Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Babyhood

The other day I was standing in line to buy coffee and holding Mattias on my hip. The stranger in front of me smiled and said, "I miss that. I miss what it feels like to hold a baby on my hip."

And I knew, immediately, that I, too, will miss this stage when it's over. I can already imagine the phantom baby and haunting muscle memory. Yet, I hope that I remember how exhausting it can be. Because in the midst of Babyhood at its most intense - you don't even have a chance to sit down and think about the exhaustion or the demands as clearly as I am now. In those times, this kind of reflection is an unaffordable - even inadvisable - luxury.

The last two months or so, I feel like I'm seeing glimmers of the end of babyhood. They are becoming more frequent. Today, Mattias made me take off his diaper so that he could use the potty.  Two hours later, he tore the babygate off its hinges. Somehow he mangled the babygate plastic in a way that makes it completely irreparable. But then later, he wanted me to hold him while I cooked supper; he wanted to eat his dinner on my lap; he wanted me to hold him while I loaded the dishwasher; he wanted to nurse.

(removed: super cute photo of Mattias sitting on his child-sized potty)

Officially, Mattias hasn't been a baby in almost 8 months (he's 20 months old). But unofficially, we've still got trademarks of babyhood around here. To me, those trademarks are as follows: waking up during the night, nursing, diaper wearing, and teething.  I believe all these things are connected: and I believe that I could push Mattias out of babyhood by, say, weaning him which would probably result in sleeping through the night. He's only got two molars left to break through; and if I had the motivation, he could probably ditch the diaper.

I'm mostly glad that we're here at this point. I don't relish this baby stuff. In fact, I pretty much dislike it. (Am I allowed to say that I dislike babyhood?) Maybe that comes as a surprise given the extended nursing and ongoing nighttime comforting. I mean: even I think I sound crazy. I hear the voices of my mother and my aunt: Why not wean him? Why not let him cry at night? If he can use the potty - then, for Pete's sake, take off the diaper and have him use the potty, Ann. He's old enough; and you sound like you are ready.


But there is this voice in my head when it comes to my children. I'm not really sure if it is a Mommy voice, or just a Stubborn Me voice. Is it a voice that is trying to validate my stay-at-homeness by keeping the toddler a baby? Is it a lazy voice? In fact, it might be a different voice for each trademark of babyhood. Regardless: it has this incredible influence over my actions. It says, wait. Slow down. You don't think you can do it, but you can, you will. Just a little bit longer. You'll do it for him. You can do it. You can. 

Then I let Mattias be a baby a little bit longer.

And I feel rather amazed that every time the voice asks me to do a little bit more or to wait a little bit longer, I do and I can.

I have confidence that Mattias will outgrow the nursing, the nightwaking, and, of course, the teething, all by himself. That's the nice thing about the second child - you've been through it before - you doubt a lot less. And these days, I also have hard evidence that the end is near. Relief. Milestones can be about waiting, if I let them be. If I want.*

But do I want?

There's always the intellectual counter argument in my head. It comes from reading about women subverting themselves, their dreams, and their careers for others. I observe Fritz with Mattias, just as I did with Noah, and as much as we are partners in this whole parenting thing, we are NOT equals in regards to care during babyhood. I worry about what I have 'subverted.' I try to pick it apart and make it into something quantifiable: I spend X amount of time doing Y with Mattias. Fritz spends X amount of time doing Z with Mattias. Therefore, we are equal. I think? Or not. Somehow, the equations don't work with Mattias' babyhood as neatly as they work with Noah's preschooler-hood. (And it's not just Mattias - because, actually, he's my easy baby. Noah was more difficult.) I feel like the maternal burden is heavier during babyhood, but it is difficult to quantify. So why the waiting? Why prolong it? Just make it over with, right?

I also think, if my children were closer together in age, they wouldn't get this extended time to be babies. I am sure of this. I would end their babyhood out of necessity and practicality.

I am indulging them. I am.

I pause to consider the consequences, good and bad. I think about talking credit for the good and pinpointing the bad on poor parental decisions. But that's overly simple, like attempting to quantify  equal parental responsibility during babyhood. It's just not a good path to follow.

This morning, Mattias (maddeningly) fell asleep in the car seat, after dropping Noah off at school. It was before 9 am. I sighed. He should not nap at 9 am!

I decided to indulge him, once again. Let him sleep, I would make alternate plans. What errands could I run with a sleeping toddlerbaby?

I drove to the coffee shop with a drive thru and called my aunt. I don't normally use my cell phone when driving, but the coffee shop drive thru seemed like an acceptable place to break my own rule given my derailed plans for the morning. Maybe I could borrow some pots for planting tulip bulbs? Could I swing by and pick them up now?

I pulled forward to pay for my chai, and the cashier gave me a strange look.

