Saturday, December 28, 2013

04 μικρο-μακρο (Micro-Macro)

 Running strings across the stairwell seems to be a common game in our house. Sometimes, it's a spider web, sometimes a impromptu zip line for – for – uh, wood blocks? Someday someone is going to injure themselves on these contraptions.

[photo removed]

One of the items on the boy's Christmas list was a pulley for the outdoor playhouse. My brother, who has a machine shop, actually made them a pulley, a beautiful wood pulley from mahogany and walnut and climbing ropes.  It might be too beautiful for the playhouse. Before giving them the pulley, my brother asked me,

"Are you sure you want them to have a pulley? I can imagine Noah lifting Mattias into the air with this thing."


If you remember simple machines from physics, a pulley reduces the effort needed to lift an item. My brother's device has four pulleys, which, I THINK, means the effort to lift something is one-quarter that which would otherwise be required.

So, yes, they could lift each other.

And now that I've seen the beautifully crafted pulley that my brother made, I'm having some second thoughts about letting the boys use the pulley. Hmm.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fact

[photo removed]
This year, one of our children is floating out of beliefdom. One of our children is oblivious. And one has no reason whatsoever to doubt that Santa just happened to be skiing the same day and the same place that he was.

Friday, December 20, 2013

03 μικρο-μακρο (Micro-Macro)


[photo removed, sorry. I do that after a few weeks...]

Watching babies figuring out how to get around? Awesome.

[photo removed]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Furniture Anticipation

My parents are giving us their old living room furniture: basically, tables and shelves. They bought it in the mid 70s. The furniture really looks like it's from the mid 70s. It's not terribly stylish, even in a vintage kind of way. My Dad called it "timeless." Um. I don't know...maybe not. But it is solid wood and it held up 22 years of abuse from my brothers and me. I think it could make it another 18 years in our home.

Here's the thing: we've moved a lot and we've never felt like we could invest in nice furniture: first, because we were leaving behind furniture every two years when we moved, and second, because, hello! kids destroy furniture! The furniture we have is either Ikea or it's something we inherited and managed to keep a hold of. Since moving into our house three years ago and settling in, I've felt like it might be time to get something other than Ikea Lack tables... but, you know, kids! and not wasting money! and not having a lot of money in the first place! Every year at Christmas (and my birthday, which happens to be the same day) we have these long, protracted conversations about my dream coffee table and my dream console table and my dream furniture for the living room. Nothing ever happens because 1) I can't find exactly what I want (I'm soooo picky), 2) I can't bring myself to spend money on something cheaper/less desirable that will be destroyed quickly, 3) Even given oodles of money, do I really want to risk the perfect coffee table being ruined by the kids?

We would always end up giving up. Well, someday...I console myself, it's fun to dream, right?

Truthfully, I DO like anticipation, but the lack of any potential options was becoming a real drag on the anticipation fun. When my parents offered to ship their old furniture to us, it felt like the perfect solution. Solid, reliable, dated furniture that makes me a little nostalgic. And I can finally stop fussing about not having a coffee table. And I won't have to worry about my kids destroying it! Hurray! The furniture is suppose to arrive the 20th or 23rd. Fingers crossed, thumbs pressed; NOW I am savoring the anticipation.

This is where a coffee table should be.
Nope, sorry, kiddos, that's not a coat tree.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

02 μικρο-μακρο (Micro-Macro)


[photo removed]

After we got a whole bunch of rain in October, we took the boys on a tour of the neighborhood to see the damage. In retrospect, maybe not such a good idea; Noah's separation anxiety began shortly thereafter. It took a professional to see that connection. We thought we were just helping our kids be explorers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

01 μικρο-μακρο (Micro-Macro)



Come on, who can resist putting Greek letters in the title of their post? RIGHT?!?

This is a Pop Up Candy Shop at our house.

Let's do a series, okay? Photos: Same scene, two photos: one detail, one context.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Insulating

It's still really cold here. I spent the weekend eating chocolate chip cookies and brownies to increase my already sufficient insulation. The boys were a little annoyed when they discovered the empty pan of brownies that I'd made ostensibly for them. Oh well, you snooze, you...freeze. Or how about: you snoze, you froze? No? Snoze isn't a word?

Noah and Fritz actually went skiing in this cold. They came home happy and NOT frozen, which I suppose, just goes to show all the high-tech snow gear really does work. Or that brownies are truly not necessary for survival. Fritz sent me this photo of Noah on the slope (looks almost exactly like the photos from last year. At some point we'll stop taking the same photo, or at least, get Noah some different colored ski gear):

[photo removed]

I panicked and texted Fritz back to "Cover Noah's nose! Cover his nose!"

One of the parenting books I've been reading recently says that this is about the age where boys really start to look up to their father (or other male figures). The book claimed it's really important around age 7 or 8 for boys to spend time with their dads, doing the things that their dads like to do. So I'm really happy to see Noah and Fritz head out together. Somehow, it feels like there's now a distance between Noah and me that wasn't there before. I mean: part of it is Trixie (she consumes a lot of time!) and part of it is just Noah's age. It sure does make me a little wistful. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps?

And I'm eager to join them! How long until we can put Trixie on skis? Like four years? SIGH.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

the strange state of pending snow

For some reason, snow here in the metro area is always pre-empted by the smell of the cattle yards. It makes little sense, because all morning, we've watched the clouds building over the mountains to the west. By noon, the clouds have blocked out the sun above us. Yet, it is the cattle yards – which lie to the northeast, almost the opposite direction –  that we smell so distinctly in the hours before the snow begins.

Red sky at morning, shepherd take warning...
Even if you don't watch television, it's impossible not to be affected by the the drum of anticipation that comes with a sharp change in the weather. One teacher is joking about having survival meals in her car. Costco is unusually busy, and the cashier tells me that everyone is stocking up for the coming cold. I, too, feel the sudden urge to get out of the house while I still (easily) can. My last minute shopping list feels revealing: What do you need to have if three days of single digit temperatures and snow are coming?

eggs
milk
70% Lindt chocolate bars
chocolate chips
diapers

I add "play dough" to the list while Mattias bounces up and down on the sofa. 

I think about other things I should do NOW: put gas in the car, hang up the christmas lights. Apparently, sharp changes in the weather bring out the consumer in me. 

Which reminds me of Christmas shopping and all the Christmas shopping that I have yet to do. Well, the internet should still be working, I tell myself. Best to save up my internet time for the coming days.

I confess, I can't help but roll my eyes at myself (and everyone around me), just a bit. Colder, some snow, is it really such big deal? 

No, of course not. As long as I have some chocolate bars, we'll be fine.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Television

I'm sitting on the couch, halfway watching television with the boys. We actually don't watch much television, and what we do watch is German television, recorded over the internet, played back through a computer. At some point, we decided that if the kids were going to watch television, they should at least be "improving" their German. This is a controversial position to take. Most people would say you can't improve your language abilities with television watching. I'm not really going to argue this point, because I'm not sure I disagree. The only thing I can say is that it can't hurt their German, can it? Oh, I guess that depends on what they watch.

The boys watch a smattering of German public television shows selected by Fritz for their content. (Sendung mit dem Elefanten, Sendung mit der Maus, Paula und die Wilden Tiere, Checker Can.) They also occasionally watch Oktonauten, which is an animated and translated Disney export. The peculiar thing about most of what they watch, is that it is NOT animated; and it's a lot of documentary and investigative shows. There's very little drama and very little emotional upheaval. It's facts, it's real people, it's processes and systems.

For Mattais (3 years old), watching this type of program might mean watching while a 6 year old narrates all the things her 18 month old sister can do. He's fascinated by these particular type of clips, probably because the narrator is just a little more sophisticated than him, but the topic is all stuff he's "conquered." Or Mattias might watch Tanja and Andre demonstrate a basic physical principal, such as here where they stand a glass of water on a piece of folded paper. Noah has recently been fascinated by Checker Can's investigation of how ski lift cabins slow down at the entry and exit points. (Even Fritz seems to get excited about this one, "Do you know this simple invention REVOLUTIONIZED the ski resorts?" he asks me.)

