permanent, and Lily had the benefit of being raised by a parent full time. At times during these 2 years I struggled with this arrangement. Before becoming a parent I've always wanted to return to work full time as soon as possible, but once Lily was born my attitude towards motherhood changed fundamentally. Even though I am not a stay-at-home mom, I would have loved to work part-time and still have enough time to enjoy all the fun things one can do at this age, like play groups, baby swimming, etc. Unfortunately, it did not work out like that. Most of the time this was ok for me; at least I was too busy to really stop and think about it. At other times, I envied Richard for all the time he spent with Lily and the special bond they shared. Looking at families around us, however, I noticed, that we are not alone, but that there is definitely a shift in family structure all around us. An article in "babytalk", a magazine I find once a month in my mail box even featured an article on this new, 21st Century Father in its latest issue, proofing that the "traditional" family is outdated and vanishing.

The modern dad is involved in his children's lives. The number of stay-at-home dads, according to the article, has increased by one third from 105,000 in 2002 to 140,000 in 2008, not including those dads who would like to cut back on work to be with their children, dad's working from home or part-time, and same-sex couples with adopted children. New studies don't have exact numbers yet, but assume that the number of SAHDs even increased during the economic recession.

Even without these numbers I can say that I am very proud of Richard. When I see him interacting with Lily my heart just warms up. She has always been a Daddy's girl, and spending all this time with him has even strengthened their relationship. Shortly before the birth of our second daughter, he confessed that he was just terrified before Lily's birth, wondering whether he would make a decent dad, but felt much more self-confident this time around. I absolutely did not have any doubts that he would be a good dad, but even my highest expectations were exceeded. In these good 2 years since Lily's birth I watched his transformation to an amazing Dad; he's simply the perfect father to Lily, giving her the guidance and freedom she needs. I can't help but smiling thinking about their occasional Daddy-Daughter lunch dates during the week while I am at work, or Richard taking Lily out for a drive or to the playground. If he worked full-time, all these things would not be possible. Our evenings and weekends include besides family-time also a lot of mommy-time, in order to allow Daddy some time for himself and to catch up on playtime missed during the week.

The role as the father as financial provider is definitely outdated. The fathers who are actively involved in their children's upbringing are the future. Both parents are increasingly equally involved raising their kids as women are more and more seeking professional fulfillment themselves. In the long run, children who are raised in the "traditional" way with a mostly absent father are certainly missing out compared to their peers, who are raised by equally involved parents. However, this arrangement, that clearly presents a number of advantages to children is sometimes still seen as a threat by some people. In our own family we are criticized for our arrangement while other family members are praised for sticking to the model of a SAHM and a notoriously absent father, who mostly contributes financially to the family. Please, can anyone tell me how this is of any advantage to the children? Isn't it much better if they spend quality time with both their parents on a regular basis instead of being completely dependent on just one parent?

When we decided to move our family back to Germany as soon as Violet was born, we knew that this may completely change our family situation again. As of now we don't know how our job arrangement will work out in Germany; it would be nice if I could have a break, spend more time during the week with the girls and work as a translator, establishing a viable customer base while Richard works on post, but we'll definitely keep all options and our mind open to accept opportunities as they present themselves, not how tradition or people want our family to be.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Perceiving Me, Perceiving You

The entire Powell family is down with a cold right now, which resulted in a lazy afternoon at home rather than the planned moving sale. Since I had nothing better to do (and needed some time to relax) I turned to Netflix and found "World's Greatest Dad" starring Robin Williams. It is a movie aboutLance, a teacher at a private school (and unsuccessful writer), who writes a suicide note in order to make his teenage son Kyle's death as a result of a "freak accident" (let your imagination take off, or just watch the movie!) look as if he had hanged himself. The suicide note is a hit, inspiring students at the school to look into themselves and change their lives. Seeing the impact of his note, Lance writes a journal he accredits to Kyle, which becomes a huge success at the school. Lance's poetry class is overbooked with students, and Kyle, who - to say the least - was a total jerk, becomes a hero with a large fellowship posthumously, based on the persona delivered by the journal and suicide note his father wrote.

In the progress, it seemed to me that Lance has described the person he wanted Kyle to be, while the students were able to identify themselves with different aspects of the persona Lance created. When Lance admits to the scam in the end, the disappointment can be clearly seen in the students' and faculty members' faces. Their little world of a perfect, troubled young hero a la Werther (see "The Sorrows of Young Werther"/"Die Leiden den jungen Werther" by J.W. von Goethe) was shattered, and the grim reality of their own lives set in again.

Analyzing the the movie's premise, one can see that it is nothing but an exaggerated depiction of daily life. Oftentimes we are perceiving people the way we want them to be rather than the way they really are. We love them for what we see in them whether it is truly there or we just imagine it because we want it to be there so badly. On the other hand, many people are going through life taking on disguises only to please people. I wonder how much effort is wasted in creating these perceptions on whatever end, and how this energy could be used to more effective ends? What would happen if people simply sat down, looked in a mirror and asked themselves: "Who am I?" Would it make them happier? What if people didn't go through life trying to change people to fit in their narrow-minded world view but accept them for who they are? Would it make the world a better and happier place to live? Would it help our society to be more productive and less depressed? Questions over questions... Unfortunately, we might never have a real answer for it, because it seems like an unachievable utopia.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Moving Sucks!!

Here, I said it! I don't want to move! Ok, I do, but I don't.. I know, it doesn't make sense, but that's exactly how it is. Period.

