Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tradition

This past month has been difficult with two of my relatives having very serious health concerns. It's the been the type of health stuff that makes you jump a little every time the phone rings. We always say that this time of year is stressful - and it is! - but this year, I find myself taking a good amount of refuge in traditions of the season.

It was easy to say goodbye to some of the more fussy and time-consuming traditions (those advent calendars!) and surprisingly calming to take part in others (tree decorating!). The holiday cards and letters, with so many bright and cheerful photos, are hands-down my favorite tradition. I treasure every single one. I string them across the room like prayer flags on a rope. I use the cards from last year until the new cards arrive. I can't bring myself to throw cards away. Now that we've collected several years worth of cards from multiple friends and family, it is a true joy to look back over the years. This year, it is especially grounding.

This year has also given me a new perspective on traditions. I think for many years, we've been really busy establishing traditions. This is NOT relaxing or calming work. It's stressful. You haven't necessarily figured out the best way to decorate cookies with children. Or you don't know where and when to go see Santa. Or maybe you don't know where to put the tree, and when you finally decide, you discover you have run an extension cord all the way across the room. There's also The Constant Change Phenomenon of children: this year, for the first year, Noah was a cautious, thoughtful and helpful tree-decorator – until the moment Mattias woke up from his nap and started to help as well. And so it goes:  you're busy planning and adjusting and figuring it all out and trying to enjoy it at the same time. It's stressful.

But then, after several years and repeats, you kind of know what you're doing. It's not just establishing tradition, it is tradition. And maybe it starts to feel calming.

Or maybe you just need the perspective of life-and-death staring you in the face to make you appreciate it.

In any case, Fritz took off from work on Friday, and we're moving in slow motion getting things ready for Christmas over a long, four day weekend. Some cookies, some visits, some hot chocolate, some decorating. It's exactly what we needed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What you can do

There are too many words in my head, so I will only type a few:

You can sign this petition on the US Government's We the People website.

Let's stop condoning these tragedies with our inaction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Saved by Customer Service

About six months ago, Noah fell in love with the Lego City Mine set. He found it in a Lego catalog, which he kept by his bed and picked out of the recycling bin on at least two occasions. I mostly ignored his insistent requests that we buy it for him, because it was $100, which is so much money that I thought maybe I could unload it on some very eager grandparent at Christmas time. As much as I love my kids, I don't have a strong desire to buy them toys.

Surprisingly (or not), my aversion to toy buying is most likely an affliction of being an architect. You see, architects don't like ugly things. And most toys are, well, (garish and) ugly. Beyond that, we architects would always prefer to spend a thousand dollars on a beautiful, functional thing that we love rather than a single dollar on something that is only marginally attractive and functional. If we are forced into choosing between having something mediocre versus having nothing - well, many of us would simply choose to have nothing. We don't readily admit these preferences to the general public because we need you to hire us to design your buildings. But inside we are always thinking, when you compromise on design, nobody wins. Ultimately, we are pragmatists. We swallow our pride in the workplace; we may design ugly buildings so that we can bring home a paycheck. But we're damn well going to bring that paycheck home to a carefully, aesthetically controlled environment.

At my home, plastic toys (and their associated catalogs) have a way of finding themselves quickly demoted to the recycling, while wooden toys are lovingly glued, screwed or nailed back together. I can't resist Haba and Plan Toys, I am still drooling over the outrageously expensive Community Playthings blocks that Noah's preschool had, and I am still scheming to get a Jako-o Stilt House. But Legos, despite being the most well-played-with toy in our house, are still ugly. To add insult to injury: they're all over the floor all the time. Can't we at least leave the aesthetically beautiful toys laying all over the floor?

For many years, Noah played independently with Not-One-Single-Toy he had. This supported my decision not to buy many toys. The best way to get him to play with a toy was to sit right beside him and play with it yourself. So, it made sense to buy only those toys I liked. When Mattias was born, I discovered that some kids actually DO play independently with toys. (I can still hear the angels singing.) But I didn't change my buying habits, because over the course of 3+ years, we'd already managed to have enough toys to keep Mattias entertained. (That and the fact that Mattias has the most amazing imagination.)

Eventually, Noah got Legos, and he started playing with them a lot, even though it wasn't always in the usual way. Lo and behold, he could finally play with a toy independently! That meant - means - a lot to me after all those years of non-toy-playing.

BUT, as Fritz points out, why should we buy more when he can't even clean up the ones he has?

"Maybe you can build a mine from the Legos you already have!" I told Noah enthusiastically for six months every time he asked about it. That's what the Lego block concept is all about, right?

Well, last week, one of the grandparents asked what the boys would like for Christmas. I hopped online to find that Lego City Mine AND - guess what? SOLD OUT until December 28th at the online Lego store. I buy almost everything online. So the next thing I did was go to every website I could find looking for the Lego City Mine. Nada.

Oops.

Remember how I just said I don't have a strong desire to buy the boys toys? Well, that sentiment died a quick death when I realized that there would either be 1) No Lego Mine on Christmas or 2) Ebay Bidding or 3) Overpayment on Amazon involved. Over the course of one day, I watched the price go up by $40. I even searched the German websites. It would be even more expensive to order it from Germany and have it shipped over. Forget the grandparents, I created this situation and I needed to remedy this situation NOW.

Maybe there was still a set at the local Toys R Us? Can't tell from their website. Hey! What's up with Toys R Us? It's like they're not even answering their phone! I thought real people worked at real stores. DON'T THEY KNOW I HAVE URGENT TOY NEEDS? DON'T THEY WANT TO SELL TOYS? I ho-ed and hummed about going to an actual store because I really didn't want to become That Mom chasing down the elusive Christmas gift like her life depended on it. But, shit, all the kid wanted was one stupid Lego set for six months and I FAILED HIM.

Fritz was of the opinion that we could order the set, give Noah a picture of it on Christmas Day and then - well, give it to him when it arrived.

"Really?" I asked. "But he's a FIVE years old! I don't think you should do that to a five year-old."

I swallowed my pride, deposited Mattias at a neighbor's while Noah was at school and drove to the closest Toys R Us.

Guess what? One, single set left. Whew. I immediately snatched it off the shelf and called Fritz to celebrate from my cell phone. There were no registers open at Toys R Us. Didn't they want my money? I was reminded once again why I like to buy things online - I mean, with that kind of customer service, what's the point? But you know what, I think the only reason I managed to get the Lego set WAS their terrible customer service. So there you go, let's hear it for lousy customer service. It saved my kid's Christmas. (Insert eye roll - because, I mean, really, I am That Mom.)

But I won't lie to you: walking to the car I did wonder if I shouldn't list it on Ebay and give Noah a photo of his gift on Christmas day after all.

Since publishing this, Amazon, at least, seems to have found reasonably priced versions and Lego now claims to be shipping on Dec. 22. Whatever, people. Whatever.

Friday, December 7, 2012

With the Luster of Mid-day

My favorite thing about being on regular time/winter time is the early darkness. Especially as a child, when my bedtime was officially early (as opposed to helplessly early, like it is now), I loved being awake when it was dark outside. I've never been a natural night owl, so winter time gives me the chance to experience night and still find my bed before I turn into a pumpkin. Same for the boys.

When you think about it, there are a fair number of official nighttime festivities in the late fall and winter. Like Trick or Treating! Our kids headed out early in the evening this year - I believe it was still light outside. But you could see their excitement and energy build as it got darker. I remember waiting to Trick or Treat until dark when I was a child. It was part of the fun!

