Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Preparations

Yow-zer.

My kids were BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS. It was 0 º F outside today, so we were a little stumped on what to do with all their energy.

Fritz is back at work and – I love him; it was great to have him around for 5 solid days over Christmas; but I was almost relieved when he walked out the door yesterday morning. The more he's around the more I start feeling like I'm doing a really disproportionate share of the housework. When he's gone, I'm DEFINITELY doing all the housework. So there's some degree of irony: Fritz's gone – Ann does all the housework – Ann isn't too frustrated about it. Fritz's home – Fritz does marginal amounts of housework – Ann is annoyed by his insufficient help.

I'm working on organizing the house over the holiday break. My work tends to be more focused thinking than productive action. Well, honestly, it's pretty much a lesson in futility, trying to organize with the kids underfoot. That I am even attempting to organize witnesses that the kids are better than ever at entertaining themselves. Really. Relative to where we were 4 months ago, there's been a giant leap in self-sufficiency. But it's still an uphill battle to do something like organize.

For our upcoming renovations, all five of us will be moving into and sharing ONE bedroom. For about 3 months. Well, it could be a shorter amount of time, but I'm thinking long so that I can be happily surprised rather than disappointed. Fritz and I are trying to look at the positive: with two-thirds of the house under construction there will be less area to clean (on a daily basis (I hope))! At least the construction is happening when school is in session; this would be much tougher if the kiddos were on vacation! It's also an opportunity to clean things out of the house!

Needless to say, it's taking some forethought to cut our living space to one-third of the current size. Fritz and I have different understandings of how thoroughly this needs to be done. Fritz's version is along the lines of just-push-everything-into-corners-and-cover it with plastic. My version is more involved. I feel like I need to rearrange toys and rearrange the living space in addition to the bedroom consolidation. Can't use my desk space? Then I need to move it somewhere where I can work. I also want to pack up all things we won't be using and donate/throw out all the things that we don't need. Why store it if we don't need it anymore, right? I might have a point, but I'll acknowledge this kind of thinking might be making a mountain out of a mole hill.

What is apparent is that Fritz and I have some different ideas about how the space in our house functions, and what's important. This is not surprising: I'm the only adult at home with various combinations of children for about 10 hours a day. Fritz is only really here with awake children (and me) for an additional 3 hours. Of course we have different priorities and perspectives!  I want to switch the lounge-y sofas (picture here) into the space we'll be using during renovations – because they're more versatile and comfy – and leave The Sofa for The Art of Proper Conversation covered in plastic. Really? It's so hard to move the sofas! Fritz sighs.

I worry that if we are too rash about our preparations, I'm the one who will be grinding her teeth the most.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Tree Traditions

I love seeing people's Christmas trees and hearing their tree traditions. These days, I wish I had more time to talk to people about their Christmas tree! Instead, when I see a Christmas tree, I'm mostly directing Trixie away before she pulls off a valuable ornament, or worse.

Even at Christmastime, blue tape manages to be part of our household decoration.
Sigh.
Would somebody please stop buying my kids blue tape?
(Me.)

I find it fascinating the way some people have many Christmas trees, and some people just one. Some people decorate their trees with a theme, and some people have matching ornaments, and some people just a hodgepodge of ornaments. Some trees have no ornaments, some are sagging under the weight of ornaments. Some trees have colored lights, some have white lights. Some trees have big lights and some have small lights. Some people like as many lights as possible, some people like just a few or none. Some people mix up their strategies every year, some people have the same strategy every year. What does it all mean? Maybe nothing, but I like to think about it!

Furniture and toys in disarray. Just keeping it real, you know.

We don't change much in the Wyse home. Our tree is the same every year. We fall in the as-many-white-lights-as-possible and hodgepodge-of-ornaments categories. We put up the same hodgepodge of ornaments every year because each ornament has a meaning embedded in it. It wouldn't be quite be Christmas if we didn't put up the little jack in the box ornament and then tear it off the tree to wind it up 20 times a day. Or it wouldn't quite be Christmas if we didn't hang up the felt teddy bear my godmother made with my name on it which is throughly ungluing itself after 38 years.

One of my friends said she liked our Christmas tree the other day, and I rather shrugged her comment away, because there's nothing at all specially designed and planned about our tree. And yet everything about it is special. To us.




