Friday, December 31, 2010


Well, you wouldn't believe it from looking at our homemade ornaments this year, but I really can do crafty things...

The trick is getting Noah to do crafty things. Now, this salt-dough ornament may look ugly, but let me at least point out that someone (cough-cough) had the brilliant idea to let a three year old use a straw to punch holes in the cookie-cutter ornament and it's almost, almost cool. Even when he doesn't punch the holes all the way through. Right? Right? Family Fun will be calling me up any minute to learn all about our clever technique.

And why, yes, that lovely yellow gold color is organic turmeric powder that I worked into the dough for 15 minutes while the piccolini poked each other (and themselves) with straws.

Sigh. I'd like to say Noah made that all by himself, but even that ornament needed lots of help from Mommy.

Sitting by the tree the other day, I saw this old salt-dough ornament. I put them side by side on the soapstone counter so you really get the full effect.

That beautiful little Jack-in-the-Box ornament was painted by my mother the year that I was roughly the same age as Noah. And my brother was roughly the same age as Mattias. AND my mother was pregnant with child number three.

Wow. I'm humbled. You know what the problem is. Let me quote myself: "Sitting by the tree yesterday..."  Um, yeah. That's the problem. You can't make beautiful things when you sit on your lazy butt looking at the ornaments on the tree.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Still an architect

Every year at this time, in addition to Christmas, New Years and my birthday, I re-register myself as an architect.  For the last 3 years, I've groaned especially hard about this whole procedure.  It costs about $600 and requires that I complete some continuing education requirements.  None of which would be very much money or very much time if I was actually working as an architect.  But I'm not.  I'm at home with the piccolini 100% of my time - and I'm paid zero.  Keeping myself registered feels like a real effort, but there aren't alternatives for someone who wants to take a mid-career break.  At least, not in my state of registration.

I'm not ready to give up architecture entirely. I still have a desire to practice. In the last year, I've had about 5 inquiries from people who want my help with a project of some sort.  And I really want to say Yes.  But it's difficult for me to do anything other than taking care of the piccolini right now. Life was far more complicated for our family when I worked part time. Continuing to put all four of us under that kind of stress seemed unwise. And we've built our lifestyle accordingly. But work that requires more than 10 minutes of time means I need to hire a sitter.

Speaking of which, my 10 minutes is up.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Moving Target

Mattias is crawling all over the place these days. Today, he discovered he can crawl from one room to another. He was so excited. It's not clear whether he had any intentions as to where he was going - or if he just thought, "Hey, that looks new interesting, let's go that way!"  But he was clearly pleased with the results.

Of course, there's that lovely evolutionary tendency to become extra-clingy when one discovers one's own ability to move. That part is not so fun for me, especially since Noah never outgrew the clingy-phase. Um, let me rephrase:  Noah has always been in the clingy-phase.   So, two clingy-phase piccolini makes progress difficult.  And you know how goal-oriented I can be? And you know how crazy everything gets around the holidays?  I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.

In fact - if I think for a moment - it's almost not worth mentioning the crawling, because Mattias is also pulling himself up on things now. He stands just about everywhere and anywhere that he can.  Meaning that I need to be careful about stuff like piles of boxes. Between the move and Christmas, piles of boxes are EVERYWHERE in our house. Just one lightweight box tipping over can send him tumbling down onto the hardwood floors.  And wisely, we got hickory floors instead of oak, because hickory is much harder than oak. It's good to be prepared for all that damage piccolini will do to your wood floors, you know?

I think Mattias' mobility has Noah on edge as well.  These days, Noah's doing a lot of yelling at Mattias to leave his (fill in the blank) alone. I thought I had it all figured out yesterday. I let Noah play on the stair landings.   Mattias kept guard at the bottom of the stairs.  Since we moved in (three weeks ago?) Mattias loves guarding the bottom of the stairs.  As long as he's not thinking about Mommy, he can guard the stairs for almost 20 minutes.  Quite a while for someone so young.

So, with Noah playing on the stair landing and Mattias guarding the bottom of the stairs, I had almost finished washing the breakfast dishes (which I must do by hand because the soapstone people ruined the dishawasher and it hasn't been fixed yet poor me) when I watched Mattias climb up the first step. Damn. So much for that solution. He must have heard me thinking, because he looked over at me, reach out his hands for me, fell off the step, bumped his head on the hickory floor and started crying.