For our family, the next traditional evening event is the Saint Martin's Lantern Parade around mid-November. This is an old northern European tradition. The children walk through the streets of the villages, carrying lanterns and singing songs. In older versions of the tradition, children were given sweets by the townspeople as they sang at their doors. (Perhaps a percursor to Trick or Treating?) The legend is that Saint Martin was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and later became a monk. His conversion was marked by the fact that he gave half his cloak to a freezing beggar in a snowstorm, only to later discover that the beggar was Christ. I have no idea what the Saint Martin legend has to do with walking around carrying lanterns, but none of the Germans seem to make the connection either. It's not like we're walking around coatless. Or maybe my lack of connection means my German language abilities are still that bad after 5 years of Lanternenumzug. (They may be.) Nonetheless, every year we gather with about 300 other people walk through Denver neighborhood streets, carrying our lanterns, singing (pretty badly), and taking terrible nighttime photos that never really capture the coolness of the event. It's a markedly unreligious event considering it's the St. Martin's Lantern Parade.

This year, we visited a Winterfest that took place (gasp!) before Thanksgiving. In past years, I've protested going on a matter of principle. It's a newer event in our Denver neighborhood and, from what I hear, every year it gets a little bit bigger and a little bit more like a Christkindlmarkt in Germany. I'm hopeful that some year in the near future we'll be drinking mulled wine with the wurst we're buying from the vendor below. I love this upcoming photo (now removed). It's sort of like Normal Rockwell meets Edward Hopper in photo form. Okay, maybe not. If only all my photos were so inspired....

There are also a great number of light festival venues in Denver. The last two years, we've gone to the Botanic Garden with my aunt.

There seemed to be a particularly high percentage of seniors on the night we visited the Botanic Garden. A few were NOT happy to see Noah and Mattias. In general, I make a point to take the boys to all sorts of more adult-like venues (the art museum, the symphony, nature documentaries at the nearby nature preserve) because I think it's an important part of learning to behave AND these events lack the commercialism that events geared towards children often have. Also, crowded venues filled with children are particularly stressful (for me). Most of the time, I get more compliments and encouragement than disparaging remarks. That was not the case on this particular night, but I shall not be too easily dissuaded from abandoning my strategy.

Sometimes, we don't even need to go out to capture the wonder of the darkness and artificial lights. A few candles on the table at dinnertime will lull the boys into at least 10 minutes of quiet eating and drinking before their attention shifts to blowing out the candles from their chairs.




Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cinnamon Ornaments without Applesauce

I've had some questions about the cinnamon ornaments I blogged about last year. It took me a little while to recreate my steps because somewhere between then and now, I lost the recipe. However, we worked through it today, and I'm happy to give our recipe for cinnamon (nonedible!) ornaments (without applesauce):

Mix together:
1 cup (about 100 grams) cinnamon
4 Tablespoons of white craft glue (Elmer's in the US)
1/2 to 1 cup of water, add slowly!

The dough will hold together nicely without cracking when you have the right amount of water. I suggest starting with 1/2 cup of water and adding a tablespoon at a time, as needed. Roll out dough to about 3/8 inch or 1 cm thick. Thicker ones always look better, to my eye. Use cookie cutters to cut out designs. (I love to nest the same shape cookies cutters and get an outline.) Use a straw to poke holes.


Ornaments will take about 4 days to dry on parchment paper. Flip ornaments every 8 hours, otherwise they will curl. Alternatively, use a food dehydrator. (I'm using a food dehydrator this year, because I'm under time pressure.) Ornaments will shrink as they dry.

There are lots of cute ideas out there for decorating these further, but most of them are still beyond the boys' ability. If I'm lucky this year, I'll get Noah to write his name and the year in white colored pencil on them.

Expressions

Fritz and I looked down the street after dark last night. It was beautiful! Our neighbors have really outdone themselves with holiday lights.

"Looks so good already, we don't have to do anything!" Fritz said. "In fact, if we did put up our two strings of lights, it might bring down the quality of the whole block."

But this morning, I ran into one of those neighbors, who asked me, just out of the blue, "When are you going to put your lights up? I want to see something pretty when I look out my window."

Oh. Right.

***

Noah came home from school one day about a month ago, with a long, elaborate story. The basic premise: lightning had struck at his school during library time. Somebody might have been hurt! All the kids had to go outside for library, so that nobody got hurt.

Huh?

He repeated the same strange story to Fritz.

The day had been overcast, but not rainy. And certainly NOT stormy. And why was lightning striking inside the school? And why would anybody go outside during a lightning storm? What on Earth was he talking about?

We had to wait until the next day, when he brought home his daily "News."

Item 3: Yesterday we had a fire drill.

Ah ha.

***

I went to the doctor for an ultrasound yesterday. It was The One where you can find out The Gender of The Baby. People always ask if I'm going to find out or be surprised. Both, right?! Because you will find out AND be surprised at EITHER 20 or 40 weeks! Anyway, I'm a planner, so I was ready to find out the gender and move onward.

The baby is fine, in terms of health. In terms of being a cooperative little soul? Um...not so much. I had to reschedule an ultrasound for two weeks out to determine the gender. This isn't the first time the baby has exhibited strong signs of independence under examination. I suspect that this child will be holding his or her own against Noah and Mattias, too. I guess that's a good quality in a third child. I guess.

Gulp.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Travels

Noah had the entire week of Thanksgiving off from school. Something about seeing that long, school-less week stretching before us made it seem like A Good Idea to drive to Iowa to visit my grandmothers. I even managed to talk my parents and brothers into meeting us there by flying in from Rhode Island.

About a year and a half ago, when Mattias was 15 months, we did the same trip. It was truly terrible to be in the car for 10.5 hours with a 15 month-old. Give me airplane or train travel any day. But a car trip - no, thank you! I finished THAT trip vowing never, ever to do it again. Did I change my mind? Or did I forget? Well, I'm pleased to report that this trip was much easier: a 2.75 year-old has A LOT more stamina for sitting in the car. Still, it was not easy. At mile 883 both the boys were done, just done, with being in the car. And they still had 774 miles to go.

As my grandmothers have gotten older and experienced more health concerns, it's become increasing complicated to visit them. One grandmother has moved into assisted living. The other grandmother is no longer at an energy level where she can host. (Or at least, we're really not comfortable asking her to host us.) They both live in small, rural towns about 3 hours outside of Des Moines, and 2 hours away from each other. Visiting them from out of state, especially with little kids, presents a logistical challenge. This time, we stayed in 3 different hotels over 5 nights. My father picked up the bill for most of the hotel stays, and for that I am entirely grateful: this trip would not have been financially possible for us had that not been the case.

At the same time, I found myself thinking quite a bit about the impact of living out of suitcases (and the car!) on the boys. Not enough running around, too much time trapped inside, not enough independence to explore their new environments, very cold weather foiling outdoor plans. When cold, windy weather made even the run between the hotel and the car unbearable, their behavior plummeted. By the third day of visiting, they were atrociously, embarrassingly beyond parental control. By the time we turned westward and headed for home, Fritz and I had all but given up: "Hey! Let's stop at that big box retailer so they can run around a bit." If you live in Nebraska and a two year old sprinted in front of your shopping cart, nearly causing the whole thing to dump onto the floor when you swerved to avoid him, while his mother deflatedly followed muttering apologies without correcting the behavior: yes, that was me.

I'm still muttering apologies: I'm sorry. He really needed to run. It was, like, mile 1106 of car travel and night 5 of staying in hotels.


I keep thinking: how could we do this better next time? What could make it more enjoyable (for everyone)? I don't have many answers, but I know the logistics of visiting relatives become a really important part of life when you live so far apart.

