Archive for December, 2012

And We’re Off…

As always I am way behind on my blog posts.  Two weeks ago we left our cozy little apartment in Germany and started a two-and-a-half month long trip to visit our families in the US and Mexico.  My husband is taking two months of parental leave, and we figured it was a great chance to do this!

The first stop was Michigan, to visit my family for Christmas.  Then we flew down to Mexico on December 27th and we are now in Morelia visiting Oscar’s family.  I don’t have time to write much now, but I will make more detailed posts later, after I get a few of the pictures uploaded.  But I wanted to stop in and let all my faithful followers know what’s up!  (just in case you were actually wondering, which I know you probably weren’t. )

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and can’t wait to get started writing about what’s going on here!

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The Story of Our Stroller

Yes, I love to baby-wear and carry Olivia around in my arms a lot. But I also use the stroller quite a lot, depending on what I plan to do.  Since we live in Germany and don’t need a car to get most places, I often spend the whole day on foot, which means sometimes I like to have the stroller there, even if it just to carry shopping bags 😉 Olivia also likes to sleep in the stroller, and I’ll be honest, it’s a great place to pull on and off her diaper when there’s no other place to change her.

Our borrowed Hartan stroller

Our borrowed Hartan stroller

Our stroller was lent to us by a good friend who lives in Paderborn. It is about 5 years old and has already lived through two children, so it has seen better days, but still worked fine when she gave it to us. It is a Hartan VIP – which is a top-of-the-line stroller here in Germany. I was ecstatic at not having to buy a stroller! And I am eternally thankful to our friends for lending it to us.

But about a month ago, it suddenly gave out. The plastic piece at one of the joints on the right-hand side had cracked. It makes sense that it would crack there, since every time you push down on the handle to get over a curb the entire force is put directly on that one joint. And despite the many good things about Germany, they unfortunately have a long way to go in installing ramps at every street corner. So basically you are maneuvering up and down curbs all the time. So it was clear that eventually something would have to give. But this is not our stroller… so now what?

I took the stroller to a store which sells baby stuff and asked them if they could order the plastic part for me. They couldn’t, they said they had to send the whole thing in to the manufacturer, who would then give me a quote for repair, since it was no longer under warentee. I knew even then that it would be expensive. no company ever just charges you for the spare part… they would most likely want to replace the entire mess of metal rods, if not the entire base. And to let me try to repair it myself – no way. They would rather have me spend 500 EUR on a new stroller. But even though I knew all of this, I let them send it in anyways (for a 30 EUR fee). They gave me a spare stroller to use while it was gone, for 2 Euros a day, and told me it would be four weeks.

The spare stroller made an odd clicking noise wherever I pushed it, but it didn’t seem to bother Olivia, and I got used to it pretty fast. I still used my carrier or a wrap a lot anyways. Then, about three and a half weeks later, the spare stroller cracked, too!! This one decided to give out on the handle bar, at a joint which is used to fold the handle up and down. It is also a highly stressed area, so it made sense to break there. But that didn’t make me feel any better! What would the store say? How much was this going to cost me?

The *next day* the store called, saying that my stroller had been returned to them with a quotation from Hartan – the repair for that one cracked joint would be 210 EUR, if I wanted to do it. They couldn’t even tell me what exactly Hartan planned to do to fix it. (super glue…?) So yeah… if I had waited ONE MORE DAY to take that last walk, the spare stroller would have been just fine, and I wouldn’t have had any issues! But now I had not one, but *two* broken strollers on my hands, neither of which belonged to me! If the first stroller was 210EUR to fix, would would the second one cost?!

Fleeting thoughts of trying to hide the broken spot on the rented stroller crossed my mind. Maybe I could glue it so that they wouldn’t notice, and then it would break on the next customer instead. But I just couldn’t do it. I really have a tough time being dishonest like that. So I sucked it up and took the stroller in, expecting a huge bill, on top of the 60 EUR rent for the past four weeks.