Solving problems with piccolini is such a moving target.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Small details

When we moved into our first house in Denver - it was a rental - there were all sorts of wonderful details that made it easy to quickly feel at home. Our new-new house, while lovely, is taking a little longer. Of course, I miss details like hooks to hang belts on.  I miss the built-in cabinetry and shelves.  But here are some of the little surprise details that I'm missing from our old house.

First, a wind sculpture that hung in the trees. I'm usually not a big fan of outdoor-hangy-things. I think I've been prejudiced by noisy-outdoor-hangy-things. But this particular one was totally silent and beautiful.   Somehow, the photo doesn't quite do it justice - my impression of it is completely linked to it's movement.  Movement, of course, not caught in the photo.

Second, this funky plastic soap dish.  It must have been glued to the shower wall, because I never got it off.  (I didn't try too hard.) Admittedly, the plastic material was a little chintzy. But functionally, it worked great. (Insert a bar of soap in the top, water runs out the bottom.)  And it was nice looking.  I've looked for one everywhere - no luck yet.  Anyone?  

Three, this porcupine shoe brush.  Made of concrete and some sort of natural-fiber bristles.  About 5x5x8 inches.  A pretty simple thing, but funny.  At least I thought it was funny.  Again, haven't found another, but if I did, I'd buy it in a second.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kitchen Island

The very first project we've tackled in this house is the kitchen island.  The living room, dining room and kitchen are essentially one very large room.  The kitchen island is very prominent in the space; it separates the kitchen and dining areas and it's the first thing you see when you enter the front door (from the living area.) The options available from the builder for the kitchen island were - well, not quite what we wanted.  We decided not to upgrade the countertops, sink, or faucet.  Instead, we replaced them.   So, here's what we got from the builder:

You know, I've lived with a lot worse, so I feel somewhat silly complaining about it. But generally, my problems with this were:
1. Too small (generally); this island should be the organizing piece of the entire living space.
2. Too small (specifically) to sit at the island.  The overhang was about 4 inches, I kid you not.
3. The sink is really dominant.  Dominant on the island, and dominant in the overall space.
4. Ugliness factor: here my complaints are many, and I realize this is very subjective, but please indulge me: the backsplash (messy), the sink (glaring), the faucet (utilitarian), the irregular outline of island countertop (not so visible in this photo, but trust me, it was straight HERE and curved THERE; and SO lacking in design integrity), also the way trim molding becomes so obvious and dictates the space when you put it on a half-height wall.

So without further ado, we changed it to this:

Umm.  Actually, it was a total ado, because I dragged my father 2000 miles across the country to help us put it together the same weekend that he was helping us move and eat turkey. Here's what's different:

1. Expansion of the island with a walnut veneer base.  We played around with doing this in a simple drywall or cabinetry, but I wanted the island to bridge between kitchen cabinets and dining room furniture.  And I wanted something a little bit modern.
2. Soapstone counters.  I've loved soapstone for a long time. Here it pulls everything together. Also, the backsplashes are gone.  Yay!
3. New cast iron undermount sink and new faucet.

There's still a lot to do.  Like putting some tile on the wall, getting some pendant lights, some bar stools... Fritz likes these(!)...replacing the dishwasher and cabinet that were destroyed during the counter installation, standing and putting another coat of varnish on the walnut, a little bit of trim repairing, etc.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010


For several years, I've been fascinated with carpet tiles. Ah! The flexibility of size, pattern, configuration, location! I'm not sure if this modularity fascination is something I learned in architecture school or something genetic. But having some new wood floors to protect was the motivation I needed to finally get some carpet tiles.

I knew that I was going to have fun arranging them.  But it didn't occur to me that Noah and Mattias would enjoy arranging them.  (Duh.)


(image removed)

These carpet tiles come with adhesives to stick them together.  But I'm not sure the adhesives are strong enough to prevent re-arranging.  Besides, I want to play with them, too!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Remember the really cool upperclassman in college named Sky?  She lived off campus and drank out of jars instead of drinking glasses?

Well, I'm tired of breaking drinking glasses around here.  We're going to start drinking from jars.

Is it cool if I'm over thirty?