Has anyone ever tried to pack 4 years of married life, more of 2 with children, and at least 20 years of bachelor life in about 16 boxes, 3 suitcases, and a bunch of carry-ons?? Yes, the oldest things I've found were a card I received for my 6th birthday and a box with my baby teeth. On Richard's side there are a bunch of games and books he inherited from his cousin Tim. Along that road, we've said painful good-byes to a lot of things very close to our hearts (yes, said birthday card had to go, along with most of Richard's beloved library). I passed on the little outfit Violet wore when we brought her home to a girl from my office, who's expecting a little girl in September, which was painful as well, but necessary. Tomorrow, we will have a moving sale to try to get rid of a few more things to empty out our apartment. In a little less the two weeks, we'll pack all of our furniture in a moving truck and will take it to their new owners, mostly friends we know will cherish them. And I can tell you, it's painful!

I don't even want to think about saying good-bye to all of our friends (some of whom have become our family here). This will be harder than anything I've ever done, and something I truly don't want to do. I want to pack them all and bring them to Germany with us; unfortunately, that doesn't work... At times I think about the moment we will have to say our farewells, and can't really fathom how it will be; there's a good chance I'll be hysteric, but probably not. We've accomplished a lot towards our move, but still procrastinating about the rest. We're currently trying to sell our cars and have been wanting to go to the car rental store to select a car for our trip up to Vancouver.This was actually on our to-do list for last week, but as I've mentioned, we're procrastinating. Richard's goal is to have everything but the furniture and other necessities out of the house by Friday.

So here we are, deciding on which earthly belongings are important enough to keep and which to get rid of. Things we owned while still single, and all those little treasures we've bought together after we got married. During our two moves since we've gotten married this was never an issue, since the Army paid for having everything neatly packed and shipped to our destination. But since we've ditched the Army (don't regret that for a minute), it will all be up to us now. The shed is empty, the first raid through the closet complete (there will be a second), Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and the local library are happy, and we're by quite some pounds lighter. Above mentioned 16 boxes are mostly packed, the last 4 waiting to be shipped shortly before we leave. Our new start in Germany will truly be a new start, and I'm really looking forward to it, even though I'm also deeply saddened (it's the weirdest feeling, believe me!). I think my enthusiasm will really kick in about half-way through the flight to Frankfurt, after somewhat getting over the depression of leaving our friends behind. To make it easier, we're already making plans of visiting each other, and we will follow through! I'm already looking forward to coming back with the girls over and over again as they grow. We're truly up to an adventure, which will hopefully the last of its kind for our family!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Foto Friday

Cat's Hello Kitty Cthulhu birthday cake (yummy)

Our two beautiful girls!

Little Violet at 6 weeks (23 3/4in, 10lbs)

Lily in the box

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Life After Dairy: One Month Later

I think it's time for a little update on my journey to a dairy-free diet. In the beginning, it was hard. I missed my milk and my inches-think layer of cheese on nearly any dinner I ate (except of fish). But I have tasted my way through a number of milk substitutes (I still use oat milk as a plain beverage, with cereal, and in pancakes, scones, etc. and rice milk for baking, cooking, and hot chocolate), have learned to taste the actual food again (not only the cheese on it), and generally have been doing pretty well with my new diet. I have found dairy-free ice cream in the supermarket (it's not nearly as expensive as I thought and comes in a large variety of flavors not only on soy milk but also on rice and almond milk basis), and identified the coffee shops in town who would make my mocha with rice milk (unfortunately, most coffee shops only have soy milk as an alternative, and that doesn't work for me either).

I've had some slips so far, but only minor ones. Revisit this scene from a recent trip to the mall with Subway sandwiches for dinner:

I go and order a foot-long sandwich for Richard and me to share (and of course a kid-size one for Lily)

Richard: Is there cheese on this sandwich?

Me: Yes...

Richard: And you're eating it?

Me: Yes... (thinking: Is he telling me I'm too fat and I should skip the cheese??)

Richard: You know that's dairy, right??

Me: Oh.. *facepalm* (removing the cheese slices from my sandwich and handing them over to Richard)

"Is there dairy in that?" has become my MAQ (most asked question) recently, so I know now that Jack In The Box's Kona Iced Coffee contains dairy, but MacDonald's Iced Coffee is dairy-free. I have experimented a lot using milk substitutes in my favorite recipes, and so far it always worked out. It even adds some interesting flavor notes sometimes (pancakes with rice milk anyone??), and even my non-dairy-hypersensitive friends had no complaints about it.

Sometimes, however, I was simply forced to change recipes completely. A couple of weeks ago I made potato salad for our D&D group, and simply had to make a separate portion for me without sour cream (if anyone knows any substitutes for that, let me know!!), but just the mustard, olive oil, and vinegar worked well too!

At the moment, I still miss yogurt a lot, since I have not yet found any substitute for that (I have found soy yogurt, but again, soy is not an option for me). My snack options are therefore quite limited, and unfortunately I have oftentimes chosen sweets rather than more sensible snacks (fruit) to make up for it, but I'll try to do better. A cup full of frozen raspberries are really a treat, full of vitamins and antioxidants, and low in calories!!

For anyone interested, here's the recipe for my dairy-free breakfast scones (they are quick to make and taste yummy!)

2 cups of flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of baking powder
1/2 cup of margarine (1 stick)
1/2 cup of oat or rice milk

Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder; cut in margarine and work in with fingers or a spatula; add raisins (I just toss in a couple of hand-full) and mix in; add milk, work it in and knead a few times; divide dough in two parts, form two balls; place balls on baking sheet and flatten them to disks.
Bake at 400F for 10 minutes.
Tips: this recipe is good for variations! Use orange juice instead of the milk, and blueberries (fresh or frozen), dried cherries or cranberries instead of the raisins, etc. It's all up to your imagination (thank you to my friend Linda, who came up with those variations!)


