Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Almost Perfect Ordinary Day

Today we had an Almost Perfect Ordinary Day. One might think that an Almost Perfect Ordinary Day comes every week or so. But sadly, no. I think it's more like once every three months.

I spent the day being thankful for each successive successful moment. Breakfast, school, lunch, nap, laundry, playing outside, grocery shopping, dinner, bedtime. I promised myself that I would at least acknowledge here that we had one; especially since I'm quicker to record the messy moments.

The last two months have been rough around here. We've been lucky to do lots of fun stuff and spend a lot of time visiting relatives. But disruption to the normal schedule is always stressful and it feels good - so good - to be looking at a more or less unscheduled calendar for a few months.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to form letters

We went to Rhode Island, to visit my family. Fritz went to sunny San Diego, which, it turns out, is not as sunny as Denver, but more like 'hazy.'

[photo removed]

Poor Fritz. Perhaps scuba-diving will make up for missing Denver's sun and Rhode Island's indoor sand sculpture at the Garden Show.

In Rhode Island, Noah got a healthy dose of time with grandma, a reading specialist. His week was filled with letters and sounds and books and words.

[photo removed]

I asked my mother for a little bit of help in telling Noah how to write his letters. For example, what can I say to help Noah make letters when he asks, "Mommy, how do I make a 'g'?"

tropria = airport  (This is a map.)
Now, OF COURSE, I can draw 'g' in the air with my hand or come over and help him. But sometimes my hands are full or busy or occupied, so I wanted verbal cues. She gave me her list of 'verbal pathways' and I posted them over here, along with some additional information that she gave me.

Maybe you'll find it helpful, too.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

So, an apology. Because I actually find it rather tedious to read detailed posts about craft projects. Unless they're funny. This post is not funny. But. I am doing a lot of crafty projects lately. I don't seem to be able to carve out the mental space I need to write about More Important Things, like how I dislike the phrase 'helicopter parent.' So:
[photo removed]

This week, I'm busy sewing pants for myself. I forgot I can sew. I used to sew clothes for my My Little Ponies:

[photo removed]

What? You didn't sew clothes for purple and pink plastic ponies?

After attaining that specific and useful skill, I think it's rather legitimate that I forgot I can sew.

Inspired by my favorite pair of pants, that date back to 1999(!), I hauled out my sewing machine and started to work on Monday.

First, I sewed a trial pair of pants. Just to make sure I could do it. They were too small. Ah-hem.

Then, I adjusted the pattern, and sewed a real pair. They are still a little too big, even though I tore them apart and re-stiched them once to make them smaller. I tend to like my clothes "relaxed," so I'll still wear them.

(Here is where I COULD insert a photo of the myself in the pants, but then: 1) I would feel obliged to take a flattering photo of the myself looking thinner than I do in real life wearing the pants and 2) you would feel obliged to tell me that they look good and 3) let's just skip all that formality, right? and 4) I didn't sew them to impress anybody but rather 5)  I just wanted a pair of pants that fit AND 6) too-many-photos-of-me on this blog makes me feel marketed which is 7) something I'd like to avoid.)

I made them with this discounted, moss-colored wool, and lined them with magenta silk. Why? Just because I could. And the price was right.

Also, there's something marvelous about having a surprising, secret, bright colored lining in clothes.

Tomorrow, I'm going back to the fabric outlet to get more fabric.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Drawer under the Stovetop

Once upon a time, we lived in the center of Munich in an apartment with a little kitchen. The little kitchen had only two little drawers, so we hung our knives on the wall with magnetic bars from Ikea (of course). The wall itself was so little that we had to rotate the bars 45 degrees to make them fit.  We laughed and thought it was funny. Until we had a baby.

[photo removed]

The baby baby's stuff required more room than our charming apartment (and we worried about those knives hanging on the wall), so we moved to the edges of Munich where we installed a big glorious (Ikea, of course), kitchen with plenty of drawers for knives.
Then we moved to Denver and we weren't quite ready to buy a house. But our rental house had a very nice (non Ikea) kitchen with plenty of drawers for knives that were child-proofed to little hands.
Finally, at the cumulative age of 75, Fritz and I bought a house. It had a big (non Ikea) kitchen, with mostly big drawers, except for the one where I put the knives.
One day, not very long after we had signed the rest of our life away to a mortgage, I turned around and looked at empty drawer front immediately under the stovetop and said, "Why isn't there a drawer there!?"
And I pried off that non-drawer front and discovered... EMPTINESS. Except for a tiny little gas pipe WAY in the back. 
Immediately, I sensed my knives could go there. And I regularly began attempting to open that non-drawer, because it just felt like The Place for Knives To Be. Finally, I decided we MUST build a drawer beneath the stovetop. It would be shallower than the other drawers to account for the gas connection in the back, but it would be big enough to fit the knives.