Fortunately, this is a story with a happy ending! The employees at the store were very sympathetic, and told me it wasn’t my fault. The rented stroller was already 6 years old and could have broken on anyone. They simply threw it in the trash. They almost forgot to even charge me the rent, until I reminded them about it. And even then, they only charged me for 10 days instead of 30! I wanted to hug them. I wheeled my broken stroller back out of the store, intent on trying to fix it myself later. I loaded Olivia into the car and drove home a happy girl. And to make things even better, Olivia even fell asleep on the ride!

Well, I got home, opened the trunk of the car, and what do you know, the stroller wasn’t there! I had left it parked on the street next to my parking spot downtown…! But being the panicked carefree, relaxed person that I am, I just got back in the car, and with Olivia still sleeping drove back for the stroller, which was still parked exactly where I had left it.

Of course, at the end of the day, our stroller is still broken. But I swear, I have the nicest friends in the world. Another friend of mine who lives in my neighborhood offered to lend me her stroller while she spends 6 weeks in Berlin. Her mother even pushed it all the way over to our house this morning, just to give it to me! (it is about a 15 minute walk) Knowing my luck, I will be *extra* super careful with this stroller, especially since it is brand spanking new.

Grandparents are Allowed to do Anything

On our trip to Michigan back in August, I had a lot of parenting conversations with my mom.  After all, she has a lot of experience since she raised six of us!  At some point, my mom told me that she didn’t let me have any sweets until I was at least two years old, but that her mom (my Grandma) had given me ice cream behind her back!  We both agreed that that wasn’t ok.

Then, just a day later, my mom and I went out to the grocery store, and we stopped to have chocolate shakes as a treat together.  I went to the bathroom for a few minutes and my mom held Olivia for me.  When I came back, this is what I saw:

My mom pulling the chocolate shake away from Olivia

My mom pulling the chocolate shake away from Olivia

My mom said “She really wanted it, she grabbed it before I could do anything!”  Olivia had chocolate shake running down her chin…

Now, at this point, remember that she was only 6 months old, and hadn’t even started solids yet, let alone dairy, sugar or chocolate!!  A million things could have happened.  Fortunately everything was fine.  In fact, she didn’t even like the shake, probably since it was so cold – she spit it all out.  But she wanted the cup back – probably because of the straw.  Yes, Grandparents can get away with anything.  And I really couldn’t be mad since it was so funny.

Michigan

At the end of August, I took Olivia on her first trip to the US to see my family. This was her very first plane ride, and I managed to do it by myself, since Oscar had to work. (We are going to take another trip for Christmas, so he didn’t have enough vacation time to go twice.) I was a bit worried since the flight was nine-and-a-half hours, but Olivia did fantastic! She only cried once, and that was for less than a minute after waking up from a nap and not knowing where she was.

P1080636

Olivia on my lap in the airplane

I didn’t take a stroller – instead I had Olivia in the front pack carrier, so I had both hands free to pull luggage. That worked out really well, and also it made it easier for me to carry her around the plane for naps. Of course most of the time I had her on my lap, though, since she is pretty heavy. On the ride over, a nice woman helped me out by holding Olivia while I ate my meal. On the way back I somehow managed by myself, but I’m honestly not sure how. Even though I brought lots of toys, she occupied herself almost the entire flight with the crinkly bag of pretzels. Talk about easy to please!

I wasn’t too sure about taking Olivia potty on the plane, but actually it wasn’t that hard. They have a changing table over the toilet which folds down from the wall, so I just changed her on that, then flipped it back up (with the changing pad and her clothes still clamped inside it!) let her pee in the toilet, and then flipped the table back down to get her dressed again. The whole thing was really quick, and actually even easier than many public bathrooms which don’t have changing tables, or when the changing table is in a room without a toilet. The only problem was that there was often a line for the bathroom. But of course, since we use a diaper back-up, it wasn’t a big deal anyways.