Growing up, one of my aunts gave me a Christmas ornament every year. Others gave ornaments occasionally. When I graduated from college, my mother separated "my" ornaments out, and sent them along with me for my own tree. Every year since my mother has given me (and then Fritz, and then our children) more ornaments for the tree. Some of the ornaments belonged to Fritz's grandmother. My aunt continues to give us ornaments. Sometimes, my grandmother gives ornaments, too. All three kids have their own growing, personal collection of ornaments. For now, all the ornaments hang on the Wyse Family Tree. But some day, those ornaments will be separated and sent off with each child, just like mine were.

(Removed photo.)

So I don't really know if our tree is particularly pretty or not, but it's okay either way, because for us, the meaning transcends the aesthetics and it just feels right.

Merry Christmas! May it feel right, however you spend it!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Drive Safely, Fakes, Candy

For about a week, Mattias has been sick with something. The details are not actually interesting but they are still managing to absorb huge amounts of time and energy. So let's talk about something else.

Have you noticed a lot of crazy driving lately? Here in the Denver area, I've noticed a significant uptick in bad driving habits in just the last three days. Running red lights, rolling through stop signs, more cell phone usage than normal, speeding and tailgating. I get it: the holidays are stressful, people are trying to Get Things Done. I watched a driver pull over to the side of the road to let a tailgating car pass the other day. It was such a nonagressive, simple solution to the problem. I've never done it before; but I think I will the next time I have a tailgater. I want no part in the driving madness.

We don't have a fireplace, and every year at Christmastime I want one. I even pine (haha!) over silly portable ones in Home Depot. Fritz sighs deeply, "Fake tree, fake fireplace, what's next?" He sent me this link for a tabletop fireplace. Yup. Sign me up. I'll take it. (Just kidding, it's not big enough for the stockings.)

Speaking of the stockings, I'm filling the stockings with really boring stuff like toothpaste and toothbrushes and underwear this year. I do this every year and I think nothing of it. Even if I filled the stockings with toys, the kids tend to be on such overload that they barely notice what's in the stockings. So it might as well be stuff I have to buy anyway. But I did buy some lollipops from Hammonds. Hammonds is a local, small batch candy maker. I'd never heard of them before we moved to Denver, but they do sell all over the US. Their candies are like beautiful works of art. I especially love rifling through all their old fashion candy styles: like the stuff my great grandmother had in the drawer beside her bed in the nursing home. Or these ribbon candies. I had to sample a little bit of what I bought this year... and the taste is amazingly pure, melty sugar. It's nothing like the chemical aftertaste stuff you buy at the checkout in the grocery store. I forgot candy could be so wonderful.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

If you give Noah a Noel...

Last weekend, Mattias and Fritz took off for ski lessons on the mountain while Noah, Trixie and I decorated for Christmas. In this house, Noah is the leading contestant for the role of The Mouse in the book "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie." Trying to do something that requires a little bit of extra organization and focus (like decorating) with my Mouse and my Toddler made for, well, madness.

Here's an example: When you give Noah some stockings to hang, he'll hang some blankets and umbrellas to make a fort.


How about another? If you ask Noah to decorate, he'll decorate a table with some blue tape and call it a boat.


And this: If you ask him to use the blue tape responsibly, he'll make a door and window. For the boat.


Right. So as you can see, decorating kind of goes sideways (or backwards) here at the Wyse home.

Other highlights of the weekend included:
  • Cookies that melted in the oven because I wasn't paying attention to ingredients or Noah. Take your pick. 
  • A walkie-talkie that stole a ride to our house buried inside the Christmas tree. It was still jabbering away when we got home, "Attention associates! <garble garble garble>!" 
  • A half decorated Christmas tree that fell over on Noah. He's fine.
  • A broken "Pregnant Angel" tree topper, given to us by my aunt. Oh well, I decided, we're done with pregnancy around here, and I swept the angel into the trash. "We need to give her a proper burial!" proclaimed my aunt, a tear in her eye. 
  • Christmas strings of lights that had to be untangled and placed on the tree TWICE. Gah! Is it time to get a fake tree yet? "No!" answers Fritz, who was skiing while I wrangled the mess into decoration.
  • A non-sleeping toddler. She's teething. Or has a cold. Or is freaked out by all the changes around the house. Hmmm...maybe all three.
We're still a little sleep deprived and messy around here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mudroom/Storage Room

We've been testing out the new, improved mudroom this week.

