Thursday, September 29, 2011

Self Created Bumps

We're working through new sleeping arrangements this week: as in, getting Mattias and Noah to sleep in the same bedroom.  Our timing is something like: "Hey, Mattias' sleeping couldn't get much worse, so let's mess with it some more."

On Night Four, it was 9:30 pm - two hours past bedtime - and Mattias was sitting on Fritz's lap in the office. It was a new low point in our project, and Fritz wasn't helping by talking about how cute Mattias looked sitting on his lap. Yeah, that glassy eyed stare is adorable until you walk in the direction of the bedroom and it morphs into squinty-eyed-wake-my-brother-up-screaming.

But guess who had volunteered for night duty!

And that was good, because I'd been on night duty for the last three nights and it was starting to catch up with me.

The next day was Mattias' Well Child appointment and the three of us: Mattias, Noah, and I all got flu shots. Now, I'm not really a flu shot person. In fact, this is only the second time that I've had it: the first was during the Swine Flu (scare), while I was pregnant with Mattias. I don't get sick very often, even with the boys. I don't know why I decided to get it: peer pressure, solidarity with my boys? And today? Well, I feel kind of flu-y. Fritz tells me, based on his scientific reading of the medical literature that there is NO WAY I have the flu from the shot. But I bet I'm not the only one who feels this way. Stupid flu shot.

It feels like things spiral out of control so quickly when we make changes - or have bumps - in the routine. I don't know if we have ourselves stretched too thin, or if that's just part of life with children. But there are huge piles of laundry, floors that need to be vacuumed, plants that need to watered (desperately), counters that need to be cleared, never mind the BIG list of things like finish staining the fence, planting those two trees, winterizing the irrigation system, and cleaning (really, really cleaning) out the fridge. Somehow, I miss a few hours of sleep and feel a little flu-y and....

I don't know why I'm sitting here whining. I have work to do!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Over here, on the right, under PAGES. Gift Ideas.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Es zieht!

One of my projects this summer was to install six ceiling fans. It seemed to take forever, although Fritz will tell you that's because I did it the wrong way. Essentially, I would carve out five minutes of time (during naps or quiet time) and scramble to put in a couple of screws. As a consequence, there was perpetually a breaker off and tools and hardware lying all over the room - up high, so that boys wouldn't use a real tool as a toy tool.

Fritz would have done all the ceiling fans at one time, systematically, and then, CLEARLY, it would not have been so much work.

The ceiling fans were part of our energy saving plan. We had the ceilings reinforced for fans when the house was under construction. The thing that really motivated me to get the fans installed was Our House the Oven Well Insulated With Sunlight Streaming in West Facing Windows. We were really toasty. But fans are nice in so many other ways: I find air movement to be physically de-stressing (think: beach), visually relaxing (think: branches gently swaying), and even acoustically soothing (think: white noise). 

Germans don't generally agree with me. Open a window on non-airconditioned public transit and older Germans are prone to yelling "Es zieht!" with the intensity of "I'm melting! Melting!" (I'm sorry, I still like you, but it's TRUE.) The actual translation is more like, "There's a draft!" and the embedded meaning being, "I'm going to catch a nasty summer cold because I'm not wearing a scarf and there's wind on my neck and it already feels stiff!" Needless to say, we didn't have fans in our German apartments. 

After I finished painstakingly hanging all 6 fans, my mother told me that on ALL the DIY-interior-home improvement shows they ALWAYS take the ceiling fans out.

Yup. No cable. Didn't know. Clearly, I'm uncool (ha ha). You know what? I'm okay with that.

I could lecture about passive cooling strategies. But do you really want that? Didn't think so.

Instead, I'll just tell you that air movement lowers the perceived temperature of a space by as much as 7 degrees. That's pretty significant. And to appease the draft-conscious, let me break that down a bit: the faster the air velocity, the more significant the perceived drop in temperature. Most people will be okay with an air velocity around 100 feet per minute; it will cause a temperature drop of about 3-4 degrees. Interestingly, the WARMER the velocitized air is, the faster it can move and people will still be 'comfortable.'  Inversely, if you have COLDER air - say from an AC (that would be about 55 degrees at the source) - then the faster the air is moving, the more 'UNcomfortable' people report being. For this reason, ceilings fans and AC generally don't work well together. Interesting, right? Maybe that's why DIY shows tear out the ceiling fans: the clients already have AC so fans are actual 'uncomfortable?' Doubtful: most importantly for TV, there are a lot of ugly ceiling fans out there. Also, the DIY shows I've seen don't strike me as being particularly...savvy about these things?

