Wednesday, December 31, 2014

See You Next Year!

I would like to send you off into the new year with a German New Year's tradition and the best wishes for 2015!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Week/Year In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful x 2 (80)

Ten Things of Thankful

Yes, I know, I'm quite late (48 minutes to spare here in Germany, to be exact), and on top of it, the headline is longer than usual, hinting at a few more thankfuls than usual.  First of all, I enjoyed the break from the computer over the holidays (if I didn't work, that is), but was so excited for all the last thankfuls if this wonderful year 2014. I can't believe it's been a year again. With all the excitement we had in our family this time last year (we found out for sure that Calvin was on his way on the 24th last year), it was very special "recapping" everything while having out little guy celebrate with us (or, more realistically, be very overwhelmed with the situation).

Today, I would like to share two separate lists of thankfuls. One focussing on the more general aspects of our lives, which are by no means taken for granted, even though they are not always regarded with the importance they actually have:

1. The people in my life. First and foremost my wonderful family, which even grew by one beautiful little boy this year. Secondly, my friends. I am so thankful for every single one of them.

2. Our home. Yes, we moved this year to our very own home. But that is not necessarily what I am thankful for (even though I absolutely am). I am incredibly thankful that our family has shelter, with all the amenities like power, running water, central heating, etc. that most people just take for granted without realizing that a large portion of this planet's population live without it, even people in our (developed) countries.

3. Food on our tables. With refugees dying of dehydration and people in Africa living through one drought after the next, food and water are definitely nothing to take for granted!

4. Health. One thing that we can only buy with money in a limited fashion. I am thankful for having access to healthcare when needed, but I am also thankful that our family is generally quite healthy.

5. Peace. This year, way too many people in this world did not get to enjoy peace. The (near) war in the Gaza strip, the uprising of the IS in Iraq and Syria that forced thousands to leave their homes and seek refuge in another country. I am thankful that our children can sleep in peace, unaffected by war and violence.

6. A job. More exactly: a job that sustains our family. Or in our case more than just sustains the family. I am painfully aware that a 40-hour a week job does oftentimes not allow a family to make ends meet any more nowadays.

7. Time. I didn't think I would enjoy being home as much as I do. I think the biggest part is that hubby is home, too, doing school. This maternity/parental leave is a unique opportunity for our family to spend so much quality time together.

8. Freedom. Even though I am writing a lot about our freedom as Atheists is frequently cut, at least we can speak openly about being an Atheist. We can choose not to attend any religious service without having to fear repercussions. I can speak my mind without having to fear prosecution.

9. Safety from natural disasters. I am incredibly thankful to be living in an area where the worst thing that generally happens is a much stronger-than-normal storm blow some shingles from our roofs or a huge rainstorm fills a few basements. After surviving a tornado in Kansas that completely destroyed a whole subdivision, I will never take this for granted again!

10. Love. Many people do not experience this. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by so much love every single day, and I am incredibly thankful for it!

On to the ten thankfuls for the week!

1. Snow!!!! Oh my goodness, snow!!!  And throwing snowballs at the girls!

2. A wonderful Yule celebration being spent with many friends visiting, too much good food eaten, and seeing the girls be so happy with the loot they got from Santa.

3. Slowly getting a handle on the chaos that ensued after the loot was discovered and opened.

4. Did I ever mention the dryer?

5. Calvin being a good sleeper!!!

6. Afternoon naps with the baby!

7. Little outings on the sled.

8. Hubby being the best and giving me my first few sets of D&D dice for a gift. I've only been playing for 6 years or so...

9. Traditions. Like spending New Years Eve once again with out friends!

10. A warm bed that I'm going to fall into in a minute.

I wish every one of you a few more fun days in 2014!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Goose - A Traditional German Holiday Dinner

This year, hubby requested American-style holiday dinner again: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, and pies for dessert. But since most of you already have your own family recipes on all of these, and mine aren't really special, I would like to share our traditional German holiday dinner recipes, which I made last year for our family.

Roasted Goose with Bread Dumplings and Pickled Red Cabbage

1 goose, fresh or thawed, guts and neck removed
1 small head of red cabbage
about 8 - 10 sour dough bread rolls, cut into cubes and dried for a couple of days
1 small onion
1-2 carrots
1 parsley root
some parsley
3 eggs
red wine
apple juice
apple cider vinegar
2-3 bay leaves
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
salt / pepper / paprika / nutmeg / flour / butter / sugar

Prepare ahead:
2-3 days ahead: cut bread rolls into cubes and store in a large bowl to dry

1 day ahead: prepare the red cabbage:
Slice the cabbage in very finely, removing the stem. Put the cabbage slices in a large pot and add about 1 cup of red wine, 1 cup of apple juice, 1/2 cup of vinegar, the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Cook slowly on low heat, add liquid as required. When the cabbage is soft, let cool, remove the spices and store at a cool place overnight.

The day of:
Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Place the goose in a large frying pan. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika and brush some olive oil in it; place the goose in the oven. After about 20 minutes reduce the heat to about 300F and cook for another 3-4 hours; turn the goose about every hour and pour some water or red wine over it if necessary to keep it moist.

Meanwhile chop the onion, carrot and parsnip root very finely. Melt some butter in a pan and cook vegetables. Add to the prepared bread cubes, spice with salt and pepper and pour enough warm milk to moisten the bread properly. Add the eggs and the chopped parsnip and mix everything well with your hands. Set aside.

About 30 minutes before the goose is done, heat a large pot of water. Once the water boils add a generous pinch of salt. Form round dumplings from the bread mixture with moist hands and gently place them in the boiling water. Cook until dumplings rise to the surface and remove with a slotted spoon.

Slowly re-heat the cabbage and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar if necessary.

Once the goose is done, remove from the oven and transfer to a serving plate. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a sauce pan and stir in 1-2 tablespoons of flour. Add the goose drippings and whisk until the butter/flour mix is dissolved. Add more liquid (water, milk, or red wine) if needed and bring to a boil. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, if necessary.

Serve the goose with the dumplings, cabbage, and gravy.


A rich meal like this one is best complemented by a high-quality wine. I would recommend a full-bodied Burgundy or Bordeaux red wine to go with it.

This post has been entered to the Yapp Festive Foodies' Christmas Blogging Competition, sponsored by the Yapp Brothers Company.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's The Reason For The Season

I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy Winter Solstice. Even though today technically winter starts, the days are also starting to grow longer again. On this longest night of the year, I am thankful to have a home to shelter, food on the table, and my wonderful family around me to be my light in the darkness.
Newgrange Tomb during the winter solstice (source)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (79)

(imagine TToT Logo here)

It's still TToT this weekend, as usual, just without a logo, or a link up. Poor Lizzi is living the cut-off life I did this June/July, and hope that her issues are going to be resolved quickly!

Because it's late, and I'm tired, and somewhat stressing out with a pre-holiday to-do list, here are my 10 thankfuls for this week:

1. The beautiful sunset Violet and I got to see on the way to her occupational therapy appointment on Monday. Imagine a group of trees, black and barren in the distance, with the sun in the brightest orange shining through in between the empty branches. It looked as if the trees were on fire and blazing. Absolutely beautiful!

2. Getting to attend Violet's holiday party at her kindergarten. The class presented a little play; Violet was a little snowflake - the most adorable little snowflake, if I may add  :-)  Of course, the batteries of my camera gave up just when I wanted to snap some pictures, but oh well. This way, I got to enjoy the play without having to look through a camera all the time!