We had a really nice time visiting my parents. We mostly just hung out at home, but we did do a few things, like go to the cider mill.

The cider mill in Dexter, MI

The cider mill in Dexter, MI

I also got to see one of my close friends from college, R, and her daughter, who is a few months older than Olivia.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was that we got to see my grandma, who was 92. We went out for breakfast the first Saturday after we arrived. Olivia played with the empty coffee creamers while my mom and Grandma and I talked. Four generations…. it was so wonderful!

Our four-generations photo, unfortunately we didn't think to take it while she was still healthy.

Our four-generations photo, unfortunately we didn’t think to take it while she was still healthy.

Unfortunately just a week later, my Grandmother suddenly came down with Pneumonia, and ended up in the hospital. From there everything went downhill, and just a few days before we were supposed to return to Germany, she passed away. In the week or so before she died, she was in a hospice, where they took really wonderful care of her, and we came to visit her there every day.

Even though my Grandma was mostly sleeping during the last few days of her life, she did wake up to see Olivia. It was so touching to watch the two of them – one just entering this world, and the other saying her goodbyes. It brings me to tears thinking about it 😦 but the good thing is, at least my Grandma got to see her.

I wrote about my grandma’s life yesterday – you can read it here if you missed it. She had such an interesting life!

Olivia playing on the floor of my Grandma's room at the Hospice (My Grandma made the pillow and blanket!)

Olivia playing on the floor of my Grandma’s room at the Hospice (My Grandma made the pillow and blanket!)

My Sister with Olivia

My Sister with Olivia

I delayed my return flight by a week, and all of my brothers and my sister flew in from all over the US for the funeral. So, if there can be a good side to all the sadness, at least it was that I got to be with all of my siblings for a few days. It was also the first time for them to meet Olivia!

All in all, the trip was really nice. I’m so glad I had the time to spend with my family, and most of all with my Grandma.

A Lumberjack’s Daughter

Great_grandpa_logs

My Great-Grandfather with some of the logs he cut in the UP.

Today I’d like to tell you about my Grandmother.  She had a fascinating life, growing up in the North woods of Michigan.   Her father was a lumberjack, and she spent most of her childhood moving from camp to camp. My Grandma wrote a book about her life, and I would like to give you a few excepts from that:

“The one-room shacks we lived in would make President Abe Lincoln’s Kentucky log cabin look luxurious.  The floor space measured about 100 or 150 square feet.  Usually there was one small window.  The slanted roofs and outside walls were usually covered with tar paper.  The roofs frequently leaked.  We caught the drips in pails or cooking utensils…. The floorboards had gaps so wide that we had to be careful not to drop small objects on the floor or they would be gone forever.

My Great-Grandmother in front of one of the homes they lived in.

My Great-Grandmother in front of one of the homes they lived in.

We coped with the bitter winters in Michigan’s UP by tacking cardboard between the wall studs.  We pasted magazine, catalogue, and newspaper pages to the cardboard and chinked up the cracks.  These pages offered better decor than just plain bare walls. We could read the writing on the wall.  Mama loved the pictures of flowers from seed catalogues.  I loved the Sunday newspaper comic strips.  When we got tired of the writing on the wall, we could just add more of the same type of insulation.  Papa banked up the outside walls by building retaining walls to hold dirt.  This added insulation and kept the wind out.  The dirt came up to the height of the window.  We didn’t worry about termites, we never stayed in these shacks long enough to see any damage. ”

In her book, my Grandma describes her life growing up – the games they played, the food they ate, the work they did.  She had a very sporadic education, since they weren’t always close enough to a school.  In one section, she writes about the school bus that they took at one point:

 

The firls from the Akrigg School, near Pickford, MI.  My grandma is second from the right.

The firls from the Akrigg School, near Pickford, MI. My grandma is second from the right.

