20 February 2012


Today in the USA we celebrate George Washington's birthday. In my state we also celebrate Abraham Lincoln; I think most states celebrate both. ( I don't really get this difference, but you can read about it here )  Here's the rundown: George's bday is Feb 22, Abe's bday is Feb 12, so we celebrate with a federal holiday on the third Monday in February.

Every year around this time is National Engineers Week. George Washington is regarded as the first engineer because of his work on the C & O Canal ( connecting the Chesapeake Bay and Ohio River parallel to the difficult to navigate Potomac River) and his survey work. Universities all over the country hold hands on experiments and projects in middle and high schools. There is even an event in Stuttgart sponsored by IBM, Diamler and Bosch.

Engineering touches every part of your life: streets, sidewalks, water drainage systems, buildings, cup holders, medical instruments, paper clips, electrical wiring, chemical waste, and so much more. When I was in college my father in law claimed that 'We don't need engineers in Maine." How comical!

As a parent there are so many things that I want to do differently than my parents; however, I was raised well and appreciate all that my parents did and did not do for me. One thing I want to be is encouraging to my kids. If they say they want to do something I want to help them do that. I want them to have a myriad of experiences and then they can chose what interests them most.

When I was a little girl I remember being yelled at for taking apart my fathers radio. You bet I made sure to put it back together correctly. I've taken apart watches, cameras, a VCR (who remembers those?), I wired my HS auditorium when I was a junior. In the 7th grade I had a teacher that told me that my mind worked differently than the other students. Being different in middle school is no fun and it took me a long time to realize that was a compliment. Embarrassing confession: I was a Mathalete. It was fun though.

How can you get young children interested in engineering? Blocks! When they are bigger you can build structures with popsicle sticks too. Reading is so important too. Remember when you were getting ready for the SAT and for literacy they told you to read? When kids get around 4-5 you have to figure out what kids want to read. We read kids encyclopedias for bed time stories for the oldest and the youngest son likes story books.

I don't think that learning is ever done, so I feel it is really important to have an ongoing dialogue. When we went to Koenigstuhl we went to see the mechanical parts of the Bergbahn.  Answer all their (sometime annoying) questions. If you don't know then google it together. I make almost all of my household cleaners with my kids. I have to explain to them why I add each ingredient and what its purpose is. I also cook with them frequently. Last year when my son turned 8 we did a 'Mad Scientist' party. Best. Party. Ever.

For older kids, did you know you can sup-up Nerf guns? Oh yes. Rockets can be made out of 2 liter soda bottles. Alka-Seltzer is your friend. First Lego League has a robotics competition every year for kids from all over the world. Every year there is cement canoe races in New Orleans sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The other societies have similar competitions.

Here are some professional organizations that have student chapters and also offer scholarships:
National Society of Professional Engineers*
American Society of Mechanical Engineers*
American Society of Civil Engineers
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Society of Women Engineers*
Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (Association of German Engineers)
*these are my professional associations. I did receive scholarships from ASME, SWE, and W R Grace

I would love to know how you teach your children about science! What are your favorite things to do with your kids? Are there favorite places you like to bring them to learn about?

17 February 2012

OMG, This is Real!

Found on leavenworth.org. This is about as bad as that print ad for Montana tourism. FYI, Leavenworth is not only a jail/city in Kansas it is also a Bavarian themed town in Washington.

12 February 2012

Kitchen Experiments

We live in a 24/7 connected time. Have you ever tried to 'unplug'? I did, sort of, but not on purpose. I may have forgotten to pay the phone bill - but I'll admit to nothing - so I didn't have the internet and phone for a few days. A few weeks ago my Facebook app decided not to work. This was all a blessing in disguise. It was nice not being on my laptop 4 times a day to see what other people are doing. Wouldn't it be nicer to have an actual conversation with people? When asked I did feel the need to warn my German friend that smartphone use can get out of control if you let it. Just so you know I went YEARS with out a computer at home. I only bought one for Skype :)

I really want to tell you about a kitchen adventure I had last week. I am from Louisiana, but I love living in Germany. Both places have great cuisine (to me at least). This is about the only time of year that I miss Louisiana beyond belief. It's Mardi Gras season. I miss the large family gatherings, the parades, the parties, the King Cake and just the fun atmosphere. So, I decided we needed gumbo and potato salad.

German potato salad is found in many different varieties. You kinda have to taste them all to find the one you like best. Every region has their own flavor. I personally do not like mayonnaise, so most are out for me. I LOVE the Swabian oil and vinegar type. There is this cafe in Mannheim that I go to in the summer just for my favorite lunch: potato salad and diet coke.

I wanted a recipe that was from a real German home cook instead of a book. I've tried 3 or 4, but no dice. I found one I liked at huettenhilfe.de. Check out the original.

