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.