3. To mimic Christine: I had an appointment with my dentist, and everything looks great. Little Calvin was even patient enough (with the help and doting from one of the assistants in the office) that I could get a good cleaning. Yay for clean and healthy teeth!

4. Having friends over for a playdate. The kids played and were hardly seen at all, and we adults enjoyed good, hot coffee. Not to forget: Mr. Calvin was properly adored, which he did not at all appreciate because he had a miffy day.

5. Lily and Violet being absolutely wonderful during a crazy evening. Richard was out on a rehearsal Wednesday night; the girls had just finished brushing their teeth and getting ready for their shower. Calvin was hanging out on the bath rug and started fuzzing; when I picked him up, I knew that something was wrong even before I saw he gold seeping through his onesie. Lily started her shower while I was changing Calvin's diaper, just to have him pee all around and on himself. Unplanned bathtime for the boy it was. I managed to bathe the little stinker, pre-wash his clothes and put a load of laundry in the washer while Miss Violet was taking a shower all by herself. Both girls were dressed and ready for their good-night story by the time the little brother emerged all cleaned up as well. I cannot say how thankful I am that the girls were being so independent that evening, finishing their routine without discussions or whining. There's definitely a surprise in their future!

6. Chance encounters. I found a CD-player for Lily at one of our local second-hand pages on FB. The guy who sold the CD-player turned out to be a fellow translator, whowas very excited to meet another translator to pass orders off to. And I'm always happy to accept smaller orders. Plus the guy had this awesome British accent I could listen to for hours. I don't care what you say, just keep talking  ;-)

7. Violet's speech therapist being very happy with her progress. She commented that Violet was able to concentrate a lot better on the games they were playing and also was developing a lot more self-confidence. I have noticed this change in her as well, mostly by her being a lot more confrontational at home, but she's also standing up more for herself in kindergarten. 

8. Meeting all my colleagues for a stroll across the Erlangen winter market on Friday. It was great to see everyone, to introduce some of my colleagues to Calvin, and just get updated on the lastest news. My boss said that my return to work is eagerly anticipated, which definitely feels good. About 70 more days until my first day back at work. I'm looking forward to it, but also dread it at the same time...

9. Another fun stroll over the winter market with a friend and a total of 5 kids. The girls rode on the merry-go-round, got a gingerbread heart, and explored the forest themed market. Besides my back hurting big time from carrying Calvin around in the wrap for a few hours, we all had the best time!

10. Handmade gifts: Lily brought home a tree ornament and a card for hubby and me, absolutely sweet!  And Violet got a loop bracelet from her kindergarten teachers. I know that they love Violet (and all the other kids as well), but spendign that much time to make bracelets for all the kids in their favorite colors goes beyond everything. I'm really thankful for Violet's kindergarten teachers! (<- 10-1="" p="" s="" that="">

What are you thankful for this week?

What are you thankful for this week?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Toy-less Holiday

After the move this year, seeing all the stuff we had, and the way the girls' interests are developing, we have decided to make this holiday a toy-less one. So what to give to three kids aged 6, 4, and 4 months that are not toys?

Here are a few options:
- gift cards.
- puzzles or board games.
- vouchers, for example for picking up your kids' rooms, cooking their favorite meal, ice cream for dinner, etc.
- taking your kiddo on a lunch date.
- a movie or audio book.
- movie theater tickets.
- clothes they've wanted in forever.
- tickets to a theme park.
- keepsakes.

We've already bought most of the gifts for the girls; the family is also supporting us in our endeavor to make this holiday toy-less (even though the aunties have a special exempt status in this project). The girls somewhat seem to be in on it as well, discussing the letter to Santa, contemplating whether certain toys were necessary or whether they already had them. So proud of the girls, whose wish lists mostly contain books and puzzles!

What are you planning on giving the kids in your life as a holiday gift?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Violet's Favorite Homework

After each of her occupational therapy session, Violet gets a "homework" to focus on for the week until the next session. This week's homework: finding out whether Violet is left-handed, right-handed, or truly ambidextrous. Right now, her therapist would almost tend to her being ambidextrous, as initially, she performed her tests better with her right hand, which made us believe that she was a "confused righty" (right-handed people who prefer using their left hand due to mostly left-handed role models; usually the other way round!). Today, she approached me with a worksheet, informing me that surprisingly, she had performed a lot better with her LEFT hand that day, and that we really need to observe her in her daily life to establish her "handedness" for good.

So Violet's "homework" for this week is, among others (daily tasks like eating with utensils, brushing her teeth, etc.):

- eating ice cream in cones (in which hand does she hold the cone).
- water the flowers.
- hammer nails into a board (most likely hubby's favorite).
- color with water colors.

Guess who was very excited to be allowed to pick a maxi-box of ice cream cones at the grocery store today??

What would happen if Violet was determined to be truely ambidextrous?  We, together with her kindergarten teachers and therapists, will have to decide for her whether she will be raised mostly left- or right-handed. By the time she starts school, she has to be established as being left- or right-handed, and depending on how we decide, her occupational therapist will focus on training her dominant hand.

Our Violet is truly a very special girl!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (78)

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The year is slowly drawing to a close. I remember a lot about this time last year, when I started having the first feelings about our little baby growing inside me. The excitement of the knowledge being all my own for a little while longer until I was sure enough to share the news with hubby. And now, we have our little son with us, completing our happy chaos. It is stressful, and with all the sleep deprivation, it feels as if Richard and I barely have half a brain in between the two of us. But we are happy. And tired. Right now, I am so thankful for getting to spend so much time with the entire family, with hubby studying online from home. This is a chance not many families get, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

More thankfuls of this week:

1. A great visit with our friends on Sunday. We usually meet on a Sunday and have a big lunch together. The kids play, the adults share good conversation, and we usually get home way too late, but happy. The friendship is still fairly new, but we've been growing close so quickly.

2. Participating in a food-drive at Violet's kindergarten. The class is preparing food packages to be sent to the Ukraine to support the victims of the war there. It is wonderful that the teachers are teaching the kids about the situations and to share what we have with those less fortunate.

3. Lily being healthy again. She missed three days of school in the last 2 weeks due to a stomach bug; I had several 3am summonings to change sheets full of puke and clean a terrified Lily, poor girl. Luckily, she was able to make up the schoolwork she missed without a problem, and is already halfway through a book she got from the school library on Thursday. So proud of our little reader!!

4. Baking yummie honey cakes. I've been planning on baking some in forever, but never actually fit it in. So glad Calvin and I got to it this week, they are delicious!

5. Violet's allergy test results being all negative. So she's just dealing with a very stubborn cough and mild bronchitis, but thankfully not a chronic allergic bronchitis!

6. Getting the call that our new dryer will be delivered on Monday. So excited! We're taking a break from doing laundry this weekend and simply wait for Monday and our new dryer  :-)

7. Our sweet little Violet. She is the absolutely most amazing little girl in this world. Today, while shopping, we went to the bathroom, and as we were leaving, an elderly lady was about to come in. And what did my little girl do?  She held the door open and stepped aside to let her in. The door was heavy, but she was so proud to be able to help out. I couldn't have been a prouder mommy  :-)

8. Hubby taking better care of me than I do. He frequently sends me to bed, gets up in the morning to give me an extra hour of sleep, makes me coffee, etc. I don't deserve him, but am so thankful for him!

