Sunday, March 18, 2012


I've always maintained that the value of this blog is two things. First, it is my personal exercise in sharing - something that I am not very good at. For me, sharing is an exercise in allowing myself to be - feel? - vulnerable.

I don't like feeling vulnerable. I typically and traditionally go out of my way to avoid it. But that doesn't mean I don't think sharing is important.

Second, it's something tangible that I can do. I can see the product. I can feel like I accomplished something on a day when it feels like nothing else got done around here.

But lately, neither or these two stars are aligning for me. I'm tired of sharing and it's associated vulnerabilities. I'm also feeling less interested in adding to my own collection of blog posts.

Maybe the stars will realign tomorrow, and maybe not. I don't know. In the meantime, I'll keep reading other blogs and updating these links on my sidebar for those of you looking for some inspiration.

Also, why in the world did blogger make this annoying auto-correct feature? I hate it. Can anyone tell me how to turn it off?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bottle Post

The weather has been so superb around here. Today was one of our first opportunities to go out together in what seems like months. Mattias is feeling much better.

We were inspired by a Sendung mit der Maus, the German program that the boys watch, to make a 'Bottle Post.' (Noah's translation, not mine.) This is going to sound a lot like Letterboxing (I think that's what it's called), but our version is much less sophisticated.

Noah drew a map and we stuck it in a bottle.

[photo removed]

Then we went for a bike ride. Noah has the bottle taped onto the back of his bike.

[photo removed]

We found a good (cough, cough) hiding spot. In this case, a drainage ditch under a sidewalk.

[photo removed]

And we left behind our Bottle Post. Man, it might be spring-like temperatures, but it is DRY in Colorado.

Now, this was KIND OF a successful adventure, and KIND OF NOT. I wanted Noah to draw a map of the location of the Bottle Post, and then give it to someone so that he could find it. He wanted to draw a map to put inside the Bottle Post. I can understand why this makes sense to him: the Bottle Post is suppose to show you where treasure is...I guess. But who is going to be able to find the Bottle Post without a map? We never reached a consensus on this map point.

In the real world: what neither Noah nor I addressed? looks like trash. So, anyway.

After we finished our littering lettering project, we headed home for water.

And splashing in puddles on the deck. Because it's dry out there.

[photo removed]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Doting on Mattias

Life with Mattias has been easier. For him, the last 2 months have been one sickness after the next. We went through something similar with Noah around the same age. So maybe there's just an illness prone stage? Or maybe it's because Mattias and I have been going to weekly-mom-coffee-hours while Noah's at school for the last two months? Sometimes I think our kids are trading illnesses faster than we can drink coffee.

Mattias came down with a fever on Monday afternoon. It ran at 103 straight through Thursday afternoon. Because he's the second child, I gave him some pain killer to bring the fever down and carried him around on as many of Noah's happenings as possible. Part of me thought, Na ja (translated: 'well;' but it sounds better in German's two syllables), he's fine. He'll pull through. Sometimes it's good to just carry on. No special treatment here.

On Friday, the fever finally began drifting away. The boys met Fritz at work for lunch; it's a tradition which they look forward to on Fridays. When I picked them an hour later they were all smiles. Until the car door closed and Mattias launched into the most piercing-growling-screaming of "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" that I have ever heard.

It didn't stop until we got home and he got out of the carseat and collapsed in my arms. He refused to be set down. He just wanted to be held.

[photo removed]

He wants to be held a lot these days. I oblige a lot because it's the easiest way to calm him.

As usual, my mind raced through the possible medical causes not treatable by pain killer. Ear infection? Strep? I'm still not knowledgable enough to recognize either one of these, no matter how many photos of strep-y throats or infected ear drums I look at on the internet. (But I'm all over bronchitis! I've got that one! This was NOT bronchitis or bronchiolitis.)

