Category Archives: Motherhood

Chocolate Cake and One Big Salad

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On Friday, I ran 11 miles, and on Monday, the eve of my 39th birthday, I ran 11.5.

Today I ate cake for breakfast. 

And lunch.

And hopefully, I’ll have some after dinner too. 

The cake is gluten-free, but it is one stick of butter and three eggs shy of Vegan. I just don’t see how anyone can get a gluten-free vegan birthday cake to taste good. But then again, I’m not a chef. I just have a cookbook fetish and a penchant for experimenting with ingredients.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman has a saying, which I forced the children to repeat in a propaganda poster on the fridge: “You can’t buy good health in a bottle; it must be earned.”

Sure, I had chocolate cake on my birthday, but I also had lean green as a late-morning snack. And though I nibbled bits of the cake when I got home this afternoon, I filled myself with a Big Salad, so I wouldn’t sliver the cake into nonexistence.

I do NOT want to be the Mama who doesn’t eat birthday cake–especially when tender young hands prepared it.

As the late afternoon sun hit our balcony head-on today, and the eggplants roasted in the oven for my birthday baba ganoush, I sat outside and knit some more on my scarf. It is nearly done, and I find it fitting that Libby, our youngest, will show me how to end my project tonight.

This is certainly a new stage of life for me.

It has been a great birthday, and as I stare at my calendar, packed with hopes and dreams and dates with people I love, I feel so incredibly blessed.

The future looks good from 39.

“Recipe” of the Week: Keri’s Big Salad

The salads I eat for lunch and dinner are so incredibly ginormous (as in, I can eat an entire head of lettuce by myself), that people stop and stare. Even my husband, who eats a ton of raw veggies before meals, took a photo of my salad one morning, to show the guys at work. So, I thought I would share what exactly I put into it.

Dr. Fuhrman has many sayings, one of which is: “Salad is the Main Dish” (also a propaganda poster on our fridge).

No matter what I make for dinner, whether it’s baba ganoush, vegan pizza, or lentils, we always have a huge salad first. Even the kids eat salad with dinner, though not in the SuperSized portions the adults have.

*This is just one example of REAL lettuce!

The Raw Materials

1-2 heads lettuce *Note: forget about skimpy iceberg–and DON’T EVEN buy the prepackaged junk, unless circumstances are dire. Get yourself something that looks like a farmer just plucked it from the ground. It MUST have dirt in it–and maybe even a few pebbles. I like to use one green type and one purplish type, of which I would know the names if I were an actual chef or even not so lazy.

1-2 red peppers

1/2 cucumber

1/2 avocado 

tomatoes–as many as you please

4 fresh black olives (I get mine at the Turkish market. Jarred Kalmata are yummy, but have high sodium–if that bothers you)

1 tbsp ground flaxseed

1/2 can garbanzos (I told you this was a huge salad)

1/2 red onion, finely sliced

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds (shelled, of course)

1-2 tbsp GOOD balsalmic vinegar (I invest in the sweet Italian stuff)

1/4 cup sprouts (my favorite are Wasabi sprouts–for the peppery taste)

Any other fresh, raw veggies you love, remembering the more colors you have in the salad, the better. And yes, the avocados, black olives, pumpkin seeds and flax have fat–but they  are GOOD fats; plus, they have so many phytonutrients that they are vital to a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet. Just go easy on them if you’re trying to lose weight.

Rule #1: One serving of good fats a day will not kill you.

Rule #2: Eat as many raw veggies as you like! Stuff yourself! 

As Dr. Fuhrman says: the more nutrient-dense foods you eat, the more weight you will lose.

The Method

Chop your REAL lettuce, or rip it apart with your bare hands, and thoroughly wash it. Place lettuce in a salad spinner, being careful NOT to launch the top of the device across the room in a major lettuce explosion, which your little Vegan dog cleans up before you can stop him. (Yes, Pepin eats lettuce now).

Slice and chop the veggies to your delight. In my opinion, the thinner the onion slice, the better.