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Of Free Speech and Muhammad

Obviously, May 20 was chosen as "Draw Muhammad Day" in order to promote free speech as reaction to Comedy Central censoring a recent episode that was supposed to portray the prophet Muhammad, after receiving death threats by a fundamentalist Islamic group. While I am completely supporting free speech, I am strongly against "Draw Muhammad Day". Knowing a thing or two about Islam, I am aware that depiction of any living thing is prohibited in mosques, because it could distract worshipers. In addition, any depiction of the prophet Muhammad is taboo, no matter where. It would be like putting a picture of God (God him/herself, not Jesus or a saint) in a church even though the ten commandments of the old testament state that "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;..." (2nd commandment,

To me, "Draw Muhammad Day" is not about free speech, but blatantly disrespecting a whole community (i.e. all Muslims) just to further provoke (or pee off) a splitter group (i.e. the fundamentalists). Is that fair? I don't think so. As Mr. Amanullah states in his article on the issue, published in The Huffington Post (, Muslims have ignored for years South Park's depiction of Muhammad. Suddenly, it catches the attention of a fundamentalist group, a number of death threats are issued, Comedy Central pulls the episode, and the nation goes berserk. Why don't people understand, that all this group wanted is attention? Ignoring them would have been the way to go, instead of insulting (and provoking) every single Muslim on earth.

Even though I am a Non-Theist, I have friends from many religious backgrounds (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.). I respect every single one of them, no matter if I share their beliefs or not. So while those so-called protesters insult a whole religious community (which is mostly peaceful!) for the missteps of a splitter group to promote free speech, they only legitimize this group's agenda. Was it not free speech on their behalf to send threats to the people involved in the episode in question? Don't get me wrong, by no means do I agree with sending death threats to someone who disagrees with my opinion, but unfortunately, it's free speech after all. I am definitely in favor of free speech, but sometimes it's simply a better idea to SHUT UP!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Free Will: Chosing Not To Chose?

I just finished watching a movie, which once again moved me on so many different levels. It is a movie about a rumor that a number of inmates in the Auschwitz concentration camps put God on trial for "breach of covenant". Arguing back and forth about how God could allow the Holocaust to happen to his chosen people, very interesting arguments were brought forth. Even as a Non-Theist I have to say that it was a very inspiring and heartbreaking movie. The most interesting issue discussed by the inmates while waiting for the results of the selection procedure, that will lead some of them into the gas chambers in order to make room for the new arrivals. People from all corners of Europe, and with all kinds of backgrounds, from the physicist from Paris via the engineer from Germany to the glove maker from some remote Polish village came together to discuss and argue the atrocities around them. The most moving part to me was when the issue of "free will" was discussed.

The argument stated that evil exists, because God granted people free will. One inmate told the story of how his three sons were taken away when the soldiers raided his village. He ran after the truck, pleading for the return of his three sons; one of the officers asked him which of the kids were his sons, and agreed to return one to him. All this happened in earshot of the kids. As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine the torture a parent has to go through choosing among their kids. I know I could not. Who should I choose, how could I? Should I choose Lily, who has been the center of our life for over 2 years, and who now proves more than ever how full of love she is? Should I choose her because Violet is still too little to be able to figure out what is going on? Or should I choose Violet, since she is the younger one, and at the moment oftentimes easier; the one who would never stand a chance to survive by herself? No parent in full possession of their wits could ever make such a decision, and neither should any parent ever be forced to choose between their children. In the movie, the man refused to choose, and all three of his kids were taken away.

I know that this particular story was probably fiction, since the whole account of the trial is not proven, but most likely a similar story happened some time during all those atrocities. It moved me to tears thinking about it. How has a person in this situation free will? They don't, because free will is not limited to options. Free will means I can do whatever I please. If I am given a multiple choice test, my options are limited to the answers provided (unless I feel the urge to add additional choices, which would not be smart but express free will). Our free will is to consider our situation, weigh the pros and cons of various options, and make an informed decision. Being forced into a decision that has you lose no matter how you decide does not constitute free will. The men in the movie came to a similar conclusion, stating that the officer had the free will to chose to return all three kids, but rather chose to torture the father in the most cruel way possible. Without it being explicitly said, the man managed to make a decision as close to free will as possible, by not making a decision and having all three sons taken away.

The movie ended by God being found guilty of the charges, after many philosophical and theological arguments being made for both sides. In the last minutes, it is shown how an elderly father bribes guards to take the place of his son, who vehemently argued for God's guilt, while the father, convinced he would be selected for the death chamber, stood with his argument that God's will and purpose cannot be known to men. Seeing all men, no matter their stand during the trial stand together in the gas chamber praying was a very powerful and moving finish. Taken back to the present time (the movie occasionally switched between scenes of a tourist group visiting the Auschwitz memorial and the actual inmates staging the trial), an elderly man, who had told the story to his granddaughter, answers her question about how it ended by telling her that "we are still here, aren't we?". It is never explained whether he was one of the young men in the barracks, but is certainly felt like it. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie, if possible not right before bedtime, it's way too much to process. My preliminary digestion is herewith done, I'll head to bed to contemplate some more. If you chose to watch it, I'd appreciate your thoughts and opinions on it (discussion, anyone?)