Beyond that, these German shows follow the basic format of classic composition: they tell you what they're going to tell you, then they tell you, then they tell you what they told you. Some shows spend time introducing the "characters" or "setting," even when they are, say, exploring how to operate a dog sled.

Now that Noah is in first grade, I'm especially tuned into these details. Noah's teacher (she's excellent at communicating pedagogical goals with us), regularly sends home lists of questions to discuss with Noah about what he reads and how he writes. It's difficult not to see the similarities between the way the German programs are structured and the pedagogical goals of Noah's teacher.

This seems like an amazing break-through (but maybe it's just me): television shows that are employing the same logical structure that my kid is learning in school for reading and writing! WOW!

Last weekend, I was at a get together with a mix of German/American families. Because I'd had this break-through epiphany about the television the boys are watching, I made the over-reaching assertion that German kids television is better than American kids television. Even in this "friendly" setting, Fritz gave me a look like, What are you doing?! Don't say that! Be quiet! Sure enough, somebody who doesn't watch German television, looked at me doubtfully and wondered if German television could possibly be better than American PBS Kids?

Well, I think it could be. But then, I hardly ever watch American television these days. So, really, what do I know? The last time I was at my parent's house, I eagerly cozied up to their television, all ready to introduce my children to the wonderful world of PBS Kids. For some reason, Wild Kratts was on a lot. At first I thought, "Oh, good, a show about animals, perfect! Maybe it'll be like Paula und die Wilden Tiere. But it was horrible! The perfectly interesting real people are made into cartoon characters. (Why? What's wrong with the Kratts brothers as they are?) There's a whole fiction storyline of good versus evil interwoven with information about animals. (Why? Why do already-interesting animals have to be mixed with an epic struggle of good versus evil?)

It made me angry because I thought to myself, here is an opportunity to teach children about something! To teach them about something they are already interested in (animals). Also, this is an opportunity to teach them in an organized, useful, real-world way. BUT someone (Hollywood?) went and made it into something silly and fake and illogical in its structure. Essentially: someone dumbed it down so much that there's barely anything educational about it.

I don't know. Maybe PBS's Dinosaur Train really is wonderful. (This is what I was told. You might know better than me.) Maybe it's more wonderful than the German age equivalent show Sendung mit dem Elefant. The truth is, I haven't seen Dinosaur Train. I looked it up on the internet, saw that it was predominantly (all?) animated characters and sighed to myself. Really, does everything HAVE to be animated? What does that say to our children?

The truth about television is that I don't know if the German television programming that we are watching is actually better than what's currently available on American television. Just like I don't really know if my kids are learning a lick of German from their television watching. What I DO KNOW, is that the stuff my kids are watching on German television now is way better than the shit I watched on American television as a child. AND maybe if I had watched more organized and meaningful television, I'd be better at communicating exactly what the problem is. Let me try to sum it up anyway:

Since there seems to be a lot of interest in improving our educational system, why not try to align what kids watch with what's expected of them in schools? Why can't programming be more educationally beneficial, both in term of its content and structure? Why can't it create role models and goals and aspirations for children that are real, not imaginary? Sounds kind of obvious, right? Maybe we should hold the television industry a little more accountable for education.

And maybe I'm totally wrong. Tell me.

Updated for clip links, per request:
Paula und die Wilden Tiere: Paula looks for wildcats here.
Checker Can: all about bikes here.
Sendung mit dem Elefanten: Tanja and Andre make potato prints here.
Sendung mit der Maus: podcast of how bicycle helmets are made here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Six Months

I love six-month-olds!

[photo removed]

Since that rough patch between 2 weeks and 3 months, things are just getting better.

[photo removed]

The photos will have to suffice,

[photo removed]

since there's no way to do a virtual hand-off.

[photo removed]

Okay, now, try not to say, "Cute!" I'm working hard not to compliment her on how she looks all the time. And, yes, I find myself much more likely to comment on her appearance than I ever did with the boys. (I mean, except, of course, for the fact that I am trying NOT to comment on it.)

Sometimes it's awfully hard. Let's see: "Trixie! My, you sure can get that stuffed animal's attention!"

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sharing the Soap and Water

I mentioned last week that there has been some tension between Noah and I lately. Most of that tension has revolved around the ABSOLUTELY MISERABLE school drop offs that started occurring very shortly after writing this post. The miserableness of the drop offs involved Noah not getting out of the car, grabbing my hand (or arm or leg), refusing to go into the school (even when the playground had been emptied of kids), running after me if I walked away, attempting to climb up me when handholding was insufficient. There was whining, crying and sobbing. Often, I had to walk Noah into the school, open the door to his classroom, push him through the door, and close the door. It was terrible. I don't know how many times over I thought, HOW did we get here? I never would have behaved like this when I was a kid!

Naturally, there was a good deal of concern around our house about why this was occurring.

Noah had the same answer every time he was asked. "I want to spend more time with Mommy." Initially, Fritz and I couldn't quite accept that as the answer. First of all, Noah has not shown strong signs of separation anxiety since he was a 3 years-old in preschool. Last year, Noah attended the same school for the same length of day. His behavior reports from school this year are shining. His teacher promised us that he was fine the minute he got into the classroom. He was fine all day long. Everyday after school (and on the weekend), Noah would run next door to see if his friend was home and available to play. All of these facts led us to believe that Noah's separation anxiety was more complex than just Missing Mommy.

For Fritz and I, there were possible developmental causes, like adjustment issues related to Trixie (new baby) or too much homework or the newness of a new class with new classmates and new expectations. And then there were the possible scarier causes: Serious Matters, like bullying or abuse that might be showing up in this unrelated way.

One of my first goals was to be hyper alert for Serious Matters. In doing so, I attempted to kill two birds with one stone. I tried to increase my one-on-one time with Noah, which gave him lots of opportunities to open up and talk with me. I managed to squeeze about an hour of time out my schedule each day to spend (more or less) with just Noah. Honestly, that felt like A LOT OF TIME. We cuddled and read books and talked. I stopped exercising, I avoided blogging so that I could focus on him. We tried to come up with techniques to manage his fear. For some reason, Puff Up Your Cheeks and Hold Your Breath was popular, but not successful enough. We talked about How Sometimes We Have to Do Things We Don't Want to Do. In all this attention and time and effort, I never managed to find a Serious Matter, but I tried my best to be a good parent-sleuth: sometimes stealthy in discussions, sometimes direct in questioning, and sometimes eavesdropping on play. This continued for about 6 weeks. And over the course of those 6 weeks, I got no closer to uncovering a Serious Matter. I started to think there was no Serious Matter.

In the meantime, school drop off, if anything, got worse.

I should also confess that by week 4 or so, I was getting pretty angry at the situation. Look at all the accommodations I've made, I'd fume. I would vent to Fritz and then pep talk myself back into better form by the next morning: Okay, we can do this. Breathe deeply. Noah's sobbing while trying to climb your arm again. The Protectress in me would kick in: And Trixie is about to fall out of the carrier and onto the floor! And Mattias is standing in the middle of all these big first graders who are knocking him all over the place. But it's okay! Be patient. Be loving with your child who is endangering the the other two! We'll get through this. It WILL end, just keep your cool. It's fine. FINE, dammit, FINE!

But all was most certainly not fine.

As I got angry, I got punitive. Punitive in a modern-parenting way. I tied good drop off days to days when Noah could play with the neighbor after school. Bad drop off days meant no playdates. I reminded Noah that he said he wanted to spend more time with me. If he was having a hard time at drop off, then, I told him, he needed to spend more time with me. Internet: I only half-heartedly believed this reasoning I was giving him. Mostly, I was angry. I was out of ideas for how to motivate his good drop off behavior. I knew tying his behavior to a consequence was an acceptable parenting strategy, but I felt like I was grabbing at straws and threatening a healthy friendship with my methods. Basically, I felt crappy about the way I was handing the whole situation.