Toss the lettuce and veggies together in a big bowl, and drizzle basalmic over the top. Make a divot in the middle and pour in the garbanzos. Sprinkle flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and top with avocado and sprouts.

Or, just put it in your biggest plastic box, and hope the basalmic doesn’t leak all over the bottom of your cooler before you can eat it at your picnic. *Note: when toting the Big Salad to places outside the home, save the basalmic in a small, leakproof container and drizzle upon arrival. *Note: I DID indeed learn this the hard way after a basalmic-containment “incident.”

If after eating all of these veggies (Fuhrman recommends a minimum of one pound of veg a day) you are still hungry, eat the rest of your garbanzo beans, or grab some fruit. My favorite treat is an apple dipped in 1 tbsp natural nut butter. The key is to eat until you feel full.

Try eating a Big Salad before each meal (or before each slice of birthday cake) for superior health, shiny hair, weight loss, and/or to stop traffic.

Guten apetit!

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Sometimes You Win. Sometimes You Don’t.

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I’ve been juicing baby bok choy thinking it was an exotic, German variation of kale.

[Insert nervous laugh here]

Though it’s an incredibly embarrassing blow to my ego (not only did I TELL others about my discovery, but I also BLOGGED about it), at least I was giving it a try. And that’s got to be worth something. 

I’d like to blame my mother for raising me on the typical Midwest diet of ground beef and mac & cheese, with the rare roasteneer in summer; but when you approach 40, you really can’t blame your parents for stuff anymore. If I had spent less time during my young adulthood in the Buy-It-In-Frozen-Bulk-Store and more time learning about living, green things, I would have known the difference.

I do, however, have just cause to complain about babelfish, the online language translator. I’ve learned through embarrassing hands-on experience that kale is not baby bok choy–no matter what language you use.

I’ve also been buying something called ‘Wirsing’ thinking it was collards–and that issue remains unclear. Babelfish insists the plants are the same, but the pictures I found online bear little resemblance to each other.

So, until I can find a German who is fluent in American Southern cooking, I’ll have to keep juicing the dark, leafy greens, whether they are properly named or not.

I could just make up my own names, but that’s not helpful in the supermarket.

Despite the setbacks due to language barriers and my own organic ignorance, I do enjoy creating vegan menus for the family.

I used to think veggies came in three colors: white being the yummiest, especially when mashed with margarine and hormone-laden milk; yellow, a close second, also with butter-flavored plastic and heaps of salt; and green, which came from a can, had a grayish tint and were quietly scraped into the garbage after Mom left the table.

Salads in the Midwest would gloriously appear for holidays, picnics and family reunions. No matter which so-called fruit or vegetable was used as a base, salads always arrived encased in some type of alien substance, such as jello, marshmallows or ranch dressing.

With this rich heritage, you will now pardon my current nutritional ignorance.

This week, I was inspired to make artichokes for the first time.

Eschewing any help from my husband (who HAD been a cook in a previous life) and piecing together bits of information from a variety of questionable sources, I carved up the plants, drizzled them with lemon, and tossed them in a hot oven.

They came out looking like pinecones.

We painfully tried them–even forcing my poor children to take bites.

*Disclaimer: no children were harmed in the artichoke sampling

Before you rat me out to Child Protective Services, let me assure you, a kind Italian friend has promised to provide artichoke counseling and special education for my remedial cooking skills.

I will conquer artichokes eventually.

And that is this week’s lesson.

No matter how you were raised, it’s never too late to learn (usually the hard way for me) how to cook and enjoy food that will nourish you, rather than kill you.

While the artichokes bombed in a big way, the quinoa stuffed peppers were fantastic. Even the youngest of my household skeptics cleaned their plates, as the saying goes, and not into the bio bin (I didn’t leave the table until they finished).

Though I may have inadvertently ruined their concepts of ‘artichoke’ forever, my hope is that my children will have broader views of cuisine and more nutritional knowledge than I ever did.

Sometimes you do actually win.

Recipe of the Week: Quinoa-Chickpea Stuffed Peppers

Being an English major, recovering grad assistant, and homeschooling mom, I have that geeky flaw of loving BOOKS. And now that I am learning to cook, I have a particular fondness for cookbooks.