Stupid illness. Do you feel the time-bomb ticking on Fridays? Because I do. It says: if I don't get this kid into the doctor NOW, then whatever this is could continue for 60 more hours. It may not be bad enough to go the emergency room. It may only be bad enough to cause agitation and frustration over the course of the next 60 hours. Or it may just go away. Or if I scramble to get the kid into the limited Friday afternoon/Saturday morning office hours, there may be nothing more that they can do. And then I've wasted the money and effort to get a professional opinion to tell me the weekend will be stressful, but hey, there's pain killer!

I didn't call the pediatrician. That made laying in bed and listening to Mattias cry especially painful on Friday night.

I opted for the third option: a return to all the doting and natural remedies that I so carefully used with Noah. I sent Fritz and Noah to their Saturday morning playdate. In case of an ear infection, I dripped breast milk and Willow Garlic into his ears. As I mentioned, I have almost no experience with ear infections, but I read breast milk can actually cure them. And if not, well, I think it can't hurt, right? Willow Garlic to numb the pain. He seemed congested in his sinuses, so I gave him some German Ivy to help break up and expel any mucus. I gave him a warm bath with eucalyptus, which cures all sorts of things for me. We cuddled. We took a nap together. We walked leisurely with the kinderwagen in the warm afternoon sun, just the two of us, on our own schedule and route. In many ways, the whole day felt like a treat. It was the kind of doting and intensive caregiving that is only possible when I've got a second pair of hands to help with Noah. It felt very fortunate that Fritz was able to spend the day with Noah.

I don't know if these natural remedies and attentions will really make him feel much better. I doubt them; just as I doubt my own ability to diagnose the problem in the first place. But I can say that this type of care-taking makes me feel better than whatever medicinal option the pediatrician comes up with.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Being Scared

Mattias, Mattias. Mattias runs to me with open arms saying "Scared, scared." I picked him up and carry him around on my hip for the bazillionth time that day. "What's scary?" I ask him.

He never answers. Does he really have any idea what scary means? He's 23 months old.

At first, you hear him saying "scared" and it seems impressive. Wow. He's verbalizing so well! He's talking about his feelings! Most kids can't do that until they're three or four or thirty-four. Um. Wait a minute. Most kids can't... Most kids can't...?

As Grandma points out, maybe Mattias knows his trigger word for getting picked up. Hell, maybe he even thinks 'scared' MEANS 'pick me up.'

Still, I try to dissect "scared." When does he say it? Where does he say it? Why does he say it? Maybe I'm desperate to feel that I am not being manipulated by the trigger word. 

I observe this: at grandma and grandpa's house, Noah soaked up every drop of grand-parental attention like a thirsty sponge. Mattias is neither so persistent nor eager. He watches their games for a few minutes, then wanders towards me.

"Scared. Scared."

We arrive home from the airport after 10 days traveling. I set him down in our empty, quiet, CLEAN(!) house. He looks around nervously.

"Scared. Scared!"

I try to come to the conclusion that maybe 'scared' means more than wanting my attention. Maybe it also means he feels insecure based on the situation. Maybe being on the outside of a game, or the inside of an empty house is, in fact, scary. Therefore, maybe scared is more than a trigger word for Mattias. Maybe it is a feeling. Maybe he is emotionally brilliant for his age.

I'm heading down the dark basement stairs with a basketful of laundry. Mattias is standing at the top of the stairs, watching me.

"Scary. Scary!" He holds out his arms.

I blink. Wait a minute. Did he say "scary" or "carry?"  Does he say "scared" or "carried?"

Or maybe it's just a trigger word. Just the same, I pick him up and carry him downstairs on my right hip, laundry basket on the left hip. I make a mental note for one thousand time to find one of those laundry baskets with a hoop handle.

I don't know how the discussion of leopard seals eating penguins started, but it fascinated both the boys for several days.