AFTER - Fritz and Mattias changing shoes on Friday.
BEFORE - when we moved in four years ago.
When we moved in, we bought a 1x5 Expedit from Ikea to use as an impromptu bench. We thought maybe, someday, the bench would be like the window bench upstairs.  (Good thing we purchased it when we did, because the Expedit has since been replaced by the Kallax series which doesn't offer a 1x5 version. And we need 5 cubbies for five people!) Back in the day, we hung up some hooks for coats. We bought some plastic shelves from Home Depot to hold stuff on the other side of the room. But we still weren't quite sure what we wanted from this room, so it sat in an unfinished, messy state (frequently piles of coats) for the last four years.

Ikea planner. Oh, fancy. (And a little temperamental.)

It's a small room, about 7' x 8'. It lies between the garage and a hallway that leads to the kitchen. The original plan had a washer and dryer in this room. We moved the washer and dryer to basement when we moved in, because we felt like a small room on the first floor by the garage was the wrong place for our family.

In the last few months, we finally settled on a list of what we wanted from the mudroom:
  • A place to sit down and put on/ take off outdoor clothes and shoes.
  • A place for the small countertop appliances that were taking over the kitchen counter.
  • A place to throw mail and receipts when we came in from the car. Basically, a drop pad or drop zone.
  • Recycling and Trash so the junk doesn't make it very far into the house.
  • A place to hang coats which are being used. (There is a coat closet in the hall, but it doesn't work particularly well with the children, who can't seem to either 1) use hangers and 2) open and close doors without injuring each other.)
  • Storage for cleaning supplies.
We thought maybe we wanted a sink in this room. The hookup for the washer and dryer was still there, making it possible. But we weren't sure; a half bath is located just 3 feet down the hall. And there's a sink in the kitchen, another 14ish feet away. We eventually decided to kill the sink.



We were motivated to finally finish this project because Ikea is discontinuing their Akurum line of cabinets. We've used the Akurum line before and we knew we would be happy using them in the mudroom. And secondly, with our pending major renovation projects, it seemed like a wise idea to get this room organized. It was a place of constant disorganization!

Here's what we ended up with:

Counter side
Bench side
I've been on a real white-walls kick for the last few years. And I still really like white walls. But we thought we'd have some fun in the mudroom. Fritz and I took about 15 seconds to pick out this paint color from an itty bitty sample in the paint aisle at Home Depot. Exactly how you are NOT supposed to pick out paint. (One should always be able to thumb one's nose at conventional wisdom.) For now, I'm quite happy with it. We'll see how I feel in a few years.

It took me some time to let go of the idea that this room should be a locker room, where everybody had their own cubbies, their own hook, their own sitting space on the bench. But I wanted to put so many other kinds of storage into this space! Finally, I decided that the locker room style wasn't the best use of the space. I still haven't figured out how to get all three kids to sit down and do the same thing at the same time, anyway. We kept the 5-shoe-cubbies-one-for-each-person because that aspect of the room was working out well. But overall, I decided that a shorter bench and less coat hanging space could be almost as helpful as a long bench and more coat hooks.

Bench cubbies, in their final position, not touching the back wall.
We made the bench a counter depth (about 25" versus 15-18"), even though that meant adding some structural support and pulling the Expedit away from the wall. It created some dead space behind the Expedit that you can see in the photo below. Maybe we'll hide our secret treasure there! The depth of the bench is working out great, even if it looks kind of cluttered; the kids are so much more reliable about using the basket for accessories and stacking their backpacks on the bench because the surface is at a kid-friendly height.

Dead space behind the cubbies. Not ideal, but, oh, well.
The deeper bench also allowed us to set a full size cabinet on top of it. This configuration was definitely not in the Ikea manual. Let's hope the Expedit is strong enough. So far, so good.



Is all the green giving you a headache yet?