So when an anonymous donor gave me Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, I held it lovingly in my arms, kissed it, and put it to work right away. This cookbook is great because it walks you through basics (like putting veggies in an oven) which seem obvious to most people, but are scary for novices like me.

Becoming emboldened, I combined two recipes, took out some ingredients that my husband and I are currently avoiding, such as salt and oil, and added some things of my own.

The best cookbook (like the best pair of running shoes) is the one that gets messy; and I’m pleased to say that page 33 now has a red pepper thumbprint on the corner.

Enjoy!

The Raw Materials

Red Peppers, as many as you need, (I used 4 for our family of 6) halved and seeded

1 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped (apx 1 cup)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 or 2 stalks of green onion, sliced into edible green O’s

1/4 cup (or more) fresh baby spinach, finely chopped

1 can chopped tomatoes or 1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup (or more) fresh mushrooms, chopped

1/2 tsp ground cumin (more if you want it spicier)

1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed

Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup quinoa

2 cups cooked or 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained & rinsed

2 cups low salt vegetable broth or water

water, as needed during cooking

The Method

Send your oven on its way to 425 degrees.

In your enamel-coated, cast iron dutch oven (which I know you have by now), water sauté the yellow onion about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 2 more minutes, adding a little water as necessary, to keep from sticking to the pot.

Add chopped tomatoes and mushrooms, sautéing 2-3 minutes.

Add tomato paste, coriander, cumin, and black pepper; sautéing for another minute.

Add the uncooked quinoa and sauté for 2 more minutes, adding a little water to keep from sticking.

Add chickpeas and broth, cover and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, put on very low heat, cover and cook for about 18 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid. Add baby spinach and chopped green onion for the last 3 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Fluff the quinoa-chickpea mixture with a fork.

Place the halved red peppers on a baking sheet and fill peppers with the quinoa mixture, being careful to NOT overstuff them.

Bake in your 425 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges begin to blacken.

Serve while steaming hot and enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth, zero cholesterol goodness of your quinoa-stuffed sweet red peppers.

A Princess Tale

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Motherhood, for all its charms, still requires a lot of sweat and tears. Some days you’re bounding down a country lane with your chatty offspring, and other days you’re on your hands and knees with a bleach bucket, scrubbing vomit out of the grout.

Thursday morning began as usual but ended with an emergency run to the health clinic.

Three of the four kids were up, my husband was getting ready for work, and I was making some lean green. As the juicer was winding down, we heard a barking noise from Libby’s room. Everyone–the children, the pets, even the creaky house seemed to freeze in time.

After a moment, Katie said, “I think that was Libby.”

I ran to Libby’s room, and she was sitting half up on her bed, struggling to breathe. Though the morning sun shone through the fuchsia curtains, bathing the room in a rosy glow, Libby’s face was ashen and her lips were tinged with blue. All I could think was that she had developed pneumonia, her lungs were filling with fluid, and there was nothing I could do.

I have never been so terrified. All that I imagined I was; any scrap of power or control I thought I had was wiped away; and it was just me and God.

I realize that many women, like two of my dear grandmothers, have lost children, or have seen them become deathly ill, but for me, this was the worst thing I have ever been through. And it is as close to tragedy as I’d ever like to get in my life.

I’m not a doctor. I can’t make a trache tube out of a pen; I don’t know proper procedures for this kind of emergency; so as I was on my knees digging pants out of Libby’s underbed dresser, all I could do was pray.

It calmed me down; and it calmed Libby down to a point where she could breathe through her nose.

I felt like falling apart, but I was able to keep it together long enough to get the girl bundled up and out the door without making everyone in the house panic. Though she was shoeless, one of the kids managed to tuck Wilbur, Libby’s favorite stuffed pig, under her arm.

The drive to the clinic was endless. It seemed every tractor-trailer in Bavaria had descended on our winding B-road, just ahead of us at every turn. It’s probably a good thing my calm, collected husband was driving.