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Hard To Be 2

In the past 6 weeks since the birth of our second daughter Violet, our older girl, Lily, underwent an amazing transformation. I have mentioned before how much she loves her little sister and enjoys helping taking care of her. But her transformation is much more than that. Our friend Cat, the girls' grandma, said that it seems as if Lily had matured about 6 months in these 6 weeks. And it is true, that she loves to take on a lot more responsibility. She watches us taking care of Violet and imitates. These days we watch her often when she puts diapers on her bunny, straps him in the car seat, or rocks him in the swing. She also holds him on her chest and burps him, just as we do with Violet. It's too adorable for words. She also loves taking on responsibilities for her sister, wants to hold her all the time, goes fetching the pacifier or a pillow, and always runs to help carrying the supplies to change Violet's diaper.

On the other hand, we see a lot of defiance in her behavior. She refuses to listen when told something, insists on sneaking in our room to go through our drawers, throws tantrums when not getting her will, and even taking every opportunity offered to sneak out of the house. The first time almost caused us heart attacks, the second time was almost funny, but it definitely shows us that we need to be more careful around her, our little girl is not a baby any more, but a 2-year old toddler with an ever emerging personality. These days she starts to pick out her clothes, choosing interesting combinations and making first fashion statements. We even suspect a first crush, which is very sweet to watch!

These days, watching not only her transformation from only-child to big sister, but also her developing personality is both interesting and, at times, difficult for us as parents (especially on a much reduced sleep schedule). We spend some days yelling at her a lot for running from trouble to trouble without a break, while on others she is just our big girl, helping out and being as sweet as could be. I am able to cuddle up in front of the TV with her and watch chick flicks, we stand in the bathroom together, brushing our teeth and combing our hair; once or twice she even pretended putting make-up in, it is just so adorable! At the moment we never know what the next day may bring. Some evenings I am simply emotionally exhausted; on the one hand her defiance drives me insane, on the other hand I feel very guilty for yelling at her or punishing her, since she can be a very good girl if she chooses to be. Sometimes I wonder if she feels as if we don't love her any more and uses her defiance to get attention from us. It might just be the normal "Terrible Twos" stage, but paired with the addition of a new sister. From the beginning she was very good at accepting that while I am taking care of Violet, I cannot get up to play with her, and she has therefore gotten a lot closer to Richard, which he enjoys as well. Some nights I felt really bad when Lily and I were curled up watching Jeopardy as it was tradition before Violet's birth, and then Violet starts crying and needs attention. Not once was Lily jealous or threw a tantrum for me walking away to tend to Violet, which shows maturity way beyond her age. Maybe for that we expect too much from her. All we can do right now is trying to be assertive with the rules while making sure Lily knows at all times we love her for who she is. The next weeks with our relocation to Germany will be very interesting indeed for everyone, and I hope that Lily will take this change as easy as she did becoming a big sister. For this, we are very, very proud of our big little girl!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Contemplating About Mankind

I used to be a tough girl. Nothing could really get to me (or at least I could hide it really, really well), but having my girls changed my in my very foundations. I've been thinking about the meaning of life, sustainability of natural resources, truly healthy nutrition (not the one that keeps you as skinny as possible), and a whole array of other things I did not care much about before. Having kids changed me more than I would have ever expected. Before giving birth to Lily I thought I'd want to return to work as soon as possible and work on my career; after my little angel was born, I hated going back to work, even though it was only part-time in the beginning. I am not completely happy with the type of mother I was the last two years, being gone working for most of the day (even though I am very thankful that Richard could stay home with Lily and she didn't need to go to daycare). I hope that this will change once we move to Germany, but it needs to be seen..

The other day I was sitting on the couch, holding little Violet in my arms and gazing in her wide-awake eyes. She was so aware of her surroundings, making faces and smiling every once in a while. I had to think about how lucky we are to be living in this day and time, and in an industrialized country. I felt lucky that I don't have to worry about my children not getting enough food, or about their general well-being. My thoughts started wandering, and I remembered a documentary I watched about the Third Reich a while back, on so-called "cleansing patrols". During those raids, soldiers, often SS troops rounded up whole villages, forced the people to bury deep ditches, before they were shot and burned in those wholes. This documentary mentioned on how the soldiers fared with little kids or babies, who were tossed in the flames and burned alive. Looking at my baby I cannot imagine how any living being could ever do such a horrific act. Yes, it may be easy to order such an atrocity, but actually being there and following these orders? How could these men ever go home to their families and play with their own children again? Those are things I just can't get in my head. German concentration camp monster Dr. Mengele was notorious for his cruel experiments on the inmates, many of them children. Outside his job, he was known as a committed family man, father, and grandfather. What went on in the head of such a person, who tortures little kids during the day, and then goes home to read bedtime stories to his own children?

Atrocities like this did not only happen back then, they are very much still a reality in many African countries, and not a too distant past in Yugoslavia or Kosovo. Thinking about all this confirms more and more to me that there is nothing besides this life. I would like to believe in the circle of life and rebirth, but what could someone possibly have done to deserve being burned alive as a baby? And what will become of the people who commit these horrible acts in their next life? Which life form is lowly enough for this scum? And how could any god, no matter which one, allow things like that to happen? Most likely, there are no gods, no re-birth, no second chance, so I'd better make the best of what I have in this life. I want to enjoy every second, because everything could be over in the next. I want to raise my girls in a safe environment to become educated, independent adults, who can think for themselves. My legacy will be what I achieve in this life, the lessons I teach my daughters to pass on to their children one day. If I fail now, there won't be a second chance, or at least the probability of a second chance is way too small for me to rely on.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...