"The person in front of you paid for your drink," he told me.

"Oh!" I said, smiling brightly. An illogical kindness. An opportunity. "Well, then, I'll pay for the person behind me."

He looked at me like I was crazy. Come now, I thought, is it really so wrong to indulge another person?

(Thank you, strangers.)


* I pushed Noah on the potty training; it took four solid months at age 2. He turned out just fine. I haven't decided which way to go with Mattias.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Four for Four

My mother always says that if she wants to know what I'm doing, she talks to me on the phone. If she wants to know what I'm thinking, she reads my blog. But the last four days? I'm doing almost nothing and thinking very little.

We had turkey on Thursday, just the four of us. We cleaned up Friday morning. And then Fritz and I looked at each other and said,

"Wow. We still have 2 and half more days."

I'm not sure I can ever remember such a low key, stress-free Thanksgiving. We forgot to make the stuffing. Nobody missed it.

Noah wasn't so sure about our Thanksgiving. He asked me several times if we could invite some people over. He was a little disappointed by just-the-four-of-us.

But I feel ready to get back to the craziness of the Holiday Season. Not anxious-ready. Just prepared and well-rested-ready. It makes me think: what if every long Thanksgiving Weekend was like this? What if I always felt rejuvenated and well-rested afterward?

I guess I am thinking: but just a little bit.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Black Friday is one of Fritz's favorite American Holidays. We celebrate it by making fun of the newspapers and television news reports, with their predictable Shopping-Was-Crazy! Reports. And we (thankfully!) stay the heck home.

Like Jenna at Clueless but Hopeful Mama, I am not a good shopper. I'm easily overwhelmed by large stores and large crowds. And, STRANGELY, stores never have the items that I designed IN MY HEAD and DREW on a paper napkin. I like the internet much better where I can enter my criteria like: "38 inch round walnut veneer exposed edge coffee table 15 inch hairpin legs." A google image search is almost as good as a paper napkin.

Unfortunately, this kind of specificity does me no good at the beginning stages of gift buying. You know the stage where you just need an idea? So, let me give you some ideas from our house. These are things that I find so brilliant, I'm pretty sure I'd never draw them up on a napkin by myself, in spite of seven years in the university honing my designing, critiquing and editing abilities. (Yeah, the working as an architect part? Totally unhelpful.) Also, we already own them, love them and use them regularly: unlike this year's gift lists, which are still undecided in terms of their success.

Finally, I'm not paid or affiliated or whatever various versions of compensation are out there. Links are to manufacturers, although most of the stuff is available through The Major Online Retailer. You know who it is and it knows who we are, because apparently, it owns the internet. (Credit Wired Magazine for that insight this month.)


Leifheit Cherry Pitter about $15
Fritz bought this while we were living in Germany. It doubles as an olive pitter, but the great thing about this model and brand, particularly for cherries, is the slot-in-the-cup part. That slot is for the cherry stem. (Cherries are out of season, so I used a threaded bead in the photo above.) It saves you the hassle of threading the stem through a hole, thus making it better than, say, Oxo's version of this same tool. AND if the stem is already in the correct location, the pit and the stem are removed in one nice, neat, CLEAN press. Not really recommended as a toy, despite my toddler model above.

Oxo Jar Opener about $10
I've had bad luck with the rubber grabby mats when it comes to opening jars. But this device? Hello, torque; thank you, lever! Never fails me. I wish I owned it back in the day when I lived alone. We inherited a similar version from Fritz's grandmother, which I lost in the transcontinental move and replaced with this one. They were/are equally good. Key here is: Lever –> Torque –> Open jar lid. Throw the stupid germ-attracting, rubber thing-a-majigs away.

Bosch Multi X $100+
This is the perfect gift for someone who is a little handy and interested in home repairs. How to describe? Essentially, this is a saw: a saw that is especially capable of cutting in difficult and hard to reach places. Or, just use it for cutting anything can't be cut with a scissors or knife. We use ours ALL THE TIME. This year: I've use it to cut dowels and sun shades, to cut off stripped screws, and to cut little nothes in landscape timbers. The soapstone counter installers (very UNprofessionally) used it to cut a bit of soapstone. Fritz has used it to remove the back splashes in our original kitchen, to cut some pieces on Noah's desk, and to cut the irrigation lines in the garden. It cuts anything, almost anywhere with very minimal fuss. It's a newer tool, most people don't own one yet - but they should! It's battery operated, which is also a plus for ease of use. Before owning it, we said, "Why do we need that?" After three months we said, "How did we ever live without it?" Admittedly, we're wanna-be handy-type, fix-it-ourselves-folks. (We might need some new blades soon. Hint, hint.)