When we finally arrived, they got Libby in right away. A chest x-ray revealed a lung infection, which could possibly be developing into pneumonia. At the clinic, Libby was given some medicine and started to perk up. By the time we left, her face no longer had that scary gray pallor, and her lips had turned back to the Princessy pink.

Thankfully, Libby is on the mend now.

As a mom, it’s normal, I think, to self-flagellate with stinging questions: How could I let her get this sick? How could I let her eat junk food? Why didn’t I take her to the doctor sooner?

As a steward of these precious young lives, I need wisdom, but I also can’t beat myself up over my mistakes.

I do believe there is a reason for everything that happens in life–even the bad things.

And I hope and pray that Libby’s princess tale has a happily ever after.

Curly Hair and the Magic Refrigerator

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I am now four weeks into plant-based eating, and aside from some sleep deprivation due to the kids taking turns with the midnight flu, I’m feeling great.

You may object, and point out that my plant-based eating experiment isn’t all that scientific, and my increased energy levels may be attributed to my increased mileage in running.

However, even after a long day, I don’t have to drag myself begrudgingly into the cold, gray winter, or banter with the demon on my shoulder about whether I should run or bake cookies. Instead, I find myself asking, “When can I run and for how long?”

This is something new for me, and it seems to have a direct correlation with what I have for lunch, or more specifically, what I’ve been drinking for lunch. You see, I’ve started supplementing my diet with freshly-pressed juice. And although I never thought I would be one of those granola-crackpots drinking spinach juice from a plastic cup…here I am.

Take Tuesday, for example. After getting up at 5 am, tidying up, feeding people, getting everyone out the door, having a full morning at Bible study, two hours of driving, and feeding people again, I found myself bursting with energy. I couldn’t wait to take a short run, which ended up to be six miles. Instead of sprawling on the couch afterwards, I still had energy to attend to my usual duties around the house.

Can energy be bottled? Apparently so!

Joe Cross, from the documentary “Sick, Fat and Nearly Dead” made up a juice called “mean green,” the primary ingredient of which is kale. But since there is only one kale farmer in Germany, and it is not currently kale season, I’ve opted for spinach instead.

The recipe: I put 2 granny smith apples, one cucumber (or two), a stalk of celery, a thumb-sized piece of ginger, one lemon, a few leaves of romaine, and 4 to 6 cups of spinach (one big bag) into the juicer, and out comes something I like to call “Lean Green,”  which my son says it tastes like grass. However, his taste buds have been chemically altered by 14 years of macaroni & cheese, so he’s not a very good judge. I think Lean Green belongs in the lemonade family; and it gives me a real boost–no artificial ingredients required!

There have been other changes in my physiology besides increased energy. I’ve also noticed I’m not using as much “firming” cream on my face; nor do I need the special tube of eye de-puffer for those big, black bags I normally wake up with. (Yes, the closer I get to 40, the more of this junk I seem to purchase).

But perhaps the strangest thing that has happened this month is that my hair is curly. I’ve always had enough natural wave in my hair to make it frizzy, and I usually have to blast it with various forms of heat to tame it. But lately, I simply wash it, add a little mousse, and let it dry, which results in some nice wavy locks. I’m not a nutritionist or a beautician, but this seems to indicate my hair  wants to be vegan.

While I can’t guarantee you can forego that next permanent wave, I can heartily recommend investing in a plant-based diet. Produce, especially organic, can be expensive. But it is worth it when you think of the money you’ll save by not having to do things like buy heart medication or anti-aging cream.

Some juicers on the market cost as much as a SmartCar, but we opted for one with enough horsepower to do the job without having to rob our life savings–and it didn’t cost any more than a few fancy tubes of eye serum.

The Magic Refrigerator

With all of this juicing going on, and considering the fact that our German fridge can fit inside a kitchen cupboard, and the freezer is smaller than a shoebox (and not your husband’s size 13 combat boots–we’re talking ladies size 8 ballet flats), we needed some place to store our produce, just above freezing, so it wouldn’t spoil. Thus, we found the Magic Refrigerator.

Why is it magic? Because in our house, anyone can have anything out of it at any time.