I once thought Long Distance Relationships were for young, unmarried adults. Turns out, there's a whole life-long art of the Long Distance Relationship. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Random

Yesterday my high-maintenance child was sick by official guidelines, and thus, home from school for the entire day. He was not sick in such a way that he was low maintenance. (That does happen sometimes. I hope you won't judge me too sharply when I tell you that I sigh in relief on those days.) Yesterday he still had as many requests and opinions as a normal day. Constant boundary pushing. I try to see the positive side in this characteristic. He'll make an impressive manager! He knows how to push the envelope. Or I just cross my fingers that this behavior is something he reserves for me. Oh please, please don't act like this way around your friends! Then my mind drifts back to how wonderful the 7 hour school day is for me. Please let it be wonderful for you, your classmates, and your teachers, too.

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to share this. Maybe because his presence at home yesterday meant I DID NOT get to take a nap. I wrote this post instead.

Fritz has been busy a lot the past month. Conferences, meetings, retreats. He's been gone overnights and in the evenings. And here on the home front we've had three house guests. I now feel spoiled by the relatively calm pace of the early fall, when Fritz's presence was here and involved. The weekends were quiet and unplanned. All the recent change in routine (with lots of single parenting for me) has been hard. I cringe when I think about typing this: but, life and parenting are much harder without Fritz. The feminist in me wants to tell you that I can do it myself. I'm strong, I'm independent, I don't need a husband - I don't even need a partner! Fritz can travel all he wants! I'm fine. I can do it!

Well, the truth is, especially in parenting, I do need a partner. It's overwhelming to try to be everything the boys need. Eventually, I start slipping. It's almost always discipline consistent expectations that go first. Mattias will do something like intentionally pour a glass of juice on the floor. He's too old for that. But instead of addressing the action, I'll just grab a cloth and soapy water and start cleaning up. I just don't have the energy to make him do it himself, or give him a time-out, or any of the other various parenting strategies employed on better days. Sheez, I can't even find the energy to THINK about the right parenting strategy.

You might be thinking this is exactly how one ends up with high maintenance children. You might be right. I tell myself that I'm not often stretched so thin in my parenting. But when I am, it's not good for any of us.

In more cheerful news, the persimmon are here! Have you seen them? I didn't make the same greedy mistake as last year. This year I went with the fuyu and I have been happily enjoying them without losing sensation in my mouth. Last year, I must have waited WEEKS for those hachiyas to ripen. Sure enough, they looked more and more and more disgustingly, mushily ripe, and still my mouth went numb when I tasted them. I was on the brink of tossing them in the compost when a friend sent me this Bon Appetit recipe for persimmon bread. The persimmons were salvaged and the bread was yummy, but I did miss eating raw persimmons. The fuyu persimmon are crispy like an apple when you eat them, and that, in my opinion is a big part of their appeal. Also, the edible interior star design when cut latitudinally makes me smile.

Monday, November 12, 2012

just tired

I feel that I owe some sort of explanation for my absence on this blog lately. Unfortunately, the reason is so mundane that I've had a hard motivating myself to type it out:

I'm so tired.

Really, really tired.

I'm sleeping about 12 hours a day. Physically, I feel mostly good. The morning sickness is decidedly over. But my need for sleep is overwhelming normal functioning. How can I sleep 12 hours a day? Well, I go to bed when the boys do and nap during the day when Mattias naps. The house is a filthy mess. Dishes and laundry are going undone.

Among the people I've talked to about my tiredness, there are lots of different explanations. Some think that being pregnant when you have a school age child is more exhausting than being pregnant with (just) a toddler. Some think it's standard with the third pregnancy. Some think it's my age. Some think I need more exercise. My doctor doesn't have a theory, since I haven't told her. But I can guess what she would suspect and find:

The last two times I was pregnant, I struggled keeping my iron levels high enough. In fact, even during nonpregnancy (ha!), I struggle with getting enough iron. Over the years, I've created my own little tautology about why this is. My version goes like this: well, I've never really liked meat. I still don't like meat. Meat has a lot of iron in it. And eating meat is the most effective way to absorb iron. MAYBE, it's not just me who doesn't like meat, MAYBE my body doesn't like meat because it has so much iron in it in the first place. Maybe MY BODY hates iron. Which would explain why every iron supplement out there seems to make me terribly sick. And it would also explain why I find myself avoiding iron supplements, even in pregnancy, and even if it means I'm A LOT more tired than usual.

Does it work that way? Can I consciously choose between being either 1) tired or 2) sick? Hmmm... maybe I better google complications of anemia in pregnancy.

For the record, however, my tiredness is getting to be more than I can handle. So I'm either going to make myself sick by taking iron supplements or make myself sick by eating some red meat. Maybe we should take a vote? At least that would make a not-very-fun situation ... more interesting? Less sleep-provoking?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Links

It's Friday. It's the end of my first trimester. (Approximately, I mean, because everywhere defines 'trimester' a little differently.) After months of feeling really bad, I'm feeling good(ish) again. You know what helps? Avoiding all those newspaper articles reporting about violence to children - or adults. I have no stomach for it. None. Especially right now. Also, Fritz has been on his second business trip in three weeks, but he comes home tonight, and I am so happy about that.

How about some distraction material?

on Favoritism and Motherhood and how it persists into adulthood from Slate. Favoritism in families. Does anyone really care about favorites by adulthood? Or maybe it's not all about how it affects you - it might be about how it affects your mother.

Ludwigsburg's Pumpkin Regatta (racing giant pumpkins in water with oars!) captured the imagination of both Fritz and me. We've challenged our pumpkin-growing neighbor to a similar event for next year. I hope Fritz understands that he'll be doing the rowing. But really, how hard is it to grow a pumpkin that big? I suspect it may not be so easy! I think we need to devote an entire garden bed to it. More amazing personal photos at Kendra's blog.

This photo from Darmstadt, from the BBC from – what? Glamourlens? – I have no idea how to correctly credit it. It makes me think that you can TOTALLY take your fall family photos AFTER the leaves fall. OBVIOUSLY, leaves don't need to be on the trees to be amazing. Unless you live on the East Coast of United States, in which case, clean up those leaves before Hurricane Sandy hits, yikes!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Three Kid Minivan Dilemma

One of the things that's really bothering me about adding a third to child to the family is the upgrade. By that I mean: I think going from 1 child to 2 children was relatively painless financially. But adding a third child is going to require some additional investment for us. And I'm not looking forward to it.

Part One, The Auto

The first and most pressing concern for us is that of transportation. Since Fritz and I got married (actually since before we got married), we've managed to have only one car between us. On a regular day, Fritz bikes and I use the car. It wasn't always this divide; there were some times in the past where I biked/walked and Fritz took the car. And still, occasionally, Fritz needs the car and the boys and I manage to get around just fine on bikes. We've purposefully chosen to live in locations where this is an option. We've turned down living in a great many neighborhoods in the last 8 years based upon their lack of accessibility. We've chosen to use local retailers and services. And we've consciously attempted to put less money into transportation costs. This summer Fritz actually wore a hole through the tire on his favorite commuting bike, leaving the inner tube exposed, and we toasted how economical and devoted we are to this whole biking thing. Then I took a photo, lest we forget.


And forget we may. Because the flip side of owning a single car for a family of four is that – um, it's a pain. Somedays, even the studded bike tires fail to overcome the elements, and then I'm the chaffeur for everyone. With three people (one little) it was okay. It's been mostly okay (and not so often a problem) with four people, two of whom are LITTLE. But now, little people are getting bigger. They have more complicated schedules and (well, this is trite, isn't it?) I feel like I'm running everybody everywhere. Distributing the driving load ("Hey Fritz, can you drop Noah off at school?") starts to sound like a very desirable thing. Especially looking at child number three. Two cars for our family? Sounds like the time has come. But what to do? A bigger family car for all of us? Or a smaller car for just Fritz?