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Noah is really into pretend play. One of our latest games?  Playing "Mommy." Basically, it's role reversal.  I am Noah. Noah is Mommy. When I'm in a good mood - or at least trying to be in good mood - I model GOOD three year old behavior. "Please," "thank you," talking quietly.

But I confess, I'm not always in good mood. Sometimes, I give Noah's not-so-angelic behavior right back to him.  I say: "Mommy, I wanna a cookie. Mommy, iwannacookie.  Mommy,  iwannacookie, rightnow. RIGHT NOW.  Mommy, I'm hungry. Imhungry. I'm soooooo hungry, Mommy."

You know what? It feels Really Good to act like a not-so-angelic-three-year-old.

Noah gets a funny little smile on his face when I "misbehave."

And then, he answers in a very calm, patient, understanding voice. "Okay, Noah, just a moment. Let me finish this work and then I'll get you a cookie."

And that part? Where he answers me so calmly? That feels pretty good, too. I may not win any Mother of the Year awards, but I'm can't be doing too badly...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Saint Nikolaus visited our house the other night. I really wasn't prepared for Noah's questions: does Saint Nikolaus know we moved?  How does Saint Nikolaus get inside?

First of all, Noah is THREE YEARS OLD. What 3 year old worries about these things? I thought kids started asking these questions when they were - I don't know - like 5 or 6? So I mumbled something about yes, he knows we moved and he has his own special key. Special keys = magical = childhood Christmas myths, right?

Because you know what? We didn't get the fireplace upgrade. Instead, we got an alarm system. So, there's no fireplace in our new house. Besides, Santa Claus comes through the chimney - but Saint Nikolaus? I have no idea. I wasn't "with-it" enough to ask my own mom these questions when I was THREE YEARS OLD. Also, my family did the Saint Nikolaus thing because our heritage was German.  Not because we were really German. I don't know if we knew what we were doing when we were doing it.

Fortunately, Noah sensed that Fritz was a much better target for Saint Nikolaus knowledge. He cornered Fritz before I could warn Fritz. And I wasn't there, so Fritz was on his own. No problem, right? After all, Saint Nikolaus is a German tradition and Fritz is as German as one gets.

Nonetheless, Fritz was caught off guard as well. Being a German AND a scientist, he wanted to give Noah a plausible answer. (No magic here.) He told Noah that, yes, of course Santa knew we moved. He also cringed, thinking about how we were too cheap to do the fireplace upgrade...and so, on this one special night, Mommy and Daddy would leave the door unlocked.

Noah didn't ask any more questions. I guess as long as we're spending our time messing around with the new security system, it makes sense if we turn it off one night so Saint Nikolaus can slip through the door.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Palimpsests

We're here.  We're at the new house.  And we are all really tired.

The new house is new.  Built in 2010.  Finished just last week.  And the old house was old.  Built in 1950. Loved for over half a decade.

It took us almost two years to decide on a house to buy.  The reason it took so long is that I couldn't give up on the idea buying an old house.  I loved the idea of finding something old and fixing it.  I loved the idea of transforming something (ugly?) into something else (beautiful?).  I love the palimpsest of an old house - all  those layers of "beautiful" - built up over decades - that give the house some sort of - authority and authenticity?

It's ironic really.  I'm an architect.  Mostly, I design new buildings and new places.  But in my personal life, I felt like I needed to prove my value by living somewhere old.  As though years and years of someone else's assignment-of-value would validate my own worth.

Philosophy, psychology.  Maybe I'm still struggling a little bit with our decision to buy new.  But you know what?  The new house is to all kinds of awesome.  We've had some control that we would never would have had on an old house.  Like choosing to orient the house for maximum sunlight.  And since we used a builder, we left a couple gaps for our own design input. Or perhaps I should say, we left couple of projects to do ourselves. And one is almost done.  I'll be posting some photos soon.

On a practical level - and speaking of projects - I really miss the palimpsest of hooks in all the old house's closets.  Yesterday, I spent about $50 at the local building center on hooks for the new house's closets.  Now on to installation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


We won't have a backyard at the new house.  At the new house it's more like a side yard.  Maybe we'll call it the garden, instead of the side yard.  Side yard sounds rather silly.

Here's one thing I will really, really miss about the old house:

Backyard.  Private.  Fenced in.  The perfect size for playing.  No matter if you are 3 years old or 33 years old.