Plus, it’s cute and is filled with such colorful things, it seems magical. Remember Dorothy stepping into Technicolor for the first time? That’s kind of what it’s like to open the door of the Magic Refrigerator.

Not only does the Magic Refrigerator keep our produce from rotting, it encourages the kids to eat healthy foods. I don’t mind if they snack on fruits and veggies–and as long as they’re still eating their vegan dinners every night.

I’m not pushing them nor cajoling them: I am simply making certain choices more appealing.

I wish some of you could have known me in the early days of being a wife and mother. I don’t know how many chicken nuggets and toaster waffles my kids consumed. It was fast, cheap, and easy; three qualities which should come as red flags.

Eighteen years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be some kind of “health nut.” But now, after years of pumping our bodies with things that are harmful, we are starting to fuel ourselves with foods that God intended for us.

My point is that if my family can make these changes, then any family can–no matter how “far gone” you feel.

I pray it’s not too late for my kids.

I want them to have their own Magic Refrigerators someday.

Curly hair, optional.

Recipe of the Week: “Ack! My Husband Will be Home in Half an Hour and I Have No Idea What We’re Having for Dinner Lentil Stew”

Even those “meal planner” type of people sometimes have a lapse in judgement. Maybe your key ingredient went bad? Maybe you were gone all day (either mentally or physically) and the thought of dinner didn’t even cross your mind until your husband called & said he was on his way home from work.

This is why you MUST, MUST, MUST keep lentils on hand at all times. Think of this dear wonderfood as the new pasta & ground beef. Not only is it high in protein, but  it has stuff like calcium, vitamin C, iron, and fiber. It is also super low in fat and has zero cholesterol. The BEST part is that lentils do NOT need to be soaked overnight–and they come in all sorts of fun colors.

The Raw Materials

Lentils–one bag, any kind.

Produce–as much as you like, any kind.

Water

Veggie broth (or bouillon or dry soup base in a pinch)

The Method

I use a ceramic-coated cast iron dutch oven, but I’m fairly sure this will work in a regular pot too.

Rinse lentils and bring 6 to 8 cups of liquid (water with bouillon or broth or a combination of both) to boil.

Madly search your fridge & pantry for any produce available. Potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, peppers, green beans, frozen spinach…whatever is not rotting.

Chop up everything edible. When the water is boiling, add your rinsed lentils and veggies.

Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 30 minutes (possibly longer). Add more water if necessary. Stir occasionally.

*Note, if you use fresh baby spinach, add during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

 My personal favorite combo is red (or orange) lentils with chunks of butternut squash (though, allow more time for tricky-squash-chopping). Yum!

That is it, people. It is SO easy. Toss it all in the pot and have fun!

Auf die Dauer Makeover

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Two years ago, I began a blog about my journey from couch potato to marathon runner.

Though I wanted to keep the blog purely about health, I found funny things, like my kids, kept creeping in. Because at the core, whether I’m keeping the couch warm on a daily basis or getting my Merrells routinely muddy, I’m still a mom.

I’ve come to realize that not a single component of the mother/writer/runner amalgam can be extracted without making the other elements weaker.

Looking back through my blog, it’s apparent I haven’t met all of my health goals (I can barely hold myself in plank position for 30 seconds before falling in a quivering heap, let alone do an actual push-up), but I am much healthier than I was two marathons ago.

I’m not worried about the fact that I still have many items on my “goal” list because it gives me more to strive towards. And I’m the kind of person who always needs some goal or project to keep me from the fuzzy warm blanket of lethargy.

“Auf die Dauer,” is the German equivalent of “In the Long Run,” which is especially fitting for my life as a mother/writer/runner living in Germany.

Everything we do (or fail to do) has an impact in the long run.

It is finding the importance in each of the hundreds of little daily events, which will lead to something greater. Whether it is plugging away on a languishing manuscript, taking 5 minutes to let my teenager vent, or running a few miles, each step gets me closer to the goal.

It is a new year, and I have a lot of goals: some old, some new.