Tied up in all of this is the issue of car seats. OMG this car seat thing is annoying me like nothing else. Because, really, I want to keep driving our little Jetta station wagon. And I want to haul around all the children in it. But you know what? I can't. Not with our current carseats, anyway. This weekend, we spent about two hours at The Giggling Green Bean in Lakewood trying to fit three Diono Radian carseats into the back of our Jetta (because the Giggling Green Bean is totally cool about letting you try these things.)

So the good news: YES! Three Diono Radians fit in the back of our 2009 Jetta Sportswagen. And you know what? These Diono Radians are great car seats. I wish I had known about them before I purchased our current carseats. (Hint: just buy Diono Radians when your kid outgrows the infant carseat.) I'm not going to try to sell them to you, because if you google them and read about their features; it's already easy to get a sense of how great their features are and how high their safety rating are and who knows why they aren't better marketed, because we ALL should own them.

What you won't find (so much) in the reviews: I put the Radian car seats in the car and suddenly, THERE WAS ALL THIS SPACE IN THE BACKSEAT OF THE CAR. Children could climb in and out with a fraction of the assistance that is now required! There was leg room! Nobody was bumping their head on the door jamb getting in and out of the carseat! It was miraculous. I want to buy these car seats regardless of our car situation just because THEY'RE SO MUCH BETTER.

Then I turned one of the Radians around to make it rear-facing and that's when I saw a problem: We will not be able to have a rear-facing Radian and still sit two adults in the front seat. There's just not room for the Radian to recline sufficiently. However, we did manage to fit a rear facing infant seat with a base in there. So, there's that. We can get through the first 15-18 months of child number 3 with the Jetta. And as any parent of a toddler knows - that stage between 1-2 years old - where the child is suppose to be rear-facing - HIGHLY, HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC for a variety of reasons - until, I do believe, car seats go through some serious design revision - clearly the APA's recommendation is still quite ahead of the manufacturers - yadda, yadda discussion for another time.

You might think that having discovered the good news that I can keep the Jetta and fit three kids in the back of it would be the end of this story. But that would be misjudging the degree to which I have been swayed by the social pressure to just-get-a-minivan. There's some small (medium-size?) part of me that's doubting the longevity of the Jetta Plan. How much more fighting and nagging and tousling will we have when all three children are in such close proximity? Or maybe it's just a matter of my expectations? If I expect the children to behave, they will behave (betterish). Ie, expecting them to fight in a Jetta could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, right?

Maybe we just need more space. If we're buying another car ANYWAY, maybe now is the time to make the jump into (gulp) something bigger. We have more people. More people getting bigger all the time. More stuff to haul around. I hate to do this: I hate to become this person who needs more and more things with more and more space for things. I hate to feel like I'm living excessively (although I am...thank you, First World problems). And I don't even LIKE minivans. If we get one (at this point) it won't be because I love it or because I want it, it will be because society told me that a family with three kids NEEDED one. Maybe society is right. I mean, all the people I know who have minivans, they don't seem crazy. They seem normal. They seem like they did their research. Still. This is the type of peer pressure that I not only try to avoid, but I resist it in my contrarian bones like a teenager with a chip on her shoulder ... so why am I still agonizing over it? I should just keep our Jetta, buy new Diono Radian car seats, and be done.

And then (says my little voice), the internet can all have the last laugh when you're 6 months into child number three and going crazy squeezing everything and everyone into the Jetta.

Sigh.

So, we also went car shopping this weekend. If you go gentle, very easy, no commitment type car shopping with a 5 year old and a 2 year old, you quickly realize what a profoundly bad idea it was to bring them. If only it weren't for child labour laws, car dealerships would quickly hire children to sell minivans. While Fritz and I kept swaying in the direction of slightly 'cooler,' third row SUV type things, the boys were going nuts over the minivans' sliding doors! and the ability to walk from one end of the minivan to the other! and copilot seats in the back! and little knobs! and cup holders! and storage compartments! and

"Mommy! What's this stuff coming out of the ceiling!?"

I tell them.

Mattias, earnestly: "This good car, Mommy."

I don't have any answers yet, just a lot of anxiety.

This is Part 1
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Weekend

Last weekend, my brother and his girlfriend flew into Denver to visit while Fritz was out of town on business.

Now, normally we don't go out much on the weekends. I'm not entirely sure how we manage this, other than to say that I can get a lot of practical errand running done during the week. Noah's only been in school (7 hours a day) for a couple of months now, so the reality of being forced to do FUN stuff on the weekends hasn't really hit us. In the past, we've managed to schedule ourselves around the weekend, and outside the busiest hours of the day. Until this weekend. We wanted to do fun stuff with our guests! And they were only here two weekend days! So we attempted to do multiple fun things with the multitudes of people also forced to do fun stuff on the weekends. Oh boy.

There's a LOT OF PEOPLE doing fun stuff on the weekends. Kind of makes it a little less fun. I don't do well with crowds, so I quickly designated myself as photographer, took a big step back, and let our guests be the responsible adults (forced to navigate the crazy crowds with 2 crazy children). I just followed.

They did well! Here they are at the museum. They're naturals!


Although, I confess, I had ulterior motives for letting them run point on this particular museum exhibit. I'm a complete wuss when it comes to insects. Therefore, another good project to leave in my brother's capable hands? Decorating the house for Halloween. Spiders and cobwebs, by request:


Okay, so my photos don't exactly tell the story of insanely-busy crowds. You'll have to trust me a little bit. Here's where we had a picnic with my aunt in front of a Walgreens because we couldn't seem to make it through traffic to the pumpkin patch:


And here we finally made it to the pumpkin patch and had to drive VERY, VERY slowly on bumpy dirt roads for what felt like miles. It was bumper to bumper traffic in a pumpkin patch. Argh:


The boys were very patient. And the pumpkin patch, for all the insane traffic felt relatively empty. That's what happens when you force everyone to drive to the far end to look for pumpkins:





Things that happened after I took these photos:

  • One boy got a very bloody noise. I'm guessing that one of these strange, tall pumpkin weeds (?) cut him. It was highly unpleasant, especially since I was without tissues. I debated using my hat or my sock to soak up the blood. The hat won because of easy access. I was completely panicked. Yuck. (Boy is fine, hat is not.)
  • Then, that same boy needed to GO. As you can see, there weren't any conveniently placed trees to water. So we crept back in the car in the direction of the port-a-potties at 1 mile an hour, until I was forced to frantically signal to my brother in the car behind us to Please-please-come-collect-your-nephew-and-run/carry-him-to-the-port-a-potties! It was a 200 meter sprint, and the boy lost his hat to the wind halfway there. But they made such a spectacle running across the field that they were kindly allowed to cut the line of other waiting people. Or was it the dried blood caked to the boy's face?
  • The other boy spilled an entire bag of goldfish all over his carseat. (My aunt gave him the goldfish, but I let him eat them in the car - because, look, we were sitting in pumpkin patch traffic for, like, two hours.)

By the end of the Sunday, I concluded that while the weekends might be more crowded and busy, they seem to generate much better stories to laugh about afterwards. Or maybe that's the specialty of uncles.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Eating More Chocolate

There's a rather funny article in the New England Journal of Medicine that finds a "significant linear correlation" between per capita consumption of chocolate and the density of Nobel Prize winners in 23 countries. Switzerland has both the highest density of Nobel Prize winners, as well as the most chocolate consumption per capita. (This study goes through 2011, I fear the findings might be much skewed by this year's Nobel Prizes.)