We monitored the heat levels down there, and finding no heat accumulation, I began plotting an Ikea intervention. But Ikea failed me.

So over Christmas, we recruited my father's help. (Yes, my father does, in fact, know how to do everything and without Ikea.) He built us this beautiful drawer and then shipped it to us in Denver, all the way from Rhode Island.
It even had a little tray the could slide over the knives. (Just wait. Photo is coming.)

As I mentioned, the drawer was shallower than a normal drawer. 
AND the drawer (sadly) warped in transit. We needed the original depth to fit the drawer to the drawer gliders, so we improvised a solution. 
Then, we attached the front and filled up the drawer with knives. Because I can't really do anything without Ikea, we found a way to reuse those Ikea strip magnets.
And Fritz began to feel a calling about the tray in the drawer.
He drilled fifty-six 1.5 inch holes in a piece of high density plastic and....

the tray became home to his Nespresso pods. 
Now that our knives and Nespresso pods are provided for, we can work on paying off the mortgage. (I don't think Ikea will help too much with that, either.) 

Friday, February 17, 2012


Everyday, we rush home from preschool, trying to keep Mattias from napping in the car.

When we get home, I carry Mattias upstairs and put him down for a nap, while Noah paces around the kitchen, hungry for lunch.

Sometimes he makes his own. Yesterday it was Nutella on gold fish with herbal green tea (in cold water).

[photo removed]

I swear: I do not feed him like this.

I may or may not feed myself like this. On occasion.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Who is winning?

Noah and I became completely infatuated with playing this memory card game earlier this week while sick little Mattias napped in my arms. Check out the pairs of animals. See how they match - almost - but not quite?
They are male and female versions of the same animal! Is that genius or what? I think it MIGHT actually make the game just a little bit more difficult.

Here, I need to confess that I am having so much fun playing this game, that I am irreverently winning against Noah almost all the time. Here's how bad it is: I've figured out if we have 7 or fewer pairs, I win about half the time. If we have 10 or more pairs, the chances of me winning are, like, 9 times out of ten. So, of course, we are playing with 10 or more pairs!

Noah is so close to understanding that the key is watching your opponent's moves. But not quite! Since he knows my success has something to do with watching during his turn, he keeps trying to convince me that the rules are: NO WATCHING during your opponent's turn. He claims that Oma taught him this rule. Hmm. Maybe the game IS played differently in Germany?

Fritz says, no, it's played the same.

I keep telling Noah that it doesn't matter, this is how we are playing the game in Amerika. I'm so culturally sensitive sometimes. (Did I mention I really like to win?)

Someday he will figure out how to benefit from my not-knowing, and then he can win more often.

Or maybe he already HAS figured it out, considering that I am still sitting here wondering if they actually DO play the game differently in Germany. Huh.

Also, regarding (potentially) irreverent, you know what this game was named? I'll translate: Tichas' Arch: A Memory Game. Shouldn't it be Noah's Arch? The back of the box says Hans Ticha is the name of the artist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Domino Named Sick, Part Two

Mattias spent the last two weekends 'coming down with something.' He got better in between the weekends but:

On Monday, he was pronounced to have bronchiolitis and a double ear infection.

Fritz and I are already pros at the bronchiolitis stuff. Oxygen levels, nebulizer, albuterol. Check, check, check. The new thing, for us, is the ear infections. Can you believe this is our first ear infection in almost 5 years?

I think we've been lucky.

It's tough, this sickness stuff. Tough for the toddler who can't relax, tough for the mommy who is constantly holding the toddler, tough for the older brother who just wants to DO SOMETHING, tough for the daddy who comes home and has to pick up all the slack.

But you already know that.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Round One with Magnetic Primer

I decided to paint some walls in our house with that magnetic primers and have another Rotating Gallery of Child Art (because the refrigerator isn't enough).

I got all inspired by my neighbor, who has repainted her living room three times in the last year. And she has two kids. And her two kids are younger than mine. And she's figured out the perfect roller to use on our whoever-thought-this-was-a-good-idea? textured walls. Thinking about it, I felt like she'd practically done all the work for me. We'd have some (more child) artwork on display in no time!