While I still hold fast to the Auf die Dauer philosophy, I’ve decided to start a new blog. It will be the same me…just a different name.

Auf Gehts, Mama! will contain more about my life as a world-schooling, noveling, solar-powered, running mama, who is encouraged and motivated (often literally) by her children, and who also happens to live in an incredible (often literally) place in the world.

So join me in the new year at AufGehtsMama.com

Let’s go!

…But Not Least

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Our fingers were frozen, and our toes were frozen, but a Christkindlesmarkt just isn’t authentic unless it is bitterly cold.

Besides, you could be digging a ditch with Libby and still have fun.

Right on the heels of the Katie•Mommy Day was a Libby•Mama Day. I don’t exactly know why the girls have each chosen a different diminutive for me, but I’m just thankful neither refer to me as “mother,” which for some strange reason, conjures the image of someone who beats you with kitchen utensils.

Libby and I arrived at Rothenburg painfully early, mainly to avoid the combative parking arena; and thus we found ourselves walking around the quiet town, waiting for the market to open.

Libby is eight years-old, but she still gets excited about those colorful rides that do nothing more than go round in a circle.

As the man took the tarp from the carousal, Libby plotted which critter she would ride first. Soon, we had purchased four tokens, and Libby was on the unicorn, lifting her feet so they wouldn’t drag on the ground. She had a bit of trouble in the frog car too: with her knees nearly to her chin, she could hardly unfold and get out by herself.

When our hands were sufficiently numb, we went to our favorite restaurant, by the clock tower. The waiter lit a candle for the two of us, and we ordered coffee and hot chocolate to warm our fingers and souls.

Libby was delighted when her cocoa was served to her on a ‘silver’ platter. She said it was the first time EVER—and it makes me happy that it happened while I was with her.

We enjoyed our lunch, and she enjoyed having a captive audience. She says she wants to be a doctor someday, and if she does follow that line of work, I know she’ll be awarded the “Best Bedside Manner” prize. Libby’s charm and cheerful nature could probably heal most people without the use of medicine.

Walking through the market, we picked up a few Christmas presents for the other kids, and then we spied the nut stand. If you’ve never been to Germany, then you may not have heard about candied nuts they have here. Though they’re not laced with anything stronger than cinnamon, they are highly addictive, and should come with warning labels.

As Libby was deciding which nuts she would choose, she suddenly spied the chocolate-covered apples. We usually shy away from foods that have the potential for disaster, but in this case, as an ‘only-child’ for a day, Libby got her wish: her first chocolate covered apple E-V-E-R.

Surprisingly, it did not end up all over her face, hands, forehead, or ponytail, nor on her seat in the car.

We strolled in the shadows of the medieval walls, non-sticky hand in non-sticky hand, simply enjoying each other’s company. 

The fourth child is perhaps the luckiest, because when she comes along, parents finally figure out how fleeting and precious time really is.

It is nearly Christmas, but my best gifts have already been given to me.

WILLIAM*KATIE*NOAH*LIBBY

Katie•Mommy Day

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My mother used to tell me, “I hope when you have children, you have one JUST. LIKE. YOU!” and she didn’t seem to mean it as a compliment.

How unfair! I couldn’t help it that I was a stubborn, self-willed, independent child—it’s just how I was born, or maybe it was my parents’ fault for not raising me better. Right?

Fast forward to my second born.

She was the first little princess born to me, and subsequently she got her way a lot. She was opinionated from birth, whimsical, and when she was old enough, she loved to bend the rules in order to torment her legalistic older brother.

People who know my lovely eldest daughter can’t quite believe some of the stories about her early years, which include many temper tantrums. She was strong-willed, independent and…well…a lot like me.

I won’t say she’s just like me—her strengths, such as mathematics and music—were always my weaknesses. She bakes and cooks and sews. And every friend is a sister to her. She also has the most tender heart I’ve ever seen, and she wears it right on her sleeve.

And yet, she has a toughness about her that allows her to do things like dissect cow organs and pick up dead moles in the garden without cringing. Of all the kids in the world who want to grow up to be veterinarians, I see in her the type of person who can actually accomplish it.