“After one week of school in the Pickford area, I attended the Akrigg School, about four miles from camp. The men in camp made a school bus out of some kind of wooden camper. It had runners for the snow instead of wheels and a wood burning stove with a stovepipe. A horse pulled it. We went to school through the woods on an old logging trail. It creaked as it moved along. It went so slowly I could jump out the back door of the vehicle and run along behind it.”

At about 12 years old, my Grandma left her parents and went to live with more well-to-do families where she worked doing household chores.  (Her sisters had done the same thing at ages 9 and 11)  One family she really loved, and another she didn’t, feeling very much like an outcast.  She eventually ended up in Ann Arbor where she worked various jobs, and got married.  She had more adventures but I really don’t have room for all that in my blog.   She had four children in total, and my mother was the youngest.

grandma_grandpa

My Grandma and Grandpa during their retirement in Florida.

My Grandmother was very smart about money, and was very good at pinching pennies.  They made ends meet and eventually were able to invest in renting/buying/selling houses in Ann Arbor during the housing boom of the 50’s and 60’s.  They retired in a comfortable home and often spent their winters in Florida.

My Grandma’s book has been added to the curriculum in Michigan schools for the unit on State history, since she represents such a forgotten part of Michigan life.  (One which was hardly documented)  You can find it in quite a few libraries across the state, or you can buy it online here if you are interested.

My Grandmother lived a long and full life, but she unfortunately passed away on September 9th, at 92 years old.  She was not in the best of health, but she still had a sound mind and we weren’t really expecting her to pass away just yet.  I was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my family in Ann Arbor and got to see her for about a week before she got sick, and she also got to meet Olivia.   I loved my grandma very much, and so I have written a short tribute to her:

————————————

Grandma.  What comes to mind when I think of you?  Old and frail, with skin like paper… but that was only near the end.  And at 92 years old, I think you have the right to be a bit frail.  But you were also strong and courageous.  Frugal; shaped by the tough times you lived through.  Sharp as a tack.  Your health may have declined, but not your mind.  At 92 you were still a card shark – I never met anyone who could beat you – not even my dad who has a PhD.

My grandma watching after us kids in the mid-80's

My grandma watching after us kids in the mid-80’s

I think about the times we spent overnight at your house; arguing over the blanket with my sister while we were supposed to be going to sleep.  I remember butter pecan ice cream, oatmeal with raisins and honey, and learning how to “save the best for last”.  I remember flooding your backyard with water so we could go ice skating there.  I remember moving all your plants around the living room to pretend I was in a jungle.  I remember rolling around on the floor as a kid and you telling me how agile I was.   I remember going to garage sales with you on Saturday mornings- I learned so much about the value of things from that!  I remember learning how to clean, how to turn a compost pile, how to make new plants grow from clippings, how to play Euchre – which, by the way, went on to become my favorite card game of all time.  I remember painting your garage floor.

Grandma, I learned so much from you, and I love you – I will always miss you!  But I am also glad that now you can finally join Grandpa in Heaven.  Now that I am married myself, I cannot imagine being separated from my husband for so long.  So in a way, while sad for us, it really is a joyous occasion.  Thank you for bringing so much to my life, and all of our lives.  May you find peace with God.

Orange Peels Taste Better than Oranges

For the past few weeks (has it already been a month…?) we’ve been letting Olivia share in almost all of our meals, giving her some of whatever we are eating, as long as there is very little salt or sugar.  We have given her tons of variety, but for the most part, she really didn’t eat much.  P1080975Not interestedUsually I would sit her in the high chair, and within a few minutes she would throw up her hands and lean back in the high chair with a bored look; “just what exactly do you think I am, anyways?  a TODDLER?  I eat milk, silly.”

The only thing she was interested in was her sippy-cup of water, or plates and spoons.  With any of these, she would occupy herself for hours.  But with food?  Well, she’d pick at it, but that was about it.