[photo removed]

Grandma found a youtube video of a leopard seal catching (almost eating!) penguins online, and Noah was so impressed by it that he began quoting lines from the narration. His favorite phrase? The leopard seal "changes the rules of the game" by chasing the penguins on icebergs. There's racing through the water. There's clamping jaws. There's bloody penguins.

He wasn't scared by that video. He was fascinated.

A few days later, Grandma thought that Noah might like Happy Feet. I haven't seen it. "It's not scary," she promised, knowing that Noah has yet to make it through Toy Story. Toy Story is too 'scary' for Noah.

My brother, 31, begged to differ. "Happy Feet is totally scary," he told me. "The penguin basically spends the whole movie trying to fit in, and then he's captured, and he doesn't return home until the last five minutes of the movie."

For the record, Noah agreed with my brother. Happy Feet was scary. He cried through most of it and had nightmares that night.

But the video footage of a real leopard seal eating penguins? Not scary at all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Creativity and Criticism

When I was an undergraduate studying architecture, there was a professor whose infamy extended beyond his graduate-level studio courses. His revolutionary idea was that he did not believe in the value of studying precedents. He believed that creativity flowed from within him and his creativity was unique to him alone. Attempting to study important historical examples of, say, libraries, prior to designing a library would actually limit his creativity and result in a less than original library design. Consequently, none of his studio classes studied or discussed historical precedents.

At least, that is what we undergraduates believed he believed. We laughed. We dismissed him as crazy. Because OF COURSE it was important to be aware of what came before and outside of YOU.

What I find interesting lately, however, is the way in which I find myself wanting to believe his theory. Many days I want to isolate myself in a bubble; I want to believe in the originality of whatever idea floats into my brain; I want to develop that idea myself while sitting on the floor building block towers with the boys.

Somedays, as I surf through blogs and websites, I feel an enormous disappointment in the Sameness of it all. We're all lacking in creativity. Everything feels like copy-paste or repin. It feels like there's nothing new anywhere. For me, sites like Pinterest and networking concepts such as the 'like' button, reinforce a proliferation of thoughtlessness. Thoughtlessness, because, well, there's not a lot of editing or critiquing or improving going on when we use these tools to express our preferences.

It seems to me that there are two phenomenon at work that are aiding this proliferation of quick opinion over careful consideration.

The first phenomenon is something I'm going to call, Social Networking (Mis)Appropriates Blink. Have you read Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell? It came out in 2005, and actually, it would be pretty difficult to have missed the amount of publicity this book received. Unless, maybe, you were having a baby at the time. Then, I can totally understand. Just in case, I'll catch you up: the premise of the book is that our brains can make quick 'right' decisions (in the BLINK of an eye) by the subconscience processing of data. Gladwell gave authority to the power of intuition in a forceful and convincing way that spoke to the general public. As far as I know, nobody else was doing this before him. And to me, Blink contained the basic principle that many current web networking trends seem to be based on. Don't think, just connect! Tell us what you like! Quickly and intuitively!

The second phenomenon is - well, maybe less of a phenomenon and more of a cultural hurdle - the pressure to only say 'nice' things. There's no way around this one, because we (Americans, and especially women) do this to ourselves. I do it to myself. Well, I think, if I can't put this in nice terms, if I can't use positive words because this cashier's extremely slow pace checking us is making me frustrated, then I should just keep my mouth shut and not say anything.

The problem with this Be a Nice Person, Don't Complain thinking is that, if you don't complain, nothing changes.

And change is what creativity is all about.

If you are willing to run with me on my theory that Blink spawned all these snap judgments tools on the internet, then I need to also tell you that this internet appropriation got it wrong. Gladwell does point out that the ability to make a good-blink-decision comes from years of experience and training. But he doesn't focus on the importance of expertise and training and somehow, I believe, it got lost under the newfound Authority of Intuition.

