14 April 2009

Purl, Knit, Purl, Knit

Right before Christmas of 2007, I found a new interest in knitting. My oldest sister is a fabulous knitter, and I was quick to tap into her for advice and information. After I finished my first project, a Christmas stocking, I quickly got distracted with other things, like our new house, our new city, and the million and one activities I was involving Max in from story time at the Staunton Public Library to Buggy Busters in Gypsy Hill Park.

Now that I'm back in Germany, where knitting is pretty prominent, at least amongst the older generation, I started to get interested in it again. My big sister also got me hooked on Ravelry.com, where I found out that a local English speaking knitting group meets every week for what is affectionately termed "Stitch n' Bitch." My fellow knitters range from University students to working professionals, parents and single people, and there are from all over the world. The one thing they all have in common, other than their English and living in Munich, is how utterly awesome they are.

This group has been a much needed escape for me. It's been great to meet people, and do something that isn't based on the commonality of having children alone.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Another, yummy, yummy recipe.

I did a test run on these over the weekend for Max's 2nd birthday party next weekend. The cupcakes themselves were fabulous, but I'm going to try a healthier alternative to the recipe by using considerably less sugar, substituting a whole wheat, wheat germ and white flour mix for the white flour, and substituting apple sauce for the vegetable oil. As for the frosting, both my husband and I thought it was too sweet and not cream cheesy enough, so I'm going to double the amount of cream cheese and half the amount of confectioners sugar. I'm going to do another trial run this week. If it turns out well, I'll repeat it for this weekend's party.

Edited: The alternative worked out great. I substituted a equal part mixture of Wheat Germ, Whole Wheat Flour and White Flour for the all purpose flour. I also substituted apple sauce for the oil, and used only half of the called for sugar. For the forsting, I used twice the cream cheese, and only half a cup of the powdered sugar. I didn't use the cream at all. This was also really yummy, and I had to restrain myself from eating the whole bowl of frosting. On a side note, you need less than half of this frosting to cover the cupcakes, so keep that in mind.

Yummy, Yummy Chicken

I have a new favorite recipe to add to the my list. I only made a few changes based on some of the reviews and to satisfy my own tastes. The first change I made was to use veggie stock instead of chicken stock. Next, instead of using Sun Dried tomatoes, I used cherry tomatoes, which I added to the frying pan with the chicken, and then into the broth of the baking pan. I only added 1/2 the stock to the baking pan and a drizzle of balsamic. The 1/2 cup of balsamic, I combined in the frying pan with half the stock. Once it reduced by 1/2, I added 1 tbsp of mustard and 2 tbsp of butter, which I then added to the baking dish in the last 10 minutes. Also, on a side note, it took about 45 minutes for the chicken to cook all the way through, not the 15-20 minutes prescribed in the recipe. I didn't add any salt or pepper for taste.

Subtle Differences

Anyone who moves to a new country, and or new city, notices the differences. Some of these differences make life more difficult, i.e. not knowing the language makes it much harder to decipher a bill or do your own taxes. Some differences are inconsequential, like different food brands. Some differences make life easier, like the fact that the ATM gives your ATM card back before it gives you the cash. No one ever forgets to take the cash they just debited, but how many times has an ATM card has been left behind in the machine?

And then there are the differences that make your life spectacular... especially in Bavaria. For example, we just had a four day weekend, because not only is Easter Sunday a State holiday, but so is Good Friday and Easter Monday. Bavaria has six more public holidays than most of Germany. In 2009, 21* public holidays fall during the work week. Furthermore, we also are guaranteed 30 days of vacation. For the kids, they get out of school for 14 weeks** in six chunks through out the year over the seasons. Now I might be scratching my head, wondering how great this is when my kids are home this much, but I bet that my kids are going to be thrilled. No wonder Germans travel so much.

The only downside to all of these Holidays is that it doesn't only close businesses like my husbands office, but it also closes the stores. So, you had better have all your groceries bought before the holidays start, because there is no where to go to pick up a last minute bottle of milk. The only exception to this rule is gas stations, restaurants and tourist attractions like castles and museums. The same is true of Sundays. With the exceptions of restaurants, gas stations and tourist attractions, everything is closed. At first this was annoying we were used to being able to run out on Sundays for some last minute item we needed at the store, and sometimes we did our grocery shopping on Sundays. Now that we've adjusted, we are forced to relax and enjoy ourselves on Sundays. There will be no running errands on Sundays here. And if for some reason we don't have groceries, we have to go out to eat. Shucks.

