Updated on Mondays to Help Start Your Week Off Right!
(and recipes updated whenever I get a chance)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Recipe: Best-Ever Coffee & Chocolate Cake

I got this recipe from food network, but I've altered it somewhat and done some research on recipe copyrights, and it turns out, you can't actually copyright a recipe, only the written instructions (your words describing how to make the recipe). So this is my version of the recipe, in my words (and I'll put the link to the original recipe at the bottom, just in case you don't trust my alterations - that's okay, I won't take offense... I've only baked this cake about 10 times... it's not like I know what I'm doing or anything... jerks).

The Best-Ever Coffee & Chocolate Cake:


butter and flour, for pans
1 3/4 cups + 3 1/2 Tbsp sifted cake flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour - but it is better with cake flour)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk (shaken)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 extra large egg + 2 extra large egg yolks (all at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup hot, fresh coffee

Preheat oven to 350. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 8" or 9" round cake pans, line the bottom of pans with parchment rounds, butter the parchment, and flour the inside of the pan (bottoms & sides).

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk, oil, eggs & yolks, and vanilla until combined. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture with the mixer on low speed. Continue to mix on low and slowly add the coffee, scraping the bowl with a spatula to ensure thorough blending.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake 30-35 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pans for about 30 minutes, then completely on wire racks. When cakes are completely cool, I cut them both in half to make the four layers of the cake. (I use a cake slicer/leveler because I have one, but a big knife and a steady hand work just as well. :) )


9 oz semisweet chocolate
3 sticks butter (at room temperature)
2 large egg yolks (at room temperature)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 Tbsp instant coffee powder

Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler (or pyrex bowl placed over a shallow pot of simmering water - make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water), then set aside.

Beat butter in a stand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy (around 3 minutes). Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat another 3 minutes. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar, and mix until smooth.

Dissolve the coffee powder in about 2 tsp of the hottest tap water possible. Add the coffee mixture and melted chocolate to the butter mixture and blend until smooth. Use immediately.

To frost the cake, try this:

Place a small amount of frosting on the middle center of your serving dish and spread around (to hold the cake in place). Take the top half of one cake and place it rounded- (top) side down in the center of your serving dish. Frost the top (now the exposed, cut side of the cake). Next, layer the bottom half of that cake on top, cut side down (putting that cake back together, but upside down). Frost the (now) top of that cake. Next, layer the bottom half of the second cake, right side up (so the exposed, cut-side is now the top of your cake), and frost. Finally, finish with the top half of the second cake (the rounded side). Frost the top and sides of the cake. Basically, you'll end up with two cakes, the bottom one upside-down, the top one right-side up, with frosting in the middle of both cakes and between both.

This recipe also makes great cupcakes - but I'd suggest using 2 extra large eggs for the cake, instead of 1 egg and 2 egg yolks. Also, foil liners work best, since this cake is fairly moist, and paper liners won't hold up well for long. (If you follow this frosting recipe, there will probably be quite a bit extra for cupcakes, since this recipe is increased 50% from the original to make enough for a 4-layer cake. You can decrease the frosting recipe by 50%, or you can just have a lot of frosting to work with (and eat)).

Keep the cake (or cupcakes) refrigerated. But the frosting will harden in the fridge, so if you want softer frosting, remove from the fridge about 30-60 minutes before eating. Return left-overs to the fridge. (The frosting is also very good cold and hardened, though.)

Serves: a lot. This makes a pretty massive cake (probably at least 12 generous servings). Enjoy!

Recipe: Turkey, Mushroom, and Sage Soup

This is easily one of the best soups I've ever had, plus it's a good way to use up some left-over turkey after Thanksgiving! This recipe is with my modifications (which probably only serve to make the soup more fattening - and delicious).