Drop off continued to NOT improve, which meant I had to continue to enforce my no playdate policy, which meant I continued to feel angry twice over each day: once, during a horrible morning drop off and once in the afternoon when I reminded Noah that no, he couldn't play, because of the bad drop off/ Missing Mommy. On top of that, Fritz still worried that there was a Serious Matter we had failed to uncover. If so, wasn't this no playdate policy the completely wrong way to go about solving the problem?

It was maddening. Finally, I had to admit defeat. I was so frustrated that I might not be the drop off problem, but I certainly wasn't helping it.

It seemed to me that there were three questions at stake:
1) Is there are Serious Matter to be be addressed? (If yes, the following questions would adjust relatively...)
2) How do we address the emotional aspect of this problem?
3) In a very tactical sense, how can drop off be handled most effectively?

After much nail biting, I decided to contact the school psychologist at Noah's school, particularly for her help with questions 1) and 3). I felt that whatever emotional aspects (2) were contributing were really going to be ours to fix at home. Maybe she would uncover something new (and minor) but...well, I really felt like we'd covered just about everything. And we were already working on those. Maybe it would just take time for our changes to work. However, the Serious Matter Question and the tactical aspects of drop off were parts of the problem that I simply couldn't handle on my own. Or on my own with two other kids in tow, as the case was.

I asked Fritz to start handling drop off for at least the next month. He wasn't terribly pleased about it since it would shorten his work day by about an hour and an half. I felt a sense of profound failure that I had to ask this of him. My position on being a stay at home parent is that I AM THE BUFFER. I've  really seen it as an integral part of my job to let Fritz do his professional job with as little kids-induced chaos as possible. If you've been reading this blog over time, you know that there's a sizable part of me that would really, really like to work outside of the home. Staying at home, and handling most of the kid's "schedule," has been a decision less for me and more for the benefit of the kids and Fritz. When I worked (part time) in the past, higher levels of stress descended over the whole family. We - as a unit - had a division of labor: dissimilar, but more or less balanced, for the last 4 years because it was the best for the most.

That said, things change. Maybe, in this situation, with regard to this problem, I needed to hand off my responsibilities.

So Noah's drop off, with all of its tactical chaos, would become Fritz's primary problem.

With the school psychologist, we first asked her to talk with Noah and see if there was any Serious Matter that she could find. As my aunt pointed out to me, sometimes children have things they feel they absolutely can't tell their parents. Really? At age six? Hmm. Well, okay. I'll concede that it might be possible. So we're trying to make sure that Noah has someone, other than us, that he can talk to. If he needs to. (Can you tell I'm a little doubtful?)

Second, we asked the school psychologist to give us some help with the tactical aspects of drop off. Both Fritz and I saw drop off head steeply downhill the minute we stepped inside the school building. So we set up a bit of theater for Noah's benefit: we arranged to have a teacher meet us at the door with Noah and tell us (the parents), in front of Noah, that we may not go into the school. It's actually an unenforced rule. We knew that Noah would benefit from seeing the rule enforced. Also, it's always good to see us parents following the rules if we expect our kid to follow the rules. We also requested that a teacher or aid be available to walk him into the school building. This stopped him from running after us AND it stopped us from constantly looking over our shoulder as we walked away. We emphasized with the school psychologist that this would ONLY be a temporary situation, and we would like to phase him into the normal procedure as quickly as possible.

It's now been about two weeks since Fritz took over drop off and we contacted the school psychologist. I, personally, felt immediately better as soon as drop off was Fritz's responsibility. My mother noted in a telephone conversation, "You sound better."

"Yes, I've just washed my hands of school drop off.... Well, not really washed my hands, but... uh..."

"You're sharing the soap and water?"

"Yes, exactly. I'm sharing the soap and water."

Noah, at first, continued to have a hard time. And then, after about 4 days, drop off started to get better. It got better before we introduced any of our proposed tactical intervention from the school. Noah's teacher figured out that she could distract him by placing her hand on his head and asking him about his night as he walked through the school door. Fritz discovered that if he stood Noah in the front of the line going into the school, Noah was less likely to panic. Also, we don't say, "Goodbye." This particular piece of the puzzle was counter to pretty much everything I've ever read about separation anxiety. However with Noah, even a quick, understated "'Bye" seemed to be a signal to panic.

At home, once I was under less pressure to get school drop off right, that gave me some space to have perspective on other factors that may be triggering problems.

For example, I'm starting to suspect that Noah's daily after school play dates were too much for him. Typically, he had played with the neighbor for about half an hour after school each day. I had felt that this was a reasonable amount for a 1st grader. He also had been so eager and keen to play with his friend. They played imaginary games that I had deemed really wonderful, like "weathermen," which involved sitting on a balcony and writing weather observation in notebooks. It seemed so healthy! But once I began limiting Noah's playdates further, he tempered his own play as well. In retrospect, the eagerness to play with his friend might have been a little more frantic. The degree to which they enjoyed playing together might have been more like Noah getting buzzed. (Does anyone say "buzzed" anymore? Why does typing this make me feel really old and out of date?) With fewer playdates and Noah regulating the remaining ones better, our house actually got calmer! Sometimes, on the weekend, he would come home after playing for 15 minutes and say, "I was tired of playing." Taking away much of Noah's privileges to play seems to have given him permission to self-regulate.

I think we might still have some loose ends to tie up before we can close the book on this topic. But in the meantime, things are going a lot better. And that's a big relief.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Control Crafts

I still find myself in a strange state of Must Make Stuff. I don't know why. I think the state of having three kids is making me feel really desperate for control. Making stuff means control. The key, really, is finding stuff to make that I can segment into really small bits: sew a hem, kiss an ow-ie, sew another hem; cut a feather, change a diaper, cut another feather; stir some milk, retrieve a fallen toy, stir the milk again.

Yesterday morning, Mattias had a fever. Trixie is teething. I thought to myself that if each kid is sick one day, once every three weeks – which doesn't sounds like a lot – that STILL means I have a sick kid to take care of once every week. Gah. Multiplication by 3! See? That's how I end up desperate for control. If I can't control the kids' sicknesses, then at least I can control other things...


I made a lot of kombucha. I tried to make it look lovely. It was a 20 minute activity, once a week. Always a new flavor experiment. Fritz never liked any of the flavors I made. Maybe because I cared more about how it looked in the bottle than how it tasted. I couldn't (alone) drink the kombucha fast enough. So I moved on.


I made a stack of napkins.

"Napkins?" asked my brother. His voice indicated I sounded crazy.

"Yes. Napkins. With spare pieces of fabric. And the tiniest little hems I can, Depression Era inspired, like Grandma would have made. You know, it's not as easy as you would think: because you want them to be square and neat. The fabric should feel nice and soft, like you want to use it to wipe your mouth. And you have to fold and iron the edges before you sew. The hems need to be consistently sized all around. You think it's simple, but it's minimalist art, really. I'm still refining my technique."

"How many have you made?"

"Like, fifty."

"Uh. Okay." His voice said: Confirmed. Crazy. "What are you going to do with them?"

"Maybe give them as Christmas gifts."

"Oh," he said unenthusiastically. I mentally removed him from my napkin gift list.


Then the weather got cold and I decided that Trixie needed a cape for quick trips between the car and any indoor destination. Even my big baby is so small. Coats and jackets are so bulky to wear in the carseat. And they are too clumsy to easily put on and take off quickly. I determined Trixie needed a cape: a practical, warm cape to take on and off quickly, but couldn't find one with adequate coverage to buy.

"Then make one," said my mom. So I did: micro fleece on one side and some woven dot fabric on the other side. Long. Simpler than a blanket. Faster than a coat or bunting. Reversible.