Swabian Potato Salad
1 kg waxy potatoes
2 onions
½ l broth (veg, beef, chicken...)
½ bunch chives
3 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon mustard, more to taste
salt and fresh ground pepper

Wash the potatoes, cover with cold water and boil. Don't over cook! You want them to hold their shape, mostly. Peel when cool - very easy. Slice to about 1/8-1/4 inch. Chop the chives and toss those in too. You'll want a small chop on the onion.
Next, warm up the broth. 1/2 liter is 2 cups. Pour that over your potatoes and onions. In a separate bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour in with the potatoes. you just want to combine it all. Don't stir more than you have to and not hard. Fold it in like you would whipped cream.
 It will be very wet, and it needs time to rest. The flavors will develop with time. At least half an hour. This (like gumbo) is almost better on the second day. Serve at room temp.
This is how I changed it up a bit:
-I used about 3 pounds of potatoes, and had left overs for days!
-I used about half a white onion, but purple would give it a good flavor and look cool too.
-I tried veg broth and it definitely had a celery taste. Chicken would work.
- Cut the oil down to about 1/3 and used olive.
- This time I tried white wine vinegar, but I think apple cider vinegar would be better.
- I am not a fan of plain German mustard, so I had to find the American type.
- Cayenne!!

While this recipe didn't give the flavor I remember it was a really good try. With the substitutions I mentioned earlier I think it will be a winner. Although, I don't think you can really ever 'ruin'  a potato salad. Recipes are only a lose blueprint; make it your own!

02 February 2012

Having a Baby in Germany, Part II

This is the first of a two part series on my experiences with child birth in a foreign country. I promise to not give too many details.

I feel that I received good care during my pregnancy. The care that I received, or did not receive, at the hospital was less than what I expected. We have lived here for a number of years, and only once before had I had a bad experience with German health care. Looking back, I think it was more the unfavorable diagnosis I got than the doctor.

If you remember my baby was breech so I was going to be induced. What I expected was to be induced, have the baby around the afternoon. I am so grateful for short labors! I had an induction in the US with my first child. This is how it happened: got the medicine at 6, water broke at 10, baby at 2 pm. This is about what I expected. For all you Americans: Have you ever heard of an induction not working? Me either, until I moved here. For two days I was given drugs, had contractions and nothing happened. On the second day I walked 7 miles (I have a good pedometer) while having contractions. All in my back. Seriously, if you have never experienced this you do not want to. Ever. Pain is one thing, but to not get anything in return is absurd. And hell.

One the second morning my dr can to see me. Nothing was happening, so we decided to try a different drug. The plan was that if nothing happened by noon then we would not continue. I did not want to put my child in danger or to make her come if she was not ready. In the US doctors make decisions, period. They outrank nurses and midwives, every time. Imagine my surprise when he came in and told me that the midwife would not allow this. WTF? My dr, midwife and the other one (what business did she even have there?) all came in to discuss what was not going to happen. Her reasoning was that the baby’s head was not engaged. Of course not, I was being induced 2 weeks early. Then the dr and midwife proceeded to argue. Nice.

I wanted to be induced b/c 1) I was already there and had a whole day of painful contractions 2) my labors are really short; if it happened at home there would be no way for me to make it to a hospital in time for the birth 3) my kids’ father was there to be with the older two while I was in the hospital 4) if he was not there then my kids would have had to go to foster care 5) at this point it was safe to induce. I do not for one second think that Dr Lauk would have wanted to induce if it was not safe. I felt that he also had the baby’s well-being in mind.

After the arguing stopped I had the choice of 1) go home and have to put my boys in foster care or 2) try a more conservative approach and if it didn’t work I would still have to stay at the hospital. At this point I remember my dr telling me “Mrs Cunrod, I can assure you that no one in this room is concerned at all about your other children.” I started to cry and could not believe that they wanted me to choose between my boys and the unborn baby. What happened to taking care of me? Why were my needs not being met? How could putting me through this kind of stress be good for the baby? I did not expect them to care about my kids, but I did expect them to care about me. Why was I not important to my health care providers?

I chose to stay. I was in pain. I walked 7 miles (11km), in pain. Nothing. I think that I was crying for most of the time that I was at that hospital. One the third day my dr came and I was at 1 cm. I was not going to take anymore drugs and I was not going to stay any longer. Until my water broke. Thank God.

Labor started after about an hour and a half, and she came 37 minutes later. Too fast. Neither the baby daddy nor the mid wife listened when I was telling them she was coming. The dr walked in about 5 minutes later. After she was here I remember thinking thank God that it was over and the boys would be fine.

We got a tour of the placenta. After this I was thankful I chose engineering over nursing in college. :) I was holding her on my chest and she was so tiny: 8 pounds, 20 inches long and absolutely perfect. I had waited 8 years for her. How was I ever upset for getting prego? She was planned, just not by me. She had the cutest chubby cheeks and spikey hair (still does too). All was right in the world. For an hour or two.

I know I promised a 2 part series, but the postpartem care that I did not recieve is worth its own post.
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