9. Getting to watch the kids. Calvin was teething like a littke madman on Lily's finger, Lily's sqeaking and cussing him out while Violet is rolling on the floor laughing.  They are so hilarious!!

10.  Not falling asleep at the D&D table again and having a fun time playing. This was probably the last game of the year, but I'm looking forward to playing with this awesome group next year again!

What are you thankful for this week?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Calvin's Third Month

The careful reader will wonder: why Calvin's THIRD month? Shouldn't he be closer to 4 months old now??  Indeed, today is his 4-month birthday, but in between my grandfather's death, the funeral, the ensuing bout of depression on my end, and our daily chaos, I obviously missed to post his 3-month update.

Therefore, here are his stats and favorites during his third month of life:

Height: not sure, ever growing I'd say. He's outgrown his 3-month clothes and is now proudly wearing size 6 month.
Weight: the same here. He's probably gained another pound or so within the last month. I swear, I don't need a gym; carrying this boy around all day is all the arm-workout I need!!
Clothes size: Firmly lodged in 6-months clothes.
Number of teeth: none, but he's teething like a champ. Drool, drool, everywhere I look...
Biggest Milestone: He started laughing on November 2nd!!!

Favorite food: mommy's milk
Favorite toy: Still his activity gym. He's figured out to kick the arc to make a sound, so cute! He also likes the Muppets Animal doll he received as a gift from his aunt and uncle; fuzzy hair tickles!
Favorite book: Since Lily has learned reading, she's been reading children's books to him; I'd say he loves the book with the polar bear finger puppet that Lily's been reading to him.
Favorite outfit / piece of clothing: Calvin still doesn't really care. He loves the freedom of just wearing jammies, but hardly ever complains if I dress him in the morning. But he still hates putting on his jacket, no idea why..

Likes: cuddling, drooling, chewing on mommy's hand or a toy, smiling at his sisters, being carried (and oftentimes sleeping) in his Moby wrap.
Dislikes: bathing, mommy not paying attention to him for a minute, tummy-time, loud noises

Calvin at 3 months


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (77)

Ten Things of Thankful

I feel as if things are slowly going back to normal again. I managed to get out of bed this week, I managed to keep track of the various appointments, I managed to do some holiday shopping and ran some necessary errands, and all despite the various illnesses having their firm grasp on our family. I've been at the pediatrician on 3 out of 5 days this week, once for Calvin's shots that he couldn't get at his 3-4 month appointment due to - right - being sick, once with Lily for a stomach bug, and finally with Violet for her lasting cough, which may be related to an allergy. Yes, this poor girl seems to not be getting a break. Still, this week has been a great one, for many things. My top ten this week:

1. Violet's occupational therapist. She is such a wonderful person, with a heart of gold. the way she works with the children, how she knows how to deal with every individual personality, calm the over-stimulated kids and encourages the shy ones. She always takes a lot of time to talk to the parents after the sessions and gave me a bunch of material to better understand Violet's world and show me ways to work with her.

2. Candles.  Instead of a traditional advent wreath with four candles that mark the four Sundays before Christmas, I made an arrangement with five candles, symbolizing the five of us. As Atheists, we're not celebrating Christmas but rather, as the winter solstice and with it the longest night of the years draws closer, focus on all of good things our family got to experience, the people in our lives, and our thankfulness of getting to celebrate this time of the year without worries, in safety, and with everyone of us more or less healthy.

3. The smell of sugar cookies charring baking in the oven.

4. Our wonderful neighbors. Our dryer somewhat died on us today (definite burning smell when I came home; I unscrewed the back and cleaned quite some stuff out of there, but we're still not trusting it), and our new dryer won't be delivered for another couple of weeks, so they offered to use theirs until we have our new one. With a family of 5 with a new house that doesn't do well with the added humidity of clothes drying on a rack, being dryer-less could develop into quite a problem.

5. The first flurries of snow!!!! Yes, we've had some snow!! Lily was so excited seeing the little bit of white on the roofs, and Violet couldn't help herself and ate some snow she scratched off a stone wall (yes, I know, it's gross, but it's her way of experiencing). This morning walk definitely made me happy.

6. Hubby being absolutely sweet and buying me a poppy-seed danish for breakfast. Yum!

7. Paper tissues, butt paste, and nose spray. Yes, the sickness caught up to me, too, but I get to live in a world where all the things mentioned above are readily available to get rid off the gross stuff, keep my nose from getting red and raw, and helping me to be able to breath enough to sleep at night.

8. Sharing cinnamon hot chocolate with the girls in the afternoon.

9. Getting to dress up (somewhat) and attend our friends' holiday party with all the kids. It was a lot of fun for all of us, meeting new people and people we didn't know our friends knew as well  :-)  We did lose the bottle of hard cider towards the end of the white elephant game (yes, I know, who would be heartless enough to steal the booze from a mother of three??), but enjoyed ourselves so much, ate good food, drank some great mulled wine and fruit punch. Perfect evening!

10. My cousin getting to celebrate another birthday. Yes, his birthday is St. Nicholas Day, which always meant a certain visit during his birthday when we were children. Oh dear memories!

I wish you all a wonderful weekend and some time for yourself to reflect on the many thankfuls in your lives!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Experiencing The World - In Two Dimensions

Most frequent readers may know that Violet has a serious vision impairment. Her vision was so bad that her brain shut off one eye to be able to form a picture at all, which left her without 3-D vision.

But how does a little girl experience the world, which for her only has two dimensions? Talking to her occupational therapist a lot, I was able to get an idea, even though I could never ever even imagine it. Since she cannot experience the space around her with her eyes, the other senses, especially feeling, has taken over. For now, both in her sessions with her occupational therapist as well as in her daily routine, her therapy is divided in two blocks: experiencing her surroundings and herself in her environment.

Violet's world has no depth, she cannot perceive speed with her eyes, or distance, or a difference in height. Therefore, creating tangible boundaries for her help her to experience space. Building a pillow fort or a blanket tent for her, or wrapping her in a blanket are ways to create a small, safe world to experience this.

Since she cannot perceive speed as we do, letting her alternate between running, walking, and skipping lets her experience how the wind and the air feel at different speed. Letting her push Calvin's stroller, pull a sled or a little cart, jumping on a trampoline or play tug o' war also helps her to perceive the space around her.

Walking on stilts, balancing, walking on slopes or stairs or playing on uneven ground also supports her grounding and confidence in the world around her.

Experiencing herself in this world, massages and other sensoric stimuli are an essential tool. She touches most things she gets in contact with or even puts them in her mouth to experience 3-dimensional bodies. Playing in the sandbox in summer or in the snow in winter, kneating playdough or actual cookie or pizza dough, or recognizing objects while blindfolded helps her with this.

At the moment, her little world is still so full of dangers. Most of the times she cannot tell how fast a car is driving on the street, so she never crosses the street if she sees any cars that are not parked; she cannot see how high a sidewalk is; she touches hot plates or gets splinters when walking with her hand along wooden fences. But step by step, her confidence grows. We are so thankful that despite her challenges, she is still such a happy, little girl who doesn't let her situation keep her from having fun. Her kindergarten teachers love her; the other day, they told me how they love her being the perfect princess inside but as soon as she puts on her mud pants and rubber boots, she starts rolling in the dirt.