Plan Toys Sorting Cone and Plan Toys Balancing Cactus about $20 each
I love beautiful toys. Plan Toys is my favorite beautiful toy company. Expensive, but high quality. These are two of my favorites, because they are not just beautiful, they are clever re-interpretations of classic toys. The Sorting Cone is geared towards younger children, less than 3 years old. Hollow cylinders stack inside each other; tapered rings stack atop one another; the whole thing interlocks in a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Or make a tower like I did above. The Balancing Cactus is more game-like for those above 3 years as it easily unbalances and topples over while you add pieces. I leave it on the coffee table (that I hope to replace) as an interactive sculptural piece for all ages (I mean, for above 3 years. Okay, fine: 12 months. Confession: I don't really sweat the choking hazard warning).

Fabric Balloon Cover about $7-$10
Finally, fabric balloon covers are a great gift for younger kids. We got our first one as a gift in Germany, when Noah was about one, and we are still playing with it. It's a simple idea, really: cover a balloon in fabric and it's more durable and 'safer' but still maintains many balloon-like qualities. (As you can see in the photo, my boys are kicking it around indoors. I'm okay with this on particularly bad winter days - but it's a borderline activity - even if it is a slow, soft ball....) It's perfect for traveling or moving, because you can pop the balloon for flat storage of the cover and inflate a new balloon at your destination. Ours is made by Der Lutzmatz in Germany. But I like that this is a gift you can also find on Etsy. I've no connection to the above-linked seller, but I do think her black and white version looks great.

Now, go read Jenna's list here for some more ideas. And please share: what items do you have in your house that you love?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orphan Thanksgiving and Squash Soup

Before Fritz and I were dating, we were just friends. He invited me to his house for an 'Orphan Thanksgiving.' I don't know if that is a real term, or just one that my brothers invented at some later date. The meaning? A Thanksgiving meal for miscellaneous people without family nearby (or visiting). Sometimes, I think it's easy to over-focus on family at Thanksgiving - to the point of depression for those without it - so anyway, there are friends as well and ... I like the term Orphan Thanksgiving, whoever came up with it.

On our Orphan Thanksgiving, with lots of other friends, Fritz made the turkey. It's a tradition he still does to this day. It involves lots of talking and bravado about how he could deep fry the turkey in the garage, followed by frantic internet instructions for cooking one traditionally in the oven (Wait! He found an app this year!), followed by a bizarre rotation of the turkey midway through cooking using latex gloves over the top of ski gloves... hello? are you still following me?...

Fritz makes a delicious turkey. This is something I have only learned in the recent years, as I have relaxed my previously strict vegetarianism. Back on our first Orphan Thanksgiving, I was not eating ANY turkey. So instead, we made an Indian lentil dish. It was as fabulous as Fritz's turkey.

These days, I will eat a little bit of Fritz's turkey - because the latex glove technique really is that great - but I also try to make something Indian. I dropped the lentils when I started to eat bits of turkey. So, the Indian dish became soup. Let's be clear here, I'm not talking about Native American, I'm talking about INDIAN like (the American interpretation what we think comes from) India. Ummm. That is still not clear, huh? Well, I'm sure you are all eager to add it - whatever it is -  to your Thanksgiving lineup, too. (I'm kidding!)

I use Jack Bishop's recipe from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, with a few noted changes:
Why, yes, I did spill soup all over the bowl and not clean it before snapping a photo.
Indian-Style Squash Soup with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Soup:
2.5 pounds Red Kuri Squash (Mr. Bishop uses Butternut)
3 1/2 cups of water
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 medium onion
12 fresh cilantro stems
4 - 1/4 inch thick slices of ginger root
salt
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon lime juice

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (These are really yummy with it, I would NOT skip them):
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (Mr. Bishop uses freshly grated, but I don't own a nutmeg grater)
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1) Remove seeds from squash, peel skin, and cut into 1 inch chunks.

2) In a large sauce pan, bring water, coconut milk, squash, onion, cilantro stems, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is tender. Remove ginger slices and cilantro stems.

3) Puree squash and cilantro leaves in a blender until smooth. Add lime juice and more salt (if needed).

4) For the pumpkin seeds: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Once foaming subsides, add pumpkin seeds and cook until golden brown. Keep an eye on them, they burn easily. Remove from heat, toss with salt and spices.

5) Serve soup warm with spiced pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top. Oh, and I add some more cilantro for garnish.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bottom of the Pot

I think I have confessed before that nobody should learn to cook anything from me. I believe in following recipes, because I don't really trust my nose or tongue. Unless the recipe involves instructions that I perceive to be too complicated, of course, in which case, I simplify the recipe to my liking. It's a dangerous combination. Nonetheless, I'll share my favorite squash soup recipe in a few days, especially for Katie.

Until then, do you love small circulation, independently published cookbooks? Because I do.