In our house, here's what those ceiling fans are LOOKING LIKE these days. Because:

1) Seeing someone else's house is always fun.
2) You deserve it after reading/skimming/hopping all the way to here.
3) I need a chance to show somebody these fans. It was painstakingly tedious, even if it was my own fault.
1. Noah and Mattias' room. This particular fan has 38 screws in it. You know what? I bet it could have been designed  with fewer freaking screws. Bunk beds recently debunked due to toddler climbing skills.
2. Office space sans the usual piles of confiscated 'toys' that comprise my work. We're still not fully setup here; most of my books are in boxes in the basement. But thank you Ikea Expedits for solving some of our storage problems. They're like pseudo-built-ins! There's also a whole house fan in the ceiling. 
3. Loft space and the hottest area of the house due to all the windows. The solar shades helped as much as - if not more than - the fan. More save-me-Ikea-Expedits. Did I mention I put those together this summer, too?
5. Guest room. Most of the house plants live here most of the time and they ADORE the fan. One member of the family adores to dig in the soil of the plants. Said family member is not allowed in the room, usually. You might see some soil on the floor in this photo, and, well, sometimes I just close the door instead of cleaning it up AGAIN. 
6. Our room, to which we've done almost nothing since moving in. Good thing we have a fan, or it'd be kind of monkish. Wait a minute...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Moment when Homeschooling Seemed like a Good Idea

[photo removed]

Note the choice of definite article before 'Moment'.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Argh. Naps.

Now that Noah is in school five days a week, and we have the (almost) same schedule everyday, I have vowed to get Mattias's miserable, irregular napping under control. Because it's messing up everything. Really. I'll be happy when he just drops his naps. I know, I know, I am tempting fate by typing that out when he's only 18 months old. But his napping really is wrecking havoc on everything from playdates to preschool pickups to lunches to evenings spent alone with Fritz.

Like now. It's 10:30am and he's napping. It makes no sense. He should have consolidated to one nap a day. Or I should ORDER him to consolidate. Ha! All summer long he was pushing noon (which would be perfect!) but now that Noah is out of the house he can't seem to hold it together. Over the weekend, I fed him a spoonful of sugar to keep him awake for half an hour. Literally. If Mary Poppins can do it with medicine, I should be able to do it to counteract a nap, right?

I don't know. I really don't. He's going in for a Well Child next week, so I'll definitely be asking about this. Until then - and probably AFTER then as well - I'll be blaming myself and biting my lip, wondering if I should go get some sugar from the pantry. Terrible, no?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Harvest Finds

The boys and I had two exciting finds in terms of food in the last two weeks. Man, I love harvest time!

The first were golden raspberries at the local-ish pick-it-yourself farm.

[photo removed]

So delicious - I think they might be less seedy than the red variety. What do you think?

And second, Hokkaido K├╝rbis, or red kuri squash.  Okay, fellow Americans, these squash are so flavorful and fabulous. Every produce street vendor in Munich was selling them while we lived there, and for good reason! I've been trying to find both the squash and the American name/translation for three seasons now. And when it finally popped up this year on Wikipedia, I knew we were getting close. Sure enough, Whole Foods. And for my Denver friend with the CSA share - save yourself a WF trip, based on the label - I think you'll be getting them soon!

[photo removed]

And now, I'm off to roast some red kuri squash.

(I think I like the "German" name better. Hokkaido.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011


One of the strategies that Fritz and I use for running our household on a single income is to minimize and eliminate recurring and operating costs. We have share a car, we have no cable and no landline phone, no housekeeper nor landscaper, our cell phones are prepaid, and we monitor our utility bill carefully. 

The utility bill while we were renting produced hours of concerned discussion once we discovered, about 6 months after moving in, that the utilities company was estimating our usage. They were estimating our usage the day we began renting and they were STILL estimating our usage 20 months later when we moved out. More disconcerting? The ACTUAL meter was always higher than the ESTIMATED meter. Meaning that, at some point, somebody used a lot more electricity than the utility company charged for. And we were pretty sure it was some previous renter...but it was going to be impossible to prove by the time we figured out what was going on. We felt simultaneously lucky and guilty when we moved out without the incongruent readings falling upon our shoulders. Whew! or Shame on us!

