Monthly Archives: November 2010

Thanksgiving

It’s a little strange for me to think it’s Thanksgiving week, because here in Germany, it’s just another week without a holiday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I really miss getting together with family for the day.

When we lived in Indiana, every other year we would go up to South Bend to celebrate with part of David’s family. There’s always football to watch, an amazing array of food and best of all, excellent conversation with awesome family. When Grammer was still alive, I enjoyed sitting with her and hearing her stories. She sometimes apologized and would say, “oh, but I’m probably boring you.”. But no, not at all (maybe because I didn’t grow up with Grammer’s stories; I loved hearing them!). I miss not going up to South Bend to celebrate Thanksgiving with this side of the family.

During recent years when we would have Thanksgiving with my side of the family, usually we would have it at my Granny’s. I remember hosting it once when we still lived in an apartment in Indianapolis, before we got married. And I know we hosted at our house at least once. Usually it was just my older sister, Granny and us; Dad and my younger sister would have their own plans back in New York. This year, Dad and my older sister will celebrate with my younger sister and her in-laws, on her in-laws’ farm in New York. I so wish I could be there with everyone.

So thinking about Thanksgiving does make me feel wistful. We will be celebrating on Saturday, just the four of us. For me, it’s not quite the same celebrating without extended family. I haven’t found a whole turkey here in the store; I did find some turkey legs but I have decided instead to roast a leg of lamb. Pumpkin pie filling is not available either, as far as I can tell. However, I’ve experimented with baking other squash (like butternut) and using the squash purée in place of pumpkin, and it works equally well and tastes the same to me. Happily, I have been able to buy cranberries in the store. The cranberry sauce is my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, so I’m all set!

As I mentioned my post about Viennese Cresent Cookies (Vanillekipferl), Germans do celebrate Saint Martin’s feast, usually with roast duck. Sometimes Germans will celebrate a harvest feast, called Erntedankfest, but this has more of a religious meaning behind it and I don’t know how widespread it’s celebrated.

When I was teaching German at the high school level, one of the activities we liked to do with our students was to have them cook an Erntedankfest meal after school in the school’s kitchen. With a little help from parents, the students would prepare the meal themselves (things like Schnitzel, Spätzle noodles, cucumber salad and black forest cherry cake). Although it was a lot of work, I loved this activity and miss doing it with my students. One of my students mentioned it so I’m glad to know that they are still making a meal to eat together.

With that, I wish all of you back home in the States and also abroad, including those serving in the military, a happy Thanksgiving.

Rückbildungkurs

I’m amazed that Superdude is already seven weeks old, and will be two months old by Thanksgiving. He’s much more alert now and starting to fall into a schedule. Rosebud is proudly taking on her role of sister and likes to interact with Superdude. This morning, for instance, she brought me a new diaper, some wipes and even the tube of diaper rash cream; then she “helped” me change Superdude.

Now that Superdude seven weeks old, this means I’ve been the mama to this amazing little guy for the same amount of time. On the one hand, he’s all new and we’re still getting comfortable as a family of four, but on the other hand, it sort of feels like he has been with us all along.

Being a mother to an active toddler and a new baby is a challenge, to be sure, but mostly I’m enjoying it (I could do with more sleep). I’ve been really impressed by the postpartum support I’ve received here, which is really what this post is all about.

As I wrote in my second entry about my birthing experience, my local midwife visited us seven times at home within the first few weeks, after Superdude was born. I’m still amazed at this aspect of care for postpartum mothers and their babies. It is such a good system with so many benefits. For starters, it was very helpful for my midwife to visit Superdude to make sure he was getting better from his jaundice. Also, although my midwife didn’t officially weigh or measure Superdude, she could confirm that Superdude has been growing well. After all, she’s seen plenty of mamas and babies over the years, so she knows what is normal for a newborn.

My midwife also gave me some advice about various things, even in regards to helping Rosebud adjust to her little brother. Just having someone stop by a few times was quite nice. A new mother can sometimes forget to care for herself those first few weeks, and my midwife absolutely made sure to ask me if I was eating properly and how my mood was.

