Monthly Archives: October 2012

The UnGerman Shepherd Meets Bailey the Awesome: Running with Dogs

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Morally, I do not advocate kicking a dog, but sometimes you just have to.

Before you call the Pet Police, you should know that this particular German Shepherd sprang over two fences to get to me and my wards (Noah, my warm-up buddy, Libby, on roller blades, and our canine houseguest Bailey–the chocolate lab I may not give back when her owners return).

The German Shepherd bolted down the farm road towards us. I had seen this dog before, violently tugging at its leash whenever the owner walked past any moving object, and I’ve always felt sorry for the slim owner, who can hardly control the dog. The owner will literally cut across muddy fields to avoid any contact with other people–just so the dog won’t go berserk.

Meanwhile on the farm road, the shepherd rushed towards us, as if in slow motion.

Because I had recently played a game of “Worst Case Scenario” with the kids, I knew that when being chased by a wild dog, you must put something between yourself and the animal. The only things I had available were my appendages, but I was wearing gloves, so I felt brave.

I stopped in my tracks and confronted the animal by yelling and waving, while Noah & Libby took shelter behind me. There was some snarling as the dog charged at our dear Bailey, and soon, Bailey was behind me too, and I was kicking at the shepherd. Clearly, a case of self-defense.

Then I discovered something surprising: whenever I kicked the dog, it would lay down on the ground and expose its belly.

This wasn’t exactly menacing.

Whenever the dog sprang up, it began nipping at Bailey’s ears, which irritated me. Who WAS this dog to pick on sweet Bailey? It was like the shepherd was bullying one of my own children.

I took off Bailey’s heavy chain leash and whacked the shepherd on the nose with it whenever it nipped. I was also firmly giving commands in German the entire time, until my throat was raw. Either the dog couldn’t recognize the command through my thick American accent, or it had not been trained at all.

I tend to think from the glazed look in its eyes that it’s NOT been to obedience school.

At one point, I yelled ‘down’ and both Bailey and the shepherd dropped to the ground, paw to paw, and stared at me.

Now what?

I clipped Bailey’s leash on the wild and decidedly Un-German Shepherd and had Noah & Libby bring Bailey back home, though the sweet girl didn’t want to leave me.

Thus, if you had looked out your window last Sunday, you would have seen me tugging, yelling, kicking, and pelting a crazed Schäferhund through the village. Because naturally, there was no way to get from the lane behind the garden (with the pitifully short fence) to the front of the house without cutting down a side alley and traipsing up the Dorfstrasse.

Did I mention I was wearing my running tights, skirt with the awesome reflective logo and purple shirt? I wasn’t exactly blending in with the local populace.

Using my terrible German, I explained to a rather confused old lady that the dog jumped the fence in the garden. I didn’t know the word for ‘kick’ or ‘hit it with a chain,’ so I just left those parts out. The lady buzzed upstairs, and some guy in a soccer shirt took the dog and put it in a kennel, which rather resembled a jail cell.

No wonder the dog was crazed. 

You should know, I never kicked the dog hard enough to make it yelp or to break anything–it was a warning kick, letting it know who was Alpha, because I will defend those I love–including labradors.

This morning, Bailey and I ran down the muddy, puddly road and past the garden, where, to my delight, a seven-foot wire fence had been erected.

But I feel badly for the shepherd. Clearly, she needs a lot of exercise and a lot of discipline. Because she DID ultimately submit, and since she wasn’t actually piercing our jugulars, I think she has the potential to be a good, fun dog. I guess I’m a sucker for dogs who enjoy running!

Because Bailey has been trained to come  back when I call, she can explore off-leash as we run through the countryside together. Running with her is a joy because I know she’ll obey me. And the more a dog obeys, the more freedom it can have.

This is a good analogy for us all. Exercise and discipline are things that allow us to ENJOY life better. Otherwise, we’re constantly pulling at the leash, dealing poorly with the stressful situations that make up our daily lives.

Stress, as my sage husband says, is a reaction.

The German Shepherd could attest to that.

Which is why, you will find me running through rain, mud or snow. It’s not because I’m great, it’s because without it, I would feel constrained and stressed, which is not how I want to live.

It’s not how anyone should live. 

And now, I’m trying to persuade my husband that a Chocolate Lab would be the perfect Christmas gift. I’d love a running buddy, now that I have time to train one;)

(Was that a subtle enough hint, honey?)

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Recipe of the Week: Keri’s Comforting Pumpkin Pancakes

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There’s just something about the mixture of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and pumpkin that makes me feel as if I’m sitting in Grandma’s kitchen. I know all about the dangers of having ‘food associations,’ but there are some  I don’t want to give up. It’s not just about the food–it’s about the free refills of love that come with Grandma’s pumpkin bread.