Even though her world is not like yours and mine - and maybe never will - she enjoys her life, and enjoys experience it every day. Her joy spreads to everyone around her, and I consider myself so very lucky to be her mommy and to be able to walk this way beside and with her, even though we're separated by one dimension.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Today, the Carnival of Atheist Parenting (CAP) went live again featuring one of my posts. If you are interested in learning more about parenting as an Atheist or homeschooling (there are quite a few homeschooling Atheist parents as well), head over to Karen's blog and show her some love. I'd greatly appreciate it!!!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (76)

Ten Things of Thankful

It's Saturday, and I noticed that I was MIA more or less all week long. What happened? I've been busy, gone 3 nights this week, and running around like a crazy chicken the rest of the days. I believe one night I even went to bed at a decent time which resulted in a pretty good day this week. Being a mom and a night owl is not a good combination!

This week have been so many things to be thankful for:

1. Monday. This day was so good, I could have made the entire post just with things that happened on Monday, so I simply decided to name the entire day. I've had a good night's sleep (a), got out of bed well (b), and took Calvin on a trip into town to run some errands. Just as we left, hubby found a check from the VA in the mail (c); we were both so surprised and excited! In town, Calvin and I went to my favorite wool store to buy some wool for a holiday present and I left with way more than what I came there for (d). I picked up a prescription I've been slacking on (and which would greatly improve my condition again) (e), and went to H&M for some more gift shopping. I got a great deal on outfits for our nephews (f), which was even more improved when the lady at the check-out issued the credit on the pants instead of the shirt. Before heading home, I stopped at our bank to see whether they would accept the VA check, and they do, at a reasonable fee (g). In the afternoon, Violet had her first appointment with her occupational therapist, and she loves her (h); while I was waiting for Violet, I got to relax with some knitting (i).  Even though Calvin was pretty pee'd off for being left at home (he was napping when we left), he had calmed down when I came home (j) and only shot me a couple of stink-eye glances. We went grocery shopping in the evening and had a great family dinner (k); perfect day!

2. Hubby having earned about 1/3 of his credits towards the associate's degree after only about 6 weeks of school. CLEP-tests rule, and I am so proud of him for working so hard to get his degree as quickly as possible.

3. Getting to talk to Violet's kindergarten teacher during the general parent-teacher night at her school. I know I worry too much and stress out even though there are still almost 2 years till Violet's going to start elementary school, but I see her challenges, which are more serious than Lily's were at her age. Her teacher, however, calmed me down, confirming that she's a very normal 4-year old, and that her challenges will not affect her school-readiness. This mommy went to sleep a little easier that night.

4. Going out for dinner with a few wonderful colleagues of mine. I took Calvin, who was the only lad at the table and was properly adored by all the ladies. I so enjoyed myself, the food was delicious, the conversation even better. I totally needed this time out!

5. Spending some time in town with the entire family. We got a sneak peak at the holiday market in town and I can't wait to actually go there soon!  It's one of my favorites holiday markets; it has a forest wonderland theme, SO beautiful!

6. Ninety-two more days of no work (as of Friday). This suddenly struck me after waking up from a nap with Calvin, watching our beautiful sleeping baby. I didn't want to get up for the rest of the day..  or for the rest of my parental leave.  But I also realized that I have more than twice as much leave now than with the girls.

7. Having a great time with our former neighbor's at the Chinese buffet/Mongolian grill. The food was delicious, and the company awesome as usual.  And it was the second time that week that I was out for dinner. Don't remember when that happened last!

8. Pie-cooperation with the hubby. Hubbie's crust + my filling = delicious pies!  And enough pie crust and filling left over for 4 mini-pies for dessert tonight. Yum!!!

9. Not getting sick. Last night, I had a definite scratching in my throat, so I went into total-defense mode, and obviously it worked! Feeling better today, and we're ready to tackle our Turkey-Day tomorrow!

10. The weather forecast mentioning the words "snow" and "Germany" in one sentence. There's hope!!!!

10-1/2. Being able to remember all of Monday's thankfuls. I am so brain-dead these days that I'm more drifting than purposefully moving into the right direction. But obviously there's hope.. maybe...

I hope you all had a wonderful week with tons of things to be thankful for!!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Week in Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (75)

Ten Things of Thankful

Parts of last week I've spent in a blurr. I stood as the world was moving besides me, unable to move with it myself. It's much better now, but the sadness is still underlying.  Thank you everyone for your kind words last week. Opa sure will never be forgotten! 

Still, in all grief, there are many things to be thankful for last week.

1. Getting to attend my grandfather's funeral on Monday as a family. All three kids behaved wonderfully. It was hard for them, especially the part as the gravesite, but it also helped them to express their emotions and process them. And they got to hang out with their cousin afterward.

2. Meeting all of my extended family. There were people I hadn't seen in years. Most I was really happy to see, a couple of others I could have done without, but still.

3. Witnessing once more how many lives my grandfather has touched and how many people have come to honor him and his life. I was most touched by an old childhood friend, who was obviously devastated, and by the veteran's honor guard, where he had also been a member. They offered their last salute and lowered the flag over his grave, it was so solemn.

4. Getting back into a routine.. Somewhat.  I admit that my grandfather's death has caused me plummet into a huge bout of depression. I couldn't sleep at night and dragged all day long. I couldn't do the chores around the house, or support the children properly.I was such a mess, but thankfully got back on trap, wit the support of my much, much better half!

5. My wonderful husband. He is my rock, my love, and my life. In the past week, he has taken over many of my family duties without complaining once. He's been our backbone during my grandfather's funeral and there for me when I needed to talk about my feelings. I could not ever even imagine a better life partner for myself and father for our children.

6. Lily being an über-performer in school. During the entire meeting, her teacher had not the slightest negative point to say about her. And we also reached an agreement about the prayer-issue: Besides the quick prayer, in which Lily still won't participate, the teacher will also read a short poem for the Atheist/Agnostic/Secularist/Humanist children so there's something they can participate in as well to start the day with.

7. Calvin being healthy and developing wonderfully. He is around the 75th percentile for both height and weight and has the motor skills of a 6-month old. It seems we have to start baby-proofing soon!

8. A dear friend making me leave the home where I had dug my trenches and go shopping with her. I had a great time and not only found a comfy pair of jeans but also got to dress up my beautiful friend in clothes I could never ever wear because I'm not the Indian queen she is but rather a boring chunk of Swiss cheese, at least in terms of color. I convinced her to try on a shirt that she would have never even taken off the hanger. And not only she but also her husband loved it. I have officially permission from him to go shopping with her again  :-)

9. Officially having neighbors. They arrived on Wednesday night, with all their stuff arriving the following two days. We had them over for dinner twice as their own kitchen wasn't set up yet. It's so exciting not to be living by ourselves in the townhomes any more!  And today, another family moved into the duplex right behind our townhome. It's getting full around here!

10. SKIP (Happy Birthday to him!!!), and Zoe for making my Saturday evenings brighter with sharing tons of pictures of that cute, little, old guy  :-)

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Grieving With Children - As Atheists

Today we witnessed my dear grandfather to be laid to rest. It was a difficult decision, but we took all the kids with us, Calvin mostly for the reason that he cannot be by his own again, the girls because we wanted to give them the chance to say good-bye and face their grief that way.

I told Violet the news on Friday morning after breakfast. Violet was home from kindergarten because she was feeling sick. Her reaction was a startle. Then not much more. She asked some questions later, but seemed weirdly detached, even though this is probably normal for a 4-year old.

Lily was told by Richard after she came home from school; I was sleeping with Calvin to get my feet under me again after a sleepless night. She started crying, but Richard managed to calm her down, talking with her about Opa's long, rich life.