Some evenings, I folded origami Moravian stars. My brother-in-law was visiting from China with his girlfriend. Every night that week, after the kids were asleep, we would gather around the table. The smart phones would emerge. I don't have a smart phone. But, you know, smart phones are helpful in conversation when you are discussing, say, the setting of The Shining, and need to immediately confirm that the exterior of the hotel was the lodge at Mount Hood Meadows in Oregon and the interior of the hotel was the Stanley in Estes Park in Colorado.

I folded a star while everyone else worked on that confirmation.

"Why are you doing that?" my brother-in-law asked me.

"I guess because it gives me something to do."

"Well, if you ever get tired of it, let me know, and we can outsource it to China."


Noah asked me to make his Halloween costume. Some years in the past, I've made Halloween costumes. Some years I've purchased them. This year I felt REALLY busy refining my Art of the Napkin. There has also been tension between Noah and I over the last few weeks. I wasn't feeling particularly generous in my Making Stuff Spirit towards him. But I made him a costume anyway. Mattias wanted to be the same thing (an owl).


Okay, fine. Sigh. Two Owls. I chopped up my maternity clothes to make the feathers. It was cathartic.

Noah is wearing his costume all the time this week. I think he appreciates this costume much more than any of my other home-made costumes. Maybe he's finally old enough to appreciate it? Maybe he's just happy to see some talents thrown in his direction.



Finally, we seem to have become complete yogurt snobs around here. The price of our fancy pants store-bought yogurt was eating our grocery budget. Somewhat inspired by all that kombucha making, I've started to make our own yogurt. I haven't perfected it yet, but it's headed in a good direction: yummy!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wysemobile

Round One
The weirdest part of having three kids (right now) is when all 5 of us go somewhere together in the car, and then climb out. It feels like a spectacle: one person after the next, emerging from our little car. Clearly this has less to do with being a family of five and more to do with the size of the Volkswagen Jetta. A few people have scooted up next to the car to see just how we are fitting three kids in the back of the car.

Like this:


When I was little, just before the minivan became so popular, big families drove station wagons. Do you remember? Some of the kids rode in the back of the wagon. Some wagons had backward facing seats!

But now there are carseats to deal with. BIG carseats. These big carseats need big cars. This is what the back seat looked like before Trixie joined the boys:


I'm not sure. Possibly, it looked more cramped with two kids than with three.

If you think about it, it's rather crazy that carseats are so huge. Perhaps we equate safety to a big carseat. Perhaps we think about each individual seat, rather than thinking about the overall system. Well, at least, that's how I thought, prior to having three children. A few car companies (Volvo) have built in booster seats! They just flip down, like an arm rest or cup holder console. How cool is that? And how stupid is it that (most other) car manufacturers have a built-in solution for a soda can or arm rest, BUT NOT for children who are suppose to be in car seats\booster seats until they are 8 or 9 years old?? Maybe it's part of a marketing campaign to get us all to buy really big, inefficient SUVs.

After much debate, discussed in these posts, we opted to buy new (smaller, smarter) carseats, rather than a bigger car.

Trixie was initially behind the passenger seat, in an infant seat, so that I could easily take her in and out. We put Noah in the middle because he was the most independent at buckling. But Noah's feet were constantly on the front console between the driver and passenger. There was no where else for them to go.

Between Noah's feet and the passenger seat being pretty far forward, it was the front seats - the adults - who felt cramped. The back seat was (ironically?) not so bad.

Round Two
I don't want to accuse our car dealership of sabotaging our car, but you know what? While we were getting weekly mailings begging asking us to trade in our 4-year-old car for a new one, our 4-year-old car had one problem after the next.

Fortunately, we had an extended warranty. As my dad says,

"You're winning! Even though it doesn't feel like it!"

Um. Right. Anyway.

The last time the car was in the shop for a while, we got a loaner car and I used it as my opportunity to re-arrange all the carseats. It's a mind game to get all those seat belts and anchors attached in the correct order and spot. I moved Trixie to the middle of the backseat because she doesn't stay asleep once the car stops anyhow. I figured we might as well leave her carseat permanently in the middle and get Noah's feet off the center console.


This made it look a little more crowded in the back. But it was MUCH nicer in the front seat!

The boys spend less time jabbing each other and more time holding Trixie's hands since the rearrangement.

The other day, I realized that the car hasn't been in for repairs for over a month. I've stopped plotting about when or where or if we should buy a newer, bigger car. So I guess that means that one little car with three carseats across the back is working out just fine after all. I always feel a little victorious when I manage to avoid upping our consumption of various resources (gas, money, etc.) Whew! (For a little while, anyway.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nusskuchen (Walnut Cake)

Fritz's grandmother in Germany had a garden with three wonderful walnut trees. When she passed away, the garden was rented out, with the condition that the walnuts would not be disturbed and would be left for Fritz's family to collect.

Every year that we lived in Germany, I looked forward to walnut season. Fritz's mother did most of the collecting, but I was always willing to sit and crack nuts for as long as need be. Oh, how I miss lovely, soft, fresh-from-the-tree walnuts. A few weeks ago when some blogger (?) mentioned in a post that walnuts were falling on the roof of her house and waking her up at night, I actually had to wipe the drool off my chin. I've contemplated planting walnut trees, but here in Colorado walnut trees are under attack from the incurable Thousand Canker Disease. In my darker moments, I glumly imagine a world without walnuts.


In the meantime, there's still Walnut Cake to be savored on the weekends when we have Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee and Cake). This recipe is from Fritz's mother in Germany. I think of it as less-sweet alternative to Pecan Pie. Instead of melting sugar in sugar corn syrup,  the walnuts are mixed with cream and amaretto. Yum!  I'm giving the weight measurements as opposed to cups. If you are in the States, you can think of this as a special opportunity to dig out your kitchen scale. Also, I never wrote down the order in which to mix ingredients. (I'm not sure that even my MIL ever knew that information.) I imagine a more serious baker could figure it out by looking at the ingredients. For me, the cake still tastes delicious, even with my half-baked procedure. Okay, ready? Here we go:

Walnut Cake (Pie?)

Bottom/Crust:
1 egg
70 grams sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
125 grams butter
1 pinch salt
150 grams of flour

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Mix bottom/crust ingredients together.
- Cover the bottom of a springform pan with parchment paper.
- Use fingers to spread dough over the bottom of the springform pan. Push dough up about 1" around the side of the springform pan. This dough will be the crust that holds the walnut filling, so make sure there are no holes in it. Otherwise, don't worry too much about this part: the crust is clearly NOT the highlight of this cake.

Walnut Filling:
250 grams of walnut
100 grams of sugar
2 egg yolks
150 grams crème fraîche*
1/4 liter amaretto

- Grind the walnuts. I use a blender to grind them up 1/3 cup at a time. They don't have to be perfectly ground, but the more consistent the size the better.
- Mix all filling ingredients.
- Pour into the prepared springform pan with dough already spread out.

- Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees F. When the top of the walnut filling solidifies and begins to turn golden brown, it's done.

Enjoy!

*This is like sour creme, but not as sour and with a higher fat content. I've occasionally found it with the fancy cheese at our local supermarket, but I've also been forced to go to Whole Foods for it.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Food and Legos and BLW



I know. She looks so old, doesn't she? She's almost 5 months and she nurses every hour (even at night right now! Yay!) She is really big for her age.

What face is Grandma making right now, Trixie?


Spacefem wrote about the 4-5 month Baby Sequestration on her blog the other day. Yes. Exactly. All that nursing, feeling trapped....The pediatricians we see have very recently changed their recommendations regarding starting solids from 6 to 5 months based on this study that looked at Type 1 diabetes. We're not a high risk group, but I might go ahead and give Trixie a banana a little earlier with new, scientific-sounding reasoning.


I'm a big fan of the strangely named method of solids introduction known as Baby Led Weaning. It should really be named Baby Led Self Feeding. My German friend Diana introduced me to it when Noah was born and we were still living in Munich. I think it's more popular in Europe than here in the States. I also think it may be a method that works well with stay-at-home-parents, but it would be a lot less successful if a baby was in daycare.