The count-down is on, only about 3.5 weeks until we leave Washington to move for Germany. And the pressure is on. I'm currently alternating between intense anxiety, euphoria, and sadness. Admittedly, the lack of sleep doesn't do anything to stabilize my mood, but that's part of being a new mother. Today, I talked on the phone to my Mom, and really had to take myself together to not completely freak out on her, for just driving me nuts with her obsessions, discussing the same issues concerning the move the x. time, and just in general (yes, I am tense these days). Just a little later we took off to celebrate our good friend Cat's birthday. These last (almost) 2 years, Cat and her family have become like family to all of us. She is the girls' acknowledged grandma, who is there for their birthdays and genuinely cares for them. It was so touching to see pictures of our girls in the slide show presentation Cat prepared for her birthday, portraying her 50 years of life (thank you so much for that, Cat!). It is a fact that the further I live away from my Mom the better we get along, and since both Richard and I are very independent people, we're dreading to live with my grandma, even though it is only until we're back on our feet.

We know why we made the decision to give up our life here to move back to Germany, and those reasons are sound, but as our departure comes closer and closer, I can't help but second-guessing if that decision was right. My head tells me that is is the right thing to do, the girls deserve the best education and health care they can get, and for us the political and economic environment in Germany is much more preferable than in the US. In addition, there are so many friends and family around to build a strong support and social network. I myself grew up in an extensive family network with all grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all living in a radius of about 20 miles, and I envision the same for our girls. But at the same time it just tears my heart apart leaving behind all of our wonderful friends, who, in absence of any blood relatives, have become our family here.

When we first left Germany to start our life together in the US, our neighbors gave us a page from their calendar with a quote by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler: " A good-bye always hurts, even if you've been looking forward to it for a long time." This page had been hanging on our fridge for the last 4 years, and been a guide whenever I felt homesick. It was helpful during our move from Kansas, but this move is by far the most difficult so far. I wished I could take all of our friends with us, especially Cat and Charlie. I know, Lily will miss both of them like crazy, and so will we. Cat has been a motherly friend to me, being there for me whenever I needed someone to talk to, and offering the advice I needed. Even though we will always be in close contact and definitely try to visit them as often as possible, we'll miss our weekly D&D sessions, and their company during holidays.

At the moment I wished we stayed here in Washington, but at the same time I'm looking forward to our new life in Germany, with new jobs, a new apartment, new friends, and new opportunities. But still, the good-byes we will have to make in only a few weeks will be the most painful good-bye I'll ever have to say, even though we know it is a good-bye for some time only, and we'll see each other again soon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Foto Friday

Happy Mother's Day!

Cute little Violet

Us three girls at the zoo

Happy Father's Day (in Germany!)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bucket List

First of all: I feel a lot better (and more confident) than yesterday, writing it off my chest really helps, and Richard wasn't woken up after midnight by a hysterical me. Browsing around the internet today I saw a sidebar ad for the Seattle Bucket List (all the things you absolutely HAVE to do in Seattle before you die). This inspired me to think about my personal bucket list. I think a bucket list is a good idea, no matter how old you are, because it gives you inspiration and goals to achieve. So here are the first few things on my personal bucket list (with more to come at some point):

1. Have a honeymoon in Rome with Richard
When we planned our wedding back in 2005/2006, we thought about where to spend the first few days after our wedding just to enjoy each other and relax. We decided that Rome would be our destination, and we picked the weekend right after our wedding, which was just before all the crowds would stream into Rome for the Easter celebration and the hot phase before my finals and the state exam. As our luck had it, a nice lady at Richard's work decided after asking us when our wedding was, that Vielseck would be a much nicer place to honeymoon, and sent Richard there for a 2-week course just 2 days after our wedding. Unfortunately, there was no time for us to go before we headed to Ft. Riley, KS, and since then there was no opportunity either. But Rome is not forgotten, and we definitely plan on having our honeymoon some day.

2. Go to a casino and actually lose money!
I have that issue with losing, especially when it means losing money. Maybe it is due to the way I was raised. As Richard put sit: my mom would go to 10 different stores to be sure she'll get the best possible deal, and then return to store #1 and buy whatever she's been looking for there :-) But seriously: I have been to casinos, and I have played Black Jack with my friends' money, who was at that point on a winning streak, won, and lost the money I won again, but that was about it. I gambled for maybe 15 minutes, gave my friend his money back, and ended up EUR5 on the plus side. What I want to do some day is going out and be prepared to blow at least EUR100. Maybe that's what Richard will get me for my 30th birthday.

3. Go on a cruise
This should probably say "go on at least 3 cruises", because there is no way I could ever make my mind up on what kind of cruise to go. There are Mediterranean cruises, Scandinavian cruises, Alaska cruises, who the heck can make their mind up? I can't; probably Richard or Cat will make the decision for me!

4. See the pyramids of Giza
I ALMOST made it to Egypt when I was 14. My parents looked through travel brochures, and had even scheduled attending an info event. Then there was the massacre at the temple of Luxor, and all my hopes were gone. Another glimmer of hope appeared when my Dad mentioned at some point he would take me as a graduation gift, but that didn't happen either. So probably it will be Richard, me, and the girls one day, floating down the Nile on a little cruise ship...

5. Take Richard to Istanbul
The year I met Richard my best friend Sonja and I took a 4-day trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Istanbul. It was amazing, and I still can't shut my mouth talking about it. That's why I have to go back some day, and show this amazing place to Richard (also: I need to re-take all the pictures that were lost when some idiot stole my camera after we returned to Germany; I know who took it, but no way to prove it).