Now that we have our own house with a radio-signal-sending-meter-reading-capabilities, we're more nerdy than ever about walking around the house and trying to figure out where our utility money is going. This summer, we received our lowest utility bill ever in Denver. In fact, every month our utility bill is lower in the new house than the old rented house, despite the fact that our new house is about double the square feet of our rental. What a difference 60 years of increasingly energy efficient building technology can make! Awesome.

The utility company further fed our nerdy nature by sending us a little comparison between our house's energy consumption and the energy consumption of 45 neighboring houses. It ranked us. (Just like high school, right?) I don't know if this is new: 1) for the utilities company 2) because of the radio-signal-sending-meter-reading-capabilities in our new house or 3) because we're owners now instead of renters. However, there's nothing like a ranking to bring out my delightfully charming competitive nature. And there's nothing like a lot of charts to bring out Fritz's supportive scientific reckoning.

Me: "Look we got a 'GOOD' - That's only ONE smiley face, not TWO. Hmmm. Our rank is 17 out of 45! And we're not using AC! Who could be better than us? What are they doing differently?"

Fritz: "Did this ranking account for household size? What about square feet?"

This ability to support and validate your spouse in their silliness is really is one of the wonders of marriage. At the beginning of our marriage it seemed to be one part intuition and one part consideration, but it's increasingly becoming some sort of subconscious dance. And while it seems harmless now, I do wonder about where it could go.

And as for that ranking? I think it's smart that the utility company is doing something like this. As long as WE continue to get a smiley face, that is. I just hope the water supplier doesn't follow this lead, because I'm pretty sure with all our yard work this summer, we'd be getting frowny faces; that's one operating cost that needs some work.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hair again

While on the topic of sensory processing - I can pull my hair back into the ponytail again! I've decided there's something about the act of pulling back my hair that makes me feel better. In control, even. (Pretty sure that is NOT on the sensory processing list, by the way. But maybe it should be. Maybe I'll make Mommy's Sensory Processing List.)
This might not be the best example ever, but, you know, stuff happens when you spend two minutes trying to photograph yourself*
My hairdresser here in Denver taught me this nifty trick for the strays, while they were/are growing out. Maybe the whole world already knows this, but I live under a rock, okay? Basically, you twist the hair and pull it into position simultaneously. Like a french braid, but so much easier and so much faster. I used to wear french braids a lot as a child and I remember the intensity of the french braid styling quite well. This seems like it could be a good alternative for girl's hair, although, I'll admit I don't really know! I have two boys, and neither one has long enough hair right now for testing.

The label reads: for 21-35 cm hair lengths.
I bought these rollers in Germany, at the advice of my then hairdresser. I guess he thought my hair needed some body. (He should see my hair in dry, dry, no-humidity Denver.) Also, he clearly didn't understand it when I said I needed something low maintenance. Lost in translation. I lived in Germany 2.5 years ago and these are still in the box.

What continues to fascinate me about these roller is the description (translated above). Do you know how long your hair is? Even in inches, I couldn't tell you mine (until today), and I like to think I'm a person who has a pretty good sense of measurement. But not when it comes to my hair.

In the United States, these rollers would be labeled something like, 'for medium length hair.' It makes me think about the way our cultural standards (might) hardwire our thinking. Does one (German) person think, "my hair is 11 inches long" while the other (American) person thinks, "my hair is medium length"? And what does that lead to - thinking about your hair as a definitive number as opposed to a relative length?

I don't really know!

But it's fun to consider. AND I can make crazy hypotheses simply from this difference in labeling.

Yup, I might be overthinking it.
* like this happens. I guess if Mattias pulls apart my 'do, he'd probably pull apart his own, too. Ha! Who is in control now?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The soothing sound of...Popcorn?

I once heard a lecture about sensory processing in children that discussed how different activities, and the act of eating different kinds of food, could help children feel more organized and calm. The list of possible activities was really gigantic, depending on the personality and needs of each individual child. I still love to pull out this list and use it when I'm feeling rather desperate.

[photo removed]

One of my favorites, lately, is popcorn for an afternoon snack. Something about all that popping followed by crunchy eating seems to calm both the boys. We make our popcorn on the stovetop, using coconut oil, in the cast iron wok. I find in the wok, I can get away without the violent pot/pan shaking. Also, the boys love watching the kernels pop through the glass lid.

It's possible popcorn got a bad reputation as a snack sometime in the past 20 years; but I can find much bigger evils than popcorn in the boys' diets. And I'm picking my battles carefully these days.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Passing Time

I'm typing a lot - and hitting publish on almost nothing these days.