All I had to do was get some magnetic primer, some wall paint to cover it up, and paint.

Steps one and two went super. I felt successful even when we had to visit three stores to get all the supplies. As I loaded the last can of paint into the car, I looked up at the sky. It was grey. It smelled like cattle manure. That means snow in Denver. And there was snow in the forecast for the next day. We'd be able to spend the snow day painting! What a great idea! Noah was going to LOVE this!  And Mattias? Well, that's what naps are for.

Except Mattias naps for 45 minutes, not 3 hours like the toddler next door. No matter! All we needed was 45 minutes of focused time.

The next day is snowy. No school. The snow falls. Noah becomes restless.

I recruit his help prepping the edges with painters tape. We cover some surfaces with paper. As soon as Mattias is napping, I rip open the magnetic primer and start priming. Noah climbs around on the furniture, watching me.

"Mommy, this is boring."

"Um... umm. Can you be my helper? Run down stairs and bring me a paper towel, please?"


Mattias awakes just as I am about to finish the first coat.

"Noah, could you be my helper again? Run down stairs and get some plastic wrap?"

"What's that?"

"It's in a green box, in the bottom drawer, next the sink."

"Okay."...Mattias is crying in his bedroom. He wants out....Noah returns. "Here it is, Mommy. What are you going to do with it?"

"Oh, see? I just wrap it around this tray and the roller and then we'll put everything aside and we can paint some more later."

Escalating cries from Mattias' bedroom.

I pull off my latex gloves and swoop into Mattias' room to retrieve him. When we return to the painting project, it smells VERY chemical-y. I pick up the magnetic primer box: Nontoxic when dry it reads. Use adequate ventilation. That would have been good to read before starting. Whatever. I open the windows in the middle of the snowstorm, turn on the room fan, and herd the boys downstairs while carrying my plastic wrapped painting supplies. I set the painting supplies in the garage and distract the boys with a snack, hoping to find a few minutes to clean up a little bit more.

Mattias manages to slowly drop every piece of food on top of every piece of breakfast food (still on the floor from breakfast) while I am hurriedly eliminating toxic wet spilled primer.

They finish their snack and begin chasing each other around the house. Determined to stay a little bit clean, I vacuum both the table and under the table.

When I finish and turn off the vacuum, all I hear is the sound of snow flakes.

In other words: trouble.

Noah immobilized himself.
Yes, everyone was just fine. No thanks to the toxic-when-wet-magnetic primer.

(I grabbed my camera and took photos AFTER securing the scene.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Domino Named Laptop, Part One

Some periods of life feel like a gigantic domino game with one little fall after the next. At least, that's the way the last two months have felt around here. I think we're nearing the end; or I'm more of an optimist than I give myself credit for. It's not really that bad. It's just that things can feel a little out of control.

I would LOVE to keep up a steady stream of random blog posts to distract myself, but technological problems are foiling my efforts!  Here's what I look like sitting on the floor, using a footstool, trying to use the television computer (to blog and) distract myself from the Domino Named Housework:

You can thank Noah for his photo taking skills.
Aside: Yes, a monitor can be too big to use effectively.

So, I guess it is already pretty clear to most readers: I like to make stuff. Even: I need to make stuff. Making stuff keeps me sane. I used to think I needed physical, tangible projects, but in the last several years, I've discovered that the physicality of my creations might not be so important. For example, blogging alone has done a pretty good job filling my need. I think of each post as a little creation. Simply the act of putting together a post can bring down my anxiety level.

Blogging is also the type of activity that fits really well with being at home with the boys. Hauling my laptop around the house is actually easier than hauling Mattias around the house. I can have a flash of brilliance (ha ha), note it on my desktop, work for a minute here or there, pause, resume later, edit after bedtime, and not have a trail of mess behind me. It's inexpensive! It's neat and clean and goes with the rhythm.

Physical projects? Not so much.

Surely, multiple somebodies have written about this Mommy Blogging Laptop Phenomenon more eloquently. Please leave any links below, because as much as I love blogging, I'm not a writer. But I love an eloquent post.

Without my convenient little laptop buddy for bloggy projects, I'm resorting to actual physical projects. That's a domino effect right there. I'm just warning you. Things might be about to get a little bit make-y, create-y around here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ikea Bench Hack

We're really into our Ikea hacks around here lately. It's seasonal. Now is a good time to be working on indoor projects. And now that we've made it past the major winter holidays, we actually have some time. Time: kind of.