Well, is anyone seeing a pattern? Somehow most of the points on my bucket list include travel. Indeed, I love to travel and see new places. I was lucky enough to have parents who saved all year to take us on a 2-week vacation most years, many of them abroad (I have to admit that I have seen more of Europe than of Germany itself). I want our daughters to experience the same, and I want to show Richard some of the places I fell in love with before we met; I am sure he'll love them, too! Right now, I plan on taking our family on a short stay to the little hotel in the middle of nowhere in the Bavarian Forest once we're settled in Germany. We have spent some time there a few years in a row, and while it was boring back then, I cannot imagine anything better to simply kick back and relax after all the stress we're going through right now. Lily can run around as much as she wants to, splash in the pool, and pet the goats or horses without us trying to keep her out of trouble and away from busy streets. I'll let you know how our year in Germany goes, and whether we make it to this little hotel this year. Keep your fingers crossed for us, I think we deserve this little break..

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Loss Of Control: Motion vs. Progress

It's almost 11pm at night, everyone's sleeping, and it's quiet. I'm tired, but I'm not. Probably I should go take a shower and go to bed, but something keeps me from doing that. Probably I'll regret that decision tomorrow morning. When I started this, I actually planned on writing about "change", as in the famous Ghandi quote, but then my thoughts wandered off, I checked my email, and googled around a little bit. Right now, I am feel as if my thoughts are blocked. I feel anxiety, as I often do about the impending move, whether we will find jobs, how long it will take us, etc. I am an independent person, and therefore hate living at home again after being on our own for so long. I am not the person who would just move in with her parents again, but the situation doesn't give us much choice. Deep down I know that everything will eventually work out, and probably quicker than we thought, but right now, I can feel for the first time how my anxiety is slowing me down and keeps me from reaching my full potential.

I have always struggled with this anxiety as a by-product of my obsession of being in control. Giving up my job and boarding a flight into the unknown is very difficult for me, even though I am looking forward to it. It is the second, and definitely last time I will do something like it. Last time, I was just about to freak out, just to end up finding a job within a couple of days after arriving in Washington. And this time, we even have family and friends who support us, while last time we were completely on our own. I don't know which scenario is better, I only know that right now, I am close to freaking out. I look at job boards and honestly don't even know for which kind of jobs I should apply for. At times, I am optimistic, but then again, I experience lows like tonight. I know I should be optimistic, since everything about this move worked out just fine or even much better than anticipated, and with all my education, job experience, and the time spent abroad, I should be very marketable in the German job market. On the other hand, I am extremely insecure. Right now, I feel like waking up Richard to talk, but I think that wouldn't go over too well. Instead I am here and writing about it, trying to get it off my chest this way.

What I have definitely learned just within the last hour is that my anxiety is definitely holding me back. It is interfering with my creativity and ability to focus. In order to be successful, whether it is in my job or my private life, I have to learn to overcome this anxiety and the depression that comes with it. I definitely will not go down the path of professional therapy or even medication again, those are things of my past. However, I will be open about my feelings with my husband. I will learn to let go of things I cannot control and rather focus on those I can. By deciding to let things go, I am taking control again, and will then be able to re-focus my attention to the important issues on hand (like not to forget to book our hotel in Vancouver). I am very thankful to have such a supportive family both here and in Germany; deep down I know that everything will work out alright for us. Probably not great, but alright. Maybe my worrying and freaking out is part of a ritual to success, who knows; but I do know that this ritual is exhausting to both me and my family, and this energy can better be used to progress rather than just move (thanks to my insightful husband for that quote).

Monday, May 10, 2010

True Friendship

Going through my friends list on Facebook, I noticed that two of my former co-workers have obviously "de-friended" me. While I never had much contact with one of them anyway, the other one was quite surprising. For the last (almost) two years we have shared an office, enjoyed quite some laughs, and attended birthday parties for each others' kids and met for an occasional play date. I actually considered this girl a friend, but noticed that something was wrong as soon as I started my maternity leave. Except of a comment on Facebook I heard nothing at all from her, while both of my other friends at work told me that she was behaving very odd. When I first visited at work after Violet was born she slipped out the back door without even saying hello or meeting Violet. The second time I visited to go out for lunch with my two friends and to pick up all my personal belongings from my desk she barely managed to say hi and good-bye, and didn't even look at Violet.

What happened? Tell me if you know, because I don't. But the whole incident definitely made me think about what true friendship means. There are so many types of friendships, the way they start and develop. I met my best friend when we both started 5th grade in high school in Germany. In the beginning, we ignored each other. When we ended up in the same class in 7th grade, we still didn't care for each other and had completely different circles of friends. In the beginning of 8th grade we ended up sitting next to each other in class and buried the hatchet after a few days of trying to ignore each other. After only a couple of weeks we were almost inseparable at school and also met each other outside class, while still maintaining our separate circles of friends. After high school we ended up studying in different cities and only saw each other a few times a year, emailed about once a week, but still were best friends. She was the one whose opinion I sought when it came to my shotgun wedding during my last year of college, since she's always been the reason in our relationship, while I was much more impulsive. Once I had moved to the US with my husband, we almost became closer than we had been since high school times, emailing almost daily. She came visiting us shortly after our first daughter was born after not seeing each other in almost 2 years. After that it took us another year until we saw each other again in Germany, and as I write this, another year has passed. We both cannot wait to live closer together again and be able to have an occasional night out with fast food and a movie as we used to during high school and college days.