The Days before the Move

Moving Day is Monday, November 29th.  Not really sleeping so well these days.  I've been planning for moving day for so long that I forgot about the days JUST before Moving Day.  The days when our house is filled with boxes and even if we are really organized, I start to feel claustrophobic.

This photo is from our move from Munich to Denver.  How do you like that big roll of bubble wrap on the right had side of the photo?  I'd like to say it's easier this time when we are (only) moving across town.  But this time, we are doing a lot more work ourselves.  And we've had two years of collecting more piccolini stuff.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Glass Shower Doors

More on my like/dislike list:

Oh boy, I can just hear the designer who suggested putting glass shower doors on this tub.  "Such a beautiful, unique glass block window!   Let's fill the room with light!"

And it IS pretty cool looking.  The problem is the functioning.  Just try to give piccolini baths.  They're hard to reach when they are in the tub.  They hit things against the glass.  They grab hold of the glass to get in and out of the tub.  They lick the glass instead of sitting on the toilet.   And just imagine if the glass ever comes out of the track!  This is one item we might actually disassemble if we were living here much longer.

Dimmable Light Switch

I'm making lists of things I like and dislike about our current abode. You know, to help me adjust to the idea of moving.  Here's one I'm not going to miss:

First, the 2 year old learns to turn the light switches on and off.  On and off.  On and off.

Then, the 2 year old turns 3 years old.  He learns to turn to lights up and down.  Up and down.  Up and down.

Then, the 3 year old gets imaginative and it's day, sunset, and night.  And sunrise.  And day.  And sunset!  And night!!  And sunrise!!!  Day again!!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lost Socks

Do you think your washing machine is eating your socks?  Well, it probably is.  Check out this podcast from Sendung mit der Maus, a German children's program.  It's only about 2 minutes long.

You don't need to understand German to understand that you are NOT getting your sock back.  Unless you repair washing machines professionally.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Moving Slowly

When I was in high school, I took the ASVAB.  It's a test for those who are intending to go into the military. I never had any intention of doing military service, but I was one of those kids who liked taking  standardized tests.   I seem to remember the test being sold to us as some sort of reliable way to test our aptitude for various vocations.  And I thought that sounded interesting.  What will you be when you grow up?  Apparently, I was well suited for a "mechanical" career.

My guidance counselors called me "goal-oriented" on my college applications and off I went to college, then grad school, and then I got myself a professional stamp and some letters after my name.  None of which helps me at all in my current life as a stay-at-home-mom.  And lately, I'm pretty sure that being goal-oriented and mechanically-inclined are two character traits working directly against my success as a SAHM.  Our "best" days around here are when I have no plans to execute and there are no details to figure out.

Case in point: packing for our upcoming move.  Today, I thought I would tackle (with the piccolini, of course) two bookshelves in our basement.  Before I began, I hoed and hummed a little bit about the keeping the books.  Most - almost all - are from the days before the piccolini.   If I ever use them again, I'll be surprised.  But am I ready to part with them?  The answer came back a definitive, sentimental no.

While Noah was at school, I did my planning.  Measure the books, decide on the perfect box size, buy the boxes (much easier with only Mattias in tow!), haul the boxes home and to the basement, set up a safe place for Mattias to play, pack according to subject... one box done...Mattias is fussing, feed him...time to go pick up Noah at school.  That part went Really Well.  I was feeling good.

Home with Noah.

"Noah, you know what we are going to do?"
"What, Mommy?"
"Pack some boxes."
"Yay!  I'm a good helper, Mommy."
"I know, Noah."
"Mommy, let me help!  Let me help!"
"Okay, Noah, we're going to put all the reference books in this box." I put two books in a box.
"No! No! Let me do it!  Let me do!"
Noah dumps three thick dictionaries into the box.
"Ahhh...okay, but these books are heavy.  One at a time..."
"Like at the library?"
Noah puts a little travel dictionary in the bottom of the box, followed by a big book on top.
"Noah, let's put the big books on the bottom." I take a book....
"I want to do it!  I want to do it!!"
I give him the book, Noah puts the book in the box.