So, last up was this window-esque bench, made from some Ikea expedits. We placed a pair of long skinny Expedits (I call them 1x5s, for the arrangement of the cubbies) horizontally below the windows and placed a butcher block bench on top of them. Sadly, we had to seam it in the middle, but, well, whatever.

As opposed to buying some pre-made benches, making our own butcher block top allowed us to snug right up against three walls and avoid toys-being-dropped-behind. (Another version, in our mudroom, away from the wall with built in substructure, here.) It's a semi-built in. We didn't stain or paint the butcher block, because, well, we've figured it out: stained or painted wood surfaces are a disaster with kids.

We also raised the Expedits off the floor with a redwood platform. And we used redwood because it was darker wood that required no staining. See how kid friendly we are around here?

(Who am I kidding? This thing is a toy bench.)
The big idea was to put both storage for toys and play surface in this room. As you can see, the bench is MOSTLY used as play surface. Perhaps in the future it will be used as a window seat? I have grand pillow and cushion plans.

The redwood platform is pretty important to the 'finished' look (if you ask me). The platform is smaller than the Expedits to de-emphasize the joint between floor and shelf by throwing it into shadow. As carpentry strategies go, this is the OPPOSITE of baseboard trim. The recessed base has the sneaky effect of making the room appear a little bit bigger because your eye sees the floor running underneath the Expedits and calculates more space into the room. We all want the room covered in toys to look as big as possible, right?
Before - see how small the room looks when the Expedits are sitting directly on the floor? Actually, I'm kidding, it doesn't really look THAT much smaller in this photo. But one does notice the effect in small spaces/in person.
One more thing: I love Expedits, let me tell you why. First, they've held up really well over the long term (for the price). I bought my first one – back when they used real birch veneer and cost about $300 for a 4x4 – over TEN years ago.  (Today you can get a 4x4 for about $130.) My first one still looks great, even though it lives in the boys' bedroom. The reason they hold up well, I believe, has almost as much to do with their design as construction: essentially, they have a short shelf span. This means you have to work harder to overload each shelf. The laminated particle board is less likely to wrap/bow/sag if it's not overloaded. The shelves are a big difference from something like, say, Ikea Billy shelves which look miserable about 18 months after you buy them, especially if you actually plan to store heavy things like books or paper on them.

This counts as organized at my house.
The second great thing about Expedits are the multitude of options you have for filling those shelves/cubbies. Ikea offers drawers, smaller shelves, paper bins, plastic bins, fabric bins, wicker baskets. The possibilities feel endless. But my favorite option isn't at Ikea. It is Target's ITSO fabric bin, because they fit PERFECTLY. I thought I was a genius when I discovered this, but this tip is all over the internet. I have been slowly buying these bins when they are on sale for the last three years. We keep toys, files, shoes, papers, you-name-it in them. The bins are constantly moving around the house and shoved into the nearest Expedit to conceal the mess in an pinch. (Meredith mentioned this idea last year when I was complaining about a lack of storage in our house. Little did she know I was just WAITING for Ikea...) And since Ikea opened this summer in Denver, we have multitudes of Expedits to hold the bins. 

(And, yes, that's right, multitudes. You didn't think I was done with all my hacking, did you?)

Adjacent magnetic primer experiment here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kezboards Should Be Waterproof

My laptop broke last Thursday.

Ah... my laptop. It has 'spill damage' on the motherboard and will cost almost more to repair than the laptop cost new 3 years ago. Ugh.

I told myself I wasn't going to complain (especially on this blog), because I have a backup: our 'television' computer. And it's fine, even if the German keyboard makes my sentences look like this:

I#m luckz and blessed to have an alternative. German kezboards aren#t so bad, computer program#s autocorrection on German kezboards, however can be (bad). I can type all the blöde üs ös äs ßs that I want to.

So, it's fine. It's a very minor bump in the road. But it does make me feel all out of sorts not to have a laptop (with an English keyboard).

The End.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Snow Warrior

Those aren't just any tires. Those are STUDDED tires.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I have little idea what I am doing but I will continue taking photos at great risk to my deck.

"Why do you always do that?" my mom asked me. "Why do you always take photos of the boys doing the things that drive you crazy? And WHY do you post them on your blog??"