One of the really wonderful things about a "significant linear correlation" is that you can imagine all sorts of different cause-effect scenarios, none of which are likely to be true. But they're fun to think about! The article points out several possibilities (that's how an article in the 'serious' New England Journal of Medicine ends up 'funny'), I added one of my own below:

Chocolate makes you smart. Nobel prizes are for smart people. People who eat more chocolate win more Nobel Prizes.

OR people win Nobel Prizes which causes them to eat more chocolate.

OR people celebrate Nobel Prizes by eating lots of chocolate.

OR chocolate costs a lot of money. People who live in countries that can afford to eat a lot of chocolate have more resources to win Nobel Prizes.

OR the Nobel Prize Committee has a vested interest in chocolate consumption and thus, awards their Nobel Prizes (by country) accordingly.

Well, whatever the relationship may be, I'm happy to do my part with the chocolate consumption.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Morning Centric

Over the last two school years, we've fallen into a morning rhythm that works really well for us. It certainly wasn't planned to be this way. If you had told me last September that I would actually find myself liking the result, I would have been shocked.

In fall of 2011,  Fritz started getting up around 6 am with the goal to be on his way to work by 7am and be home by 5pm. The plan was that the boys wouldn't (didn't, at the time,) wake up until Fritz was gone. Because Fritz would be home at 5pm, I would avoid handling the facetiously named Happy Hour by myself and the boys would have a 2 solid hours of playtime with Fritz before bed.

Well, the plan really didn't work like we hoped because the boys just moved to an earlier schedule as well. They jump out of bed between 5:30 and 6 am. And yes, I do mean jump. There's no sleepy morning bodies at our house, we wake up early, we wake up (mostly) together, and we are AWAKE. For a long time, I kept thinking that it would change - that the boys would creep back to a 7am wake up - eventually. And I kept thinking that I would have a precious hour of alone time in the morning. Oh, how I would love that hour! But it's been a year now and the creep to a later wake up? It never happened.

[photo removed]

The result is that the boys and I have about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get ready in the morning. But it's remarkably leisurely. And playful. And it's well-behaved! And it takes me an hour to clean up afterwards! But there are castles built and astronauts space visits before we even venture out the door. Fritz's return at 5pm is always welcomed, and Happy Hour is...well, still insane, but at least I no longer endure it as the sole parent. Bedtime begins at 7pm - and usually both boys are sleeping by 7:30.

[photo removed]

And sometimes, like this morning, one or both of the boys will sit quietly on the stairs, and watch the sun come up. Mostly, what I think is that I'm lucky; I'm lucky that I'm finally learning to love things ALSO the way they are. Maybe I'm even lucky that the boys value the same thing as me. Even though I still wouldn't mind an hour to myself in my our favorite early morning hours.

[photo removed]

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Decor that only a mother (or wife) could love

A Note from Fritz to the Boys. This has been hanging on their bathroom mirror for almost 6 months now. It reminds them to 1) Wash your Face, 2) Brush your Teeth, 3) Brush your Hair, 4) Flush the Toilet. Funny how Noah still needs reminders about this! Do you think writing it on the back of an envelope means that he takes it less seriously? Maybe something framed and stenciled would work better?

[photo removed]

Fritz's Brush Management System. Also in the boy's bathroom. It's a plastic test tube holder and test tubes. I have no idea why we (already) have THREE toothbrushes in it.


An Aquarium.


Not convinced? Let's look inside. Yup, fish.


Mission Control for the Spaceship Wyse. Noah was very worried that Mattias lacked proper operating skills. Thus, Noah located everything so high on the wall that even he himself needed to jump to operate. (Except for the foot pedal barely visible by his right foot.)

[photo removed]

Friday, October 5, 2012

Rhetoric

Last weekend, Fritz and I watched The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. I was too young to pay much attention to politics (especially British politics) in the days of Margaret Thatcher. Most of the historical plot was new-to-me. I also can't really claim to be a Margaret Thatcher convert, nor can I advocate that we all run out and see the movie. HOWEVER, after watching the first Presidential debate this week, I did find myself feeling quite disappointed that United States politics don't have one iota of the rhetorical spark in British politics.

Fritz had to read Margaret Thatcher speeches when he was learning English in high school in Germany. (He's a little older than me.) He has a favorite Margaret Thatcher quote, which I like an awful lot, too:

"To borrow and to borrow and to borrow" is not Macbeth with a heavy cold. It is Labour Party policy. 
- Margaret Thatcher's Speech to the Conservative Party in Blackpool, 1985, according to this website.

My personal political position falls on the side of liberal - but really, I can't help but respect this kind of clever speaking, even if I disagree with the sentiment. I chuckle every time I think of it.

And chuckling is a strangely persuasive way to get an idea in your head, even one you think you probably would have disagreed with: if, you know, you were paying any attention to politics in the 1980s.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

neues iPad Magic

One of der Spiegel's American correspondents recently claimed that Americans love Germans like never before, but for all the wrong reasons. (Like Oktoberfest!)

Well, let's add one more wrong reason:


Does this make you love the Germans? I'm (at least) impressed. What do you think the "trick" is?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brasil Club

This used to be my favorite sandwich, in my favorite cafe. The barista would roll her eyes and sigh with an amount apathy reserved for only the most favored baristas in those kind of cafes when I ordered it. You know, I get it. I've made this sandwich 4 times this week and it's a major pain in the ass. There are so many ingredients to have on hand and so much preparation of veggies. And it's exactly what my body is craving right now.

I don't expect you to make it. But since I've made it so much lately, I'm at least going to show off my handiwork.



Brasil Club (Vegetarian)
Toasted bread, sliced provolone cheese, chopped walnuts, sliced avocado, grated (raw) beet, grated carrot, sliced cucumber, sliced tomato (yellow in this photo), sliced red onion, alfalfa sprouts, and baby spinach.

At some point, my ingredient notes say that this sandwich included dijon mustard, but I dropped that ingredient and haven't missed it.

Divine. And beautiful, no?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Surfeiting

I'm feeling really morning-sickness-crappy. Feeling sick seems to be all I can talk about; I've not been blogging to spare you from feeling like you need to console me. The likely scenario is that I won't feel better for 3 weeks, so let's just put it like it is: this part of pregnancy sucks. Hard. Now, how about about a little more whining? Like Shakespeare's Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night would say,

"Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die."

(Surfeit is a great verb, don't you think? And maybe, just maybe, I can whack this morning sickness thing back into perspective with enough whining. And maybe not.)

Let's start with the weather. If the weather in Colorado was so freaking hot and dry every summer, I would be forced to move the whole family. This is what I've learned about myself: I HATE semi-arid climates. I know that some people move to climates like this to feel (physically) better. I wouldn't be one of them. Additionally, morning sickness sucks a lot more at 94 degrees than 65 degrees. The relentless, hot, beating-down sun makes it impossible to control my pregnant body temperature and I just feel PISSY all the time when I am outside. It's a lucky thing that all my pregnancies have been mostly over the fall-winter-spring, because I don't think I could handle being pregnant in July. That said, it is time for summer in Colorado TO END. Today, I looked at the weather and saw a full week of full sun, with temperatures in the 80s, stretching out before us and, and... I just felt miserable. Yup. I would LOVE rain and cold and wind. Maybe that makes me sound anti-social, but - ugh, these days - just try to have a conversation with me when I am standing in sun.