I hand him another book.
He puts it in the box carefully.  But it doesn't fit well the way he has rotated the book.  It's driving me nuts, so I reach in and rotate the book.
"No! No!  I want to do it!  I want to do it!!"
Noah grabs another big book in a jacket; it slips out of it's jacket as he puts it in the box.
"Oops - oops - oops - stop, honey - no, don't put it in the box like that..."
The book jacket folds and crinkles as he drops it into the box.
I reach in to rescue the book.
"I want to do it!  I want to do it!"
"Okay, let's take the book out and fix the jacket..."
"What jacket?"
The poor book!!  The poor jacket!   I must rescue it!  I'm sentimentally keeping these books, remember?  I reach in...
"No!  No!  No!!  I wanna do it!!!"
"Now we tape the box closed."
"I want to do it.  Can I do it, Mommy?"
"Hmmm... tape is for grownups."
"Why, Mommy, why is tape for grownups?"
"Because is has this sharp cutter on it?  I don't want you to hurt yourself."
"I can do it, Mommy.  I'm really careful."
"You can hold the box closed while I tape it." Yes, brilliant!  "Ummm.  Noah, can you move your hand a little bit?  Ummm.  Can you hold it at the ends, over there?"
"No, Mommy.  I need to hold it here."
"It's more helpful if you hold it at the end..."
"I can't, Mommy."

Do you think the books need to be well packed if I donate them?  I've got a lot books here.  And at this rate of packing, we won't be moving until next spring.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Enamel Bowl

I love this enamel bowl.  It was Fritz's grandmother's.  To me, the simplicity is beautiful: red on the outside, white inside, and the little black rim.  Smooth continuous surface that curls at the rim.  I like to imagine this design and color changes are directly connected to the process by which these bowls were manufactured. It's probably just wishful thinking, however.  I'd love a whole set like this.  So far, the only place I've found them is ebay.   Most of the ebay ones are not in very good condition.  I've always thought of this one as being rather rough - but it looks like a superstar by comparison.  I'm hoping some fancy kitchen store adds them to their inventory in the next few years.  These things cycle through, right?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hour Gained

In spite of his cold, Fritz rallied the piccolini at 5:30 this morning to make bacon AND pancakes.  They even had to go to the grocery store to BUY the bacon, because, duh, vegetarian-mommy-shoppers don't buy bacon.  Luckily, the grocery store was open at 6 am.

As if that wasn't enough, Fritz then vacuumed all the floors and cleaned the bathroom.  And it's not even lunchtime.  The bathroom must have been pretty bad because Noah noticed the toilet was clean.

I helped out by taking photos and writing this blog entry.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Comando Crawling

After a month of pushing himself backwards across the floor, 7 month-old Mattias is pulling himself forward.  It's comando-style crawling. I have high hopes we might see real crawling in the next two weeks.  Why?  Because in addition to forward-comando-crawling, he's backwards-real-crawling. Ah ha!

I know lots of parents bemoan the beginning of locomotion.  But I couldn't wait for Noah to crawl.  He seemed frustrated by his inability to move.  When Noah finally figured it out, he seemed soooo happy to have the independence.  Mattias?  Well, he's pretty happy about his new-found locomotion.  But honestly, I don't think Mattias is nearly as bored or frustrated as Noah was at this age.  Because Mattias has a big brother.  Noah's 3 year-old antics keep Mattias totally entertained, crawling or not.

Having two piccolini of different ages is convenient.   I wish I had figured this out when Noah was a baby.  I would have arranged playdates with the neighbors' preschoolers (instead of the babies).

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Moon in the Suncatcher

My grandmother recently moved out of her large ranch home and into assisted living. Last winter was especially difficult for her.  Even for a fully functioning adult, it's lonely when the snowdrifts cover the cornfields in Iowa.

This fall has been full of preparations.  Most of them focused around the pragmatic issues of how - exactly - one reduces 2000+ sf of life's belongings to 800sf.  We've inherited a couple sentimental items in the process.

One item is this suncatcher.  I hung it above the kitchen sink in our house, just as my grandmother had hung it above her kitchen sink.  Noah asked me, "why is there a MOON in a SUNcatcher?"

Isn't is funny the way our minds categorize things?  When I saw the suncatcher design, my first thought was: When was the moon one of a dozen popular kitsch designs?  The 80s?  The 90s?  Is this retro yet?

A better question: When did my thinking become too complicated to see simple connections (or contradictions)?