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.