The basic premise is to go with a baby's developmental stages in letting them explore/eat food. No mushy spoon feeding. You can, for example, give the 6 month old baby a full, peeled apple and let him or her suck on it. It's too big too swallow. And it's pretty hard to get a piece off the apple without teeth to bite. But the kid gets a good taste and gets used to the idea of feeding herself. She gets to use her new-found manipulative powers on her tasty toys. I like this methodology because I think it gives the baby more control over what she eats and sets her up for better eating habits as an adult.  (For example: Stop eating when I'm full. / Eat the foods with nutrients my body needs.) What I like most about it is that I've found it teaches babies NOT to swallow when something feels "wrong" in their mouth. At least, this has truly been my experience with Noah and Mattias.



The not swallowing is going to be pretty important in our house, because, dear internet, the legos are going to be really hard to manage.  The boys play with the legos ALLLLLL the time. For my own sanity, I'm not sure I can really pack them up and put them away. So we are trying, TRYING, to confine them to the boys' bedroom. BUT. I have to a realist here, keeping the legos confined to the bedroom will require no less than CONSTANT VIGILANCE on my part.

Best to approach the problem from two directions: constance vigilance with the legos AND teaching Trixie to spit "it" out when "it" feels wrong.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Click!

Life clicked into a good place last week. This school year, the days are pretty much perfectly divided for the distribution of attention/needs for each kid (and me) – at least that's the way it feels. I think it feels that way for the kids, too, because everyone seems to be in very good spirits.

Noah is in school all day. He got a very high-energy, super-organized teacher who is the perfect complement for him. He comes home happy and excited about his class and what he's learning everyday. This year he gets to take the bus in the morning; he was unbelievably enthusiastic about this. I was unbelievably nervous. But so far, so good. Oh, the bus. I think taking the bus versus being dropped off/picked up at school could have it's own special post.

Mattias is in a half day preschool program. Last year, he did a twice/once a week program. I must say, it didn't go very well. Partially he was too young. Partially the program wasn't as great as I hoped. I remember, way back at the beginning of our experiences with child-in-preschool, I felt really lost about what to look for in a program. I googled information about recognizing good preschool programs, I tried to sort instinct from learned knowledge from hype when I visited. Now, 4 years later, I finally feel like I've got some sort of fundamental wisdom on the whole preschool scene. That took a long time. But there's definitely a difference among programs and teachers. And (I've concluded that) I'm super-picky. Mattias's program this year was largely chosen for convenience. By a twist in fortune, it also happens to be a great program. I'm thrilled with his teacher and I feel lucky; especially after all the hand-wringing last year. I guess I didn't realize how much the less-than-ideal situation was weighing on me.

Trixie is four months old now. I think four months is when life with a baby starts to get fun. She's still big; repeatedly in the 97th percentile for all those measurements that they do. Honestly, I'd be okay if she was a little smaller and NOT outgrowing all her clothes so fast.

I'm working on several different projects, all of which I'd like to share. I'm finding that time to sit at the computer and type is really at a premium lately. Well, you know how it is.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Chief World Explorer (with kids?!?)

Ah, to be twenty-one and obligation free!

My cousin Ryan is competing for his dream job, traveling around the world as a "Chief World Explorer" with Jauntaroo. He sent me a link to his funny application video here.


Presumably, Ryan thought I would vote for him, and not offer myself up as competition. How about a Chief World Explorer with three little kids in tow? Yes? Don't you think trying to navigate exotic, beautiful vacation destinations for a year with kids would make for much more interesting stories? Hmmm. I'm still trying to decide if the pay would be sufficient compensation.

Actually, I don't think I'll challenge Ryan on this one. But you should watch his video. Because it's funny and campy and you'll learn some words in foreign languages. And then you should "Like" him, because WTH, it's Sunday; blogs are slow! And it only took, like, two minutes of your time.

Thank you!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Still Planning

Last week was suppose to be the week that I finally started getting stuff done around here. Nope, didn't happen. First there were all those half days of school for testing purposes. Then there was our reliable, dependable car with less than 50K, which, lately, is not at all reliable-dependable. Also, Trixie is out-of-sorts with our schedule that requires no less than 3 excursions each day.

So maybe this week will be the week I start getting stuff done?

Then again, I'm already down one day because of the holiday.

I'm not quite sure why I have such an overwhelming drive to be productive. This part of me certainly conflicts with the job aspect of motherhood. Life goes the best around here when I stop trying to do anything (planned). As soon as I start planning, I am bound to be thwarted and frustrated. Life is best when I just sit back and go with the kids' natural rhythms and fill in the spaces with, you know, laundry and dishes and simple food prep.


Ugh. I don't know how many times I have to relearn this lesson. Or maybe this lesson is specific to having a baby in tow? For the short period of time when I had two kids over the age of two, it really seemed like things were happening around here. But I don't know if that was a fluke or what. Someday I will get to feel productive again. I just hope I don't have to wait a full 18 years.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Circus!

Earlier this summer when Oma visited, she brought along with her a circus theme. There were circus toys and circus paintings and circus books.


It reminded us of the Zoppé Circus which we saw three years ago in Winter Park. They are a small, family-oriented, european style, traveling one-ring circus. The tent only seats 500 people, so you really have the feeling that you are right in the middle of the performance.


And the performers feel real, NOT like super heros and magicians. It's the perfect circus for little kids (with only a couple of adult innuendoes that go right over little heads).

We really enjoyed them three years ago; we thought we would try to go again this year. This weekend is the weekend they're in Winter Park, so off we went.

[photo removed]

I do believe this is the closest that we got to a family vacation this summer. And we did it one week after school started. But it was definitely still worth it. This is one of my favorite events with kids. (Even Trixie! You can't see her well in the photo above, but she's sitting in my lap, awake for the whole thing.) We're already planning for next year.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dual Language Learner "Bump" (the good sort)

This past month, Noah and Mattias started playing with each other in German. Not all the time, but sometimes. Prior to this summer, they've only played with each other in English. It's an important development because it signals (to me) that Mattias has reached a new level of comfort in German. It also creates a new dimension of language exchange in house. Now, it's no longer Fritz speaking to the boys in German, it's the boys speaking to each other.

The boys were very specific about the fact that they were playing KING(s) not PRINCE(s).
Isn't that weird? I feel sure the whole game must have been inspired by their female friends
who play princess(es) - but why would they choose king instead of prince?
Mattias is a very grumpy king.

I wasn't really sure that we would reach this point. Not surprisingly, Mattias, who never had the benefit of living in Germany, has taken longer speaking German than Noah did. The credit goes entirely to Fritz who has persisted in speaking to Mattias for three years in German. They say that a child needs to be exposed to the language for 30% of their time to become fluent. I felt like we were barely hitting 25%, since Fritz is the native German speaker and he works (elsewhere) about 10 hours a day. Sometimes over the last three years, I was thoroughly convinced that Mattias didn't understand Fritz, and I had to make a conscious effort to keep from translating or rephrasing to English. Fritz maintained that Mattias understood. Eventually it became clear that Mattias did understand, but then Mattias would still answer Fritz in English.

There have also been many times over the last three years when I've really doubted our choice to raise the kids bilingually. There's a lot of pressure to just speak English when we're out and about socially. As Noah has become more involved in school and has developed more friendships, the pressure has increased further. There's also been concern about how Noah's bilingualism is impacting his developing reading skills. It was much easier when our life revolved around home. As our family has grown, I've often wondered if speaking German makes us too much of an oddity or complicates life unnecessarily. Are we forcing it?

Either way this summer was a big summer of change for Mattias. He lost his status as the baby. Oma came for a two week visit, meaning the predominant household language switched to German. And Fritz worked 2 day weeks for 6 weeks, meaning he spent a lot more time at home and with Mattias.

All this seemed to be the "bump" that Mattias needed to start speaking German himself. I've read that visiting the second-language country (in this case Germany) can also be a big bump for dual language learners. At this time, traveling to Germany feels like a monumental undertaking. I'm relieved to know that the right visitor and little bit of vacation time can have a similar effect.