This was luckily the first death in the family, which the girls consciously experienced, and it came with a lot of questions. What happens afterward, why do people die, etc.

As children, growing up in a somewhat Christian family, we were told that the dead will rise into heaven and live on there. I admit that it was a comforting thought that death does not really exist. Now, as Atheists, we do not believe in an afterlife. Everything ends with death. It sounds final, but makes life itself so much more important to us, as there are no second chances or a better life afterward.

So what to tell little children to console them in their grief without introducing ideas that we do not believe ourselves?

Why do people have to die?  We get all older, and when our bodies are too old to support us in our daily activies, we eventually fall asleep and die. Sometimes, younger people die because a disease destroys their bodies or it is hurt so bad in an accident that it cannot live any more, so this person dies as well.

What happens when someone dies?  They fall in a very deep sleep and never wake up. The body is then buried (or cremated and then interred) and continues to sleep there.

What happens to the bodies then?  (Life) energy cannot die, so in a way, one lives on. Whether it is as fire during cremation creating heat that spreads out to warm our hearts or whether it is our life force to feed grass and flowers, everyone lives on in one or the other form of energy.

The girls loved the idea of grandpa turning into a flower and it did help them over their initial grief. Both of them cried at the funeral; Lily kissed her little rose before she threw it on the coffin in the grave, wispering "good night" to her grandpa. 

I am so proud of them dealing with the loss so well. I expect them to have throw-backs in the weeks and months to come; I will make a photo-book of pictures of Opa, which they can look at, and which will be a prompt of all the fond memories he have of this wonderful man!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ten Things Of Thankful (74)

Ten Things of Thankful

I'm starting this post of thankfuls in a very, very sad note. I received a phone call from my mom today informing me that my dear Grandpa (Opa) has passed away this afternoon. I am still too overwhelmed to feel anything but emptiness. I know that, as usual, this piece of news will need its time to sink in and I will not be able to grief this loss until later.

Right now, I am simply thankful of having had the opportunity to have my Opa in my life for so long.My parents' grandparents had all died when they were still young children, so I do see the privilege of having my Opa in our lives until well into my adulthood.

I am beyond thankful that he got to meet our three children. As his general condition was fast deteriorating, I was not sure if he would ever meet his youngest great-grandchild. But he did not only get to meet Calvin but also all three of his other great-grandchildren being born between March and August of this year.

I am thankful for all the fond memories he is part of. The huge family meetings for the winter holidays or in spring at my grandparens' place; I was always lookign forward to these for weeks, because it meant seeing everyone together again.

I am thankful that besides his upbringing (he was 16 when WWII ended, so I don't think I have to go into detail), Opa came to love and respect my husband for the wonderful person he is. I admit, I was scared of hsi reaction when I told him that I was engaged to be married to an American. I knew his point of view; still, he has welcomed my husband into the family with open arms.

I am thankful for my Opa having always kept his inner child alive. It was fun even when we were teenagers searching for the Easter nests in my grandparents' huge garden. Yes, even when he was in his 70s, he insisted that my grandma hid a nest for him as well.

I am thankful that I was home to see him a few times when his condition became very serious. When my other grandpa suddenly died back in March of 2010, I was sitting 9 months pregnant half a world away; to this day, I have not found the place to grief for this loss. Maybe this will be the chance to work everything up now, or maybe the grief for my other grandpa will always remain penned up deep inside me.

I cannot tell yet, but no matter how this will go, I am thankful for the time in the last weeks we got to sped with him. He was so happy to see us each time we stopped by, even though our visits were very strenuous for him, he never complained.

I am so thankful that I truly got to know this wonderful man. He had his standards that he put high and lived up to. But he was not too proud to change his look on things. He has worked hard all his life; he loved his family, especially the children. I remember several times when he took us to his smithy. He had a very old anvil placed on the stump of an ancient oak tree; he would light a fire in the forge and heat a peace of iron until it was white-hot; he then would wield a hammer of a size you cannot imagine and work a little horse-shoe shape out of it. It was the greatest thing in the world when I was a child.

I am thankful for having spent the occasional weekend with him. I remember this one time, he made us sweep the huge center yard for him. I was about 14, and the least thing I had on my mind on a Saturday afternoon was spending a couple of hours sweeping the yard. But he was so convincing, making it sound like so much fun, that I simply could not bring myself to tell him no. Yes, he was that good!!!

And finally, I am thankful that I am there to bide him fare-well properly. I have no experience with funerals, and I feel totally helpless. I will have to go shopping for jackets at least for Violet if not both girls, and maybe even a skirt for myself, even though the last thing I want to do right now is shopping. But I get to be there, look at him one last time, meet everyone in the family again, share stories about him and his life and will hear new ones. It will probably be heartbreaking, but also comforting at the same time.

I wish you all the best weekend! If you have a grandparent alive, do me a favor and visit or call them this weekend!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

It couldn't have come on a better day. Hubby received his GI Bill award letter from the VA in the mail today. Yes, I'm officially living with a college guy now!  And this college guy even has braces  :-)

Happy Veteran's Day to my wonderful hubby, and all other veterans!

(c)  Life, Unexpectedly

Monday, November 10, 2014

Favorite Fall Recipes - Pumpkin Spice French Toast

This Sunday was a late morning for me. Calvin and I slept in until 10:30, and I felt wonderful. Since Sunday is always our day for a big family breakfast, we had a quick conference on what to make. Lily and Violet first voted for croissants, until I suddenly had a relevation: French Toast. The family was happy, and so I went to work:

(picture to follow)

3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 T sugar
1 t pumpkin spice*
8 slices bread (I used whole wheat bread with flax seeds to make it a little healthier)
maple syrup
some butter for greasing the skillet

Lightly beat eggs with a fork in a shallow bowl; add sugar, milk, and pumpkin spice and mix well.

Heat skillet and melt butter until it starts to foam.

Dip bread in the egg mixture and cook for about 1-2 minutes or until lightly browned; turn the bread and cook the other side.

Transfer to a plate and serve with maple syrup, apple sauce, or fresh fall fruit.

Enjoy (maybe with a cup of pumpkin spice cappuccino??)

This breakfast would also work well as a Thanksgiving or Black Friday breakfast - yes, I'm rather having a good breakfast than outrunning others for Black Friday bargains :-)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things of Thankful (73)

Ten Things of Thankful

Somehow, this week was long and at times confusing, Can't even really say why, but I'm glad that it's about over. Monday will feel like (and hopefully be) a new start. Another chance to try and keep things together  :-)

Among so many other things, I'm especially thankful this week for:

1. Friendship. All aspects of it. Being the person my friends turn to to talk; learning great, wonderful news ahead of time; having a friend who calls me at night to  inform me that I'd go and enjoy a little wellness with her the next morning. I am really, really thankful for all the wonderful friends in our lives.

2. Calvin's first laugh.

3. Lily's reading.

4. My wonderful, wonderful colleague still thinking about me. She sent me a message this week, asking me if I wanted to join her and some colleagues from another department we two are working with for dinner in a couple of weeks. Call me hormonal, but I almost cried  :-)

5. Surprise gifts for the children in the mail. I did not expect our friends to send us a box, so it was such a surprise picking up the box and seeing the sender name and address. We haven't been really in touch for several months, but receiving this gift prompted me to sit down and write a long email to them.

6. Crème Brulée. Sometimes, my needs are simple  :-)

7. Hubby really liking the book I got him for his birthday. The last couple of books I got for him weren't a hit with him, so I'm especially thankful that the book didn't last 2 days.