My mother wants to know if the morning sickness is worse than before. No, but my attitude is worse than before. I'm keeping Fritz very updated on my hourly discomforts (poor guy). I guess I feel the need to make sure that being 'done with having kids' will have his full support after child number three. I think he's a little shocked by the relentlessness of morning sickness. Yesterday, he actually said: "Why do they call it morning sickness? You're sick all the time!" Um. I don't know HOW he missed that on the first two pregnancies. Because, like I said, I don't think it's much different this time around. I am also making sure to point out how much I would theoretically love to have a coffee with him, but how, in reality, I can't even smell it without feeling ill. Or how a beer seems like a perfect drink after the 73rd day of temperatures in the 90s and full sun, but alas, I have queasy feelings at the sight of the bottle. Fritz's response? He's has started making lots of meals, pitching in more with the boys, and cleaning! I'm trying to be whiny here, so I won't spend too long dwelling on the positive, but, all this Fritz help is great. I don't know why I didn't whine more to Fritz during the first two pregnancies. On the one hand, I feel a little sneaky, since all my whining this time does have an ulterior motive. On the other hand, it's kind of nice to drop the Wonder Woman gig.

I'm also tired. I nap with Mattias. I skip smelly meals to stare at the bedroom wall and let my eyelids droop closed. One day, the boys seemed to be playing so nicely in the basement, that instead of doing the laundry (my usual basement task), I just laid myself down on that cool, unfinished concrete slab floor and closed my eyes while they circled around me with their various push toys and cars. And you know what? It was nice. Later, Fritz came to the basement and asked the boys why a nice, clean blanket was lying on the concrete floor. And I just...crawled into bed and opened a book. (I don't think he ever got an answer from the boys.)

My regular clothes have already gotten pretty uncomfortable. My weight hasn't changed, but my shape has. I pulled out my maternity clothes. (Yes! I still have them. I thought if I got rid of them, that would guarantee another child. Clearly, the inverse is not true.) The maternity clothes don't really fit, either. How can I have so many clothes and none of them fit? I tried to remember what I wore during the first trimester with Noah and Mattias. It's a blur. I finally found a few items that work. Like pajamas. Then I started feeling VERY aggressive towards the ridiculous number of clothes in my closet that don't even fit. The way our bodies swing in size and shape between pregnancy and non-pregnancy feels so wasteful and excessive. Really, I just want to throw out half the clothes in my closet - but that's hard to do when you're looking at another year of extreme change. I guess that I should also mention that I HATE TO SHOP and I hate to spend even small amounts of money on things that are mediocre or temporary, which I'm sure has a lot to do with my anger over my wardrobe bubble.

Well, amazing! After all that whining, I am feeling somewhat surfeited! We'll see how long it lasts.

Oh, and on a related note - there's just One, due at the end of April. (Small sigh of relief.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Reset

I finished sanding and stripping ONE dining room chair. I stood in Home Depot, by myself, for 15 minutes pondering the various staining options this morning. Huh. I think I want something light, but what if the wood isn't in good enough condition and it looks bad? The blog survey says I should do light. But all this light stain looks oak-y. Even the clear looks oak-y. I don't know if I like oak. Maybe I should just pick something darker to match the walnut island in the kitchen? And the table. The table is dark. Maybe I should pick something dark. A store employee comes by and, in an uncharacteristic fashion, I dump all my ponderings on him.

"Well," he asks, "What kind of wood is it? Is it a soft wood? Here's a prestain formula to bring out the grain and prevent blotchiness in old wood."

I pick up the can and read the back while he quickly escapes this indecisive customer. The can says, USE CAUTION WHEN SANDING OLD FURNITURE. SANDING MAY RELEASE LEAD DUST. I feel rather ill. I'm done sanding, I tell myself. No more chair sanding. But I still don't know what stain I want for my ONE chair, so I walk out of the store empty-handed.

I focus on the positive. The whole experience: standing in the store, pondering for 15 minutes, chatting with an employee, and then walking out of the store undecided: it felt luxurious. Like, what mother of young children has time to act this way? In my life over the last five years, there are always kids to attend to, always things to be cleaned and meals to be made. But not today. Who has time to act this way? I do, I whisper to myself. *I* have time. *I* can be indecisive.

This summer we managed a pretty good pace of activity. There were still a couple of days in there when the boredom reached the danger zone. But for the most part, I felt like the boys played together a lot. They've gotten very good at togetherness and it makes my heart happy. Noah managed to have enough time and space doing his own thing with his own friends. There was a good variety of visitors; from grandparents to colleagues to friends. And there was a good amount of traveling. Fritz and I squeezed in TWO adult only trips. (Yay!) And somehow, more or less, the summer felt balanced and good and right.

We all adapted to the new school year routine around here with relative ease. It makes me quite proud, really: Noah is in Kindergarten for 7 hours a day. We worried that he would be exhausted, but so far he seems to find school a source of strength and focus. He both goes to school and comes home with confidence and I spend a lot of my time nodding my head and thinking, yes, he was ready.

Mattias started a two morning a week parents day out program – an opportunity that snuck up on us midsummer. Originally, I planned to keep him home with me. I was looking forward to the one-on-one time with him. Potty training! Undo some big brother influences! Also, Mattias is enormously easy for me to spend time with; he's got a great balance of independence and imagination. Why, last week I cleaned out my closet while he played. Productive work while child minding?! It struck me as a truly amazing feat, one that never would have been accomplished had it been just Noah and I. Nonetheless, the PDO program is turning out to be a good thing: Mattias loves the opportunity to have his own special activity. And I get a bit of time completely to myself (in Home Depot). There's still plenty of time for one-on-one. We'll start potty training any day now.

But then, maybe when things start seeming too luxurious, I subconsciously stir them back up? That's the only way I can describe how I find myself pregnant again. Because I was really okay with two kids. I think/thought I was, anyway. Babies are a lot of work. Babies make lead dust and solo trips to Home Depot a big problem. I really love my 2 year old and 5 year old. I love being able to hold conversations with them. I love their independence. I don't have that ache in my arms to hold another baby. These seem like insensitive and selfish things to type. If life were like playing cards, I can think of many people I would willingly swap cards with. (Thank you, Rooth, for the analogy.) And I have to tell you honestly, I was okay, as it was.

I'm still okay. I am. I'm just...I'm adjusting. I am, slowly, carefully. I'll be ready by the time the baby comes. It's early. Only six weeks: I still need to have a doctor to confirm. When I told Fritz that I was going to go internet public, he reminded me of all the things that can go wrong in the first trimester. But I think, at this point in my life, the possibility of sad and tragic outcomes have stopped holding my tongue. If I'm a human potion bottle - I can't possibly keep one more tainted ingredient bottled up.

So, instead, I'm just opening up and telling you: I'm pregnant. Fritz is thrilled (having always wanted three). I'm adjusting and feeling generally nauseated from morning sickness. The boys are mostly still oblivious (although we did tell them). Sometimes, when you have two of the same gender, people presume you are trying for a different gender. No. We're not 'trying' for a girl. (I'm rather hoping for a boy, because, I think I've got the boy-thing figured out. A girl sounds like too much new territory.)

I've always thought one of the drawbacks of the first trimester is that your body goes through so much adjustment. And mostly you go through it alone; because social conventions say: we don't talk until 16 weeks. I'll never forget standing on the UBahn in Germany, feeling very ill, and just wanting to sit down. But who knows you're pregnant at 6 weeks? Nobody. So nobody offered me a seat and I stood there, trying not to throw up on the people sitting below me. It was miserable. In spite of the fact I was very happy to be pregnant. Later, when I was 36 weeks pregnant, and people jumped from their seats to offer me a space to sit on the UBahn, all I could think was: I really wish I'd had this opportunity at 6 weeks.