Yet despite our differences, we are incredibly similar, which means my own behavior reverberates in her life.  While there are things that crop up which make me wonder, “Where did THAT come from?” there are also things I can pinpoint the origin exactly—and it’s a little too close for comfort.

The difficult part of having a child who has your temperament is that you are quicker to lose patience. It seems like it should be the opposite: that because you have felt similar things, you should be MORE patient.

But what actually happens is that because you have a good gauge of what’s going on inside that child’s head, you want to ‘encourage’ her to get over it more quickly. It’s almost as if you expect that child to have come preprogrammed with the trials you went through by fire. 

Now, I find myself looking eye-to-eye with my daughter, who also borrows my shoes. She is a young lady—beautiful inside and out, which is kind of a scary thing (especially when I catch guys looking at her–which makes me want to check for loopholes in that whole “thou shalt not kill” commandment). And I constantly have to be on guard to keep our relationship safe. It is a valuable thing.

Katie and I recently went to a Christmas market together by ourselves. It was drizzling with the kind of rain that leaves you with a chill you can’t shake. Yet, we were both cheerful—happy just to be together doing something fun. 

And sometimes the drizzly cold days make the memories warmer.

It was Katie’s year to pick out the Christmas tree. So we went through the aisles, discussing the varieties available. In the end, Katie chose a ‘surprise’ tree: meaning one that was already wrapped up (as most of them are here), so we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.

It was by far the heaviest tree I’ve ever crammed into the Honda, and I was afraid it wouldn’t quite fit. But we wedged it between the seats (bending the top branch like an uppercase ‘C’) and eventually managed to get it set up at home without breaking the tree stand. It turns out, Katie had picked the biggest, fattest tree I’ve ever seen in Franconia. It is gorgeous.

I love making these kinds of memories.  When it’s just Kate and I, I can more easily catch glimpses of the woman she will become.

Once, she was my little princess, but someday, I know I will count her as one of my very best friends.

I can already envision her texting me between appointments with her furry patients, writing: “Meet me at Starbucks!” God willing, I’ll be there, chatting with her over coffee.

All or Nothing

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The woman who marries my son Noah will have a life filled with the type of love that can (literally) knock you off your feet.

But for now, I am the lucky woman who has his heart; and I love that when we go out, he still reaches for my hand.

Noah is sweet, gregarious, smart, renowned for his giggle-fits and bad jokes (the two often go together); he is musically talented in a scary sort of way, he loves the theater and singing opera in the shower; and he is my only child who not only enjoys running with Mom but whose goal it is to run a marathon with Mom someday.

Noah and I went out together alone on Saturday. We arrived at the Christmas Market before the booths were open, so naturally, we found a coffee shop to pass the time. Noah was thrilled to have a Coke at 9:30 a.m. and vastly amused by our table, which had coffee beans under its glass top.

I wanted to capture the moment by snapping a self-portrait, and with typical Noah-flair, he wrapped his arms around my neck and planted a big, wet smooch on my cheek as the shutter clicked.

Noah does nothing halfway.

His life is either glorious or devastating. His room is either an IKEA showroom or a garbage dump. His siblings are either his best friends or his worst enemies.

There is a distinct lack of middle ground with this kid, which calls for a bit of ingenuity as a parent and diplomatic skills that could qualify me for work in an embassy somewhere.

In a sense, I am an ambassador to my children, bridging the cultural gaps between the State of Adulthood and that Independent Territory of Children.

This is not to say I have to give in to their demands, after all, I wouldn’t want to feed them Swedish Fish for lunch and Mac-n-Cheese for dinner every night. But I can value their young lives and show respect for their opinions (even when I think they’re wrong). And although I am still a work in progress, I can show them what I think adulthood should look like and admit it when I fail.

The love of my children is one of the most precious things in my life. And when you have an all-or-nothing child, the stakes become critically high.  

My Noah.

I can’t imagine this house without his infectious laughter or facing the day without his bear hugs. I am the love of his tender nine year-old life.

In my thirty-eight years, it is the best gift I could possibly have received.