8. Another Starbucks city mug. Our awesome new neighbor knows that I collect those and asked her daughter to bring one for me from her trip to Hamburg.

9. A morning spent drinking tea and chatting with another mom from Lily's class. Her daughter is one of the other atheists in the class as well, and I really enjoyed spending time with the other mom.

10. Having ready access to medical care. Calvin's been sick with a virus that causes him troubles breathing. Our pediatrician made him inhale a solution that was to open his airways (and did he scream bloody murder!!) and gave us a medication for at home. His breathing is almost back to normal, he's just a little congested still in the early mornings before taking his medicine.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why Halloween?

Halloween is not a traditional German holiday, but it's definitely getting established here. I still remember the first trick-or-treaters at my parents' house, when I was a teenager and suggested in this very teenager-mood to just throw a bucket of water down on them.

Today, we live in a rather small community and have been going out trick-or-treating with our (now former) neighbors all those past four years. And I thoroughly enjoy heading out with our group of little scary creatures walking the night (ok, early evening) for an hour or two, meeting other groups on the way, catch some people off guard at their door, and - as the highlight - stop by at the town's best "haunted house" (in my opinion). I don't think that I get the girls to walk for that amount of time without complaining any other day in the year.

But still the best thing about Halloween is the candy. Yes, I admit it without shame, I do eat our girls' Halloween candy when they are in bed.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (72)

Ten Things of Thankful

I'm sitting here on our couch on a day-after-Halloween Saturday night, listening to hubby playing games with his friend in the States, looking at the baby sleeping next to me, and hearing the occasional cough from the girls' rooms upstairs. I know there's a post-Halloween bash happening at someone's house about 20 minutes from ours, and I was invited. I remember a time when this constellation (Saturday night, party, me at home) would have been unbearable for me. Now, I feel nothing but thankful, for everything we have, for the choices I made (or was made to make) in the past that brought me where I am today, for the people in my life, and those who used to be there, even though there is mostly a reason for them to not be there any more.

Besides these more substantial things, I am especially thankful this week for:

1. Quality time with Calvin. I know, this is a regular item on my list these days, but still. This week, we shared some good skin-on-skin time next to the space heater (waaaaaarmmmmmmm) and I gave the little guy a massage to help with his tummy ache. He was also bathed without crying!

2. Quality time with the girls. We have slightly changed their bed-time routine recently, because they have developed this hard cough again. I've been spending time with each of them separately, rubbing some essential oils in their feet and their backs to help them recover during sleep. During the massages I tell them a story instead of reading a story to them together. We all enjoy the one-on-one time, even though Calvin is not too happy about it most of the time.

3. Lily's first school break. While Violet was going to kindergarten, we spent some mornings playing games or going shopping together. She also read to Calvin and me from her new first-readers book. She's ALMOST there!!!

4. My walks home from kindergarten with Violet. I so love watching her take off on her little balance bike, training both her coordination and balance as well as behavior in traffic.

5. Meeting up with a colleague of mine in town. We had a coffee together and chatted. It's good to be missed..

6. Halloween!  The weather was great again, still around 60° when we went out with our friends around 6 pm. It was the same group as last year, and all the kids had a ton of fun while we grown-ups were enjoying chatting and stealing some candy from the girls  :-)

7. My wonderful, wonderful hubby, whose birthday we got to celebrate this week. I am so extremely lucky to have him, and really thankful for those almost 9 years we've been together now!

8. A wonderful day spent with my parents. They came up for a brunch to celebrate hubby's birthday. My mom made her yummie salmon cream cheese spread and we all enjoyed lots of food, goot chats, and a little outing to the playground to take advantage of the beautiful weather as long as we can.

9. Going back into our normal routine next week. Lily's going to go back to school, hubby's language class is starting again, and I have a bunch of appointments to remember, most importantly the initial appointment for Violet's occupational therapy.

10. Calvin being a good sleeper. Which means that I can go to bed early if I'm so exhausted that I have double-vision and cuddle with the baby.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

When Lisa Meets Annie (Or: The Chocolate Extravaganza Cake)

I want chocolate cake, he said...  Surprise me, he said..  So I ventured out to get a new, perfect chocolate cake recipe for my amazing hubby's birthday.  The wonderful Lisa from The Meaning Of Me was kind enough to share not only one but two of her family's favorite chocolate cake recipes. I used one of them, tweaked it a little (as I usually do, driving poor hubby insane), and added tons and tons of chocolate. The design I stole from Annie over at Annie's Eats, and of course was not nearly as skillful as she is (my cakes would ALWAYS be at the "Nailed it" sections of the Pinterest meme). Hubby still loved it (even though he did not recognize Jack Skellington - and I didn't want to push the issue), and it tasted wonderful.

Meet: the Chocolate Extravaganza Cake (i.e. chocolate cake with chocolate cream filling, chocolate sprinkles, and a double-chocolate frosting)

(c) Life, Unexpectedly

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups buttermilk

Pre-heat the oven at 350°; line a round cake pan with baking paper and lightly grease the sides.
Cream butter and sugar; add eggs one at a time and mix in well.
Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in separate bowl.
Add to sugar mixture, alternating with buttermilk.
Fill batter in prepared pan and bake at 350° for about 20 - 30 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

While the cake cools, prepare the chocolate cream:

1 pack of non-cooking chocolate pudding mix
1 cup of whipping cream

Beat whipping cream. Prepare pudding according to instructions on the pack, using about 1/3 less milk. Fold in cream into the pudding.

Cut the top off the cake and slightly hollow out the middle. Spread cream on the cake and top with a generous layer of dark chocolate sprinkles. Put the top back.

Melt about 6-7 oz of dark chocolate and pour over the cake, letting excess chocolate run over the sides of the cake. Wait until the chocolate has cooled off and hardened. Then melt about 3 oz white chocolate and pour a circle on top of the dark chocolate. Decorate with black food coloring, melted dark chocolate, or dark chocolate sprinkles.


PS: Hubby mentioned that there could have been a little more chocolate. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, SIR!!!!   :-)

PPS: I have entered the Chocolate Bread recipe I've shared a while ago for the Great Denby Cake Off. Wish me luck!!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Time For A Change

I've always wanted to have long hair. Maybe it's a remnant from my childhood trauma. Never EVER ask me to share pictures of myself between the ages of 2 and 8!!  My mom had the idea that keeping my hair short will make it grow thicker (tip: it did not work!!).

Last year, I therefore decided to finally start the project "long hair" and started to let it grow out. Big mistake! I realized, I'm not the person for long hair and it will have to go. But first, I will need to find the perfect hair dresser for me. I usually just went to the inexpensive places to have my ends trimmed, or just cut off a few centimeters. But this time I want it done right. I want a cut that I love, not something that is alright.  To find out what I may like, I turned to my favorite time machine (aka Pinterest), and that's what I came up with:

Classic Short Bob Haircut for Thin Hair

Bob Haircuts For Fine Hair


Marion Cotillard Frisur

What do you think?  A little longer or a little shorter? Blonde or brown?  I'm still so undecided..

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (71)

Ten Things of Thankful

Does that sometimes happen to you: You get up in the morning, start your routine, check your appointments for the day, just to find out 10 minutes later that it is not Friday, as you thought but only Thursday.  It somehow threw off my entire day, and it wasn't even 8am yet. Luckily, I've caught myself again; just need to remember now to change the clock in the right direction tonight!