I'm trying not to count my eggs before they hatch, but I really think that if this amount of German continues to be spoken in the house, speaking German might be a less daunting obstacle for Trixie. And maybe I'll start feeling a little more comfortable with our choice, and little less like we're going against the grain.

Fluency in another language can be such a subjective thing, sometimes people ask what our goals are for the kids. Fritz will tell you that he would like the kids to be able to attend university in Germany. (Presumably, this would require a particular level of grammar and vocabulary.) My goals are a little more nebulous: I would like the kids to be able to comfortably switch to German when they are with German speakers. Which, I think, is less about a particular level of vocabulary or grammatical ability, and more about confidence.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Greener Pastures at My Feet

A number of events transpired lately to make me house-unhappy.

First, I'm having all sorts of concerns about our larger family and the number of bedrooms.  To be very clear: WE HAVE PLENTY OF SPACE IN THIS HOUSE.  We currently have three bedrooms. They're all very big bedrooms: the boys share a bedroom and Trixie is set up in the same room as Fritz and I. The third bedroom is our guest room. This is a situation that will work for, uh, maybe two more years. Then we need to renovate (or/and give up the guest room).  Just thinking about the time and effort and capital needed to convert some of the loft space into bedrooms – or finish the basement – is giving me a gigantic headache.

Second, the sales price for houses in our neighborhood skyrocketed this summer, with home owners on our street selling their homes for 35% more than they paid for them just three years ago. Which is good and bad. In this retelling of events, it's bad, because that kind of profit potential made me wonder if NOW is the time we SHOULD be selling our house.

Third, I recently went to look at new model homes. What a mistake! Kind of like watching cable television, walking around in model homes made me think about all sorts of new ways to spend money. And then there was the new model home that really spoke to me. I felt like the floor plan and the style of the house were designed just for us – for my family. Where was this house four years ago when we were buying?!? I felt all sort of bitter about the compromises that we made buying our current house: Stupid columns on the porch! Window mullions! Dumb muted palette of colors! I'm not conservative like that! I'm modern! I want a modern house! (WAAAH!)

...

In times like these, I find it good to review all the great things I ALREADY have. So I started making this list of all the things I love about our current house.

1. Solar Orientation: warm morning light, lots of light during the day, the long streaks of evening light. Good for house plants!

2. Kitchen Sink (Kohler's Smart Divide): It's huge and small at the same time. See how the dividing piece is only half the depth of the sink? It's like having three sink sizes in one! It truly is a smart way to divide a sink. We put this in after we bought the house, because the builder didn't offer it.


3. Washer and dryer in the basement. The house came with a laundry hookup on the main floor, but we added one in the basement and use it instead. Very old-fashioned of us, right? Unlike the hookup on the main floor, in the basement there's lots of space to spread out, fold, and sort laundry, nevermind the space to allow clothes to line dry. I like that.

4. Unfinished basement. (Bonus points in combination with #3.) It's especially great for those who like to zoom around on riding toys. In the winter or in the very hot summer, there's plenty of space to ride/jump/swing around down there. And, lest I forget, plenty of space to make a pond puddle to ride through.


(I confess that I may not care so much for either the unfinished basement or the laundry in the basement if my kids were older and more independent.)

5. The edible landscaping. We're constantly working on this one. So far (this year) we have: raspberries and strawberries, blueberries (barely surviving!), currants, apples, cherries, peaches, mint, cilantro, basil (21 batches of pesto to date), parsley, and garlic. We were more ambitious in our annual plantings last year; but it feels awfully good to be able to "take a year off" and still have some edible stuff.


6. Modern Fan's Ball Ceiling Fans: this one is 3 parts aesthetic and 1 part functional. I love how these fans look, but they work just the same as our Hunter fans. However, the Ball Fan was much, much easier to install than the Hunters, therefore it gets 1 part functional love. I started thinking about how much I love these fans when I started thinking about moving to a new house - Would I have to leave the fans behind? Oh sadness! But this is mostly me being silly because they're easy to buy (and install) again. Trixie really likes them right now, too.

As long as we're talking about fixtures, I should add Rejuvenation's Astron pendants over the kitchen island to my list. Although, also easy to re-buy.


7. Landings on the Stairs: it's funny, because we lived in 1000 square foot rentals for years. When we moved here, we suddenly had almost three times that space. Fritz and I felt like, "Ah, a big house, with big spaces, we can spread out and stop tripping over each other." Then the boys took to playing on the stair landings for hours at time. It seemed awfully ironic that we suddenly had all these big spaces for playing in and the boys repeatedly choose the smallest, most trip-inducing place in the whole house for their toys and bodies. SIGH. But it does make me love the landings, which are perched above the main living area.

8. Bamboo: you're sick of hearing about it, but it really is so calming and relaxing to look at. I think after the next (2014) grow season, it's going to be the perfect height and density. So excited. I would be sad to leave it!


9. Wood on the Kitchen Island: I can imagine some perspective buyer hating my wood island. I can almost hear them saying, "Why in the world when you put wood on the island, when all the cabinets are white?" But you know, I love that wood. I love it as counterpoint to both the cabinets, and now, the glass mosaic tile backsplash. Not a day goes by that I don't look at the wood and swoon a little bit over how rich and tangible the grain feels. OMG what if some future owner paints over it? Shudder.


10. Mother's Day Maple Tree: a gift from Fritz and the boys the first Mother's Day we were in this house. It turns red in autumn! Just like a sugar maple from New England! Although it's not a sugar maple because sugar maples don't like Colorado. Apparently it was the last maple tree at Home Depot when they bought it and it certainly looked like the runt of the batch. But three years later, it's thriving. This year it's the biggest tree in our yard.

11. Scratches in the Floor: There's a lot of these. We were handed more or less perfectly finished wood floors and now they are full of scratches. Most of the scratches run across the main living area, past the dining table, towards the main door. And they will always remind me of our dinnertime during these years with kids under 6 years old. Noah and Mattias would (will?) eat dinner in 90 seconds flat, and then ask to be excused, and once excused (we force them to sit at the table for 5 minutes), they sprint back and forth and around the kitchen island. They haul each other on blankets, they do piggyback rides on uncles and grandparents. They drag things with them. They scratch the floor.


Wood, in my opinion, is one of those materials meant to "weather," meant to be scratched and bumped and (ACK!) stained. I refused to even consider any type of pre-engineered wood floor for this reason. So, yes, the floors are already mightily scratched. But they are scratched with memories. (Go ahead, laugh, even I snickered a little bit when I typed that.)

12. Seeing Through the House: well, this is esoteric observation of someone who spent too many years in architecture studio. Nonetheless, I like the floor plan of this house, which - from a few select perspectives - draws your eyes through multiple interior and exterior spaces. This is predominantly accomplished by a feature that the builder called a 'courtyard.' But I think that 'courtyard' is a little regal for what is a just recess in the exterior of the house. From this recess protrudes the deck. And therefore, from a few places, one can see from interior to exterior to interior to exterior. It's like our house is a visually permeable sponge.



13. Ability to go plant shopping in our own yard. This year is the first year that we've had an abundance of happy, thriving plants in the yard. Want some more tall grass? Just divide the ones we already and have replant them. Want more thyme between the stepping stones? Divide and replant! More ice plant ground cover? Just break some off and stick it in the dirt. Cutting down on the trips to the nursery is awfully nice. The cost of plants can add up quickly and a critical mass of healthy plants takes some time to achieve.

***

Now that I've finished this list (it took me about three weeks, and then I got lazy: I didn't add some things I've already blogged about, although others I clearly repeated here...), I'm feeling better about staying in this house. Silly me, I love my house! Not only is moving a lot of work, but it simply takes TIME to really settle in to a new place and to begin to layer it with sentimentality and, thus, character. We've barely begun! I'm not ready to start all over again.