On the counter side, we improvised a little bit as well. The Akurum cabinet with three drawers wasn't available at our Ikea. Lucky for us, we figured out how to convert a sink unit into three drawer unit by rotating the doors and attaching them to Rationel drawers. Gotta love a good modular system. A clever person might notice the drawer panel reveals are rotated the wrong way relative to the door panel reveals. But. It's a mudroom. Mudroom. Mudroom, right?


There's no sink in the sink unit, because we temporarily nixed that part of the project. Also, no handles, because we're not there yet.

You know how when you go to Ikea, you get sucked into it, and pretty soon you think everything Ikea is GREAT? That's how the individual coat and hat hooks got replaced with the Gundtal rail below. The hooks are removable and slide along the rail. The jury is still out on whether or not the rail is a good idea. I will say that it's kind of nice to be able to shove the coats around, cramming more coats on the rail or off the rail, depending on the flux of people in the house:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Brunch and Dunch

We had a mostly quiet Thanksgiving on Thursday. Contrary to what I posted, we actually did make a Thanksgiving meal, not peanut butter and jelly.

My mother always made "Sticky Rolls" on the Holidays when we were kids. Sometimes I make the less sugary version, cinnamon rolls, for my own kids. This year, I made them proper, gooey sticky rolls. My mother woke up at some ungodly hour so that we could eat them for breakfast. I woke up at the normal time and we had them for brunch.


Fritz used some about-to-expire airline miles to get us a subscription to Southern Living magazine. Sort of strange, since neither of us is Southern. (He mumbled something about trying to throw off the data collectors when our first issue arrived this summer.) We decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner from their recipes. Why not, right?


It was fun. We didn't really have anything invested in whether or not the recipes turned out well. Also, no guests, no timelines, no expectations, just some ingredients and us.

Alright, southern friends, what are hearts of palms? This green bean dish was good. But I might skip the hearts of palms next time.


Predictably, the kids were not all into green beans with hearts of palms. In fact, they weren't really into any of the food. They sat at the table for all of 2 minutes (whining about the food) before they started asking to be excused. Eventually, I gave up and just took photos of their untouched, but messy, empty place settings. THIS is eating with little kids in the Wyse home, by the way.



Maybe it would have gone better if I had set the table more beautifully? Or dressed them in nicer clothes?


Even Fritz sort of gave up in the fashion department, while they climbed all over him.


Finally, we just asked them to go upstairs and leave us alone so we could eat.
Five minutes later they returned, hungry.

When are we having dinner? they asked.

Wait a minute, observed Noah, Did we have lunch?

You had dunch. We told them. It's between lunch and dinner and it's called Thanksgiving IF you eat it.

Mattias eyed the pie on the counter. Can we eat THAT?



No, I told them. You need grow food. I'm pretty sure the tortilla chips that followed do not, for one second, count as grow food. But they ate them quietly at their own improvised table for 15 minutes.


Then we had pie.

It didn't go quite as well as the chips.

Later, I took a photo of Mattias' plate while I was cleaning up. See how I dissected the pie into little piles for him? Crust, Apple and Pear, Cranberries, Whipped Cream. Yup. He only ate the whipped cream.



There you have it. We didn't eat peanut butter and jelly. We ate some other stuff. And most of us ate tortilla chips and whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a typical year, we have about 6 weeks of houseguests. This year, we have had about 10 weeks of houseguests.

Given that we have so many houseguests, it is a little odd that we find ourselves without any guests at all over Thanksgiving this year. But that is okay! The kids are out of school all week. Without anyone else to entertain and nowhere we have to be, we are wearing pajamas, reading books and eating in front of the television. Just a bit. A simple PB&J for Thanksgiving? Maybe...

(Another removed photo.)

May your Thanksgiving week be everything that you need as well.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Becoming a Family of Five

I've wanted to post on this topic for a while. After Mattias was born, I did a similar post, about becoming a family of four. Somehow, the jump to five people (3 kids) has been a lot more difficult than the jump to four (2 kids). I've needed more time to truly process the change and not simply spew out my frustration.

Trixie reached 18 months earlier this month. I still believe Mean Jean's Theory of 18 months has validity; that is, it take 18 months to really adapt to major life changes. So, instead of writing a post at twelve months, I waited. It is tempting to constantly write posts under the topic of How I Overcame Something Difficult For Me. Maybe 18 months will be magic, I thought. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that if I kept waiting for that kind of closure, I might never post this.