Furthermore it's rare that you meet many Germans who work longer than 50 hours a week, and most only work 40 hours.

Now this might make you think, this can't be good for business. The German economy must be in the hole. However, according to the IMF, World Bank and CIA Factbook, Germany has the fifth highest GDP in the world, following the United States, Japan, China and India. Yet it only has 82 million people, compared to the USA's 306 million, Japan's 127 million, China's 1.3 billion, and India's 1.7 billion. I'd also like to point out these figures are after West and East Germany reunited, and it is after Germany converted to the Euro, both which were huge drags on the German economy.

So, Germany must be doing something right. It proves that there can be a comfortable balance between quality of life and productivity. You don't have to work like a dog to be profitable.

*I might have the exact number off here, but it is still signficantly larger than it was at home.

Genius or Stupid?

So last week Paul and I visited the KVR, or the Kreisverwaltungsreferat; try saying that five times fast. This is the big scary government office where we apply for and hopefully recieve residence permits. We were trying to get permanent residence permits for Max and I. For whatever reason when we moved here, they gave Paul one, but not his wife and child. Everyone else we know the spouse and children receive the same duration permit as the other spouse. However, we were told that Max and I had to be here five years, before we could apply for a permanent permit. Not ones willing to leave a place empty handed, we also asked if I was eligible for the Integration course.

The Integration course is a German language course combined with German history, German government 101, how to manage German bureaucracy etc. This course is extremely more affordable than taking classes on your own, as we only have to pay 1€ per class hour. Many of my friends who are here because they married a German were offered or mandated this course, but few of us who are here with our non-German spouses received it. The bureacrats at the KVR I guess took pity on me however, and offered me the course.

Now I have to take the class within three months of receiving the Certificate of Entitlement. Only the class close to our home starts two weeks after the baby is due. It's two and a half hours four times a week in the evenings. I'm not quite sure how it's going to go, as I'll be completely exhausted. I might be a very poor student. However, like I said, it was either complete genius or utter stupidity.

Edited to add: After further inspection, I realized that the Certificate of Entitlement is good for two years. The three month thing is regarding the course registration.

09 April 2009

The Second Time Around...

When I was pregnant with Max, I read every single book we could find about pregnancy and infant development. I even read every book out there about getting pregnant, and then later about childhood development. I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point, I stopped reading, and it was the best thing I ever did as a parent.

It might have had something to do with the fact that Max didn't start walking until he was 18 months. I got tired of reading all of the things that my child should or shouldn't be doing at such and such month, and I was tired of worrying. As long as my pediatrician wasn't concerned, I wasn't going to worry.

Max has pretty much developed at his own pace, and I've learned to accept that about him. He lifted his head and sat on his own, much later than the books suggest is normal. And, he never crawled. He only started doing his ape-like shuffle at 11 months, when a lot of other babies have already started walking. Yet, he was able to throw a ball and stack blocks way earlier than what the books suggest is normal.

As a mom, I've realized children will learn new things in their own time and in their own way. We briefly forayed into potty training, to quickly realize that he wasn't ready yet. Just sitting him on the toilet sent him screaming. We were mildly concerned about transitioning him from his crib to his bed, but he did that on his own over Christmas. One day, he decided to sleep in a bed, and after that we never put him back in the crib. We don't have a problem with him getting out of his bed like some other parents do. The same thing happened with introducing a pillow, a blanket, a straw-cup, and now a regular cup, and pretty much every major developmental milestone.

The kid does things on his own, when he wants to. I suspect, that this will make it easier for us to parent our second child. At least we won't be worried about her doing things too late or too early. The pressure for her to live up to the expectation of the child development books won't be there. I've not read a single book about pregnancy this time, and I've only briefly skimmed the weekly emails I get about her development. I'm not even concerned about taking another birthing class.

Reading books about discipline however, that is a whole other story...