I especially love these Centennial Year Cookbooks from some  small farm towns in Iowa. They have a section in the back filled with random recipes. This section is the absolute greatest section, in my opinion. The recipes usually have little to nothing to do with food, and everything to do with housekeeping, home making, children and living happily. The recipes make me laugh in a kind, cheery, impressed with the invention type-of-way. Some of my favorites on these two pages: Tupperware White Again, RV Toilet Cleaner, Halloween Makeup, and Finger Paints. One of these cookbooks was published in the late 80s, making it the perfect pre-internet look at shared home remedies. The other one was published after 2000 - but I still like to imagine it was the work of many non-internet users, just sharing those tips that they learned decades ago. A big part of the fun is discovering 'recipes' that you didn't even know you needed.

I, personally, plan to try out this Teflon Cleaner tonight on our griddle. It didn't occur to me that I could get it cleaner until I saw this recipe. Amazing!

Next time I go to the midwest, I plan to make a mission out of buying up every one of these cookbooks I can find. Because, really, how fun! And how much longer will anyone be able to buy these types of things?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Desk

As soon as we got our basic desk area assembled this summer, Noah started asking for his own desk.

I'll be honest, there was no Noah Desk in My Plans for Our Loft Space. I hemmed and hawed.

But Fritz felt it was important, so in an attempt to delay make it original, without spending any money, I quickly drew up a back-of-the-napkin sketch that used some already owned 2x4s in a rectangular shape to make the base/legs of a desk. Butcher block, mounted on top, would make the desk surface.

"See, nothing fancy. Really simple," I said. I thought the prospect of executing a custom design might phase Fritz a little bit.

But Fritz was eager and anxious to get it done before the weather got bad. I stalled. He rounded up supplies. I stalled some more. He asked if we could paint the base the same color as the adirondack chairs. I nodded, thinking I was stalling again, because we'd have to purchase NEW indoor paint. Then he disappeared into the garage for the whole day. And he took the boys to the paint store. And painted it himself. Here it is. Do you see the green rectangle made of 2x4s? That's kind of my design.
The white bookshelf Noah is sitting on is courtesy of Ikea. In practice, this is a double-sided desk space - aka a table - so that each boy sits on one side, facing each other. Fritz and I have arranged our desks like this as well. 
And it's cute, right? Sort of? But there's a problem.

No, I don't mean the fact that the boys aren't even sitting at the desk. It's okay...for a moment...while I take this photo...thereby ENCOURAGING such dangerous behavior... (yes, yes, I know, Mom)...

Nor do I mean the mess of books. We'll pick up in just a minute. Or tomorrow. Or before the next house guest visits...

Nor the fact that my husband rashly lovingly built, assembled, and painted it. Somebody has to do it sometime!

Nor the fact that the chairs are awkwardly small for the desk. Fritz claimed he PURPOSEFULLY sized the desk too big for the chairs. That way, when we buy bigger chairs, the desk will be the right size. Ah ha!

Here's what bothering me:
What are those clunky green support pieces!? They weren't in my highly sophisticated, worthy-of-an-autograph-and-framing napkin sketch! Doesn't Fritz know how to detail these things?

Well, no, he doesn't.

I haven't had the heart to tell him yet that they are driving me crazy. And it's so dumb to be driven crazy by such a small detail, isn't it?

Sometimes, I hold onto silly irritations precisely because of their insignificance. Worrying about the clunky support pieces distracts me from a whole bunch of other things, some beyond my control, that I could be worrying about instead. Also, worrying about this gives me the power to 'fix' a problem. I like feeling like I have power.

And I have figured out how to get rid of those support things. Now I just need to figure out how to get 'fixing time' into my schedule. And then it will all be okay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Empowered Cold Management

In a few minutes, Fritz's former boss will be arriving at our house to stay for a couple days.

I really love guests. I especially love having house guests, because I feel like it is the only chance I get to visit in depth with adults since Noah was born. It's so much easier to put the boys to sleep in their own beds, eat an adult dinner, and drink wine than it is to get a babysitter and head out for the evening. I also love the intimacy of getting to know people in my own home - and in their own home, too, for that matter.

But this week, the prospect of being host has been somewhat dampened by the onslaught of cold season. This weekend, we each spent a day under the weather. We've rallied as the week has progressed, but we also fell behind schedule from all that nose wiping and frequent night waking. This cold season, the difference between Noah's and Mattias' ability to handle a cold and the accompanying congestion is striking. Toddlers and colds are... just not fun.

Standing in the aisle at the pharmacy last weekend, looking at my over-the-counter options for congestion management with Mattias, I was really struck by the differences between Germany and the US.