SO. Without further ado, here are the changes I've noticed in our new, larger family:

There's no hiding for either parent. Funny, how Fritz used to go out to the garage to change a flat tire on his bike and emerge 4 hours later, having swept the garage and rearranged the scrap wood and labeled the tool drawers, all while I took care of the kids. Nope, doesn't happen like that anymore. If you are on our property, it is pretty much impossible not to be with the children/a child at all times. If Fritz disappears into the garage, it only takes about 10 minutes before the boys head out to see what he's doing. Before you know it, they're scootering in circles around the dust piles.  I think a portion of this intense togetherness is their ages, but a portion of it is the fact that they outnumber us, and they're mobile, so it feels like they're everywhere.

The burden falls more often at Fritz's feet than ever before (when he's home). I've nursed all three kids. In the first six month, all that nursing can really start to feel like a ball and chain. Fritz has never experienced this, and many times, I've felt envious of his freedom from nursing. But this is less the case with each successive child. There were times with Trixie when I was happy to disappear quietly into the bedroom, while leaving Fritz to referee the boys' disagreement over – I don't know – a straw wrapper. Nighttime parenting has seen a similar trend. Fritz tends to the boys (who need him less often) while I tend to Trixie. Trixie still wakes up more often but still shares a room with us; The boys wake up less often, but there are two of them and tending to them requires walking down the hallway. And if the two boys are sick, well, it definitely feels like I have the better deal.

BUT I still carry most of the unpleasant parts of parenting. Like triage. Oh, so much triage. Some people like to refer to three-plus-child-parenting as running a zonal defense versus a one-on-one defense. Maybe I'm too harsh, but I think of it as doing triage. When all three kids are crying at once, over different things (happens!), you have to decide which child to leave behind on the Battlefield of Childhood Woes. You have only two hands and some of them take up so much physical space. It's just not possible to comfort all of them at once. So you pick. This sucks. It sucks hard. In the early days of three kids, I was exhausted from constantly making the decision of which-kid-to-ignore and handling the consequences of my choice. Eventually I toughened up and making the choice cost me less. I even learned to have conversations with myself over screaming from the backseat while driving. But you know what? I don't think the toughness has made me a better parent. I think it's made me a worse parent. More insensitive. Less attentive. More sarcastic. Less charmed. More impatient. Less kind.

On practical level, with two hands occupied, I find myself telling the kids what to do more than ever. That would be the diplomatic way of saying barking orders at them or yelling or snapping. No matter how you phrase it, I rely on my voice more than I did before. I used to be much more action/modeling/showing as a parenting technique. But it just isn't as effective when you've got three kids. Sad. I liked the action/modeling/showing approach better.

Family-ness. Our family gained a certain gravitas when the second child was born. With the third child, I feel like our family is spinning even faster. Before we had a spin that created gravity, now we're more like a spinning tornado. Watch out for the centripetal force! Our chaos spin off us and slams into those around us! Words and phrases that come to mind to describe our interactions with others: Tentative. At arms length. Under conditions. Limited. Not that I blame anyone for keeping their distance from us. Do the kids run the show around here? Um, yes. This morning we went for a walk and we had to stop three times in the first block to address somebody's breakdown.

On the positive side, as a family unit we can be more efficient than ever before. Certainly our Costco receipts would lead you to believe the Wyses are running a mini-compound. It's kind of cool: we really do eat ALL of the bulk produce we buy before it goes bad. Ten pounds of carrots? NO PROBLEM. We also have the eating power to constantly have a more diverse amount of food in the fridge. For example, we never used to have all the ingredients for my favorite Brasil Club on hand at one time, unless I made a special shopping trip. Now, we almost always have all the ingredients.

Oh, and you know that thing where the older kids take care of the younger kids and it's SO DAMN CUTE? Yup, we got it. Book reading, carrying, giggling, handholding all over the place. Nonstop cuteness.

Friends. By choice or by necessity, some of my friendships have faded since Trixie was born. I think it's a special frame of mind that you live in when you have a baby. Once out of it, I think we forget what it's like. It's been more difficult than ever to relate to people who are not carrying a kid on their hip. I think of parenting three children like this: I'm treading water as fast as I can. I'm not even swimming. My eyes are just BARELY over the water. I can see a distance of three feet, at most. Can you talk to me about what's within my three foot range? No? Okay, sorry, can't talk, got to focus on my treading.