So when the days are gray and pumpkins are plentiful, there’s nothing to do but play with Grandma O’s pumpkin bread recipe. I’ve successfully managed gluten-free bread loaves with her recipe, and this month the challenge has been to alter it into pancakes.

As usual, I experimented with a little trial and a LOT of error. One unspeakable batch refused to cook, and was thus unwittingly served beautifully brown and crispy on the outside, with a soggy mess in the middle–imagine cracking open a can of pumpkin puree and eating it with a spoon.

However, on Sunday I finally managed the perfect balance between pumpkin flavor and finicky gluten-free flour mix. Thus, Keri’s Comforting Pumpkin Pancakes were born.

The Raw Materials

3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Pancake Mix (for a family of 6)

1 egg or substitute

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Allspice

1/2 tsp Nutmeg

1 cup coconut milk (or one can, added slowly to proper consistency)

3/4 cup pumpkin puree (fresh pumpkin is delicious but a can works too, if you’re short on time)

1 tsp Agave nectar

2 tsp Pure Organic Maple Syrup (please do not sully this recipe with ‘syrup’ containing corn by-products)

The Method

As wil all my recipes, add more spice if you like it. Personally, I enjoy a tad more nutmeg and maple syrup than the average bear, so taste the batter frequently, and use your own judgement. (*Batter-taster is at his or her own risk…author is not liable for salmonella or any other kind of weird disease you may get from your raw egg–for a safer bet, go organic!)

Beat egg and coconut milk together, then add pancake flour until mixed. Add pumpkin puree, agave nectar and maple syrup until mixed. Sweeten the deal by adding your allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. If your batter is too thick, add more coconut milk or supplement with rice milk. Batter should not be too runny, nor to thick.

Wipe down your griddle with a tiny bit of oil and warm to medium-high. When a drop of water sizzles on the griddle, add your dollop of pancake batter. Cook until the edges are firm and the middle loses its shimmy.

Say a quick prayer and flip the pancake, cooking 3-4 minutes longer, or until the bottom is brown when you peek at it. Remember, gluten-free flour takes longer to cook than wheat flour, so be patient!

Serve with a side of maple syrup and prepare to hear, “Yum! These are great!”

You can thank my Grandma O for the inspiration!

Guten Appetit! 

An American Guinea Pig and Socialized Medicine: My Trip to a German Clinic

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Over the years, I have learned what you can expect as an American visiting a German health clinic, and I have thus outlined the following procedures for my fellow Americans abroad:

Step 1: The “Appointment” 

Appointments here are similar to invasion plans. If your appointment is at 10:00, this means that you and fifty other people show up at 9:45, grumbling about the people who got there at 9:44.

Plan to get there at 9:00 or 8:30 if you want to be seen by 10:00. Nobody has ever seemed to care what time I’ve shown up.

Step 2: Take a number

I can’t stress this enough: TAKE A NUMBER. Even if you have the first ‘appointment’ in the first wave of the first day of the first month; even if you hold open the door for the sleepy-eyed receptionist as she makes her way into the clinic, TAKE A NUMBER. Your appointment is really based on the number you have.

Step 3: Waiting room #1, also known as the Upper Circle of Hell: 

My number at the clinic Monday morning was F9, and by 9:40 they were at E 87, which actually wasn’t too terrible.

I felt badly for the people who had the 10:00 appointment who actually showed up at 10:00. They barged up to the reception desk and were promptly told to take a number. They said they had a 10:00 appointment. They were told to take a number. They said they had driven 30 kilometers. They were told to either come back tomorrow or take a number.

Meanwhile, thirty other people had taken numbers in the time it took them to complain. So please, for your own sanity: take a number!

Step 4: The delay

If you are an American being seen at a German clinic,  your paperwork will automatically take a minimum of half an hour to figure out.

In all fairness, I do NOT expect that any German receptionist, especially in an area where the American presence is down to one lonely family, should know how to fill out American paperwork. It is just that she doesn’t know what to do with you because you’re not like the thousands of other people she sees on a daily basis.

Plus, her computer often doesn’t input the weird things that are on our American paperwork, such as the mysterious AE (Armed forces Europe) listed on my address. She asked if I was from United Arab Emirates, which really made me smile.

So, keep smiling, send out good vibes to the poor Frau, and use every German word you know because even if you sound like a three year-old, every little bit of information helps. Eventually between the two of you, the paperwork will be complete and you can move on to…

Step 5: Waiting room #2 also known as Purgatory

If the receptionist takes pity on you, she will walk you to the next waiting room. Otherwise, you will wander in the hallway until you see F8 or F7, or a dazed E 98 and you follow them.