Another close friend of mine I "met" under very unusual circumstances. In fact, we have not met in person at all yet, but still I consider her a close friend. She contacted me while we were both pregnant (she with her first, I with my second) to ask me some questions about the visa procedures. I had gone through the whole ordeal a few years earlier, and gladly gave her a few tips. Our emails started getting longer and more personal. We talked about our pregnancies; we were thrilled when we both found out that we would be having girls, with due dates only a few days apart; we gave each other ideas about names; we talked about our problems and our plans for the future. A few weeks ago we both gave birth to our girls within 3 days from each other, and now can't wait for us to move to Germany so we can finally meet in person.

Even though I am not someone with a large circle of friends, I am very close with the people I call my friends. Some friends here in Washington have truly become our family, and we are sad to leave them behind. I am sad not to return to work and meet my two friends there every day. Since we all three had grown up in a different country, we had a lot of things in common and I am very thankful to have met those wonderful girls, from whom I had the opportunity to learn so much. I will miss the people from our Friday night D&D group, who in fact have become our family here in Washington. All these people are the reason why we will always come back and visit! You will always be in our hearts, and the girls will be looking forward to our visits as soon as we board our planes back home to Germany!

While I would never be without any of my wonderful friends, I have no time and energy to waste for fair-weather friends. If you are only around me as long as everything runs its path smoothly, but are gone at the first sign of inconvenience, I definitely have no need of you. Friendship for me means to be there for my girls at 3:30 in the morning if they need me; to listen to their problems or just random rants over and over again; to offer honest advice to any question; to be there through good times and bad times; and beyond all, to always be honest with them, no matter what. If this is not for you, fine, I can live my life without you and won't shed a tear.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

One Of These Days...

Today was one of these days I wish I would have spent entirely in bed, but I'm glad I didn't (nice oxymoron right here). It started with Violet peeing through her outfit. Even though it was already after 7am, I was completely in sleepwalker-mode (luckily I have mastered sleep-diaperchanging by now). The only thing that could help at that point was a nice cup of coffee. I didn't feel like making coffee, but luckily there was just enough left from yesterday for my wake-up cup. By then, Richard had returned to bed, since he wasn't doing any better than me. After chasing Lily away from her usual naughty-place (say: computer chair), Violet decided it was time for some more food, while Lily took the opportunity of me being nailed to the couch and focusing on her little sister to get into the only kitchen drawer she could reach over the baby gate and arrange a piece of modern art on the dining room floor, consisting of an interesting arrangement of birthday candles and super-glue. Upon finishing feeding Violet, I came across her carefully prepared arrangement and play once again the role of the party-pooper. While I was busy clearing away her artwork, she decided to seek revenge by seizing my coffee, which I had left on the counter JUST close enough for her to reach (those toddlers have a much, MUCH further reach than anyone may think; I am sure that they are the only small species in the D&D realm with reach 3!!). With pure horror in my eyes I had to watch her pouring my half-full mug over herself. In the meantime, Violet had noticed that there was no-one to pay attention to her on the couch and raised her mighty voice to demand her dues. Thus, Richard found me amidst an attention-seeking Violet, a crying Lily, and a pool of coffee on the floor, ready to run my head into the wall (or at least have a good nervous break-down). After some recovery (as much as it was possible without coffee) we managed to pack everyone up into the car and head out to visit my friend ThuyVan and her family for some home-made Pho (yumm-EE!!). We had a very good afternoon watching Lily play with ThienMy and being generally a very good girl while Violet slept on Yi's arm for most of the time. After arriving back home (I finally got my coffee fix at 4pm in form of a large iced coffee from McDonalds), my spirits were further lifted by finding two cards among the other stuff in the mail (who does not love to get mail other than bills and EOBs??). After some time at home, I decided that I just had to roam around a little bit and took Violet shopping while Lily and Daddy had dinner and watched Star Wars. Five VS bras (I finally got them, Mama!) and a few odds and ends later, we were back home around 8pm, time for Violet's bath. While our Little Lady was happily splashing in her tub, Miss Lily decided that it was fun to sneak up behind me and re-enact the biblical flood by pouring the little water bucket I use to rinse off Violet over the floor. Alarmed by my cries for help, Richard removed our little goddess from the scene while I cleaned up her mess for the second time this day, just to find upon completing the task that Miss Violet had pooped in the tub. One more clean-up later, there was one exhausted Mami with two happy little girls ready for bed left.

A brand-new episode of Doctor Who and some chocolate cake for dinner later, said Mami is quite ready for bed and about to head that way, after realizing a few very important things: Even though they might drive me crazy at times, I love my family beyond words. Life would not be nearly as interesting if it wasn't spiced with an occasional minor nervous breakdown or crying fit. And even though I might threaten bodily harm at one point or the other, hearing a tiny voice saying "sorry", or looking in my girl's big, blue eyes, makes me forget even why I was ever angry with her, despite still standing in a puddle of water...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Announcing: Foto Friday

Fridays are always busy at the Powell home. Days are spent tending to the needs of a newborn while chasing a toddler; nights are dedicated to our only hobby we are able to maintain with 2 little kids: D&D. Since our sessions tend to go until late at night, I usually don't manage to sit down and muse about a blog entry. Thus, Fridays will feature some fun pictures of the week from now on, with captions where appropriate. Enjoy!

Happy 1-month Birthday, Violet!

Daddy's Girl in combat boots

Lily showing she's a proud big sister!

Violet and Daddy relaxing; flashback to 2008?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

An Education

Our good friend Cat shared a quote by her dad with us a while ago. It had been going around in my head ever since, and I finally manage to actually write about it: "The best life insurance a man can have is an educated wife". Back in the 50s and 60s, it was a rarity for a woman to have a college degree and work after being married and having children. Cat's mom was one of these few women; she graduated from nursing school and became a obstetrical nurse. Over the time of her career she worked in various hospitals in the country, kept attending additional courses to keep up with the latest discoveries in the field, and ended up teaching classes herself at local colleges here in the Seattle area. Unfortunately, this wonderful woman died the year we moved up here to Washington; I would have loved meeting such a strong person, who has overcome so much to follow her calling.