Turkey, Mushroom, and Sage Soup:

5 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped (or 2 medium onions)
2 celery stalks, chopped
30 large fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
7 cups chicken or turkey stock (I usually end up just using broth, since half the time, I can't find chicken stock in the store)
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice
16 oz sliced mushrooms
16 oz chopped cooked turkey
2 cups heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper
shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large stock pot, melt half the butter (2 1/2 Tbsp) over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and sage, and cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the flour and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring to combine the ingredients well.

Gradually add about 1 cup of the chicken stock while stirring, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides to mix. Pour in the remaining stock and stir to combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil.

Stir in the rice and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste, partially cover, and gently simmer, occasionally stirring, for around 30 minutes, or until rice is just tender.

While soup is simmering, melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms for about 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as they start to brown (I stir them with a rubber spatula to keep them from getting bruised, like they would with a wooden spoon).

After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, add the mushrooms, turkey, and cream, stirring after each addition. Simmer for another 10 minutes, or until soup is heated through. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. After serving into bowls, generously sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese

Serves 8-10

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Recipe: Glazed Applesauce Cookies

I will do my best to correctly and appropriately credit all recipes to their original sources, when applicable. This one is a family recipe, so I have no idea where it came from (other than my mom). Feel free to make them or pass on the recipe, but you can call them something like "Momma DePriest's Applesauce Cookies," if you feel so motivated. I kind of like that... maybe when I start my own bakery, I'll regret having ever shared these recipes.... But, considering how lazy I really am, I think it's a risk I'm willing to take.

Without further ado, I present:

Momma DePriest's Glazed Applesauce Cookies:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup shortening (crisco - I use original flavored for these)
1 cup applesauce
2 eggs

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ground cloves in a medium sized bowl.

In a large bowl, blend sugar and shortening together until well combined. Mix in applesauce and eggs. Gradually mix in dry ingredients until well combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Heat oven to 400°. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, until almost no indentation remains when touched. Immediately remove from cookie sheet; cool on wire racks.

Light Brown Glaze:

1/2 cup margarine or (unsalted) butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2-4 Tbsp milk

Heat butter in a double-boiler (or place a pyrex bowl over a small saucepan. Put about 1-2 inches of water in the saucepan and ensure the bottom of the pyrex bowl does not touch the water. Place the butter in the pyrex bowl and heat the water to melt the butter.) over medium heat until delicate brown. Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla. Stir in milk 1 Tbsp at a time, until smooth.

Spread the cookies with Light Brown Glaze. (Keep the glaze over the heat as you ice - if it cools, it will harden. If it does harden, return to heat or gradually add milk until it returns to desired consistency.) I've also found that it works well to dip the tops of the cookies into the glaze. The glaze tends to be extremely hot, so it's easy to burn your fingers while you spread it.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Starvation/Lactation Diet

These days, lots of people are creating fad diets and making a good deal of money off of them. This seems like the type of bandwagon on which I would like to jump. Without further ado, I present, for your weight-loss enjoyment:

The Starvation/Lactation Diet: Let Your Little Ones Suck the Pounds Right Off!
Your children can drain more than just your patience!!

Real-Life Testimony!! At just 5 weeks after giving birth, I've already lost not only all the pregnancy weight, but another 10 entire pounds! And I did it all by simply following the Starvation/Lactation Diet!

The key to the Starvation/Lactation diet is three-fold: Firstly, lactation burns an extra 5-600 calories a day - just through milk production - a natural process requiring no additional effort. Simply give birth and begin nursing. It's as easy as maintaining a newborn human's life! Secondly, a short exercise routine revolving around the baby - you won't even realize it's exercise! And thirdly, and this part is really central to the process of the diet, is starvation. All you have to do is forget to eat! With a newborn around the house, this is much easier than you'd think, especially if the baby is colicky. You'll be so consumed with trying to stop the baby's incessant and inconsolable crying (exercising!), you won't even remember you're supposed to be hungry!

There is minimal equipment required for success. All you need is a baby (preferably colicky) and an empty cupboard (although this is also typically unnecessary, as you're going to be so busy, you won't likely remember that there's food in the house!). An exercise ball is also optional. So go get yourself knocked up, wait 9 months, and get ready to embark on the easiest diet of your life!