You give your paperwork to any guy who looks official, possibly a janitor, and he will stack your medical record at the bottom of a pile, while you wonder how many people got in front of you while your paperwork was being worked out.

The second waiting room is smaller, but you see a lot of familiar faces. There is generally more room here and more people talking (complaining) about something. If your German is good, you can contribute. If not, then bury your head in your book and wait for your name and ‘kabine’ number to be called rapidly over a loudspeaker.

Step 6: Winning the Lottery

When your name is called, collect your belongings with a smug look on your face and go to the room number they said. If you weren’t paying attention, but you THINK you heard your name, still get up with a smug look on your face and wander in the hall until someone says your name and directs you to the right place.

If they did NOT call your name, you will be shuttled back to the waiting room, where it is best to either avoid all eye contact, or dramatically pantomime that THEY had made a mistake, not you.

Step 7: Der Arzt

If your name WAS called, and you have made it into one of the many little examination rooms, AND you are at a University Hospital, expect to see 4 people wearing white lab coats. The one who is not smiling is the doctor.

He is also the one sitting at the desk, who gets to touch the computer. It will be hard to distinguish him from the other guys, because they all look to be the same age as your firstborn son.

Step 8: Communicating your problem

Because I understand enough German to say ‘ja’ or ‘nein’ in many of the right places, people tend to think I’m German. But after they hear me defile their verbiage, they ask if  I speak English, to which I joyously reply ‘ja!’

I am thankful for this, because while I can order two scoops of gelato in a Becher from the Italian guy in Rothenburg, I’m not so good with medical terminology. And I love the words that some of the fluent English-speakers use. The doctor said that the idea of my finger having an infection was a ‘fantasy.’ Yes, Germans can be rather poetic.

Step 9: Diagnosis, maybe

I genuinely liked this youthful doctor and his band of Lost Boys.

He told me that I may have ‘early’ arthritis. But he didn’t want to SAY arthritis because if he did say ‘arthritis’ and I was referred to a Rheumatologist, they would do surgery, which would be worse than living with my current symptoms.

He thus gave me a detailed description of arthritis and the terrible prospects for my future, including surgery, which apparently makes the problem worse, before smiling and shaking my arthritic hand.

The doctor gave me anti-inflammatories and because I’m “slender” (HIS poetic license, not mine, which…yes, made me feel slightly happier), he also gave me stomach medicine. So basically, I would need medicine FOR the medicine to help the problems from the drugs that are helping the problem.

Alles Klar? 

He guaranteed that the drugs would work and then added, “But if they do NOT work, come back in 3 months.”

I went ahead and took a number.

Step 10: Denial

At this point you will either go back to the American clinic and ask for a referral to a bigger American clinic, ask a friend or relative who is somehow affiliated with the medical profession, or do a quick google search.

I opted for the google search, and it turns out that my doctor is probably right.

It Gets Personal

I was hoping for a quick fix, but since that’s not possible, I am going to leave my drugs in their foil wrappers and instead try a strict, nutrient-dense diet for 6 weeks to see if it will help my arthritis, as Dr. Fuhrman in “Eat to Live” says it will.

I am skeptically optimistic, if there is such a thing.

So, this is where you find me, an American Guinea Pig in Bavaria, eating a no-gluten, no-meat, no-dairy, no-oil, no-sugar, no-refined anything diet, for a minimum of six weeks.

I am sharing this with you, my friends, so you can help keep me honest. And know that if I have to decline a bratwurst or pommes mit mayo (Alas, poor Pommes, I knew them well, Horatio), it’s not because I’m worried about my waistline.

It’s because I don’t want to become the claw-fingered old woman someday, I want to be the Oma Ultra-Marathoner! 

Running with a Headlamp or Do Not Step in the Dark Spots

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Some of you know that when the sun angles are low at noon and the tree leaves begin to die due to lack of their lifeblood, chlorophyll,  I am inspired do strange things like bake gluten-free bread, dipping it in butter and honey before consumption; dig baggy, fleecy pants from the depths of the closet and wear them around the house with my wool socks; and obsessively check http://www.lastminute.de for Pauschalreisen to destinations, anywhere in the world, that boast palm trees, sand, and an ocean.

Have I mentioned that I am solar-powered?

The only reason I can come up with for having lived 12 years, 11 months in Alaska was that my doctor was kind enough to give me drugs.

