Friday, April 29, 2011

Pockets

When the weather gets nice, I start losing things.

Last week, I lost my new, unprogrammed cell phone.

Fortunately, I had made ONE phone call on it - to a friend - and a kind cell-phone-finder made the same call, to the same friend, who pieced everything together. I retrieved the cell phone. It was sitting on a tree stake along the side of the road. Happy Ending. And the moral? Always make at least one call from your new cell phone.

The real problem with the return of nice weather is that I stop wearing coats and jackets. And something about shedding my coat makes me want to shed my bags as well. Pretty soon, I'm cramming everything into my pockets.

Pockets in women's clothing are highly problematic. Do you like pockets? I love them. But they usually DO make clothing more bulky. And bulky clothing is something I don't love.

I'm an apple shape - I mean, I put weight on my middle section - so cargo pants are an acceptable solution for pockets. I can pretend the pockets on the bottom are balancing my top half. Nonetheless, cargo pants aren't exactly a flattering or stylish.  I don't care, I tell my reflection. This is my mommy uniform.

But really, why aren't more designers thinking about pockets in women's clothing? Concealed pockets, breast pockets, zippered pockets. Pockets that feign 'slimming' by laying flat and pockets that defy understatement by sticking out? Pockets big enough for my cell phone. Pockets that are meant to be filled. For fun, compare men's clothes to women's. You'll see what I mean.

Come On, Fashion Designers, I've got stuff to carry.

I should add that I think some women's athletic apparel does a half-way decent job with pockets... no wonder so many mommies around here look like they just left the gym. I'd just like to see the thoughtful design more widespread. If you can put pockets in athletic clothing, then why not street clothing?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Simply Decked

We - at least partially - finished our little decking project over a very long 4 day weekend.  Okay, actually it was more like 4.5 days, but we were moving quite slowly on the half day, I'm sure it could have been closer to 4.25 days if we were just a little better rested. Who's counting?

My parents were here to help, and without their help, as I mentioned before, NOTHING would have happened around here - because as Pregnantly Plump commented, house projects and little ones don't mix.

The deck looks like this now.



And before, it basically looked like this. A big pile of dirt, in case you didn't know what you were looking at in that link.

The deck is about 300 square feet, with a treated pine understructure and 2x6 redwood boards on top.  Using the redwood was a bit of a leap for me, mostly because 1) I wanted larch and 2) Colorado deck sales people push really hard in the direction of composites. And by "really hard," I mean that I'm almost expecting all the wood to crack, warp, bend, twist and break into an unrecognizable pile of "reclaimed wood" by next week due to the harsh weather here. So I'm taking photos TODAY. Also, you wouldn't believe the frown I got when I told a sales clerk I wanted a wood deck, "I wouldn't, with kids," she said. I guess she was implying that any resulting splinters might be a form of child abuse.

When we started putting down the redwood, I was feeling rather disturbed by the color combination of redwood and green/grey siding. But after a few days I'm feeling less offended by it. Or maybe the red color is fading...

Most of our neighbors have composite decks. Interestingly, several of them commented on how nice the redwood smelled as we were working on it. I thought that was pretty funny.

Do you hear that, composite deck industry?  Maybe you should add some nice smell to your product.

Ooooh, I could write a dissertation about why I dislike composites, but I think it's not so interesting to most of you, so just email me if you want more. ;-)

The design issue of stairs/steps was important to me. Most decks in the neighborhood step down at the door.  The result of this is a lower deck with more privacy. But stairs and doors are two bottlenecks that I wanted to minimize. I was really interested in preserving the flow between indoor and outdoor space.


So the deck is overall higher than the rest of the neighborhood decks, and each step (to the yard) is only 6 inches high, although they are 9 feet long and 20 inches deep.  This makes for a really nice, gradual transition to the lawn and a GREAT place for people to sit/lounge. Or some nice, comfortable stairs for crawling around on.
Um. The deck is flat and level.  The camera lens distorts it. Really.
We used the very smart Maine Brackets in lieu of a ledger board.  (Ledger boards attach into the house and run the length of the deck.)