Unlike traditional fad diets that necessitate mixing up and drinking diet shakes or gallons of fruit juice, the S/L Diet calls for no confusing measuring and mixing of drinks or calorie counting. Instead of counting the number of shakes or snack bars you're allowed to consume in a day, the S/L Diet simplifies all this math for you in a clear, easy way: none! You are, however, allowed to drink as much coffee as you can possibly handle. Drink as much as you need to get through the day (excessive coffee consumption will also provided an added benefit to the exercise aspect of the diet plan)! If you sip the coffee throughout the day, you can actually confuse your stomach and mind into thinking you're not even hungry in the first place!

Now on to the exercise. Although it's not necessary, having a colicky baby will help to motivate you in the exercise routine. When the baby starts incessantly crying, simple stand and do in excess of 400 knee-bends and arm raises (making sure to support baby's head in all movements). When you eventually feel like your knees and shoulders have turned to mush, you can graduate to wrapping the baby in a Moby wrap and bouncing on your exercise ball for anywhere up to 5 hours a day. If your baby isn't colicky, and doesn't "motivate" you for 3 or more hours a day, you have to remember to do the exercises on your own. Maybe poking the baby in the face (gently!) to wake him/her up too early from a nap will enable you to get the screaming results desired.

The simple act of producing human milk will complete your routine, giving you all the benefit of extra burned calories with minimal work. Simply ensure that baby nurses upwards of 12 times a day - that's every two hours for at least 20 minutes per feeding (that's only 240 minutes a day, for those of you too burned out by all that confusing math of other diet plans!). If you planned on doing anything else during this time, you can forget about it! You'll be too busy getting the body you've always dreamt of*!

(*The S/L Diet Co. takes no responsibility for your "dream body" being a post-children body that you've simply resigned yourself to having.)

It's that simple! Nurse constantly, spend hours a day trying to soothe a baby by bouncing vertically, and refrain from eating, and you, too, can get amazing postpartum results!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Day I Met the Parents

Note: This is an entirely true story, remembered to the best of my ability and from my perspective. If you happen to be the person this story is about, please don't take offense, as I intend none. I just feel that this experience needs to be shared with the general public.

Like most people, I spent my freshman year of college bouncing between multiple groups of friends, trying to find the one (or two, or four) that fit me the best. By Spring, I had found a boyfriend, and had quite a few friends, a handful of very close ones, but the majority were the type you get along with really well if you're around them, but you only hang out when your paths cross.

One day, I was hanging out in the room of some guys who fell into this latter category of friendship. We were having a nice enough chat, when another guy (also this casual type of acquaintance - we'll call him John) came into the room. After passing around the normal greetings, he looked at me and asked if I would be interested in helping him celebrate his up-coming birthday. He was from the town where our college was located,Omaha, so his parents had offered to take him and a group of friends out for dinner in his honor - as any poor college student knows, the chance to eat in a real restaurant and have someone else pick up the tab is not an opportunity you should ever pass up. But because I didn't know John very well, I hesitated. Seeing my uncertainty, the two other guys reassured me that they would be attending the festivities, as well. I asked who else was invited and was given a list of about six other people, most of whom I knew.

The dinner wasn't for almost a week, and I had nearly forgotten about it, until that Friday, walking back into our dorm, I passed John, who casually reminded me that the dinner was that night. Although I had a car in town, I didn't particularly like driving it around (and losing my highly-sought-after parking spot on campus - our university was notorious for having little to no available parking - at least close to the dorms and in good locations. One time, my car was broken into on campus while it was parked in a less-than-desirable lot, but that's a story for another time), so I asked how he and the other attendees were going to be getting to the restaurant.

"Oh, my parents have a minivan, and they can drive us. There's room for you, so I'll stop by your room and get you this evening before we leave," John told me. With that, I went up to get ready for the evening.