Now that I have passed the six-week-newborn stage, I have started the Rückbildungs class, which is yet another aspect of postpartum care that I am amazed by and wish were available in the United States. The Rückbildungskurs, or core-strengthening class, is offered by my midwife and the first ten sessions are covered by our health insurance. Essentially, it’s a stretching and strengthening class for postpartum women, to help them regain their strength and muscle tone after giving birth. There’s a special emphasis on the Beckenboden, or pelvic floor, which requires strengthening and toning in postpartum women. But not only that, the class also focuses on posture, balance and muscle strength with a special consideration to a mother’s needs.

I went to my second class yesterday evening, and after an hour of stretching and toning, I felt so relaxed even though it was hard work! Usually my midwife leads the class, but yesterday evening another mother, who teaches Pilates, led the class. At times, I had a little trouble following her because she slipped into Bavarian once in awhile. For the most part, though, I had no difficulties whatsoever understanding what I was supposed to do in the class (nevermind that I’m not the most graceful person in the world!).

I’ve learned new vocabulary words, like dehnen, which means to stretch. In fact, during the class, I thought to myself, “wouldn’t this be a fun way to teach students some German, to help them learn the words for their body parts?”. Eventually, when I get back to teaching German, I think I may in fact do some “stretching” exercises with my students. I bet they would enjoy it, while learning German in a very practical way.

But back to the Rückbildungskurs. The woman who led the class reminded us that, as mothers, so often we develop poor posture because we’re always holding our babies in one arm, leaning over to pick stuff up with the other arm. Or, if we are breastfeeding, we can end up really straining our back and shoulders. I definitely found that to be true when I was breastfeeding Rosebud. I haven’t felt quite as sore in my upper back and shoulders with Superdude, but the tendency to lean and feel sore is definitely there. For this reason, the instructor also had us work on our posture and strengthening our shoulder and back muscles. It felt great, and by the end of the class, I was extremely relaxed.

The instructor also gave us tips on simple exercises we can do while pushing the stroller, carrying baby around and playing with baby that will help us regain our strength and posture. We even practiced walking by rolling from the balls of our foot to the heel, for the sole (no pun intended) purpose of regaining our balance from before pregnancy.

Two other major benefits to the class are getting to meet other moms in the area who have babies close in age to Superdude and having an hour to myself, where I’m not at home minding the kids. I haven’t really talked with many of the other moms at length just yet, but that’s okay. These things take time and I’ve only been to two classes so far; just having the opportunity to be with other mothers for an hour a week is refreshing.

When I saw my doctor for my postpartum checkup, I chatted with him about how impressed I am by the postpartum care and how well I like the Rückbildungskurs. He said he feels that the home visits and the class are absolutely essential; both services help out new mothers and make them feel less isolated, in addition to helping them from a physical health point of view. When I praised the Rückbildungskurs, he laughed and said, “You know, that’s very German. It’s part of our culture and health system, but a very important part.”

I don’t know if all postpartum mothers here in Germany avail themselves of the Rückbildungskurs, but at least the option is there. I feel really lucky to have the option and I know that over the coming months, the class will do me wonders! I only wish that I could share this with my American and Canadian mother friends, because I know how much they would enjoy and benefit from the class.

Vanillekipferl – Viennese Crescent Cookies

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, but it isn’t really celebrated in Germany, unless you count Martinstag, or Saint Martin’s Feast.

Because Germany doesn’t really have Thanksgiving like we do in the US, stores here focus on Christmas and have had Christmas items available since early October. I haven’t been ready to start thinking about Christmas, but as we begin planning our gift shopping for our family, I’m easing my way in to the holidays. We will have a small Thanksgiving feast for just the four of us the Saturday after Thanksgiving happens in the US, as David does not get the day off. But celebrating Thanksgiving here is not really the same. I’m extra eager to celebrate Christmas in the States with our family because we miss out on Thanksgiving (and, of course, everyone will get to meet Superdude for the first time!).