The last two weekends have been a wonderful break from the rather chaotic pace of weekends this summer. We've cleaned and organized and hiked and enjoyed Kaffee und Kuchen. Somehow, the lull in our Weekend Must Do Lists is translating into a lull in blogging as well.

Also, my father is in the hospital tonight - after 3 or 4 - depending on how you count - trips to the emergency room in the last 24 hours. I'd like to say there are outcomes in all this activity, but if you've been to a hospital in the States lately, then you know that hospital trips are mostly a lot of waiting.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


So, we're back to preschool and I'm enjoying the the routine - or maybe I should say I'm enjoying figuring out the routine. The reality of orchestrating everything is still messy.

New beginnings always give me hope about how things will be better when....

One of the things I've been hoping for is to see a lot less of this:

That's Noah (the big one) imitating Mattias (the little one). The partial de-evolution of the four-year-old this summer was one of the drawbacks to all that shared brotherly boredom.

My Mentor-in-Motherhood, and sometimes anonymous commenter, who has four kids of her own, once told me that it takes kids about 6 weeks to adjust to changes in routine. Last year, it did seem that Noah had about a 6 week honeymoon with preschool before he had a 4 week crash and burn period. So this year, I'm trying to withhold judgement on how it's going. He seems very excited now, but he's still imitating his brother.

In other words, maybe he'll forget how to act like an 18 month old and be less excited about preschool - in about 6 weeks. I'm not sure that's really a better scenario.

In the meantime, we find ourselves saying things to Noah like,
"Please use your words."
"Be a good listener."
"Don't step on your brother!" (as Mattias positions himself laying across the bottom step of the stairway.)

And regarding that stepping-on-your-brother thing, doesn't common sense kick in at some point? Do I need to say, "Don't step on your brother" twenty, forty, a hundred times before Noah knows it? Or how about, common sense would mean I don't have to say, "Don't step on your brother" in the first place, right? I have the distinct feeling that we are running out of appropriate consequences for relatively minor infractions.

I blame myself, really. When Noah was Mattias' age I was all into positive messages, and I thought that the word "no" was too abstract for him. Instead of saying, "Don't step on your brother" I would have said, "Step around your brother." What was I thinking?!? Now, life with Noah is... well, like he can't hear negative statements.

Mattias, however, hears "no" a lot. He's figured out it's a key word for getting Noah to laugh. Like this:

"No, Mattias! No laying on the step. Up, Mattias. Stand up."

Mattias, laughing. He stands up and lays down again. He waits. Noah steps on him. Mattias laughs. Noah laughs.

"Noah, no! Don't step on your brother!"

Both laugh.

Noah imitates Mattias by laying down across the second step. Mattias stands up and begins crawling over Noah.

"Ack! Ow! Ow!" Noah cries as Mattias crawls over him. (Unfortunately, Noah doesn't imitate Mattias' good sportsmanship at being stepped upon.) Noah attempts to stand up, which causes Mattias to tumble backward down two steps.

Mattias cries.
Noah cries.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

More bugs

I'm wondering if some large animal died in the creek near our house, so plentiful has the fly population been this year.

The boys (including Fritz) thought it was absolutely hilarious to see me run around the kitchen trying to swat flies with rolled up pieces of newspaper. It turns out I have pretty lousy aim, and so does the rest of my family. Or, at least, when they're imitating me, they have lousy aim.

Fritz suggested using the vacuum on them (what is it with our family and vacuums?), because that's what his mother does. Guess what? That technique still requires aim.

But then I remembered another one of my mother-in-law's tricks for catching flies: the pitcher plant!  It's less dramatic than its famous (also) carnivorous cousin, the venus fly trap. But, I hoped, perhaps a little less fragile. Did you know that merely touching a venus fly trap can render it useless? Can't have that with boys in the house.  I found a pitcher plant in the Impossible to Grow in Denver Orchids Section of my favorite greenhouse. I put it next to the kitchen sink, since that's the fly loitering grounds AND hopefully, I'll remember to water it there.

The unsuspecting fly creeps along the leaf:
(Except this fly is going the wrong way.)
Into the water filled pitchers.
Only distilled water using an eyedropper, friends.  These things are SENSITIVE.

Just kidding.

The problem, obviously, is that the flies around here don't have aim, either. So, 16 hours after introductions, I spent a few hours swatting down a fly and dumped it in. 

The plant seems happy.  I guess it was also amused by my swatting skills.