When John came to pick me up a few hours later, he was alone. Since the other people who were going were all better friends with John than I was, and most of them were from Omaha, as well, I figured they were either already downstairs or had driven themselves. We went down to the front of the dorm where I saw a minivan parked, waiting for us. John went over and opened the door for me, and I climbed in.

I was immediately accosted by his overly-friendly parents, both of whom turned around to voraciously great me.

"You must be Laura!" "We've heard so much about you!" "Welcome to our van!" Okay, they might not have said the last one, but I was slightly caught off guard by their eagerness. To meet ME. After all, I didn't know their son too well. We'd had one class together and were in pep band together, but otherwise, I knew his friends better than I knew him. I forced myself through some niceties, then turned urgently to John, who was pulling the van door shut behind him. No one else was in the van.

"Um, where is everyone else?" I asked him.

In a hushed town, he mumbled something about how they were driving themselves. Slightly unnerved, I accepted this answer. After all, they were all from Omaha. It probably wasn't a big deal for them to drive themselves.

On the way to the restaurant, I made friendly chitchat with his parents. The usual, "what's your major; where are you from; what do you parents do" college talk. They seemed nice enough.

We got to the restaurant, and it was absolutely packed. His dad ran up to give them our names, and I was a little surprised to hear that they hadn't made a reservation. For a large group of people on a Friday night, it seems like a reservation would have been the smart thing to do. We crammed ourselves into the already over-stuffed lobby and stood in an uncomfortably close group of four amidst the other hungry patrons, waiting for a table. I glanced through the crowd but didn't see anyone else I recognized. They must all be running late, I told myself, as doubt began to creep in.

After 45 minutes of waiting with no sign of anyone joining us, making increasingly uncomfortable idle chit chat with John and his parents (his poor mother seemed desperate to talk to a girl - I wasn't surprised to learn she had two boys), we were finally called to be seated. As we followed the hostess to our table, all shred of hope slipped quietly away. It was a table for four.

The dinner itself was pleasant enough, after I came to peace with the realization that I was now on a double date with a guy I hardly knew and his parents. We quickly ran out of things to talk about (I didn't know what to say to John, let alone his parents. I was not prepared for this!), and I began to feel more and more uncomfortable. His parents were so pleasant and seemed so genuinely happy to get to know me, but the longer we sat there, the more and more uncomfortable I got as thoughts like, "those other guys, my supposed friends, must have been in on this. They said they were coming. Did they cancel and nobody bothered to tell me I would be the only one going? Or had it been a trick to take me out on a double date with his parents all along, and the other guys just played along to get me to go?" ran through my head.

Over dessert (they really went all out for us), things took a turn for the even more bizarre. "So what are you and John going to do tonight when we drop you back off at the dorm?" his mother asked sweetly. I glanced quickly over at John only to be struck by his eager look of anticipation, "yes, what WILL we be doing?" his face seemed to scream, almost desperately, at me.

I felt a cold chill of realization trickle down my spine. I'm not sure how it took me over two hours to realize, through of the niceties and excitement, but John's parents very clearly believed we were in a relationship. It dawned on me that he had not only tricked me into going on a date with him, but that he'd also misled his parents into believing I was his girlfriend. I had to act quickly to save myself.

"Um... I have to work on a paper," I muttered. Not untrue, but also not very helpful as his father suggested, "you have the whole weekend! Surely you don't need to work on it tonight!" John's face dulled, then quickly brightened at his father's fast thinking.

"Well, um..." I hadn't wanted it to come to this. I didn't want to crush these sweet parents' dreams so acutely. But they'd left me no choice. John clearly wasn't going to interrupt and save himself the embarrassment of correcting his parents' assumption (at this point, I was truly hoping it was an assumption on their part, and not anything he'd explicitly told them). "I'll probably watch a movie with my... boyfriend," who is not your son, I felt like adding.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. They drove us back to the dorm and dropped us off ("it was simply wonderful to meet you, Laura!" "Take care, and we'll talk to you soon!" Clearly, their train of thought had not been entirely derailed, or they'd managed to pick up the pieces and return to their world of oblivious assumptions. I think his poor mother was just desperate at the thought of almost having a "daughter" of sorts). I jumped out quickly, yelled, "thanks, I've gotta run," to John, and darted into the dorm, up the stairs, and locked myself in the safety of my room.