Can you believe I'm posting a photo of a bracket on a Mommyblog? Geez. Who do I think is reading this thing?
The brackets are truly a brilliant design alternative to a ledger board, because ledger boards can have real water leakage problems if not done appropriately. Also, I thought the Maine brackets were so beautiful.  I hated to cover them up with the deck boards.


We also predrilled holes and put in over 1400 screws. That part alone took 2 days. There are fancy ways to fasten down deck boards, but I like the honesty of the visual connection. Also, look at how we lined up those screws. Nice, huh? There's soap flakes around the holes, because we "soaped" the screws.  Apparently, what I'm lacking in strength can be compensated by the finesse of Lever2000. I am such a dork. Or perhaps these are details only an architect can love. And I really don't want to see what kind of searches this post will now pick up.



Because the deck is less than 30 inches from the ground, we were not required to add a railing (per building code). I really, really like the resulting platform-look. The platform look - and the minimalism - that was intentional. But at 28 inches above the ground (at it's "highest point"), it is slightly high, especially for a house with piccolini. I'm working through a couple of different plans that would put benches and planters around the edges. We knew we couldn't finish planters, benches AND a deck in one long weekend, so it will have to wait. And we may need to come up with a short term solution, depending on the complexity and cost. I'm also researching fast growing and tall plants (hops? bamboo? pampas grass? corkscrew willow?) for privacy, as well as drip irrigations systems to keep all the vegetation alive. (Have I mentioned my black thumb?)


Edited: 
More photos of the deck/yard after sod, planters, etc. in Summer 2011
Planter around the deck
Bamboo, growth season 1 
Bamboo, growth season 2

Monday, April 25, 2011

Orange Dye in Clementines?

Maybe the US news already covered this while I was living in Germany, but is there SERIOUSLY orange dye in my conventional clementines?  That's gross.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Around here...

The last three weeks around here have been crazy. I'm pleased to write that I think we are making progress. But I'm so tired. Here's what's been going on:

  • Jetlag, and recovery. About 5 night worth of grief, for anyone counting.
  • Fritz's birthday, for which I baked I a fabuous-ly, disasterous-ly ugly cake. It was a failure of such magnitude that it must be celebrated. Or at least shared with the internet.


Yes,  I forced my family to eat it.

  • The deck, and crazy coordination of supplies and support digging.
  • Mattias, who bit his tongue very, very badly and stopped eating and drinking for about 60 hours.
  • Noah, who (maybe?) caught some sort of bug at Mattias' ER visit.  (See above)
  • The deck, which we finished (mostly).  
  • My parents, who were here and are now gone.  
  • Mattias, who started another round of vaccinations.
  • Fritz, who departed for a business trip to Chicago leaving me with one (molar-teething?) baby named
  • Mattias, who wakes up every 25 minutes of sleep now that he's recovered the whole tongue- and vaccination- ordeal.

Of course, there's always laundry mountain and learning to walk tumbles. And some sort of strange preschool stress - related to - I don't what - new friends? fights with old friends? a change-of-clothes-requiring accident?

Okay, everyone is awake. This post is unedited. And thus, begins the weekend.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sorting Personalities

1.
Noah is dumping out all the toys. He re-sorts the toys using his unique logic. In one basket? A car, a duplo, two wooden blocks, two puzzle pieces, and a book.

Mattias is finding the toys that belong together. He finds the cars that goes down the ramp. He finds the puzzle form and then the puzzle pieces that go in it.



Noah is 4 years old, and Mattias is 1 year old. Definitely not the age appropriate behaviors I would predict, so it must be personality traits?

2.
Noah's artwork is hanging on the wall at school. The title on the wall reads "Snowflakes are Special." All the kids have made snowflakes and painted them. Except for Noah. His snowflake is white and unpainted. An adult has written text across the bottom of each child's artwork. Noah's text reads: "I am special because I don't like to paint.  Not painting makes me special."