Which is another reason why, this time around, I'm doing things a little differently.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Changing Toys

Since returning from my childhood home, where a great many old photos and old toys were pulled out, I've become a little obsessed with how toys have changed.

I had Barbies when I was younger. One of them belonged to my mother. I would estimate my Barbie play went on for about 6 years. Here are the Barbies lined up, newest to oldest. Is it just me, or did Barbie's eyes get bigger while her eyebrows got higher and archy-er, even over the span of a few years? I'm almost tempted to go buy a new-new Barbie so I can compare her to the 1980s Barbie.

Barbies, newest (1980s?)  to oldest (1950s).

And then there are Lego men. My brothers' Lego men from the 1980s all had the same simple black line smile and black dot eyes. I can't even find a face that simple in Noah's collection. What does this say about us, as a society, or about toys? Does everything have to be a character-with-attitude? Or maybe toys are just more interesting and diverse now-a-days?

Noah says, about his Lego men versus his uncles' (older, less expressive) Lego men,
"I have the special kits while they had simple Legos."
Fritz asks,"You mean you have the Mental Health Upgrade?"

Tomorrow, I'm headed over to Target to pick up a My Little Pony for a friend's daughter birthday. My friend wasn't quite sure if it was My Little Pony or My Pretty Pony. I remembered My Little Pony from my own childhood, but I was feeling kind of out of my league (Hello, My name is Ann. I have boys.) so I hopped on the Target website to check the name. It IS My Little Pony,  but these ponies look different from the ones I know. The new ones are skinny by comparison. It seems super-inappropriate to take a girl-toy and make it skinnier, so I thought maybe I was remembering wrong. I dug up this photo of my brothers and I with Christmas loot, circa 1982.

[photo removed]

Do you see the pony? No? Let me zoom in a little bit and mess with the contrast and colors to see if I can make it stand out a little more:


Okay, go ahead, check out the Target website; it's totally true, they made the ponies taller and skinnier. I mean, REALLY, is this necessary? At least they didn't change the name to My Pretty Ponies (yet).

I think I must be getting old.

Monday, August 27, 2012

School!

The German Schultüte tradition involves giving children a cone filled with goodies on their first day of school. In Germany, where the grades are grouped a little differently in their respective schools, students get their Schultüte on the first day of school at their primary school. That would be the equivalent of first grade in the U.S. When Fritz was a child, the Schultüte was filled to the brim with candy by parents. The way Fritz tells the story, it was given to the child in the morning, before school, and was not to be eaten until after school. Essentially: it was a bribe intended to sweeten the first day of school. Schultüten lined the halls of the first grade on the first day of school, waiting to be taken home and eaten up by their expectant recipients. Can you imagine? Because I can't really....



This year we gave Noah his own Schultüte. It seemed like the right time: even though this is (American) Kindergarten, it is his first day at the primary school where he will spend the next 6 years. We filled ours with mostly school supplies and a little bit of candy. (I suspect less-candy-and-more-school-supplies is what the modern German parent does, too.) Truth is, he didn't need any bribing, he was so excited and so happy to go to 'the big kid school.'


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Water Table

Last summer there were so many projects that felt monstrous: the deck, the yard, even refinishing all that lawn furniture. I can dream big – certainly, the big dreams accumulated this summer. However, I made a conscious effort to keep the projects small and simple.


The water table was one of those 'simple' projects. I've been scheming about building the boys a water table for months. Finally, my father stepped in and built the wooden base while he was visiting. Simple = Guilt Your Loved Ones into Doing the Work.


I wanted it to be wood. (I've been biased by my fond memories of wood water tables in Munich.) And I wanted to put a big old-fashion cast iron hand pump on it with a PHYSICAL-LABOR-LIMITING water supply, for educational purposes. (The water is in the red tub below the table.) This summer, both the boys have been known to turn on the water faucet and use the water hose by themselves. Worse than their ability to turn the water on, is their strange INABILITY TO TURN THE WATER OFF. The pump doubles as a gimmick/distraction piece. It arrived last month, so we attached it to the table and set up shop. So far, it's worked: they are a lot less interested in the hose! An added feature of the pump is that the leather gasket occasionally dries out over night, meaning that the pump needs to be 'primed' before they can use it. Basically, one pours some water down the pump from the top. They both think priming the pump is very cool: I think it makes them feel like they are 'fixing' something.

[photo removed]

In my dream version, Colorado would allow us to collect rainwater, which we would exclusively use for the water table. And then, well...um....this year, the boys would have no water to play with. But in a pedagogically ideal year, they would learn about water conservation! Well...we can't (legally) collect rainwater anyway; so instead we fill the red tub beneath the table with water using a hose. The water drains (mostly) back into the red tub. Over the course of about a month, I've only added water to the tub twice. So, I think we're still limiting the amount of water they have to play with. Kind of. Let's just say it's better than a continuously running hose.


I'm still fiddling around with the functionality of the table - trying to get it to do more. Noah and I went on an exploratory shopping trip to Home Depot with the sole purpose of finding new additions (plugs, pipes, hoses, funnels). We are hoping to build the water table up onto the fence - but we'll see. Summer is almost over, and I think my dreams may have gotten a little oversized again....

[photo removed]



Monday, August 20, 2012

Escape

We escaped dry, brown Colorado to Rhode Island this month to visit my family. It was great - and I do mean really, truly, wonderfully, great to spend some time with them. Also: Rhode Island is GREEN this year, due to plentiful water in many forms: rain, ocean, humidity. <insert happiness sigh>

The boys made full usage of their umbrellas every time it rained.

There are many attractions to visit within an hour drive of my parent's place. However, we often find the simplest things are the best. This child-size stage in the woods is always a big hit. It's right next to a playground, but you would never know it if you followed the boys' beeline paths to the stage.

[photo deleted]


One of the official attraction we did visit this year was the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. It is my favorite living history museum because the atmosphere is very low-key and all the hands-on activities have a high degree of new-ness. Sail setting, anyone?


Or perhaps some boat building?


Or maybe we'll just wade out in the water and catch something.


Below would be a hermit crab.


We also went to the zoo in Providence. I gushed about the number of trees in the zoo. Ah! Shade! Feels like such a novelty!


The boys were duly impressed by the Del's Lemonade carts at the zoo. Del's is a Rhode Island specialty. I don't know what they put in their frozen lemonade (probably something addictive and unhealthy) but it's unlike any other sort that I have ever had. Deliciously refreshing in spite of my suspicions.

[photo deleted]

We rode some swan boats at Roger Williams Park. You can't really tell they are swan boats from the photo below. Before I could come up with a better-photo-angle idea, I was kicked out because other people wanted to pedal! Can you believe it? Five year olds!

[photo deleted]


So I occupied myself by taking funny photos. See? Swans boats.


There was also some hair cutting, just because grandma does such a great job...

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and there was some hair styling by apprentices. Thank goodness my brothers are good natured...

[photo deleted]


because Noah and Mattias played long and hard with an old Lego monorail which – we would discover in the process of assembling – is a collector's item. Amazingly, my mother didn't vacuum up all the pieces. Do you think I should have her guest post about how she managed that?

[photo deleted]


Oh, yes, and then there was this: a birthday party for my father. 