I swear to you, I really tried everything.  I tried home-made purees.  I tried some random finger foods, and I tried smearing purees on toast.  I tried cutting all the foods in nice easy-to-grab stick shapes.  I tried tons of different textures, colors and flavors.  Sometimes she would pick at them for a bit and maybe even put it in her mouth for a few seconds, but she never ate more than a crumb or two.  Most of the time she didn’t even get that far.  One day after refusing to even touch the food on her high chair tray, I let her back down on the floor, and within minutes she had scooted over to a giant ball of dust and popped that right into her mouth.  (!!!)

“I don’t get it!” I told her.  “You like dust more than hamburgers and noodles?! ”

I got the dust-ball out of her mouth, and she gave me a devious grin.  I’m telling you, this girl KNOWS that she is being difficult!

So then I went and got the food from her high chair, and put it on the floor in front of her.  She took one look, turned away, and scooted off into the next room.

I re-read Gill Rapely’s book on baby-led-weaning, and decided that maybe I was giving Olivia her meals at the wrong times, and that she might be too tired or hungry when I sat her down to eat.  I made a huge effort to sit us down to eat at that perfect sliver of time right after a nap and nursing, before she got too tired or hungry again.  It did help a little bit, but she still was not all that interested in anything.

green onion

Olivia eating a green onion (it’s on the tip of her finger)

Until one day when I made a beef and broccoli stir fry with green onions cut into little rings.  I put a little in front of her as I had been doing every day for weeks.  She eyeballed it and sat back in her high chair.  But then, after a few minutes of staring at the food, she suddenly perked up.  You could see that something had caught her eye.  The interest was mounting inside that little brain.  She leaned forward and extended one finger and slowly approached a green onion.

She chased that green onion all around the high chair, and it fit perfectly on her little finger.  Then she picked it up and put it in her mouth.  I figured she would just push it back out, but she didn’t.  In fact, she chewed on it with her little teeth and pushed it around with her tongue.  And then she picked up another, and another!  After she had eaten about five of the green onions, she looked at me and started grinning.  Through those clenched teeth I could see her mouth stuffed with a bunch of green onions.  It was such a hilarious sight!  I don’t think she ate more than a few tiny chunks off those onions, because most of it ended up “falling” back out onto the table.  It was obvious that she liked them, though, and that’s when it finally dawned on me that my “stick-shaped” foods were not what she wanted.  She was starting to master her pincer grasp, and she wasn’t at all interested in large chunks anymore.

So after that I started cutting things into tiny pieces for her, and suddenly her interested was piqued.  All of a sudden she started trying to pick up bits of everything, the more microscopic the better.  I also noticed that she prefers dark foods.  And yet, she very rarely actually swallowed anything.  So far my biggest successes have been green onions and spinach.  Odd choices, I know.  I really thought she would have liked apples, pears and bananas, but she doesn’t seem to like the textures of those because she has yet to actually get any of them into her mouth.  As soon as she picks up a chunk of banana, she starts waving her hand around as if she were being attacked by a snake.  And no matter how much I try to explain to her that her mouth would be a great way to get that banana off of her finger, she just doesn’t listen!  Imagine that.

Now that it is cold season and we have had three colds one directly after the other, I decided Olivia needed some more vitamin C.  I started peeling an orange and I was going to let her try to pick up the individual juice sacs.  But Olivia was so excited by the sight of me peeling the orange that she was practically leaping out of her high chair to get at it!  To keep her happy I gave her a large chunk of orange peel to chew on while I finished.  I figured she would taste it and immediately drop it since it’s quite bitter.  But lo and behold, she *liked* it!  She kept chewing on it and chewing on it, sucking off little bits here and there for more than fifteen minutes!  And although I put some actual pieces of orange on her tray, she was not a bit interested in those.

Imagine living in a world where babies were all the same….?  Where they all followed the state-recommended schedule of foods?  Ahhh but how boring would that be.


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