3.
The magnetic alphabet letters are dumped out on the floor.  "Hey, Noah, let's put all the letters together that are the same! Look, here's an 'N!' Let's put all the Ns in this pile."

"..."

Noah is looking over his shoulder, scratching his head, playing with his fingernail. Mattias, thrilled to see a pile of little toys that I normally won't let him touch, digs in.

"Oh, look, Noah, I found a green N. Can you find another one?"

"Mommy!  Let's sort them by color, instead."

Failed teaching moment. Don't let it show. "Okay," I say cheerfully.

"Aargh!  Mommy!  Mattias is taking my green letter!"

"He can play too, Noah."

"But Mattias isn't following the rules."

Mattias takes off crawling for the other side of the room. I chase after him, before he can hide in the corner and choke on magnets.

I pry open Mattias' hands.  He has collected 6 Os in various shades.

4.
I wonder if Noah inherited my contrary personality.

It gives me new-found empathy for my own mother.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Decking

This weekend, we are building the deck. My parents are graciously flying in from out of state to help us. Their help is so critical to our ability to do these kind of projects. It's frustrating and humbling at the same time. Somebody told us owning an old house was like having a(nother) child. At the time, I think this argument helped persuade us to buy a new house. But really? I think owning any house is like having a(nother) child. (Maybe a new house is less whiny?) At least, if you are me and like to have things exactly the way you decided after a few months of stewing, a house still requires attention.

The expanse of dirt to be replaced by a deck.
The soapstone counters in our kitchen were a pretty good example of how I decided on something and wanted nothing else. Well, wood counters would have been okay too, were it not for the "very practical" consideration that I felt the the island can't have wood, because the SINK is in the middle of it. And the counter can't have wood because the GAS STOVE is in the middle of it. Somehow, neither sink nor stove were an issue in Munich, where we DID have wood counters.  (Photo of Noah sitting on Munich counters at the end of this post.) But in Munich, soapstone wasn't available, and glass - my 3rd favorite, seemed really impractical. With piccolini, that is. Sigh. You know, whatever. Sometimes my mental gymnastics impress even me.

Anyway, the soapstone counters are great. Soapstone is what use to be used for laboratory counters. Maybe your high school chem lab had soapstone counters. It's a virtually indestructible material. Five months in, and I still love it. And soapstone was a third the price of headstone granite counters.

So, the deck. I have tried and tried and tried to like composites or PVC or whatever fake plastic-y (petroleum laden) material everyone tries to sell here in Denver. And I just can't like it. What I really want is wood. I like the way it feels when you step on it. I like the way it feels when you touch it. I like fact that it doesn't require a lot of decorative trim work to hide messy edges. It's honest. It's beautiful. I even like the splinters. (Okay, not really.) And it will grow old and fade to gray gracefully in my dream world. My friends, wood like this is ALL OVER GERMANY. But here in the US, we are stuck on tropical hardwoods (really expensive), or treated pine (doesn't hold up well in Colorado), or redwood (blah), or cedar (blah). I personally love the look of treated pine (BUT). That wood in Germany? A fair amount of it is larch. Old growth, light colored, with a very dense grain because of the short growing season, grown in Siberia...Siberian larch.

I want a larch deck.

And it's NOT easy to get your hands on larch here in Colorado. In fact, I've given up.

But a week ago, I still hadn't given up. And I was obsessing, when Mattias stuck his hands in the freshly poured concrete for the post.

Except, he didn't just stick his hands in the concrete, he was up to his elbows in concrete. And he was literally playing in the concrete, splashing it around, rubbing it in his hair. My one year old, covering himself in concrete, because I was too busy obsessing over the Lack of Larch situation.

I've seen enough episodes of CSI and Bones and Dexter to know that you don't let your piccolino stay covered in concrete. (Strangely, they don't teach that in architecture school!) So, no photo. I washed that stuff off him IMMEDIATELY.