Over the next few years, I remained casual friends with John, but the date evening with his parents was never again mentioned. To this day, I still don't know if it was an intentional trap or simply a misunderstanding or miscommunication. His darling mother, however, did keep a place in her heart for me. She would occasionally send a grocery bag of treats for my roommate and I with John when she bought food for him. She twice bought me small Christmas presents. And she even gave me a card for my graduation. I'm unsure whether or not she thought I was just a friend of John's or a very reclusive girlfriend for the remainder of college. I hope she wasn't devastated the day she found out I got married - not to her son. She definitely deserves a good daughter-in-law, but trickery is most certainly not the best way to go about acquiring one.

At the very least, I hope I was personable and pleasant on our dinner-date-trap. It's just so important to impress the parents.

Breastfeeding: A Family Affair

Just a quick disclaimer: as the title suggests, this post will deal with breastfeeding. If you are squeamish in regard to reading about my breasts and/or nipples, I suggest not reading any further. (And a small note of apology for making you read that much. Now quit thinking about my breasts.)

I am a strong proponent of breastfeeding. It's cheap, natural, convenient, and the healthiest option for both mom and baby. I'm all for women feeling comfortable enough to nurse in public. I think something is fundamentally wrong with a society that makes women feel like they're committing an act of vulgarity when nursing. I think women should have the right to nurse anywhere and everywhere they please, without getting a single dirty look.

That being said, nursing in public is not for me.

I'm not sure if it's just my inherent modest nature (I say as I type a public post revolving centrally around the topic of my own breasts), my reluctance to do anything "wrong" (because to me, "stranger" is an obvious authority figure who could "get me in trouble" (by glaring at me)), or my bizarre inability to use a nursing cover in a way that it sufficiently "covers" much of anything.

I nursed my son for over 16 months, which should have given rise to many occasions to nurse in public, but I always found ways to avoid it. I'd force-feed him immediately before we left the house, and plan on not being gone any longer than 1.5-3 hours, depending on his age. If I absolutely had to nurse him while we were out, I'd either retreat to the car (and drape multiple blankets over us) or hide out in a bathroom stall (consequently, I think it's rude when restaurants have lid-less toilets - it's very difficult to sit on an open toilet seat with your clothing still on (or at least partially still on - one boob making a casual appearance through some secretive flap of shirt), balance a 10 month old on your lap, and proceed to breastfeed until the crying stops).

But what I didn't realize (at least not on a conscious level), was that breastfeeding a newborn with a 2 year old around would make it about as public a display as possible. While a stranger at the mall is going to shoot you a dirty look or make one disparaging comment (hopefully at most), a 2 year old will scrutinize every tiny aspect of your actions. Since he's my son and he's still fairly young (25 months when Bean was born), I didn't think about the effect of breastfeeding on him. We can't go to the bathroom or shower without leaving the door open, both for his safety and so he can come and go as he pleases (you'd be surprised at what seems urgent to a 2 year old when you're soaking wet with tons of shampoo in your hair). He's not old enough yet for us to be concerned with modesty around him.

So his initial reaction to me nursing Bean was a bit surprising. Clearly, he has no memory of his own months of nursing. The first time he actually noticed what was happening with Bean and me, we were sitting next to him on the couch. She was not currently latched on, and he turned and saw all my exposed motherly glory. I watched as his face contorted from confusion to abject horror. "Oooooh noooOOOO!!" he yelled, pointing at my nipple, "Momma has a BOO-BOO!!" I looked down and realized it does rather look like a terrifying boo-boo, all red and swollen. I tried to explain that it wasn't a boo-boo, and Mommy was perfectly fine, but he just backed away from me on the couch with a face frozen in a confused/disgusted look of someone who just saw one of those freakish people with a terrible disfigurement that begs for awkward stares.

