0 to Ocho

The baby didn’t poop for 8 days. Then, today, she pooped in 8 different diapers plus once on the changing table. It’s time to play…

Recalibrate That Scale!

how to play:
Sometimes your touchstones crumble and you need to find a new way of saying what normal is. In the following two situations, try to figure out where 4 is on the 0-to-8 scale.

Situation 1

Tobias mentioned that he enjoyed fish paste in his youth. Fish paste, you (and I) ask? Yes, ground anchovies in a bottle. He liked to spread them on buttered bread for a fish paste sandwich. While I can get behind the idea of a salty, buttery sandwich, his description of them as ‘fishy and a little rotten-tasting’ makes me think that his use of the word ‘delicious’ could mean anything from ‘this soup tastes terrific’ to ‘not bad for a Fridge Find once you scrape the fuzz off’. What does it mean when he says something is delicious? And, dear god, what does it mean when he doesn’t?!

Situation 2

I’m typically not a big Easter celebrant. Sure, I’ll make the occasional lamb roast or loaf of challah (see above re: I’m typically not a big Easter celebrant,) but I’ve never gotten too much into the egg dyeing, the basket decorating, or the bunny costuming. Color me flummoxed, then, by how thrilled I am with a Martha Stewart egg-dyeing trick I tried this week: take any patterned silk, tie it around an egg, boil it for 20 minutes, and the pattern will come off onto the egg!
So, if ‘blasé about Easter’ includes the possibility that I’ve already made my poor sister watch a dramatic reenactment of the egg-dyeing via Skype and then tried to explain the process in German to my sister-in-law, what does ‘excited about Easter’ mean?!

Before: a piece of one of Tobias' old ties
Before: a piece of one of Tobias’ old ties
After: I made a patterned egg! And I posed with some lovely tulips!

After: I made a patterned egg! And I posed with some lovely tulips!

Rather than just leave you with this little bit of Easter magic, I will destroy the moment by adding that the water should have at least 3 tablespoons of vinegar in it, that you should tie a layer of plain cloth (like an old T-shirt) around the silk-wrapped egg to prevent the color from bleeding into the water, and that you shouldn’t expect others to be quite as excited as you are about the results. From Tobias: ‘Yes. That is the same pattern. Is it not what you were expecting?’ Well, yeah, I guess so. I just wasn’t expecting to be so delighted.

Live on the Ocho

If our life here on Susannen Street were a reality TV show, it would go something like this:

Betsy: You’re home from work! Would you like a cup of tea?
Tobias: Yes, please.
Betsy: What kind?
Tobias: Earl Grey.
Betsy: Aw no you ditn’t!
Tobias: Sorry… what?
Betsy: I was saying ‘Oh, no, you didn’t’ as if we were on a reality show.
Tobias: But we are.
Betsy: Good point, thanks. We’re so meta. Tea’s ready!

…and that mundanity, along with 1,874 other reasons, is why we’re not on a reality show. Which is a shame, really, as we have some excellent product placement opportunities. To wit:

Ecover Laundry Detergent
Are you the kind of parent who gets creeped out by the Pampers that are impregnated with pee-activated fragrance pellets, especially when there is no warning on the package about the forthcoming cloud of artificial baby powder scent except that the Pampers are called “Fresh n Kleen”? But are you also the kind of parent who, although relieved to finally identify the smell of the baby’s poo as Greek yoghurt (you’d been saying that it smelled like sour cream, but that wasn’t quite right,) doesn’t truly enjoy the smell of baby poo and is pleased when the diapers come out of the wash smelling like nothing but pure spring water and a tiny wisp of lavender? Then you will appreciate Ecover’s level of fragrance: the bottle smells like lavender, the clean laundry less so, and the dry laundry not at all. This leaves the baby to smell like a baby, which is the cutest smell ever especially when we’ve remembered to clean the folds of her chubby little neck.

NoseFrida the SnotSucker
Coincidentally named, this contraption allows you to clear out nose snot by sucking it into a tube connected to your mouth. It has a hygienic filter, it is small and transportable, and baby Frida doesn’t mind it at all. Most importantly, it takes the baby from ragged, choked snorts to calm deep breaths in the space of 15 seconds. It is bliss.

‘Keep Austin Weird’ Baby T-Shirts
Some of these are tie-died, some have built-in shorts. All of them are favorite hand-me-downs, which I love because while she gets dressed we can tell Frida stories about the kids that gave them to her. They also remind me to tell her about Austin and its weirdness, like Leslie, the homeless icon in my old neighborhood who ran his mayoral campaign from his bicycle cart, wearing nothing but a thong, a tutu, and some Ugg boots. Rest in peace, Leslie. I miss you.