So, fine, pay attention, Mommy. And the deck will be some Blah Wood.

This where I need to focus: I will be really, really happy when we are no longer playing in the dirt and tracking it directly into the dining room. And thank goodness for Grandpa, who has the technical knowledge to guide, while Grandma keeps the piccolini from splashing in the concrete. Or playing with nails and screws and drills and hammers...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Egg Tree

We noticed a lot of Easter egg trees in the German countryside. They seemed so festive and the eggs were so pretty on the newly blooming trees, that we decided to decorate a tree in our yard.


We used real eggs, poked holes with needles and emptied out the insides (okay, actually, I did that part), drew on them with crayons and dyed them. We smooshed a lot of eggs, too.  Approximately 3 out of 5 egg(shell)s made it to the tree. The rain and sun are washing away the color dyes, but I still think the decorated tree looks charming - almost classy. I like the real egg(shell)s better than the plastic - but I'm sure the color on the plastic ones wouldn't wash out.

Kind of makes you wonder what's in the rain.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On the Bahn with two Kids

For the phenomenal rate of 29 euros (about $45) up to 5 adults can travel the 5 ½ hour train trip between Aschaffenburg and Munich on a Bayern Ticket. Traveling trains in Europe is not really as cheap as American chitchat would lead you to believe. But if you watch the specials, take regional trains (which stop at every dog house), and travel during nonpeak hours, it can be affordable. Navigating all DeutscheBahn information is not easy, and sometimes you end up with surprises even if you plan carefully. For example, on our way back from Munich, we picked up a traveling companion - adult number 3, who happened to be a famous glass artist. He came in handy for all the transfers, as you'll see.


Traveling assistants with piccolini are always a question: umbrella stroller or kinderwagen? Child backpack? Duffle bags? Rolling luggage? Traveling glass artist?

Noah guards the suitcase at top of the steps, while we carry up the BBC. 
There’s no right answer. This time, we squeezed all our clothes and gifts into one rolling suitcase. Fritz was responsible for the suitcase and Noah. I was in charge of Mattias (in the BBC) as well as the baby backpack. We changed trains twice both trips. Sometimes we hauled the BBC up and down flights of steps (Wuerzburg!), sometimes Mattias crawled around the train floor (yuck), sometimes Noah refused to use the train bathroom (when we KNEW he needed to use it), and sometimes we shoved the BBC into really precarious positions. We are a small family, but it still felt like a logistical feat had been accomplished when we finished our train travels.

The kinderwagen (BBC) balanced dangerously on a passenger seat.
There are lots of advantages to the train, however. If you've ever driven on a road without a speed limit - like the autobahn - it requires a lot of attention. I think my german-drivers-training-classes actually recommended that the driver not engage in interesting conversation when driving(!). Even if you, the driver, choose not to drive as fast as your car will go, you need to be constantly aware of the Mercedes, with integrated right-of-way, that appear quite suddenly out of nowhere and will illegally and incessantly blink their lights at you to GET OUT OF THE WAY NOW. Fun! Some Swiss, I hear, take their weekend leisure drives on the autobahns in Germany. But, I digress.

What was my point?  Oh yeah, the train is good for interesting conversations. And relaxing. And when you are taking the really slow trains, they're like airplanes in the States in the 1990s.  In other words, you can spread out and relax, and (being the year 2011) watch something on the iPad.



Five and a half hours of train travel was more difficult for the 1 year old than it was for the 4 year old. Mattias still isn’t walking, but it doesn’t seem to impact his mobility – or his motivation to use his mobility! If only we could have harnessed that mobility to use at the right time and in the right way.

Mattias. The little sign in the upper right corner? No throwing bottles from moving trains.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Addictive Shortbread



These cookies are addictive. My mother-in-law makes them every year for Christmas. Makes? No actually, she buys rolls of dough from the German equivalent of Schwan's and then slices the dough and bakes it in the oven. So easy to bake. And so easy to eat! Coincidentally, while I was eating them at rate of about 5 an hour*, this post appeared. Ah ha! These are shortbread. And chocolate shortbread. No wonder I can't stop eating them.