1. A wonderful long fall walk with the entire family. We walked all the way to the next town and had a snack at the bakery there. It was perfect t-shirt weather, but I could feel just the crispness of fall in the air. We have had a wonderful fall so far, and this is something to be thankful for as well.

2. Staying dry. This Wednesday, we had near constant cold rain all day long, and this was also the day Richard needed to car to get to his German class. Luckily for me, the rain stopped just when it was time for me to pick up Violet from kindergarten and we got home without getting soaked. And just as Lily was walking in the door coming home from school, the rain started again.

3. Spending about half an hour gazing into Calvin's biiiig baby eyes, holding his hand and touching his face. He had been asleep but woke up again and was in that really calm and alert state for a while. He almost drifted off a couple of time, but eventually became fuzzy, so I picked him up and cuddled him back to sleep.

4.  A beyond beautiful fall morning. There was very dense fog when I drove shopping with Calvin in the morning, and on the way back home, the first rays of sun pierced through the fog and illuminating the beautiful fall leaves. It was so magical. Of course, I did not have a camera with me, and even if I had, I'm not nearly skilled enough with it to capture a moment like that. So I simply enjoyed it for what it was.

5. Lily being confident enough to stand up for herself against the majority of the class and her teacher. With another friend, who is an atheist as well, she is standing up against the pressure, remains seated during morning prayer and refuses to sing religious songs. Two other atheist girls have sadly caved, one after being bullied by a christian kid in class. Hopefully, we will be able to be successful eventually and ban prayer and religious songs from the regular classes where they simply have no place.

6. A long, long nap with Calvin today. After a somewhat restless night with all three kids joining us in our bed at various times of the night, I went down again for a nap around 11ish, and didn't emerge again until 2:30.

7. Hubby playing another concert in early December. I can never get enough from watching him perform on stage!

8. Lily being on her fall break. She was so excited on Friday to have her first school holidays. On Thursday, she crafted a card for her teacher to wish her a fun fall holiday, it was so sweet. Still, Lily said that she was missing school already.

9. A very, very good friend confirming he's going to come visit us from the U.S. in early spring. He's hands-down Lily's favorite uncle, which is the reason why we're not telling her about his visit yet; but we know she'll be beyond excited!!

10. Enough food on our tables, a warm bed tonight, everyone in our family safe and sound. I am thankful for these every day, but with so many conflicts going on and wave after wave of refugees flooding into Germany, I felt that it was important to spell those out again.

I hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why The Hate??

Soooo, there's a new Doctor. It happens, we all know that (at least those who have bothered to watch the show). For some reason (which I did not know about until yesterday), Peter Capaldi seems to polarize - and I don't get it.

I started to watch Doctor Who when it came back in 2005 - with Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. He was The Doctor for only one season and was then replaced by David Tennant. Not being used to the concept of the main person changing like that, it was hard for me (I cried a little inside), but I became attached to the new actor pretty quickly (my favorite Doctor so far, to be honest).

The next switch, to Matt Smith, was not too traumatic for me anymore, even though I missed David Tennant a little.  And quite honestly, I was looking forward to this new change to Peter Capaldi very much. It felt as if Matt Smith had played The Doctor for one season too long.

The first half hour or so of the new season's first episode I wasn't sure. I was a little annoyed with The Doctor's whining about his older appearance; I could imagine if I was as old as The Doctor, I would not care about looks any more. But then hubby made the point that with the shell, also the personality changes a little. And quite honestly, I came to really like Pater Capaldi's Doctor, being a little like a confused genious. And I certainly love his interaction with Clara.

So why do people hate Peter Capaldi, or who are the people who hate him?  Is the Matt Smith fan girl community running beserk?  The only group of people I could imagine going to such lengths (and making a "Keep Calm" meme about it) are fan girls, and this is not what Doctor Who is about, in my opinion. The Doctor is not meant to be a sex symbol; thus, having a Doctor who will be not followed by a bunch of hysteric girls feels a little refreshing to me.

I'm looking forward to see the rest of the season, and - of course - look forward to your opinion. Fellow Whovian Susannah:  What do you think now??

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Favorite Fall Recipes - Fall-Flavored Chocolate Bread

 UPDATE: I have submitted this recipe to the Great Denby Cake Off!! Wish me luck  :-)

This is so awesome, I want to eat it all the time. A while ago, I found this recipe for a double-chocolate banana bread, and loved it (like everything double-chocolate really). But to be honest, I have tons of banana bread recipes already, and with fall being in full swing, I am more into fall flavors these days. Which left me one afternoon with time on hand (i.e. Calvin napping and the girls enjoying their daily quiet time), some home-made apple sauce from my trip to the semi-public apple tree, and a sprinkle of creativity to create my fall-flavored chocolate bread.  Yum is all I can say!

(c) Life, Unexpectedly

1-1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (if you use sweetened apple sauce, reduce sugar accordingly)
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 - 2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 pinch of salt
1 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 heaping Tbs. cocoa powder
1/2 cup dark chocolate sprinkles

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour a loaf pan.
Mix applesauce, butter, sugar, and maple syrup; add egg and stir well.
Add flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamin, and salt ; mix in until just combined.
Mix in chocolate sprinkles.
Fill batter in prepared pan and bake at 350°F for about 20 - 25 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean.

Let cool for about 10 minutes and remove the bread from the pan. Let it cool completely so you can cut it without the bread crumbling. Keeps wrapped up in wax paper or foil for up to 5 days (longer when you store it in the fridge).

- If the batter seems too dry, just add a little milk, apple juice, or apple cider.
- Add an apple cut into small cubes to the batter to make it extra moist and to increase the apple-flavor.
- Melt a bar of dark chocolate and pour it over the cooled-off cake to make a nice chocolate frosting.
- Serve with whipped cream and a nice cup of cappuccino.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (70)

Ten Things of Thankful

This week was more quiet than last one, which definitely is a thing to be thankful about. Both girls are now signed up for dance class and Violet's been doing good progress in her speech therapy. I feel like we're finally getting settled in our routine. Only took me a few months  :-)

My ten things we're most thankful for this week:

1. Lily and Violet getting along better again. It's been a tough few weeks between them with Lily adjusting to elementary school and Violet becoming extremely attached to her, which, in turn, completely set off our Miss Freedom & Independent  Lily; almost daily, Violet had to be physically removed from Lily's room because she simply could not leave her alone. But today (Monday), for the first time in quite a while, I found them playing peacefully in Violet's room. Lily told me that Violet had invited her to listen to an audio play together, and "listening to it together is so much more fun than listening by myself".  It just melted my heart!!

2. One of Violet's friends giving me a beautiful fall leave as a gift when I picked Violet up from kindergarten today.

3. A new morning ritual for hubby and me. We sit down for a few minutes and share a cup of coffee before starting yet another crazy day. I really enjoy those moments with my love..

4. Mis-purchases. My sister was out to buy some apricot jam last week, grabbed a glass with yellowish content and happily went home where she realizes that she has bought orange marmelade. And because my lovely sister knows that I am the only person in the world who loves that stuff, she gave it to me. I've really, really enjoyed my breakfast the last few days  :-)

5. Having three more Atheist families in Lily's class, who - like us - are fighting for our kids' right to freedom from religion in class. We hope that we'll soon find a solution that does not include disregarding our daughters' constiutional rights and trying to exclude them from class activities.