Today, with the majority of college student being female, one might think that the notion of a woman place pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, is something of the past. Unfortunately, it is not. I myself have faced criticism for choosing to broaden my education rather than jump right into the reproduction business as soon as the ink on our marriage certificate was dry. Given the fact that Richard and I only knew each other for a little less than 5 months when we were married, we rather enjoyed some time as just the two of us. With our initial intentions to stay in the USA for good, I learned that most places would not accept my degree from Germany as a bachelor's degree (which is the greatest joke in the world, and might just be the subject of a future post). Thus, it made sense for me to go back and earn a degree no-one would question here. About 4 months into my 15-months program I became pregnant with Lily, but quitting school was not even an option for me, so I pushed myself through 9 months of working full-time, taking accelerated coursework, and being pregnant. I admit, it wasn't always easy, but when I graduated 2 months after Lily was born with a near-perfect GPA, I was proud of my achievement, and so was Richard. Five months after Lily was born we moved to Washington, and it was this degree that helped me getting the job we needed to support our family. We are by far not a traditional family, but the arrangement works well for us, so why judging us for it?

Earlier this year I watched the movie "An Education" (based on a novel by Nick Hornby), where a young girl decides to drop out of school to get married. While her father first encouraged (ok, rather pushed) her to study hard to be able to study at a college at Oxford, he had no problem accepting her decision to leave school as soon as a ring appeared on her finger. When this bubble burst (the smart fiance was already married with a bunch of children), the girl was left without a future. Thanks to a dedicated teacher, who wanted to see her succeed, she was able to study and prepare for the finals anyways (the principal of her school would not accept her back due to her behavior when she left school), pass and move on to study in Oxford. She had realized that she couldn't rely on anyone to provide a comfortable future for her but rather had to go ahead and forge her fortune herself.

I cannot understand how something Cat's father realized half a century ago is still not common practice today. I see girls starting college, getting married after a few semesters and dropping out, relying on their husbands to keep supporting them. But with a divorce rate of 50% or more, it is almost crazy to completely rely on someone else for income. Even in the case of the husband dying and leaving a sizable life insurance policy for his family, this money will run out sooner or later. Thus, it is important for women to step up, get educated or trained in a profession, and stay up-to-date; life is unpredictable, therefore we need to do what it takes to prepare for the worst-case scenario, no matter how unlikely it seems.

PS.: I really recommend ready the book "An Education" by Nick Hornby (or watch the movie, if you don't have time to read); it is an interesting case study on the importance of education for women.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

One Month Ago...

Today one month ago I was laying in bed with our newborn daughter in my arms, marveling at how perfect she was, looking at her big, blue eyes that already took in all the new things around her. Now, one month later, I can believe that already 30 days have passed since that night; on the other hand, I cannot imagine our family ever being without Violet. Even without knowing she enriched all of our lives in so many ways. In those past weeks I could watch Lily growing from an only-child to a big sister, who loves to take on responsibilities and takes care of her little sister. All the doubts we've ever had about how she'd react to the new baby, if there would be any jealousy or other problems have vanished within a couple of days, as we watched Lily being beyond excited about her little sister. She has grown up so much within the last month, way past her 2 years. She loves to help with every diaper change and bath, holds Violet's hands, plays with her little feet, touches her hair and face, and wants to hold her in her arms. She even loves to share her toys with Violet, since she doesn't have many by herself yet. Seeing her like that makes me fall in love even more with my big girl, if that is even possible.

Violet herself has of course changed as well. She has given us the opportunity to get to know her very own personality, which couldn't be more different from Lily's. Trial and error have taught us her likes and dislikes (swaddling and her pacy are her favorites); we know now that she is a very social person, who hates being left alone, even if it's only for a minute. She loves being held and already takes part in conversations. She enjoys observing everything around her and is generally a lot more quiet than Lily ever was. In contrast, she is not in a hurry to move around as Lily was, but is content sitting at a convenient vantage point and look around. We see her being a little book worm one day, who has to be dragged out of the library, while Lily will probably be a lot more outdoorsy and enjoy sports (even though we already know that she also loves to read!).

This past months has also given us the opportunity to grow as parents, a couple, and as individuals. Being a SAHM for now until our move to Germany (and maybe beyond for a little while), I had to learn a whole new set of skills, and it was definitely a situation I had to get used to. Now, I love being able to cuddle with my girls in bed in the morning, prepare breakfast for Lily, cuddle up on the couch with her while nursing Violet, getting dressed and ready for the world outside together, and just enjoying simple things like a trip to the playground or meeting friends for play group. Those things I've missed a lot during the last 2 years, and I definitely plan on filling up on them now before I potentially join the work force again in another month or two. Richard has become a lot closer to Lily within the last weeks; our big girl was very accepting in the fact that I have to care more for Violet and just turned to Richard for affection. I watched the two of them on the couch today, watching "Ponyo". Lily cuddled up next to Richard with her bunny and fell asleep after a few minutes. I just try to ingrain those images in my brain as deeply as possible, because I already know that the girls will grow up way to fast, and before we know it, we'll have to deal with a bunch of teenagers, for whom there is nothing more embarrassing than hugging their parents (ok, if they are anything like me, they will still hug us, but you know what I mean). I take many, many pictures to always remember this time, and all the stages still to come, with all their changes and development for all of us.