Noah was 2 years old when we moved to Denver, so I went through toddler congestion remedies in Germany. In Germany, there was Efeu Bl├Ątter (ivy leaves) as an herbal remedy for congestion. There was also medicated nose spray for the over 12 month olds. And pain killers were mostly available as suppositories. (You might be thinking, "Yuck! Suppositories!" But really, I found them so much easier to give than concentrated drops. Mattias has made sport out of spitting acetaminophen and ibuprofen all over me when he's sick, no matter how small the dosage.) In Germany, eucalyptus is not recommended for those under 3 years of age - German pharmacists claim it exacerbates symptoms of congestion. In the US, we use vapor rubs - with eucalyptus - on babies. The whole colds-with-toddlers is frustrating enough without the added difference in remedies.

I guess the key is to exploit both systems, and find what's best. If, you know, I could magically transport myself to the German Apotheke every time Mattias gets a cold this year and fill up my medicine cabinet.

But, it is getter easier with Noah. Because he can take more symptom relieving medications. Because he can tell me what's bothering him. Because he can blow his nose. Because at 4, he listens to what his body is telling him instead of fighting it - ie, he naps if he's tired! These simple differences are wowing me. It's like Noah's been empowered with cold management abilities from all sides in the last two years. It's the silver lining in the otherwise highly unfun cold season.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Straws

A few weeks ago, I taught Noah how to stick straws together to make long, long - I don't know, you'd have to ask him - but I think this is a hose so the fire engine can fill up the truck with gas (?!?):

[photo removed]

Let's talk about this photo. You can see the table that we eat at behind Noah. You can see the abused indoor/outdoor carpet - which is frequently covered in cheerios or banana or some unpleasant foody-ness. It's actually cleanish in this photo. That's probably why I felt inspired to take a photo. That and isn't my son so creative? Amazing, brilliant child! (Whose mother showed him how to do that.) And see that vent in the wall behind Noah? The ductwork goes straight down to our furnace in the basement.

Last month, during our first snowstorm, our furnace didn't turn on. Fritz and I both cringed thinking it might be related to the stones in the venting pipes incident this summer. We sighed a sigh of relief that our house is still under warranty. And we called the furnace guys. They came, discovered a very dirty furnace and a broken switch. Seems the drywalling had coated the inside of the furnace white. Yuck. I'm sure that's real good for our lungs. They fixed the switch and rescheduled to come back later to clean out the furnace. (Whew! Thank goodness we were able to vacuum all those stones out! Blame the construction crew whenever possible, right?)

Which brings us to last week. I was sitting at the table while the furnace man cleaned the furnace. He was talking to himself. Because the vent is right next to the table, I could hear it all.

"Filthy! This is a mess."
"Yup, yup gotta clean that part, too."

He'd come up the basement stairs and mosey out to his truck for another part. And back downstairs.

"What's this?"
"There's a lot of something in here."
"What the ---?"
"Straws. Bendy straws." Low whistle.
"LOOK at these straws."
"Hehehe."
"Somebody had fun putting these straws down the vent."
[ahhh...sorry, image removed...and it was a cutie]
Yup, but you know...we could also blame the mother who gave the boys bendy straws as toys in the first place. Amazing, brilliant mother with creative boys.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's up

Both the boys are napping. It's unusual; probably a sign that Noah is coming down with something. I'm sitting in the chair in the living room, laptop on my lap. I finished reading all the blog posts in my reader. I pause to consider my next task. Put the plates in the dishwasher? Start some laundry? Some part of me is afraid to move out of the chair: they'll both wake up, I think. Or just one of them. And then the other. Which may be less preferable, because inevitably one will wake up the other with his noise or crying and then the freshly woken one will be in a bad mood, when the first woken one was in a bad mood already and...

Best to stay seated and type a post.

There are thoughts I can't get out of my head lately, but they also don't really come together in a cohesive or witty or even interesting post.

Like food thoughts. I'm eating so much food lately. It's so wonderful, it tastes so good; and I'm very close to jumping a size in my clothes. (My mother, who dreamed I was shrinking the other night, will be relieved to read this.) Really, I need to stop eating. You might say I should exercise, and I probably should. But I still find it unbearably complicating to put exercise-for-myself into the family schedule. That's what it is, too: there's no Me Schedule, there's only Family Schedule.  In the past, I've done best about exercising when I lived alone. I used to run early in the mornings. I did, indeed, love running. Sometimes I see a lone, early morning runner and my heart aches to be out there like him or her. (Not with him/her. I like to run ALONE. Just like him or her.) But my heart doesn't ache too much or for too long, obviously. Because I go right back into the kitchen to look for some food. And finding some fresh bread or a cookie to pop in my mouth? Divine. Sigh. This isn't any sort of healthy, well-rounded, or advisable advice: but the only diet that has worked for me in the last 4 years has been all about deprivation. I find deprivation works best when I wage psychological warfare on myself.  Margaret Atwood's characters have given me an impressive arsenal. But warfare? Kind of exhausting.