Today was a cold, rainy and snowy day; a perfect day for baking. In thinking about the holidays, I decided to make a traditional German Christmas cookie, called Vanillekipferl in German. I’ve seen them called Viennese Crescent Cookies, Kifles or Kiflings in English. In case you’re wondering what a Kipferl, Kifle or Kifling is, this article explains in German – basically, the word designates a baked good in the shape of a crescent.

These cookies are one of my favorite German Christmas treats. They’re similar to Mexican Wedding Cakes, in that they’re very buttery and have ground nuts as part of the cookie dough. Vanillekipferl are not too sweet, either, making them a nice tea cookie.

Here’s a version in English from the German website Dr. Oetker and the same recipe in German.

The recipe I use doesn’t have eggs in it, and the cookies come out especially tender.

Viennese Crescents
adapted from: The Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies, by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker.

8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter – use real butter, folks. Trust me.
3 ounces (3/4 cup) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla – I recommend using double extract vanilla at full strength
4 ounces (1 cup) ground almonds (preferably blanched)
10 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour

2 ounces (2/3 cup) powdered sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or 175 degrees Celsius. Have ready cookie baking sheets, lined with baking paper.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the butter until it is creamy and lighter in color. Then sift the 3 ounces of powdered sugar over the butter, and beat well until incorporated.

3. Next, add in the vanilla extract and beat into the butter-sugar mixture. Stir in the ground almonds until evenly mixed in.

4. Gradually sift in the flour, stirring it in. Then knead the dough until it is well-blended. If the dough is very soft, place it in the refrigerator for twenty or thirty minutes; however, you don’t want the dough so cold that it doesn’t mold well in your hand.

5. Taking about a tablespoon of dough at a time, form crescents and place on the cookie sheets, giving the crescents a little space to spread.

6. Bake one sheet of cookies at a time, in the upper third of your oven, for approximately 13-16 minutes. You want the cookies to be very lightly browned. Then cool the cookies on the cookie sheet on a cooling rack for about two minutes; then remove the cookies from the cookie sheet to continue cooling on the wire rack.

7. Once all cookies are cool, dust with the remaining two ounces of powdered sugar.

Note: If you like, you can add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon OR one to two tablespoons of vanilla sugar to the powdered sugar. Vanilla sugar is more traditional, but adding a touch of cinnamon is a nice variant for the holidays.

Autumn in Bavaria

Autumn is my favorite season, and I personally think it’s the nicest time of year here in Bavaria is during autumn.

The Isar River, Bad Tölz, facing the Alps

The Isar River, Bad Tölz, facing the Alps

The weather here tends to be unpredictable because of the mountains. It’s frequently cool and rainy, so when the weather is nice, I feel compelled to take advantage of it.

The past week stayed sunny and warm, so I took Superdude and Rosebud outside as much as I could. I am really noticing how quickly it gets dark in the evening, so we try to go walking before Rosebud might nap. Our little town is lovely for a walk, don’t you think?

Bad Heilbrunn in autumn

Bad Heilbrunn in autumn

I wondered how Rosebud would do, walking while her brother was pushed in the stroller.

Superdude smiling in his sleep

Superdude smiling in his sleep

She does very well, in fact. She is good about staying close to me most of the time and even likes to help push the stroller. Rosebud usually holds my hand and she’s pretty good about cars. In fact, she sometimes announces to me, “Mommy, there’s a car! Be careful!” Clearly she has been paying attention.

Rosebud finds some sticks

Rosebud finds some sticks

Look mom, I have some sticks!

Look mom, I have some sticks!

Rosebud on the path home

Rosebud on the path home

On this particular walk, we went to the center of our little town, made a few little stops, and leisurely took our time to walk back home. I was really proud of how well Rosebud did, because our walk took us about an hour. She had a good time playing in the leaves, finding sticks and sitting on benches along the way.