Over the course of the next few days, he seemed to recover from this initial shock. That is, until he caught me senselessly beating his baby sister on the back. He ran up to me, grabbed my hand to stop it, and yelled, "No hit! NO HIT, WAIWA!!" I realized then that burping a baby could easily be construed as child abuse, especially to someone who doesn't understand the concept of babies. After several minutes of trying to explain the intricacies of a newborn's delicate intestinal tract, I finally got him to understand that, if I don't "pat" her on the back, she won't burp, and her tummy will hurt. And she'll cry. He understood at that point that we need to anything we can to keep her from crying. For the next two weeks, every time he saw me burping her, he proceeded to go off on a rambling soliloquy about the necessity of burping and how he, like a big boy, can burp, but the baby is too little to burp (that's how he gauges everything now - "Ant can do it. Waiwa can't.").

Just when I thought we'd covered all aspects of nursing and Boy was now comfortable with the process, I realized he had yet to actually see her nursing. He came and sat next to me one day while she was eating, and instantly, the look of abject horror returned.

"OH NO!! WAIWA.... EAT... MOMMA!!!!!" I could see the tears welling up in his eyes. Not only did this tiny monster invade his house, steal all his one-on-one time with Mommy, and fill his house with ear-piercing screams, but now she was going to EAT his mom, too?! His line in the sand had been drawn - and crossed.

I tried to explain that she was just drinking. That mommy makes milk for her to drink, and that's how she drinks it. She wasn't eating me, and I was perfectly fine, but the baby needs to drink, and that's how we do it. Again, the look of uncertainty/disgust stayed frozen on his face, but he acted like he at least understood what I was saying, even though he was clearly still uncomfortable with the concept.

The other day, while we were sitting at the kitchen table, the baby was in one of her bouncy chairs and out of Boy's sight. He noticed that she wasn't there, looked around briefly, then grabbed the front of my shirt, pulled it down (exposing the boobs), and exclaimed, "Waiwa all gone!" Because she does spend the majority of her time with my boobs. It would make sense that I would take to simply stashing her in there, too.

Bean is now almost 5.5 weeks old. But Boy is evidently still unsure about this whole breastfeeding thing. More often than not, he comes over while I nurse and stares at my breasts with that look of disgusted horror. For minutes at a time. I have never felt more heavily scrutinized in my life. I'm starting to feel like nursing in public would be a more pleasant alternative to this hyper-critical judgment I'm subjected to in the comfort of my own home (and from someone who suckled at these same breasts himself for over a year). I doubt any stranger could say anything that would be as cruel as those freak-show-audience stares of my own flesh and blood.

Just when I thought he was beginning to understand the process and feel comfortable with it, this morning, while I was feeding him breakfast and nursing Bean, he grabbed his juice cup and matter-of-factly told me, "Ant drink fruit juice. Waiwa drink fruit juice."

Why do I get this nagging feeling I'm setting him up for disappointment during his teenage years?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Day I Got Bird Flu

There seems to always be some kind of flu epidemic threatening to wipe out all of mankind. Last year it was Swine Flu (or rather, H1N1), and in 2006, it was slightly less glamorous Avian Flu. This might not be on the forefront of many of my readers' minds, as this epidemic was primarily contained to Africa and Europe. But I had the great fortune to be living in Goettingen, Germany at the height of the spread of Bird Flu Frenzy through much of Europe, including Germany.

It started quietly, as lethal epidemics are wont to do. We heard news stories in passing about a so-called "bird flu" in Africa and didn't give a second thought to those poor chickens with mild fevers and achy bodies. In our favorite pizzeria or the local cd shop, we would hear snippets of news reports alerting us to the fact that bird flu now had documented cases in Turkey and China. However, these reports were of little concern for us, and not just because they were in rapid-fire, usually incoherent reporter-style German.