Early mornings. Yeah, about those. (Because I HATE talking about My Weight and hate the fact that even talking about it makes me feel like I've 'bought' glossy women's magazine culture. Yup, now I feel like a cog in the delusional fashion machine.) We recently decided to adjust our whole schedule. The previous schedule was: boys are awake from 7am to 7pm, Fritz is gone from 8am to 6pm. We thought, why not shift Fritz' day one hour earlier? If he leaves for work at 7am and is home by 5pm, the boys will get 2 hours of continuous time with Fritz each day in the evening. Fritz, NOT being a morning person, wasn't crazy about the idea of waking up earlier. But I was an effective lobbyist: "You can do the commute in daylight!" And I will have less of the 5pm Happy Hour! "You can play with the boys! I think the swimming pool might be open at that time...." And they can yell all they want at the pool, away from my ears. "I'll make some lovely soup for dinner." Without too many chefs.

We just finished Week Two of this new, earlier schedule. The boys have a tendency to wake up when Fritz and I wake up.  Meaning, Fritz is going to work earlier, but the boys are now waking up earlier and going to bed earlier. So, the plan isn't really meeting our my expectations; everyone just seems to be more tired. We'll stick with it a little longer, nonetheless.

What I do enjoy, however, are these early mornings with the boys. When they wake up at 6 am, we have more than 2 hours to get ready before preschool. I complained in my last post about Noah getting dressed - and some days really are that conversation. But if I he gets dressed as soon as he gets out of bed, everything flows much more smoothly. It's almost as though his brain isn't fully functioning yet and he forgets to resist putting on his clothes. Or maybe it's more like: he's not involved in other things and putting on his clothes is okay because it's not disrupting Very Important Plans. In any case, making him get dressed almost as soon as his feet touch the floor is a good thing, and makes the whole morning much more peaceful. Mattias does better with the get-dressed-right-away-strategy as well. And THEN, we watch the sun come up. We read books. We throw in a load of laundry. We breakfast. We unload the dishwasher and reload with breakfast dishes, all before taking Noah to school. It feels amazingly productive.

Then I drop Noah off at school. I think about swinging by the garden store - because I'd really like to grow some amaryllis indoors this winter. I grumble because the store's not open yet and Geez! we've been up forever. Get with it, retail, I know you want my money.

So, instead of flower bulb shopping, Mattias and I head home and we play. I play a lot with the boys. I always played with Noah when he was younger, because he demanded it. Thanks to Mattias, I know that this trait was - is - simply part of Noah's personality. Mattias isn't demanding about my attention, he can play by himself amazingly well. But if I don't play with Mattias while Noah is at school, Mattias becomes increasingly fussy and wants to be held and before you know it, he's falling asleep at 10 am. So we play and Mattias stays awake until about 11:45 - which is so, so much better than the 10 am morning nap.

I've been cautious to say that Mattias' sleep is improving, less I mistake a couple good nights for genuine improvement. But I think we can now say: it's truly getting better.

A few months ago I was blogging at night. But this new morning-centric schedule has me more tired at night. Also, I've been trying to read my brother's manuscript. Yes, my brother wrote a book. I am completely and utterly impressed. He's been working on it for several years now. Every evening I try to read through (and edit) about 5-10 pages. And every evening that I find myself here, typing on my blog instead, I feel a little guilty that I'm not reading his manuscript. I think about the years he has dedicated to writing his book and I think the least I can do is give him a little bit of time to read it and note some typos or make a few comments. So, yes, there's that. When I'm not here, blogging, I'm there, reading his manuscript.

The nap that began this post, ended several days ago. Now it's evening, and I'm thinking about the manuscript. So I end here. Good night. Sleep well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Preschooler knows Best

How do you tell a preschooler to stop being bossy?  See if you can spot Noah's teacher's strategy transplanted into this Get Dressed! conversation:

Me: Noah, would you please put your clothes on?

Noah: ...

Me: Noah, can you get dressed, please?

Noah: ...

(Repeat a number of times proportional to patience level.)

Me: Noah. Put. Your. Clothes. On.

Noah: I don't like it when you talk to me like that!

Me: Then get dressed!

Noah: Mommy, everyone gets to decide what they want to do for themselves.

Me: Okay, well, I guess you decided to stay here while Mattias and I go shopping.

Noah: Huh?

Me: Well, we're going shopping. You need to be dressed if you want to come with us. Otherwise, you stay here.

Noah: No! Mommy, you can't do that! Parents are suppose to take care of us kids. That's your job. You can't leave me!

Me: Then get dressed. Come on. Pajamas off. Clothes on.

Noah: I said no! Everyone gets to decide what they want to do for themselves!