But I am done rehashing it all as blog-therapy!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Things I Plan to do when School Starts

or To Do with a Mere One Child in My Care
  • Paint the trim in the main living area. It's still nicotine white. My aunt and uncle think it looks nice with a little bit of contrast (pure white walls and nicotine white trim), but here's where my minimalist tendencies emerge: No. Everything. Must. Be. Ultra. Pure. White. Also, after we started calling it nicotine white, there was nothing left to do but try to eradicate every bit of it from our house. 
  • Refinish the dining chairs. I stopped that project last year when I found out I was pregnant.  I was worried about the possibility that the chairs had (perhaps, maybe, at some point) been finished with lead paint. Although, I will confess, these Stockholm chairs from Ikea have me dreaming about just buying new chairs. I think they're a simplified knockoff of the Mantis Chair by Craig Bassam. Sadly, I could never really justify the price of the Mantis, as beautiful as it is – and it is beautiful!
  • Finish some kitchen backsplash details. I need to do some caulking and painting. Hopefully that will put me at peace with the backsplash tile project. I'll post about the tile project. As soon as I stop my indulgent backsplash sulking. 
  • Add that to my list: post about the backsplash.
  • Plant some more tulip and lilies. I love tulips and lilies. I planted about 24 tulips at some point. I don't know what I was thinking. I want, like, 300 flowers, not 24. The goal is to grow enough to have fresh cut bouquets in the spring.
  • Clean my desk. My desk is the always the last spot in the whole house to be cleaned/organized. And yes, I do believe there's all sort of symbolic meaning in that.  
  • Transplant some houseplants. Several succulents have outgrown their containers. The Ming Aralia is looking like a whole new plant having spent the summer outside, but it's going to need some adjustment before I bring it back inside.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ikea Hip

Our visitors from Austin brought us a scoby for Kombucha. With much excitement, we finished our first successful batch this weekend. Just in time, too. Because Kombucha made the front cover of the Ikea catalog.

[photo removed]

Well, yes, it could be some sort of other home brew. And it's pretty understated in the photo (bottom row of shelves). But we like to think that now, we are at least as hip as Ikea.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Our "Exceedingly Successful" Porch Planters

Or so Fritz describes them. The sunflower-like plants turned out to be bright orange zinnias.


I think his version of success coincides with height and fullness. Tall plants, lots of plants (alive) = success. The zinnias must be about 30 inches tall and we have no less than 6 different living plant species in each planter.

What do you think? Are there other "successes" can I reuse from Fritz's Mystery Seed Mix Experiment in 2014?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer

Our house guests are gone; Noah is in Rhode Island at Grandma and Grandpa's; and we are staring down the last three weeks of summer break.

I won't mince words, this has been a difficult summer. I feel like Napoleon at Waterloo. If school starting is exile to Saint Helena, well, I'll take it, please. I hope three kids gets easier. I feel like I'm barely scraping by at mothering. By that, I mean, I'm not the mother that I want to be this summer. The first two months with Trixie were especially hard; colic? food sensitivities? general adjustment issues? Who knows!

What I can tell you, having had two babies with very fussy behavior and one without, is that having a baby WITHOUT it is a hell of a lot easier on everyone. Nonfussy babies are empowering! They are a gift to their mothers' self esteems! (And thus it is that my non fussy baby is firmly embedded in my mind as my Wonderful, Magical, Easy Child even when current events suggest otherwise.)

Another observation: fussy baby + older kids is worse than fussy baby alone.

However, things are looking up. Trixie is getting over her Whatevers. Noah and Mattias are about to have a more regularly scheduled life. So enough about defeat, let's talk about some stuff that actually got done around here this summer.

[photo removed]

We put a playhouse in the backyard. I'm ashamed to say, after all my pining over some sort of cool stilt house, what seemed the best solution (money, effort, and TIME) was something from Costco. Oma gave it to the kids as a gift; Fritz and my father assembled it on a visit when Trixie was about 1 week old; and the boys have been playing in it almost everyday since. I really resisted this type of semi-permanant prefabricated playhouse. Who wants to think about getting rid of this type of thing when you decide that you want your garden space back? Ugh. But then along came Trixie with an age span of 6 years from Noah. And it just seemed like we needed more gross motor activity in the yard to keep the older ones busy. Plus: we figure it will now have at least six more years of use.

[photo removed]

As it is with almost every project, this one managed to be more involved than just assembling the house. My dad and Fritz also built a deck platform for the house. Fritz mulched the surrounding area. I whined a little bit about all the brown, brown, brown in our yard. So then Fritz also started grapevines for me behind the playhouse. Fritz keeps referring to them as wine vine (or did he mean whine vine?), so you know where this might be going... That pretty much makes up for the garden spot I lost, right?


Noah and Mattias worked on some pretty amazing paper projects with Oma during her visit in June. Below is a papier-mâché crocodile in progress. They also made their own paper and painted canvases. Very cool.

[photo removed]

We decided to plunge into home improvements and put some tile on the backsplash. Once again, my father was invaluable in guiding us through on his "vacation" to Colorado. Oh boy. I think this topic could have a post all its own. So here's just a little peak: the kids and my parents posing in front of the finished tile:

[photo removed]

We also got some help from my parents repainting the walls. The builder called the paint color Swiss Latte. But it was more like Finger Print Magnet. We have repainted the lower half of our walls in the main living area in Swiss Latte every six months since we moved in. My neighbors suggested that I use something other than the builder's paint. So we got Ultra Pure White from Behr in eggshell. Then we realized the ceiling was ALSO painted in Swiss Latte. As soon as the walls were Ultra Pure White, the ceiling looked more like Nicotin White, so then we painted the ceilings, too. It was a lot of work.


Maybe it would have made sense to just paint the walls a color, instead of white. Then Swiss-Latte-Nicotin-White ceiling would have looked like regular white.  At some phases in my life, I've been very much into color on the walls. But right now I feel like daily living with kids is just so active and chaotic and messy, that I need a lot of something very quiet and peaceful and clean to balance out the chaos. Hopefully, now that the walls are an eggshell finish instead of a flat finish, I can scrub them clean. We shall see.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Accessory selected by Hostess

My mother is coming tomorrow; my father and grandmother and brother arrive on Thursday. They stay for over a week! I'm so excited to see my family; I'm especially excited because I have something VERY SPECIAL for them to wear. Here's the interesting thing: when worn, it's quiet-ish in the house. When taken off, beware!

[many photos of me wearing Trixie in a wrap]

...Wow. Seeing all these photos together makes me think that my mother might be right. Maybe I DO need some more color in my wardrobe.

Eh. Or maybe not.

Photos are chronological, left to right then down, beginning about mid-May and ending today.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Mystery Seed Mix Experiment

This year I decided to minimize my gardening and planting. I thought it would be too stressful to keep pace with last year, given the newborn in the house. Then, I met a new neighbor at the playground and she recognized our house because of the flowers we've put on the front railing the last two summers!

July 2012

It suddenly seemed important to at least find something to put on the porch!

Fritz decided to try his hand at it. The last two summers, he's been rather grumpy about the cost of the flowers. I am a little ashamed to admit that I spent about $300 on the flowers last summer. I bought most of the flowers at the nursery, already as little (what do you call it?) plantlets (??)  I knew it was a lot of money. But, I reasoned, I'm learning; I made some mistakes in purchasing! I'll get better at this.

Fritz thinks – well, like the money-saving scientist he is, I suppose – so he bought several packets of seeds: some tall plants, some hanging plants, and some in the middle. Then he dumped all the seed packets in a bowl and stirred them up. He evenly distributed the seeds across the dirt, and evenly distributed a little dirt over the seeds. (And he threw away the seed packets.) Which yielded this:

July 2013

Umm. Hmmm.

In May, feeling discouraged by the progress, I added sweet potato vine and shasta daisies (from the nursery). But they have been totally and completely overtaken by Fritz's Mystery Seed Mix this month. And you know, I'm not opposed to the idea of using seeds, but it would be nice to know what's growing in there. If something works well, I'd definitely repeat it.