As the flu spread across Europe, the message of its danger slowly worked its way into our heads. Somewhere, hidden among my thoughts of the cute new line of sweaters at H&M or how unbelievably cold central Germany can be at 2am after a night of drinking in the local "Irish" pub, these invasive thoughts began to take hold. Without realizing it, I began to avoid large groups of pigeons (a difficult feat in downtown Goettingen, as the Gaenseliesel is a prime target for pigeon excrement-shooting practice). "Bird Flu" eased its way into our vernacular. Upon seeing a dead sparrow in the gutter, someone would jokingly call out that "bird flu has claimed another victim," to the naive laughter of those around.

Spring spread slowly across Germany, carrying with it the dark cloud of reality that was bird flu. Gone were the days of lax joking at the expense of a fallen bird. When the news came on between atrocious German techno songs on the radio at our beloved pizza restaurant, an eerie calm fell over everyone as we listened anxiously to hear of the latest dead goose with bird flu found within the borders of the Fatherland. We hurried past the loitering group of ominous looking pigeons as they taunted us from atop the Little Goose Girl statue with their potential to die suddenly at our feet and thusly condemn us to an abrupt, albeit terrible, death by Bird Flu. We memorized lists of possible symptoms of the virus and were quick to unapologetically banish anyone from our midst who so much as sniffled.

The government began issuing warnings to the public. Typically, public health warnings are somewhat tame; a short news bulletin you listen to in passing, casually taking into consideration the suggestions for maintaining your own good health and preserving the health of your loved ones around you. But that's because we typically hear public health warnings in English (those of us from English-speaking countries, at least). There are few things more terrifying than hearing a solemn male voice dictating instructions to the public through overhead speakers (the radio speakers were hung from the ceiling in our friend's pizzeria) - in German.

Instantly, my mind took me to 1944. What was this voice saying? Were the Allies going to bomb us soon? When would the air raid sirens go off? Who, exactly, was this, addressing his public with that stern, determined voice of confidence? Everything will turn out okay if we just obey your every command, Authoritative German Male Voice? We won't die if we blindly follow you to the bitter end?? JAWOHL, MEIN HERR!!!

Okay, it wasn't really THAT terrifying, but I'd be lying if I said there weren't whispers of such vague impressions hidden among the news broadcasts.

It was in the midst of this wide-spread public hysteria that my daily 4 mile walks around town in several inches of snow and not nearly enough clothing (because who wants to be warm when you can show off your sexy Euro-trash-style clothing?), combined, most likely, with the consumption of far too much pizza, finally caught up with me.

I woke suddenly early one morning, around 3am, sweating profusely, shaking violently, and under a heavy fog of fever-induced delirium. I made a mad-dash to my dorm-style apartment's unisex, shared bathroom and threw up violently for several minutes. As I literally crawled back to my room, my body shaking with regular convulsions from the illness that had taken over, it dawned on me that I had, in spite of my unfaltering obedience to the German government and their warnings, somehow contracted bird flu, and was hereby condemned to die.

Back in my room, I huddled on top of my sweat-soaked sheets, pulled my knees to my chest, and began rocking back and forth as I sobbed to myself over the realization that my last hours were going to be spent alone and miserable in Germany. Eventually, I managed to fall back into the April 1945-esque nightmares of my delirious sleep.

Several hours later I awoke, fever broken, and feeling alarmingly good for someone who had surely just died of bird flu less than 3 hours ago. As the sun shone brightly onto my sweat-stained sheets, I realized, had I really be dying (or really had bird flu), it probably would have been reasonable if I'd called my boss and requested a ride to the local hospital. I hadn't thought of such a simple solution due to the nightmarish ramblings of my fevered mind. Fortunately, it turned out to only be some kind of 24 hour bug.