Me: Then you decided to stay here.

Noah: No! Parents are suppose to take care of us kids...

 (Repeat.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fritz's Interesting Fact of the Day

Fritz: Did you know Russia abolished winter time this year? They're going to have endless summer.

Me: I bet you wish you were living in Russia.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

3 am

It's 3 am and I am...awake.

This morning, I am lying in bed, thinking about a post I wrote. It's a post I feel like I cannot publish. I've been working on it for a while. I finally felt finished with it, so I emailed it to my mother - my sounding board - and had her read it. "Is it thought provoking? Is it sensitive enough?" Yes. I cried a little. Yes. "Will it hurt anyone's feelings? Will it make anyone angry?" Maybe. "Specific somebodies?" Probably.

She urges me to change the specifics, create a different lead. But the one I've used is true and honest feels poignant in a way that I can't imagine any other being. We debate the merits of changing the details or of asking someone else to publish the post. And none of these solutions seem satisfying to me. It's my story. The way it unfolds is important. I can't change it. But I also don't want to hurt other people when I tell it.

This is the end of One Year of Blogging for me. I reflect. Sometimes bloggers apologize for reflecting on their blogging, but in many ways, these reflection-on-blogging-posts are always my favorite - even when I was just lurking around and NOT blogging myself. Isn't reflection a huge reason that we, especially in the mommyblog-o-sphere are blogging? Maybe, maybe not. Well, it's ONE of the reasons I'm blogging.

That and I like to create things. I find nothing more satisfying doing something and then being able to say, Yes, I did that. Studying architecture and becoming an architect was a natural fit for someone with good math and art abilities. But if my grades had been less good - or the amount of time I had to spend in school less generous - I could also be happy in trades - a carpenter, perhaps? a mason? a painter? I like to be able to see a product after I work. The influence that this product has - this is important to me. But whether or not I personally am liked because of this product? Whether or not my product is validated and loved by many? Actually, I find this 'liking' business a whole lot less important to me than the creating. But that doesn't mean I'm willing to hurt anybody in the process of creating.

For me, blog posts are about creation. Some bloggers have beautiful, coherent, carefully-crafted essays as their posts. These essays focus my attention on the product. Some bloggers have spontaneous, chaotic snippets. These snippets remind me of the process. But either way, whether posts are process or product, I love seeing the various sides of creation. It's endlessly fascinating and interesting. I have loved watching and reading others for many years. It's fun to now be on the other side, trying it out myself.

One might think, as a mother, I'm up to my eyeballs in creating little 'products.' That my children are my product - or at least my product in process. It's a valid interpretation; but it's also one that I've had a really hard time seeing in everyday life with little kids. Endless diaper changing, spilled milk cleaning, and laundry doing have a way of filling up the little picture and distracting from the bigger picture. Also, with Noah, I feel like he's revealing to me whatever impact I've had on him very slowly. The ability to have 1) the space and 2) this accumulation of posts for reflection is important to me. And even if I sit here at my computer, typing a post for three months before I hit publish, three months still feels like immediate gratification. Hey, I made that! I thought about it coherently. Um, kind of. There IT is! Now quick, fix those typos!

I don't know how long blogging will continue to fill me like this. I'm open to the possibility of longer term, but still weary of the limitations this format gives. It's important to me to fill that big hole in my life that occurred when I stopped working and became a SAHM. But blogging doesn't completely fill the hole. It doesn't give me the recognition that I got from a job with a paycheck under my real name. So, blogging is still a compromise, but a compromise that I'm enjoying. For now.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fence

I recently said here that I'm not going to post any photos of the fence. The fence that I literally spent all summer staining? The fence with forty-four painful panels? The fence that I can not bear to look at any longer?

I did finally finish staining, right before the (TWO) snowstorms that we've already had this season.

As I was finishing up the last. four. panels. I was thinking to myself, why, oh why, did we do it this way? I really couldn't remember why we had decided to use ridiculously expensive Penofin deck stain on the fence. Just because we had some left over? What kind of leftovers did we think would cover over 300 linear feet of fence? I don't remember now. Or why we thought we I should do it ourselves myself - especially when we hired someone to do the other 200 feet of the fence. Why? If only I had written it down somewhere! I looked at my posts, discovered nothing there, and decided I better record something for future reference. Now.

Although, I do hope this staining job last SEVERAL seasons; thereby eliminating the need to reference this post anytime soon.
Penofin on the bottom/left and some fence stain from Home Depot that was about half the cost on top/right.
So. Here it is. The fence. The top/right side was completed by some guy we hired, and he used some sort of fence stain from Home Depot and applied it with a spray gun. The bottom/left is my hand-brushed Penofin. I think we used the Penofin because it looked better. And I still think it looks better. Unfortunately, I figure EVEN with doing all the labor myself, we spent about $100 MORE on the Penofin. Because it's just that expensive.