…and reason 1,876 that we’re not on a reality show: telling your baby really inappropriate jokes told to you by a homeless transvestite may be one way to celebrate his memory, but it won’t endear you to the major networks.

Worldwide Appeal

I woke up this morning thinking, ‘I’ll bet Nigella Lawson’s eyebrows are dark like that so that her face is more palatable to the audience in Japan.’ Never mind the use of palatable to describe the face of someone who cooks food for people who will never eat it, I probably really meant identifiable and the rest of this idea is pretty spot on. The very dark, very neat, marginally artificial brow is common on the faces of chic Japanese women, and it makes sense that a show with a multinational audience would create commonalities with as many of those audiences as possible.
This idea was probably my mind farting during the nighttime digestion of Saturday’s main event: a Meet-The-Babies party with six families from our German antenatal class! There were 20 Germans in the flat Saturday afternoon (if you count Frida,) and only two Americans (if you count Frida.) I was a bit worried about the usual stuff before the party (is there enough food, is my child developmentally appropriate compared to her peers, did I remember to put a fresh hand towel in the bathroom, is my child developmentally ahead of her peers, do we have enough chairs, is my child developmentally ahead of her peers to the point of freakishness, etc.) Mind you, these worries were unfounded. There was tons of food, the hand towels started clean but had a difficult time standing up to a party of 14 adults who did a lot of diaper changes, and we didn’t have enough chairs but people were happy to take turns. Oh, and the baby is advanced in some areas and slower in others, just like every other baby in the room. What struck me was the lack of competitiveness from the other parents. When commenting on the babies, the parents would routinely say that they were ‘sweet’, which is universally true of babies, while I heard myself praising one for being especially tall, one for their big smile, another for their very cute sweater. I was saying what made each baby special and unique; the Germans seemed to take that for granted and to recognize that there were many more commonalities than differences. I was surprised by how ingrained my approach was: I’ve spent much more time with mathematics than with babies so far, but that doesn’t stop me from calling lots of babies the statistically-impossible ‘cutest’.
Things that were different enough to make them be surprises:
-the layers that the other babies wear. Onesies, shirt, stockings, pants, sweater, socks, shoes, all-in-one overcoat, with a blanket on top. Granted, it is winter and they are walking home, but our little orchid was in just her shirt and diaper and she was warm.
-everyone breastfeeds, but no one else uses cloth diapers. See above re:competitiveness; I didn’t bring this up with any of the other parents because my love for the cloth diaper system is real but my description of it sounds awfully smug.
-everyone is very comfortable with the breastfeeding, and the moms feed the babies whenever and wherever they’re hungry. At one point I realized that the conversation that two of the dads were having about babies’ feeding behavior had turned into a play-by-play, ‘See? Frida’s searching, searching, searching, and then BLAM she’s got it.’ The ‘it’, of course, was my nipple, and the dads were not Frida’s. They were simply commenting on life’s little wonders, and could care less whose milk Frida was looking for. I tried to play it cool, but my milk supply gathered her skirts and fled. Once again, life in Europe shows me that I’m a bit of a prude.

But not too much of a prude to cook SPRINGBOK! The freezer was getting overrun with pregnancy-craving-driven impulse buys, including fish sticks, a kilo of kale, some shrimp filling for dumplings, and a jar of lemon curd that I keep mistaking for broccoli soup, so I defrosted the Springbok steaks that I’d sequestered sometime in the second trimester. Somewhat surprisingly, they were delicious! Very much like elk in flavor, and very tender. I sautéed them in a stupidly hot pan and served them with chimichurri sauce. Now I feel a bit like the Cat in the Hat because although there is a bit more room in the freezer, there are something like 38 servings of chimichurri sauce in the fridge.
Maybe it freezes well?

Cultural Differences: Advertising Edition

Where to begin?! There’s so much to say I won’t even bother to mention the advertisements for Hamburg’s professional handball team or the recent biathlon competitions! …or will I?