I mentioned that I couldn't stop eating them and about 12 minutes, or 1 cookie later, they disappeared.

"Where did they go?" I asked Fritz.

"Well, I think my mother put them away after you complained."

I wasn't complaining! I was joking. I like them! Bring them back!

Hmmm. Maybe it's a hint...

No, I choose not to believe it! I'm still looking for them.


Update: the cookies are back.  I finished them off in about 6 hours after they reappeared.

* We weren't around at Christmastime, so they were frozen and saved for our spring vacation visit.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Diaper Changing Rooms

I don't really know what diaper changing rooms in other parts of the US are like, but here in Denver? They're practically nonexistant. In Germany, they're pretty great. Or at least, they are great to someone like me, who feels lucky when there's a wobbly plastic thing on the wall in the handicap stall.  The Bab.iesR.Us near me can't complete with this changing room in an H&M:
Look! See that tiny sign on the door? The WHOLE ROOM is dedicated to diaper changes.
And the mirror has a 20% vertical stretch, I'll take it!
It's difficult to photograph little rooms. But, here, you can see, this is not some wobbly plastic thing mounted to the wall:
Hey, that changing pad look stylish and comfy!
Below is another example of a great changing room in the department store Karstadt in Munich. I think there *may* be a changing room at Cherry Creek in Denver that approaches this level...but not quite. As you can see, Mattias was so stunned by the elegance that he was almost still for 5 seconds so that I could snap the photo.

Ooh...natural stone in a changing room.
After years of laying out bathroom plans as an intern architect, I'm curious to pull apart and analyze these changing rooms.  But I'll spare you the nitty-gritty. I think what's really important here is the fact that there is space and that space is dedicated for changing diapers.  The End.

Have you seen any good diaper changing rooms lately?

Car Sickness

The piccolini testing out taxi car seats.
More like booster seats, really.
Shouldn't these be an option in (more) passengers cars?

Noah got car sick.

At least, I decided he was car sick.

It happened like this: Fritz was driving and had been driving on curvy roads behind a big truck for about 20 minutes. I was in the passenger seat. The air conditioning was on, and then somehow, we realized it was 'on' and we turned 'off' - because we didn't (think we) need(ed) it. I felt car sick about 5 minutes later.

About 7 minutes later Noah started crying (otherwise inexplicably).

Noah could only tell us he felt "bad," so Fritz pulled over.

(Solution 1:)
I jumped out of the car, pulled Noah out of the car seat, and took off his coat. I personally, get car sick when I'm too hot. We stood by the side of the road for a few seconds before loading him back into the car.

(Solution 2:)
Oma, who was with us, was immediately worried he was cold and covered him back up with a blanket.

(Solution 3:)
Fritz thought he was also car sick and encouraged him to eat something. Because carsickness is worse on an empty stomach, Fritz claimed.

(Solution 4:)
My mother-in-law thought maybe Noah ate too much cake that morning for breakfast.

(Solution 5:)
But the only thing we could get Noah to do was drink some water.

The purpose of this post is not really about who was right and who was wrong. (I was right.) For all I know, Noah wasn't even car sick. (He was.)

The point? So much attention on one child's crying...

No wonder first-born children are a little neurotic.

Hey. I was talking about Noah.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Another Castle

Sometimes it is really worth it to get off the beaten path when you're doing touristy things like visiting castles. I know, I know, I sound like a guide book. And since I'm not much of an explorer (ie, I NEVER willingly get off the beaten path), it's a good thing that Oma came up with this awesome castle to visit: Burg Breuberg in Odenwald.

Sure, you can go to the famous castles, but will they let you wonder around the ruins and climb through tunnels?



Will there be a basketball court in the Graben for the youth hostel in the tower?


Will they host themed birthday parties?


Will they let let you wonder inside the walls like a medieval villager?