I shrugged my shoulders, a gesture that was lost in our telephone connection. "I guess because I have some desire to show life as it really is? In all it's craziness?" It was a question. Because I didn't know why.

"It just encourages them when you take their photos doing those things, you know."

"I know."

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I think I'm finding a new answer.

The weather here is beautiful. In the 60s and sun. Don't be too jealous, it's suppose to change tomorrow. Snow. But today, Noah wanted to go outside. In the front yard. He likes the front yard because there is no fence, and he can freely chat with everyone walking past. I dislike the front yard because there is no fence, and I must chat with everyone walking past.

I talk him into playing in the side yard, where there is a fence. It takes some work, but I win when he trips over a bush in the front yard and falls on the prickly wood mulch.

He wants to bring the sidewalk chalk, but there is no concrete for coloring in the side yard. I concede, because I'm tired of arguing, tired of looking up anxiously every time I hear the sound of a car, and tired of feeling the need to be neighborly.

In the side yard, the furniture moving commences. It's a ritual that I can not stop. Every time we are in the side yard, he MUST push all of the deck furniture around the deck and make a 'boat.' Here is his boat.
[photo removed]
It drives me batty: the scratchy-draggy sound of heavy wooden furniture being pushed across the deck we installed ourselves less than a year ago. The fact that the deck is already high and YET he has to make a slightly higher perch for himself... (he's probably still trying to chat with the neighbors)... And oh, the huge the scratches IN the deck! Breathe, breathe, it's a deck – an outdoor deck – it's just a THING, I tell myself.
[photo removed]

I suggest other activities. No. I suggest I help him. No. Wants to do it himself. I tell him, No, not this time, Bud.... But, Mommy... Arguing is sport for Noah. It has been since he was born. He LOVES to argue. I've said it before, I'll say it again: it's exhausting.

Mattias doesn't have the same need to push around furniture. Instead, he pushes around sand. His front loaders quickly leave sand in unwanted piles all over the deck and in the plants.

[photo removed]

"Mattias, no. Sand stays in the sandbox! Come, clean up the sand." Mattias doesn't argue. He also listens. He gets a little broom and sweeps. Part of it, of course, is that he's younger, and part of it is his personality. Mattias does not love to argue.

"Mommy, I'll just mark the spots where Mattias put the sand," says Noah helpfully. He begins making green chalk slashes across piles of sand on the deck.

No. No! NO! NO!! I think. But I bite my tongue because

How many times will I say No? How many Nos do they need to hear? Surely, as some point the Nos are as frustrating to me as the they are to them. I imagine that every No I use will bounce off them and bounce back to me as some point in the distant or not-so-distant future. I try to save my Nos for the really important things...

Mostly, I redirect. Reorient. Again and again and again.

Noah's grandparents have been predicting this for years: that this very difficult behavior will be an advantage as he grows older. At 58 months, we are just beginning to get an idea of what those advantages might be. Noah is NOT highly susceptible to peer pressure. He goes about, doing his own thing, finding – or even making – his own place. He becomes more creative and more confident every day. Once he knows want he wants (and that happens very quickly), and he's ready to get it. And, to the best of my knowledge, he is remarkably peaceful and gentle in arguing his desires. It does appear to be the kind of determination, self awareness, and kindness that will bode him well in his adulthood.

But it's also a determination that makes me clench my teeth.

That's when I pull out the camera. Instead of entering a battle of the wills, instead of laying out consequence after consequence that may be as miserable in implementation as they were in conception, instead of filling our interaction with Nos, I get my camera. I take photos of his headstrong projects. I stick myself behind the camera to keep my cool. I don't yell. I don't grind my teeth. I don't say No. I shoot photos.

Afterall, what he's doing, it isn't really wrong. At least, not wrong enough for me to fight and yell. It's not wrong enough for me to waste too many Nos. At worst, what he's doing is destructive (to the deck, a THING). But he sees it as constructive (he's made a boat). What if I respond to his constructive impulse with anger? If he doesn't appreciate that his play undermines or damages our work, is my frustration the best way to teach this?

With the camera in my hands, I keep my cool. I let him fulfill whatever part of him it is that needs to do build a 'boat.' My frustration does not become his frustration. The camera buffers.

Later, when he is finished, we will put the furniture back in place. We will sweep the chalk off the deck boards. We will replace any sand (that Mattias missed) into the sandbox.

The scratches in the deck will be a casualty. But I like to think Noah's peaceful, confident determination will be my reward.

I hope, oh, do I hope.