His love is worth giving my all.

Tickets, Please

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I was sitting next to a soft-spoken young man on the train.

He was considerate, offering me a book to read, and had that unique brand of humor that can make me laugh in almost any situation.

The conductor checked my ticket and then asked for his. He looked up at her wide-eyed—he had no ticket.

He’s my son, I explained in German, he is on my ticket.

She double-checked, and sure enough, two seats had been reserved. This is his last year of riding free on Deutschebahn.

My oldest doesn’t complain and he rarely asks for things, so when he requested a day alone together, there’s no way (aside from heart-removal surgery) I could say no.

Despite a wearying schedule and all the housework and chores and mountains I could move via the computer, my son and I took the day off.  

I do not consider it time lost but a worthy investment.

With four children in our family, being out with him alone is a rare occurrence, as one of us is usually tending the rest of the crew.

So we made the most of it: riding the train to Nuernberg, exploring the Christmas market, sipping a leisurely latte (for me) at Starbucks, and rounding out the day with lunch at a restaurant where food does not come in a box or bag.

It struck me that day just how much he has grown up, and how little time we actually have left before he’s filling out college applications.

My heart misses him already.

I have to say, however, that traveling with William now is much easier than it used to be.

I will never forget the energy (enough to power a nuclear facility), the planning (enough to design a nuclear facility), and the real-life, dripping-from-your-brow sweat (enough to build a nuclear facility with your bare hands) involved in traveling with youngsters.

During that train ride, I sat in awe of this handsome young man in the Italian leather jacket, who no longer needed Cherrie-O’s doled out one-by-one for amusement, and who could not only entertain himself by reading a battered edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but who brought an extra book—just in case his mom wanted something to read.

But before the high tide of adulthood rushes in and overtakes these placid days, I will relish each moment of his young adulthood, and savor those rich memories we have built together.

 

I have no fear about my son’s future—he will go far in life, even if I’m not there to buy his train tickets.

Fahrkarten, bitte.

A Very Libby Birthday

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Whimsical. Sparkly. Magical. Funny. Bubbly. Beautiful. Pink.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of my youngest daughter. And on her birthday, the adjectives are amplified beyond description.

She was awake this morning (who knows how long), and when she heard the house stir, she put on a party dress and entered the birthday room. There were polka-dot packages, which matched her boldly polka-dotted dress, shiny (pink) ribbons, shiny (pink) baloons, and a cake with that magical sweetness that only ripens on a child’s birthday.

Libby brings so much joy to my life, it seems my heart can’t bear the fullness of it. Which is why it is all the more odd to recall that when she was born, I wasn’t sure if I could love her as much as I loved the other children.

Everything had been going smoothly. My mother-in-law arrived in Alaska, and twelve hours later we were on our way to the hospital. After three hours of labor, my delicate, 10 pound, meconium baby was rushed away, her lungs suctioned, and her head placed in an oxygen bubble.

When they brought her back to me 3 1/2 hours later, she didn’t seem familiar, as my other babies had. And it scared me to think that this baby in my arms would always be a stranger.

Of course I loved her. But would I love her so much that my heart would break with it?

It haunts me to think of it, but at the time, I wasn’t sure.

I know there are stories of mothers and infants clinging to life, and who are separated by medical necessity for days or weeks or months. But for me, 3 1/2 hours was long enough to make me wonder if my baby and I had missed something we could never get back.

I spent three days in my cozy hospital room, with limited visitors, nurses bringing great meals to my private room, and with plenty of time to get to know this new baby, who depended so completely on me.

By the time we walked through the door of our home, excited little kids bouncing off walls, Bushia’s home-cooked meal in the oven, with that tiny human, swallowed up by all things plush and pink, our hearts had been knit together for good.

The bonding had occurred, not as quickly as with the other three kids, but with that same familiar, unbreakable permanence.

God had a lot of women to choose from when deciding which one would have the honor of raising Libby.

I am thankful and grateful and completely humbled that out of all the mothers in the world, I am the one she calls Mama.

Happy Birthday My Darling Libby!