Exploring this castle was way more fun for the four year old than some stuffy tour.

The thirty-four year old loved this castle because it was simultaneously ancient ruins and modern community center: new and old and accessible to everyone.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Me, on Vacation (if you can call it that...)

Four days into our Germany vacation.

Jet lag is getting better for Noah.  And, strangely, worse for Mattias.



Here are Noah and Oma, feeding the swans. Oma is worried about Noah falling in the water. (She's holding his hood.) I'm worried about the swans. Aren't swans mean? Or is that just black swans? Which of my children will they attack first? See the empty kinderwagen in the background? That's our Borrowed Baby Cadillac. I already grabbed Mattias out of it and took him off in the other direction under some false pretense. Really, I just wanted him away from those swans. But in an attempt to look cool, I left the BBC there. We'll be right back. Uh huh. As soon as those swans are gone.

When I told people that we were going to Germany, they said, "Oh! Lucky!" Then I felt kind of snobbish or I felt like they were really getting the wrong idea about our finances, so I told them that Fritz's family lived in Germany....so it was nothing too special, and after all, Fritz's mother had visited us twice since we moved to Denver...so we really felt we needed to visit and it was the first time in two years. I'm a fourth-or-fifth generation Iowan; I wouldn't want anyone thinking I'm too big for my britches. Just in case they thought something like that. But my little spiel was probably the wrong thing to say, because it just sounds like I'm sharing too much in an annoying, unappreciative, potentially nonchalant way. Really, there's nothing nonchalant about taking piccolini to another country. It might get easier if we do it more. It might get easier as they get older. But it's never going to be Easy. At least, not for me.

And I'm a planner. I like to know what's coming. I don't adapt well when the plan changes. Add two piccolini, with different random needs, who are my responsibility, traveling? I'm hyperventilating.

Traveling has a high degree of uncertainty involved, even without piccolini.

But, if we are going to travel - or really, if we are going to visit family -  it IS nice to travel to Germany, of all places. And honestly, it's great that I lived in Germany long enough to know what to expect. I can (sort of) plan. I can (mostly) communicate. I can (generally) find my way around. I (somewhat) know the cultural landscape. These are things that might otherwise make it very difficult for me, the planner, to travel here with piccolini.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Castleness and Jetlag

I'm sitting on the balcony at my mother in law's house in Germany right now. I won't publish this post until we are back in the states, because that is part of the deal Fritz and I worked out when I said I wanted to blog. The worry is that people will forcibly enter our house and break all our incredibly valuable Ikea furniture, steal our hand-me-down gear, and deface our beautiful builder white walls IF they know that we are on vacation. (I don't have the heart to point out to Fritz that most those things are already a nearly weekly occurrence with two piccolini.)

Two days here and the jetlag is still kicking our butts. Fritz and Mattias are taking the longest morning nap ever; so long that it's ceased to be a nap. Breakfast was merely a brief awakening for them. Noah is hanging out with Oma, his new best friend, running errands and whatnot.  Here's to hoping that he'll be asleep before midnight tonight. And hoping he doesn't fall asleep and nap in the car....

Spring comes earlier in Germany. The trees are budding, the flowers are blooming. It's beautiful. We visited a castle yesterday. Noah said he wanted to see a castle. I think he gleaned the importance of castles from his female classmates - otherwise, I'm not quite sure how he knew what they were. He didn't know the German word (Schloss), so obviously he didn't learn about them from Fritz. There are castles everywhere in Germany, so not a problem, but they don't all look like Neuschwanstein (Disney's idealized castle), so we're having some trouble deciphering what's a castle and what's a chapel and what's the big(ger), fancy hotel and cafe next door.

Here's a quintessential castle for us Americans, complete with moat, view from the inside courtyard.
Mespelbrun in Spessart.

But we did find one with a moat. Hmm. I went on the tour, but I still don't know the German word for moat. Maybe moats aren't so important to german castle-ness. Or maybe I sleep-walked through the tour.