6. My dear friend having found a wonderful and extremely capable lawyer to take action against the company she's worked for for over 15 years. Obviously, this company has decided to force all young mothers to resign, and in my friend's case, they have taken very, very dirty methods of bullying, libel, etc. She read the letter her lawyer has drafted to me tonight, and we're all confident that she will receive the compensation she deserves and damages for all the crap she had to go through in the last weeks.

7. Calvin getting his first vaccines and doing well afterwards. I'm so thankful that we live in a part of the world where we have so ready access to healthcare and all the necessary vaccines to keep our children safe and protect them from dangerous diseases.

8. Naps with the baby. He's such a cuddler, and on several occasions during the week we managed to snuggle up and nap for an hour or two.

9. Visits with friends. Violet, Calvin, and I visited my friend Jenny and her kids on Friday and had a great afternoon. Violet gifted her "Frozen"-dress that was too small for her to her friend Lizzi, who was so much in love with the dress. Love Violet for being such a generous little girl!

10. Lily's about reading!!  I have bought an early-reader's book for her and plan on giving it to her tomorrow. She can read a number of shorter words, but is still getting frustrated easily. She's definitely her mom's daughter  :-)  Maybe this new book will help her make that last little step to everything finally making sense to her. She's SO close!!

Have a wonderful new week, everyone!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Calvin's Second Month

Last Saturday, Calvin had his 2-month birthday. No, we did not celebrate it, but noted in disbelieve that another month had passed in no time. He continues to put on weight, and I'm looking forward to his next appointment in late November to see how much exactly he has grown. The newborn outfits are safely retired now, some have been passed on already, which is a weird feeling. So far, all the clothes were packed up and stored for the next baby, but there is no need any more to store clothes for more babies as none are in the planning. Maybe this is why I am so savoring every moment with our little guy.

Here are his current stats and favorites:

Height: at his last well-baby visit in September he was almost 23in tall, but I'd assume that he probably has grown another one or two inches since then.
Weight: in September, he weighed in at 11lbs even. Now, I'd say probably about 13lbs. Looking at the size/weight chart in his well-baby booklet, he was still at the 50th percentile for weight, but went from 50th percentile to 75th percentile in height.
Clothes size: He's wearing a few 3-months onesies still but is transitioning to 6-months clothes now.
Number of teeth: none yet, but we had the feeling that he was starting to teeth a little.

Favorite food: mommy's milk
Favorite toy: He loves his activity gym and a little tumbling ducky that I got as a hand-me-down from a very good friend when Lily was born.
Favorite book: he loves to listen when I read fairy tales to his sisters. And since they mostly choose the fairy tales from a girls' story book, I'd say he loves those.
Favorite outfit / piece of clothing: he still doesn't care. My favorite clothes for him are a striped fleece hooded sweater with bear ears on the hood and a hat with bear ears. Yes, I love those  :-)

Likes: cuddling, singing, getting his little toes tickled, getting warmed by the space heater, looking at toys dangling over his head, being adored by his sisters.
Dislikes: bathing, changing his clothes, having a tummy ache, mommy cooking/baking/doing homework with Lily (basically mommy doing anything that does not involve doting on baby Calvin).

Happy 2-months birthday, my little guy. And please stop growing already!!

Calvin at 2 months

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Countdown To The Holidays

Yes, it's true. The Winter Holidays (however you may call it) is approaching again. I started shopping early this year, wrapping m first presents during our visit with the in-laws in the U.S. in May. Luckily, I've not been in the holiday mood since early summer, like last year. I am just about getting started with the true fall mood, looking forward to Thanksgiving and the first German holiday bread (aka Stollen) on Sunday after Thanksgiving. Why do I love the second half of the year more than the first? Holiday flavors, weekends cuddling on the couch, a house warmed by cookies baking in the oven, first colorful then white landscapes, cocooning and listening to what's inside, spending lots of time with family and friends. This is why!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (69)

Ten Things of Thankful

What a busy week! So many appointments to remember,  but also a lot of quality time to spend with my wonderful family and friends. I am tired and exhausted, but feel so very, very thankful to have all of them in my life.

The special thankfuls this week:

1. Violet for the rescue Monday morning. Lily had lost her sweater, but Violet found it and also reminded her big sister (and me) that Lily still needed her glasses just as she was leaving. What only would I do without our little girl??

2. Home-made organic apple sauce. While being out with Lily to pick elderberries for elderberry jam (total fiasco by the way), I found an apple tree growing outside a fence; I spontaneously declared the tree public property and picked a bunch to take home as well. Yesterday, I finally turned them all into apple sauce. No sugar, no preservatives, no additives, just plain old apple sauce. Yum!

3. Cream of rice with home-made apple sauce for breakfast - just remembering that I forgot to add the cinnamon..

4. Getting to watch Calvin discovering his feet. He was beyond-words adorable watching them wiggle and giving me the biggest, sweetest baby smiles I can imagine.  Such a special moment - or twenty minutes.

5. Dates with my lads. Hubby and Calvin first took me out for breakfast before heading to the hardware store Friday morning, and in the evening, we had a movie date at home with delicious dessert.

6. Getting to watch Violet during her first dance class. It was still a little difficult for her to follow the steps, but I'm sure in no time this class will help her to gain more awareness for her body and movement. Plus: the approval for her early intervention therapy came in the mail today. Starting next week, she's going to see an occupational therapist and the early intervention therapist in addition to the speech therapist. Sounds like a lot, but we've experienced with Lily that this comprehensive approach is really generating fast improvements.

7. A wonderful Sunday afternoon with friends. We shared a delicious lunch and took dessert out to the park where the kids played soccer and we adults enjoyed some good conversation. The sky was pretty overcast at first but later in the afternoon, we had beautiful sunshine. Violet's conclusion at the end of the day:  Mami, I'm absolutely exhausted, but so, so happy!  I'd call this a perfect weekend!

8.  A lovely cup of chai latte at the end of the day. With a side of dark cookie chocolate.

9. A very supportive HR department. Without a prompt from my side, they sent me all the paperwork to apply for the child care refund my work pays at the end of each year. Yay for more paperwork!

10.Hubby finally having found a school that supports him receiving his benefits he has earned while serving in the military for 8 years, having his health ruined during that time and being intentionally given false information that hurt our family on his way out. If everything goes as planned, I'll be married to a college boy soon  :-)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Maternity Leave Musings

Today was officially my last day of maternity leave. Until mid-November I'm taking vacation time and will enter parental leave afterward.

Even though I had some issues adjusting to this new life at home, I think I'm finally arriving in this new role of stay-at-home-mom, and I absolutely love being able to spend so much time with my family.

Calvin in mid-September
This morning, while hubby was out for his German class and the girls in school and kindergarten, I enjoyed a little mid-morning nap with Calvin, and after we woke up, he discovered his feet!!  I watched the little guy being excited about those two little wiggling thingies at the very end of his legs for a good twenty minutes, giving me some of the biggest, most heart-warming toothless smiles you could possibly imagine.

My conclusion on this first-time experience for me: I will never be a stay-at-home-mom. I love being home right now, but I know that it would never truly fulfill me. I am thankful that legislation here in Germany allows me to take tons of time off to take care of our baby and our family as a whole, but I am also thankful that my job is waiting for me when I return - part-time for now - in March. I am glad that legislation also protects families and give me the right to cut hours (or potentially even stay at home completely) for up to 3 years, which we are definitely taking advantage of, as I will be working part-time only until September 2016!