In spite of this near-death experience, I still never bothered to learn how to call an ambulance in Germany. I just always figured, I lucked out and didn't need medical attention, surely I wouldn't get that sick again. After all, I was in Germany, where bad things never happen twice.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Momster of Two

After sliding the two 9" rounds of Husband's Best-Ever-Coffee-Chocolate Birthday Cake into the oven just moments ago, I find myself taking a peaceful break from my new life by relaxing for a rare moment alone in my favorite recliner, sipping my second (or is it third?) cup of coffee for the day, and watching my sweet 3.5 week old baby girl with her breastmilk-full tummy dozing angelically in her bouncer chair as I'm serenaded by the alarmingly loud sounds of my 2-year old son pounding on his door while screaming desperately to be freed from the terrible entrapments of nap time. Ahh, the blissful world of a stay-at-home-mom.

So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming the mother of two small humans. The invasive and ubiquitous fears I had with Boy are seemingly non-existent this time around, for several reasons. First and foremost, Boy is still alive. Second, Husband is one trimester short of being a real-life Physician Assistant, and consequently now has the knowledge to correctly answer my constantly nagging and most feared child-rearing question, "do we need to go to the ER for this?" And third, Boy seems to have successfully accomplished the enormous task of wearing down my tolerances. His incessant screaming for the first 8 or so months of his life, if nothing else, taught me that babies won't die from crying. Although, that doesn't keep me from trying to eliminate all crying (if you can make it stop, why wouldn't you try?), it has given me the confidence to laugh at and relax about the second child's (thankfully) occasional hysterics.

Husband first pointed out this drastic change in parenting style a few short minutes after Bean was born. They placed her on my stomach, and she instantly started wailing - this high-pitched, jerky, goat-like wail. Through my tears of incredible joy, my initial reaction was to mock her. Within moments of her birth. It took us nearly a year of parenting Boy before we felt confident (or numb) enough to mock his cries.

With Boy, I remember being terrified to do anything for fear that I would do it "wrong." His first bath at home was done on the bathroom counter after reading and re-reading "What to Expect the First Year's" passage on "Baby's First Bath," laying out all the supplies, placing the baby on the first of five towels we utilized, and then sending Husband in a panic to grab the book so I could prop it open next to my bath station and read the instructions as I performed each act of cleansing - just to ensure I did it "right." Although this might give you the impression that a baby's first bath is more complicated than a simple sponge bath, let me assure you, it isn't.

I was terrified about how to dress him. Baby clothes seemed to complicated, and there were so many types. Onesies, front-buttoning shirts, gowns, footie pajamas, even baby socks intimidated me. Alternatively, Bean is lucky if I remember to change her clothes once a day (with the exception of countless "photo op" outfit changes a day, it's just so easy to leave her in her footie pajamas...).

I was terrified about how to entertain him. What do newborns like to do? How do you play with a baby, much less a newborn? What the hell is swaddling? Why is he screaming inconsolably and incessantly for hours on end? Boy was colicky. He would scream at least three straight hours, every day, regardless of what we tried to do (and we tried EVERYTHING), sometimes as much as nine hours a day, from when he was three weeks old until he was five months. I held him for 90% of that time, often crying right along with him. The only place he would sleep was on me. Consequently, I got very good at holding him and doing everything else, including going to the bathroom and baking cookies (not simultaneously). I've since read that firstborns tend to have higher rates of colic, possibly because of parents' uncertainties and lack of confidence (newborns are evidently empathetic and insightful enough to pick up on these subtleties). We fit that description exactly.

It's a wonderful feeling to have an established parenting style. I've discovered the cries don't stress me out - she's going to cry sometimes, regardless of how attentive I am to her every need - the clothes are simple - and adorably pink this time! - and I just like to hold my babies. So far, she isn't crying for hours on end (thankfully!), but I still hold her 90% of the day. There's just something so precious about a tiny little newborn. I can't describe it exactly, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with their inability to dramatically pound on their door and scream bloody-murder as a protest to nap time. Nothing like a 2 year old to make you really appreciate a newborn's inability to do much of anything.