Let's find an example of how the Blink might have overstated the importance of intuition:

My mother, with years of mothering experience can often intuitively work her way through child's temper tantrum with a speed that I cannot. However, I will carefully dissect the steps proceeding the temper tantrum and more slowly - but also successfully - resolve the problem. Neither one of us made a 'wrong' decision, but my mother's intuition benefited her and made her faster at solving the same problem.

In the above example, I wasn't an expert. But I was a critic. I am often still the critic at mothering. I think about everything. I consider different possibilities. I even complain, because, are you kidding me? I JUST ASKED YOU TO USE THE BATHROOM BEFORE WE GOT IN THE CAR! I whine, I clench my teeth. And eventually, I learn that if the child is dancing around in circles, clutching his crotch, and claims he doesn't need to go, and won't use the bathroom, the secret is: tell him to stand still. Hold his feet still, if you must. And then he gets it.

To me, this process of learning, THIS is what creativity is all about. We can use this same process to design buildings, make jewelry, write blogs or raise children. But it is not a simple and easy thing. It takes time. It takes personal investment. And I think that in this regard, maybe that graduate professor was right: just looking at precedents might not be so helpful. Most of us certainly have no business doing it quickly by clicking on a button. We don't exercise our creativity when we hit a 'like' or 'repin' button. We don't learn and we certainly don't create! That's just following the herd! It's thoughtless! And it's just adding more sameness to the big old ocean of internet sameness. And it's looking, really, really Same out there, friends.

So here's what I propose:
1) If we find something we like on the internet to reference, let's be specific, let's comment about WHY we like it.
2) Likewise, if there's something that can be made/done better about it, let's say that TOO. I think we all know how to be constructive.
(3) And if we don't know how to be constructive, let's start practicing.)

Creativity is a slow process, but it teaches us to think when we have to take our time. It teaches us to think when we make mistakes or acknowledge mistakes. It's a process that will be unique to each and everyone of us. If we could just trust a little more in ourselves; if we could just let ourselves be wrong and messy and un-marketed by the 'like' button, we'd be so much more interesting and thoughtful. And maybe someday we'll be truly worthy of intuitively clicking the 'like' button.

What do you think?

Friday, March 2, 2012


While in Rhode Island, we saw some interesting things. First up, this knitted (?) bird house that was at the Garden show. I can't knit, but if I could, I would totally make one or two or ten of these for my treeless yard. Maybe I should learn to knit? (I wish I could credit this, but it was not credited!)

Fortunately, I can sew. Remember those pants I made? They were a little big while I was still in Rhode Island, because apparently, I become a bloated binge eater around my parents. Now that I'm back in Denver, I can't even keep them up around my waist. It's true. I'm NOT pulling your leg.
For the record, these pants are about the simplest pants style out there. They button up one side. I had never sewed button holes, so I had to practice. I thought I was doing great until I got to the real pants (top in photo).

Whatever. It was my first pair of pants for a real human being (not My Little Ponies). You have to start somewhere. Maybe picking a thread to match the pants would be a good start. Wait a minute: here's some thread that matches:

It's an industrial spool of thread made into a lamp base! How cool is that? This idea was the brainchild of my brother and father. I asked them to make me one, but instead they gave me was an empty industrial spool prewired for a lamp. Still cool, but it's the thread that really lights me up. Pun intended.

Even without light, some of the tulips I was trying to force started growing. We hauled them out of storage and put them in a sunlit location yesterday. They quickly went from white to green.

Which means the tulips are already looking much better than the papyrus. Dear Readers, how do I love this papyrus? The problem with papyrus is that it needs to stay swimming in water. It dried out and turned quite yellow from a lack of water while we were in Rhode Island.

It still has a beauty to it. But, ah, I fear it may be a lost cause.

Another lost cause? These fennel seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library. I was so smitten with the packages, that I didn't bother to read the back of the package, where it clearly states fennel grows best in cool temperatures. Uh, yeah. That would NOT be my treeless yard.

So, who wants some fennel seeds in very lovely package?