I'd like to think of this as a little competition. Let's see what happens over the winter - through the spring and summer and maybe many more years - will one outlast the other? Was all the labor and cost worth it? To be determined!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thoughts on Halloween

Don't google 'mummy' to show your four year old what a mummy is! And, just, DON’T EVEN GO into the whole Ancient-Egyptians-death-Pharoahs-Museums...MISTAKE! MISTAKE!

When I sat down to type this post I thought to myself: it's the candy. And then I thought, No, the commercialism. Or the question of appropriate costumes, costumes for younger kids, costumes for older kids complete with weapons and masks, costumes for children of different genders. Or the explaining of skeletons and mummies and ghosts and spiders and spider webs as ornamentation of the front lawn. Or the very confusing issue (for younger kids) of SCARY IS FUN!

Or it's the embedded (American) cultural meanings of Halloween.

Where to begin?

Our Halloween was fun!

[photo removed]

A statement which in no way accounts for narrowing down the sheer number of costume ideas Noah came up with this year, or the fact that he didn't even wear the costume he finally chose for trick-or-treating. (That's okay, I was prepared for that one. I think mostly Grandma, who wanted a photo of Noah-as-Front-Loader will be disappointed.) We fussed over candy and all those questions like how much to buy and what kind to buy and all the various permutation of who eats what and what to give the babies who come by and what to give adults who think they get candy from the trick-or-treat bowl just like with their kids and what’s sugar-free and what’s gluten-free and after all of that: I was so pleased to see that PLAYDOUGH was the biggest hit - if I let the kids pick their own treat - which I didn’t always - because then I would have been out of playdough.

Hey, you know what? If playdough is IT - I could make that myself. And if nobody is eating it, it’s okay if it’s homemade, don’t you think? Do you think it will still be popular next year? Or am I too late to the trend? I already hit the store, thinking I could stock up on the After-Halloween-Sales-Playdough for next year - saving myself both time and money. Totally sold out, so I know I’m not the only one thinking about playdough. This probably indicates I’m late to the game.

That’s the first level of Halloween (Fun).

At our house, we also have a whole second level of cultural difference that becomes very obvious at Halloween.

Let’s start with an honest reveal: the boys don’t watch American television or movies anymore. The only movie that Noah has ever seen is Toy Story. And he didn’t like it. Even after he had watched it three times so that he knew there was a happy ending, he cried through 75% of it. And then he asked not to watch it again.

“Okay,” we said.

We also don’t have a lot of commercialized books or toys and, well, I tend to keep the boys pretty close. So when it comes to contemporary American cultural knowledge, we’re in the dark. All four of us.

That makes Halloween kind of tough. We don’t recognize a lot of costumes. We don’t think of super heros or villains or even general popular characters for our costumes. We come up with ideas like: “I can be a Front Loader for Halloween!”

[photo removed]

Part of me feels it is my duty as a parent to expose the boys to American Commercial Culture. (Thus, watching Toy Story three times, crying be damned!) But lately I've come to realize that in leiu of my American parental duty, I've substituted. Instead of American Commercialized Culture, we fill in the boys’ life a hefty amount of German culture: everything from speaking two languages, to participating in German specific traditions, to watching German children’s television (aka German commercialized culture).

This is not really a statement about what is better, it's more about what is possible for us and how can we best balance out our exposure. Between living in one country and detailed learning about another, it’s enough, you know? I’m not sure we could do more. It also underlines a possible reality for us: we don’t want to move again for a long time, but Fritz and I DO want to keep open the door on going back to Germany.

Germans celebrate Halloween lightly. And by that I mean, there isn’t a culture of candy and costumes and trick-or-treating. It exists a little bit, but mostly as an odd American import. Some of the Germans I knew in Munich actually did the whole trick-or-treating bit. But most, like my mother-in-law, found it highly improper. Asking neighbors for candy while dressed in a scary costume? No, thank you! Around Halloween, Germans are buying wreaths to decorate graves for Allerheiligen (All Saints Day), or making lanterns for St. Martins Day, or starting to prepare a feast of goose, dumplings and red cabbage.

If you think about the trick-or-treating bit, it is a little odd. Last night, I sent Fritz out with the boys to do the trick-or-treating. After they left, it occurred to me that it might have been a mistake. Fritz’s experience with trick-or-treating is primarily as a homeowner's roommate handing out candy during grad school. Did he know proper trick-or-treat manners? What would he teach the boys?

All of these thoughts swirl around in my head at Halloween. I might seem to have more fun if I just ignored them, but the truth is, I like to think about them. It makes me feel a little freer to be different AND to be comfortable with being different. I do hope the boys feel the same way.