Here in Germany, things are better. I am drug-free (with the exception of vitamins), and the low sun angles don’t cause me to lament (as I did in the arctic): “It is NOT NATURAL for people to live here!”

The real cause for my autumnal doldrums in beautiful Deutschland is that when it is cold, dark, and possibly raining at 5:30 am, I would rather stay under my cozy feather comforter than get out of bed.

However, this morning I fought my way out of my cocoon, got out my headlamp and glow-in-the-dark shirt, and hit the farm roads.

Being solar-powered, I don’t like running in the dark nearly as much as I enjoy running with the sun on my face, but I know that even on the worst days, when I’m sure my nose will have to be amputated due to frostbite, and I KNOW that my run must be THE slowest run in the history of mankind, and I grumble the entire time about the sucky weather/darkness/trail/aches/fatigue/life-in-general, I also know I have NEVER regretted going for a run.

Never.

Naturally, I have some observations and tips on running through the dark German countryside, should you ever get the chance to join me:

  • Your sense of smell will be enhanced
  • Potent farm aromas motivate you to run faster
  • Your sense of hearing will be enhanced
  • You can hear cows snoring
  • Your imagination is enhanced, and if not channeled properly, you will be certain critters are hiding in the fields, waiting to pounce on you
  • Sugar beet harvesters look like giant, alien spacecraft in the dark–do not be afraid!
  • Some farmers harvest REALLY early
  • Dark spots on the path MUST be avoided, even if you have to give a little leap mid-stride (trust me on this–you’ll thank me later!)
  • Dark spots on the path are squishy
  • Your dog will want to roll around on your shoes if you have stepped in a dark spot on the path
  • Always check the batteries on your headlamp BEFORE going out
  • A dying headlamp makes running with no moon more exciting but not particularly more pleasant
  • Come to a complete halt before staring at the stars

I had a fabulous six-mile run this morning and was completely energized when I got home. Though I feel out of shape (from too much bread–thanks to Bofrost’s new line of gluten-free yummies), running is something I have to do for my own sanity–especially this time of year, when palm tress and oceans seem out of reach.

Why God Wants Me to Run on Sundays

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For in Him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:28

One of the main moments of crises in the classic runner’s movie Chariots of Fire, is when Eric Liddell, a renown runner and Christian (later martyr), cannot bring himself to race on a Sunday, even if it means missing the Olympic trials.

I was contemplating this as I was running on Sunday.

I won’t go into the complete history of the sabbath here, but there are people who say the sabbath (a day set apart for God) shouldn’t be on Sunday at all but on Saturday.

We have a pastor friend who maintains his sabbath on Saturdays, because although he is doing churchy stuff, Sunday is a work day for him.

As I try and apply Biblical truths to my life in practical ways, the question isn’t so much “Is it okay to run on Sunday,” but rather, “Does running break the sabbath?” (because sometimes I run on Saturdays too!)

Jesus wasn’t big on man-made traditions, as shown in John 5:17 when, despite Pharisaic outrage, He healed a man on the sabbath, replying to the scoffers, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Jesus’ work was devoted to God, and therefore, He wasn’t breaking any commandments when He made the lame beggar walk.

Now, I’m not trying to equate running with miracles, nor am I attempting to put myself on the same level as Jesus, but if He is our example, then what kind of license does that give me regarding the sabbath?

The beauty of Biblical Christianity is that as a Christian, I am not bound to conform to any type of man-made religious regulations, but I have the freedom to be a unique child of God. And as long as I live by what I find in God’s word (without twisting it to fit my own crazy ideas) I’m on the right track.

Which is why I think God wants me to run on Sundays.

On the outside, running appears to be a vain, selfish endeavor, but for me, running is much more than a physical exercise, it is time I get to spend alone with God.

There are things that I need to talk to Him about, and when I run, I can not only talk to Him, but I can listen to Him as well. Running sharpens my mind and refreshes my spirit.

With every step I take through this gorgeous German countryside, I am thankful that the Creator of the Universe gave me life and breath and a knowledge of what is good and beautiful. He is the one who allows me to put one foot in front of the other (whether quickly or slowly), the one who keeps air in my lungs, and the one who surprises me with a group of deer or a field of flowers.

When I come back from a run (even in the most horrible weather), I feel centered again and ready to take on any task set before me. I am no theologian, but I think I just described the sabbath.

It is a day set apart for the Lord, in order that we, in our frail human bodies might be refreshed.

Rather than exhausting me, or causing my brain to shut down, running adds to my energy and resets any cross-wired circuits in my brain.

Because God is a God of order, the God of fixing things that are broken, and the God who makes the weak strong, I believe I should keep on running, no matter what day it is.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, Colossians 3:23