-the brand name of the special laundry detergent for color loads is ‘Pallor’
-there is nowhere near as much sex-sells advertising in Germany as there is in the U.S. This makes it especially striking when there is a picture of a sexy man in a tuxedo embracing a beautiful woman on the front of a package of… rye bread. Tobias explains that the bread, a thinly-sliced smallish rectangle, is often used for canapé. Except that he didn’t say canapé, he said ‘fish eggs and things’ (maybe thinking that caviar didn’t translate?) We bought some and our lives have been much more romantic since! Thanks, rye bread!
-Gum is oddly expensive in Germany but there are some pretty spectacular flavors, like Aloe. The ‘stronger is better’ idea has been taken pretty far: there is a gum labeled ‘Professional-Strength’. I have been strictly amateur-class thus far in my gum-chewing career, but I’m still hoping for an interview at one of the big gum-chewing firms.
-In the women’s hygiene aisle there is a product that is encased in seriously leak-proof packaging. It is remarkably expensive at 6.78 Euro for 8. I am only telling you about it now because, although they would make pretty awesome stocking stuffers, they will surely have caught on worldwide before the next holiday season, and it’s too weird to give anyone probiotic tampons for Easter. That’s right, folks, probiotic tampons. And here I am with my pregnancy-then-breastfeeding-induced amenorrhea! Who’s game to try them? I will happily supply the first package and space on this show for your review! Email me!


A lovely quartet of Hamburg friends made very good dumplings last Sunday. We had a great time eating and rolling and steaming and eating them, and our hostess was an absolute whiz at coming up with combinations that sounded meh but tasted fantastic: my favorite were the turkey-mushroom. We made some steamed buns from an excellent Bao article in the LA Times, both curried chicken and BBQ pork. Over the course of the last three days, I ended up making a recipe of bun dough for some pork belly buns, two recipes for the BBQ and chicken buns, then another recipe the next day for the leftover filling. This may suggest that the bun dough was remarkably easy, that it was made with readily available ingredients, that its texture was satisfying and consistent, however this shouldn’t be suggested so much as screamed. MAKE THESE BUNS!
The fillings were a bit of a pain in the ass (chopping chicken into 1/4″ dice, making BBQ pork ribs and then cutting the minuscule amounts of meat off the bone,) but were totally worth it. The day before, I made a terrible mistake with some Japanese Steamed Pork Belly Buns. Knowing that the weekend was a bit of an Asian food marathon and that the pork belly buns would only be an appetizer for Saturday’s dinner, I made a half recipe. After frying, boiling, braising, soaking, pickling, and steaming for most of the day, we scarfed the resulting sweet-salty-meaty-crunchy-soft morsels in like 9 seconds flat. Do make these, they taste like a million bucks and the ingredients are dead cheap, but by all means double the recipe! Half a recipe made 8 measly buns’ worth and I think we could have pretty easily eaten 8 buns each.
(Mom, when you have amassed enough fresh side for us to open up a pork belly bun stand, give me the high sign!)

Squeaky McSqueaks a Lot just reminded me she’s the cutest baby in the world so I’m off to attend to her needs, including a little bit of playing ‘copy what my eyebrows are doing’ and then a pre-order of pea and pancetta pasta for tomorrow’s breakfast (as in, I eat it tonight.)

…and if you’re wondering why I was gloomy yesterday but cheery today, maybe it’s because I got a little exercise and a little sun today, or maybe it’s because I searched on epicurious.com for the total contents of my shopping bag after a series of impulse buys at the farmer’s market and totally BINGO’d!!

Happy Monday

At the end of a diaper change yesterday, I was interested to note that the pants I was putting on the little darling had pockets. Three of them – this seemed especially frivolous. Which brings us to today’s game…
Diapers Versus Pockets
The premise: if you wear diapers, you probably don’t need pockets. Let’s think of some scenarios to test the theory.
Do astronauts need a handy place to keep their car keys and cell phone? No.
Do 8-month-olds carry their own slightly-used wads of tissue? No.
Do street-performing monkeys need a place to keep their loose change? Yes. Apparently this rule applies only to humans.

Speaking of diapers, Groupon had an especially good mix of bargains today: 3 days in a luxurious Greek resort for only 99 Euro (the austerity price?), a hair cut and color at a fancy local salon, a six-session series with a fitness trainer, an hour with a professional makeup artist, and a 50%-off deal on a bucket of fried chicken at KFC.

We’ve been back in Hamburg for a week already, and, although it has been a bit sunny, the dominant weather pattern is ‘you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-with-this-shit-it’s-almost-Easter’ grey. Also known as ‘tell me again about the suicide rate’ grey, or simply gggggrrrrrey. Tobias is putting a fancy suit on and heading into the City every morning like we’re some kind of sitcom, leaving me and the baby to suck each other into a jet lag-induced napping vortex. I’ve been in a little bit of a colorless fog lately, and I’m missing the brightness of my Colorado family. Imagine the glee with which I will greet the arrival, in just over a month, of the British cousins!!! Oh, energy, oh, humor, oh charming little girls with your squeals of delight when seeing baby Frida on Skype yesterday! And your darling tiny accents! Here’s a picture that Tobias took the last time we saw them; it sums up my feeling nicely.

Is it April 6 yet? Is it April 6 yet?

Is it April 6 yet? Is it April 6 yet?