I think there might be sunflowers. Fritz assures me that IF there are sunflowers in there (he doesn't remember what he bought) then he bought short ones. What's short for a sunflower? Three feet? Four feet? The sunflower-like plants are currently two feet tall and budless. Should I just cut out the sunflower-like plants? It seems like they are stressing all the other plants.

Hmmm.

This particular pot seems to be doing a little better. It only has one short sunflower-like plant. At least there's a little color in this arrangement.


Hmmm.

Well, the porch this summer is not exactly what I had in mind.

But nobody knows that unless I tell them. The secret can be just between us, okay?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Let them make cookies!

This summer I didn't enroll the boys in any camps. There were a number of reasons: saving money, lots of out-of-town guests that seemed to make the calendar look full, swim lessons that (with 3 kids now) suddenly seemed to be a dire necessity, AND the fact that (knock on wood) Noah and Mattias play well together.


I mean that last part in all sincerity: I really can't imagine two brothers getting along better. Like any siblings, they have their moments, but mostly there's minimal referee-ing on my part. My biggest concerns tend to be the scale of the mess and lack of brains that their play can summon.


Last week, they made a "puddle" in our unfinished basement to drive their push toys through. The "puddle" was more like a pond, 10 feet in diameter, with toy car tire tracks splaying out from it in all directions by the time I discovered it. On Sunday, someone mistakenly stepped on a blueberry on the kitchen floor and laughed. Someone else thought it was a game to play. By the time I entered the kitchen, there were 20 odd smushed blueberries smeared around the kitchen floor.

So even though there's not a lot of fighting around here, I still wonder daily if I've made a big mistake by not sending them to camp. You know how there's always this group of people calling for kids to have more unscheduled time, more freedom to be bored? Well, at our house this summer, between unscheduled time and me (hands full with a newborn), we're REALLY getting the chance to see just what that looks like. And it's messy. Camp might have been a smart thing. At least a week here or there, so that I can legitimately scrub the floors. (The floors are always bad...)


Today I decided to give their creative play some direction and let them make chocolate chip cookies by themselves. Without me standing beside them, doing the work, as I'm normally prone to do. I stepped back. I sat on a stool and nursed Trixie. I dictated the instructions as they went...



"Mattias, take the paper off the butter and cut it in little pieces. Now, Noah, get the mixer." Pause. " Do you know what the mixer is?"

"Yes, Mommy!" Noah's tone indicating I'm asking a dumb question.

Al-righty then. Children who are able to bake cookies. We may not be swimming yet, we may not have clean floors (or a clean house!), but at least we'll be eating cookies.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bamboo 2013 Update, Second Season Growth

I've had several inquiries about how our bamboo is doing. This year, the weather was colder for much longer in the Denver metro area, so the bamboo grew a little later. This is the second season of new growth. My sources claim it takes three grow seasons for bamboo to reach maturity.

But, without further ado, here's the bamboo this year:

Two growth seasons since planted.

Here's what it looked like last year, same month:

First growth season since planted.

In case I successfully distracted your eye with all my fancy flower pots in 2012, compare the birdhouse.  The bamboo is a definitely denser and taller. The birdhouse hasn't been moved, but it's in both photos, in the circle:




From the other side of the fence, the bamboo looks more or less like below. Noah is the in the photo for scale reference. He's 4 feet tall, the bamboo is planted in a planter that is 2 feet deep/tall/above the ground and inside the fence (from this perspective). At some point, I might trim all the bamboo to the same height; for now, I'm letting it grow. There's quite the variation here, from about 6' - 12'.



Bamboo is green throughout the winter. In the spring, it turns brown, looses its leaves and grows new leaves on the old shoots (culms). It also grows ALL of its new culms in the spring. The entire transformation lasts about two months. It's really nice to have green stuff in our otherwise brown xeriscape lawn in the winter. HOWEVER, it is a little depressing when all the bamboo suddenly turns brown in May. Every other plant is growing little buds and flowering; meanwhile, the bamboo looks dead, like this:



Fortunately, it's a short transformation to the end of June, when it grows and becomes a wall of green!



Here are the types of bamboo we planted and how they are doing:

Spectabilis - yellow culm (stalk) with green stripe

Phyllostachys Aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' from online dealer Lewis Bamboo: this is hands down my favorite. It looks great, with it's yellow culms and occasionally yellow striped leaves. The leaves are smaller. It's spreading nicely. Some spectabilis is about 3 feet away from the original planting site, making it the best spreading of all the bamboo we planted. This 2nd year, the height is between 6' -12' with half inch diameter culms. It's holding up well to the wind.


Rubro - brown edges on the leaves.

Phyllostachys Rubromarginata 'Rubro' also from online dealer Lewis Bamboo: this is my least favorite bamboo. The leaves are slightly larger. They seem to be more prone to wind damage. They turn brownish around the edges rather quickly after they appear. The rubro seems to be spreading OK (about 18" from original planting site), but the height is generally lower than the spectabilis, about 3'-6' in this the second year of growth. Culm diameter is around 3/8."  It's possible this species is just reaching maturity more slowly. (?) I don't know, this bamboo sounds really great on the Lewis Bamboo website, but I'm just not happy with it so far.




Phyllostachys Aureosulcata 'Yellow Groove' from the local nursery/ Monrovia.
Phyllostachys Bissetii 'Bissett'  from local nursery/ Monrovia.

Yellow Groove - green stalk (culm) with a yellow stripe.

Both the Bissett and Yellow Groove are doing well. Last year, I mentioned the nursery bamboo wasn't spreading as much as the bamboo from the online dealer. (Perhaps because it was significantly more root bound?) This year, spreading seems like less of a problem for the nursery bamboos, although they still only seem to have ventured about 12" from the original planting site. They are about the same height range as the Spectabilis: 6'-12' with a culm diameter size of about half an inch. (I should mention that the photo on the Yellow Groove tag two photos above looks more like Spectabilis to me.) Here in our planter, the new growth on the Bissett and Yellow Groove look very, very similar. I have to search carefully for the "yellow groove" to see the difference.

Other stuff –

Maintenance: this spring, my mother-in-law and I went through the old bamboo while the new culms were emerging and pruned off the dead tops. I didn't need to do this in 2012, but this year the top 6" of about 25% of the bamboo had died. Perhaps this was a result of the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw weather we had this spring? I'm not sure. The bamboo wasn't the only plant in my yard that needed more pruning of dead parts than last year. Last year, I sprinkled fertilizer on the bamboo in the spring as the new culms emerged, per Lewis Bamboo's suggestion. This year, I forgot.

The bamboo is on a drip irrigation system. During the winter, when the drip irrigation is off, I tried to water it whenever the temperature got to about 80 degrees (which is something that happens in Colorado in the winter, occasionally).

Advantages/Disadvantages: I still like the bamboo, but maybe I'm not as smitten with it as I was last year. It does grow fast (for two months), but if you average the growth over the three years it (supposedly) takes to reach "maturity" you could probably find other plants or even grasses that grow just as big, just as fast. The real advantage of the bamboo, as far as I am concerned, is the green foliage in the winter. Our yard is otherwise very xeriscape. (Xeriscape means: BROWN in the winter. I jest: Xeriscape means low water requirements, but xeriscape plants DO tend to be very BROWN in the winter.) I love having some greenery in the brown of winter.

This section is mostly Rubro; the leaves are browner than in other section. This was April 15th.

The bamboo has NOT (yet?) escaped the planter. I've braced myself for this to happen, even though we've been as cautious as possible. In the meantime, I'd like to point out that it may be that this dry, elevated climate is inhospitable enough that the bamboo will not be invasive. When researching this two years ago, it was really hard for me to find anyone who has real, Denver-specific experience with bamboo.

Other posts related to this bamboo project:
1. The deck
2. The planter
3. The first season of bamboo growth
4. The third season of bamboo growth

5. The fourth season of bamboo growth (no post exists)
6. The fifth season of bamboo growth