[photo deleted]


All in all, it was one awesome trip that kept me from spending too much time obsessing about the things in Colorado that I can't control. Although, I'm happy to be home and looking forward to a less eventful and more reflective September.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Neighbors and the Giant Pumpkin

This morning I am up early – and I love waking up early. No, let's correct that: I love waking up early IF I am not woken up by one of the kids. Or I love waking up early IF I am the only one already awake. It doesn't happen often. (Mattias still likes to wake up before me.)

In honor of this highly unusual event, I give you a lighter(?) story from my summer. 

I live in a neighborhood full of kids. However, most these kids are still under the age of 8. I can count 19 children under the age of 8 in houses adjacent of ours. But I can only think of 5 preteens/teens within a one block radius. So this summer, when my neighborhood started experiencing the first rounds of preteen/teen-late-night-practical-jokes, one of my neighbors confided to me that she thought it was rather funny to see everyone's lawn ornaments rearranged.

The humor, however, was short-lived. After about 3 weekends we were all feeling fully UNamused. Also, we were feeling...well...pretty well whipped by the practical jokes*. The scores was something like: Practical Jokers, 56. Neighbors, 0.

One of my neighbors has a garden which sits directly across the street from us. In it, he was attempting to grow an 100 pound pumpkin. The pumpkin had gotten quite big. It had also become a clear source of pride and impromptu learning, with young neighborhood families stopping by to see just how big it had gotten each day.

Well, you can guess what happened. One evening, a pair of preteens walked by that giant, growing pumpkin, and smashed it. Except, one of my neighbors, Eagle Eyes, who lives across the street from the giant pumpkin, happened to see the whole thing. And when Pumpkin Grower came walking up just seconds later, Eagle Eyes told Pumpkin Grower,

"There they are! The culprits! They're walking right over there!"

So the Pumpkin Grower called 911 and knowing how slowly the police sometimes respond to 911 calls, Pumpkin Grower followed the culprits. He kept his distance, but he didn't want to lose the culprits either.

Meanwhile, the culprits noticed they were being followed and decided to call 911 themselves, to report that they were being followed! In a moment of clarity, the 911 operators figured out they were dealing with the same incident on both sides. The culprits were told to sit down at a specific intersection and wait for the police to arrive.

Which is just what happened.

So now the score is something like, Practical Jokers, 60. Neighbors, 1.

But that single victory does seem to have slowed the number of practical jokes.

* Unfortunately, too many of the practical jokes could also be called vandalism, but for the sake of this post and innocent-until-proven-guilty, I'll err on the generous side.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dining Chairs


Our dining chairs used to belong to Fritz's grandmother; they are from Germany in the 1950s. They're made of solid wood and have this swoopy curve design on the back. According to Fritz this was a pretty standard, generic style in the 1950s. While we lived in Germany, I did occasionally see similar chairs sitting around at various Flohmarkts (flea markets); so let's just say they must be somewhat common in Germany. We had used them for about 2 years (in Germany) and then I decided to sand them and stain them a dark color. That was in 2008. Since then, the chairs have undergone much child-wear-and-tear. The dark stain started flaking off about 1 year ago. Okay, confession: this was not only due to children, but also to things like the buttons on the back of our pants. They look miserable.


This brings up a frustration of mine regarding furniture: dark stain. We have several pieces of furniture that are stained a dark color and it is so impractical with children! And chairs are pretty much the worst furniture ever to have stained dark. I don't know why dark stain has been so fashionable for so long now. Unfortunately, with these chairs, I have nobody to blame but myself, because the chairs used to be a more natural wood tone. Probably if they were still a more natural wood tone that would have disguised the wear and tear. But I stained them darker. My fault. Entirely.

I think here I should point out I used some 
"environmentally friendly chemical stripper"which is probably an oxymoron, 
so the boys wore gloves and masks, when they 'helped' which they didn't, really.
And...I don't know. Probably a project I'll continue working on 

when they are not around, but you know, sometimes my desire to change-the-chair 
just drives me to think less and act more.

Now that I know better about dark stain, and given their sorry state, I decided to peel off the stain and sand them back down to natural. I could just get rid of them, I suppose. But I like them! There's that swoopy curve design on the back. And now that they've been transplanted halfway around the world, I'm attached to their new-found uniqueness. I know, I know. Peeling and sanding chairs is a brave and time-consuming endeavor. But I felt convinced that I wanted them (back to) a natural wood tone that would hold up better with 'kids.'

This is post chemical stripper, and after this,
I still need to attack them with steel wool and sand paper.

As soon as I started to remove the stain, I remembered why I stained them in the first place. That swoopy design that I like so much reads so much better with a dark stain. Maybe I was too rash to remove the dark stain? Maybe I just need to be more vigilant about touching them up and fixing scratches – whatever that means. Hmmm. So now I ask you: what do you think? Should I strip them all and return them to a natural wood color (more kid friendly and more work)? Or keep them a dark wood color (and less kid friendly and less work?)  Noah wants me to paint them a really bright color.

What should I do? I made a poll so you can vote! It's over on the side bar. You can also leave a comment to give your vote some extra weight.

(I probably won't paint them a bright color, but I am truly undecided about re-staining them dark.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mercury in Retrograde

My aunt's yoga instructor tells her that Mercury is in retrograde. My aunt relates this information to me on the phone, when she calls me.  The conversation begins, "Ann... I just read the morning paper..." 

I don't follow astrology, I never have. Do I believe in these things? No. But when I hear the phrase it sticks in my head. I find myself reciting the words. Mercury in retrograde. Mercury in retrograde.  It sounds like a composition. A symphonic composition? A painterly composition, perhaps? Maybe the words make a very heavy situation feel lighter? Mercury in Retrograde started July 14th and it ends August 8th. It will end, I tell myself, a sudden doubt in my own disbelief.


To say that life has been difficult the last two weeks is an understatement. We are all okay. And not okay. Those of us who are older are off-balance, shaken, and upset. We have no sense of humor and very little ability for small talk. As much as possible, we're focused on protecting the little ones. This focus grounds us. 

I apologize for posting in this vague, circumspect, and indirect manner. I want to be honest and open, I want to share more, but I don't believe now is the time. I've debated saying nothing but I feel like it undermines my blogging intent to hide something that is affecting us so personally. Also, maybe just telling you that we're not fully okay right now is enough that you'll forgive my absence. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

About those biergarten radish...

One of the vegetables in my garden this summer was German biergarten radish. If you've ever been to a biergarten in Munich, you've undoubtably seen them. Big, huge white radish cut into razor thin slices: laid out on a plate so they sweat when sprinkled with salt. (If you've never been to a biergarten in Munich, then that must sound like an extremely strange description of a food.) Delicious, no? I bet you're dying to try some.
The seeds weren't easy to find, but I persisted because I'm always looking for comfort foods for Fritz. This seemed like a good one. And we could grow it. And I'm a little obsessed with finding unusual foods to grow in the garden. Plus, we have a fancy German radish slicer that hasn't seen any action in the last three years.
Well, I don't know. I don't know about these radish. I don't know if I'm willing to grow them again. They were magnets for all sorts of garden pests. First, it was flea beetles. Then, it was aphids. None of these pests arrived in small numbers; rather they arrived in great, big swarms. I've diligently planted mint and marigolds trying to deter the infestation. On Monday, I admitted defeat and pulled out three quarters of the radish. They were actually still a little on the small side, but I'm too worried about my other vegetables to risk any more of this infestation business. And I think they're big enough that we won't feel we're missing out.

That said, it does make me feel like a real gardener to be dealing with PESTS.
I'm not a big fan of eating the radish, but you know what I LOVE about eating German biergarten radish? You can't do it without drinking a Radler: one part Sprite, one part your favorite IPA/light beer. Yum!