Additionally, the number of people who can understand the stresses of three kids are a smaller group. I find myself seeking out new friends with three or more children for commiseration. Sometimes I have to restrain myself from grabbing their hand and asking them how they're doing it.

You know: for years I was lonely because we were always moving to a new place. When we settled in here, it was such a relief to know that we were staying; and then to be thrust back into the isolation of having a baby and finding some new friends.... I guess it doesn't take a move to be lonely. SIGH. It's working out, but it's slow-going.

Diversity. I loved how two kids brought diversity and balance to our home. Three kids is even more diversity! That's nice. Sometimes, though, it feel like a little too much. Mostly, it's a challenge to address all the different needs of kids who span 6 years in age. Some of the young (childless) nannies I see at preschool drop off love to talk with me about age spacing of children. They all seem to think it's best to push kids out as fast as possible. They're planning it for their own futures. I'm not sure I agree, but the last 18 months has left me feeling that I'm not giving any of my three kids what they need in an age-appropriate way. Maybe it would be easier if they were closer together in age? Or maybe it would just be more chaotic.... With two children, I felt like there was more time to cultivate an individual relationship with both of them. I'm still not able to do that very well with three children, although I maintain hope.

All this said, holy shit, three kids has stretched us THIN. Frtiz and I are more grouchy, more argumentative and more stressed than we have ever been in our marriage. I really feel like all our various types of resources are scarcer than ever before. And there's not much we can do about it.

For what it's worth, the process of being stretched thin by children hasn't been linear: we were generally happier after Mattias (the 2nd) was born. But both Noah (the 1st) and Trixie (the 3rd) have been had steep learning curves associated with their arrival. I live on the hope that's getting easier – it will be easier – it is already easier – it IS A Learning Curve, so it's not permanent. I hope. After all, I did have the time to type this up, right?

Things that help (What? didn't I mention that it's hard for me not to write self-help posts???): Wine. Occasionally letting the television babysit. iPad Apps. Not mentioning that we've become a cliche. Reminding Fritz that he thought 2 children was spießig (translated form German: anal, middle-class in a derogatory way) and three kids was preferable when he complains about the endless chaos.

Also, if you are considering three kids, I think it's best to be really sure you want another child. Walking into the third child as a surprise or half-decision was an additional layer of difficulty.

Oomph. That was all fun to confess.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Breathing Space

My brother-in-law and his fiancé arrive on Wednesday. We've not yet met the fiancé, but the wedding is this spring. We are very excited, as this will be the first of our siblings to get married! I'm trying to summon the energy to clean the house before their arrival. Seems like it might be important to make a good first impression, right?

But it's not happening.

The energy is not being summoned. I think I just need a little more recovery time...

This past summer, when I was so houseguest-ed out, I thought I could put a moratorium on houseguests. But it doesn't really work that way. To cope, I've developed an indifference: don't like sticky door knobs? Hmm, let me call you a taxi to the nearest hotel.

I jest.

What's really happened is that we've started to plan some major renovations around the house, to make future houseguests more comfortable (for us). We're going to convert a portion of the loft into a fourth bedroom and finish the basement with a guest room.  It's going to be some pretty major construction on two out of our three floors. It will take about 3 months to complete. A lot of people move to a new house when they reach this point of familial expansion; a lot of people really don't like to live in a construction zone. I like our house; moreover, I like the location; I'm excited to have an opportunity to improve it a bit. And the fourth bedroom renovation will actually fix some of the house's shortcomings. I hope I find that I like to live in a construction zone. I grew up in a home where my parents were always renovating something, so I like to think I can live with some dust and noise. Also, I'm an architect; this will be FUN!

We shall see. Remind me in a few months that I thought construction was a good idea, okay?

(Just between you and me, every now and then I calculate just how many nights in a hotel could be purchased for the amount we are about to spend on renovations. GULP!)

In the meantime, I think I better clean the house, so that my future sister-in-law doesn't have to turn sticky doorknobs.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

General Activity of the Last Week

My parents and brothers were in town this past week. While we had all the extra hands around, I scheduled a project. Sometimes I find that giving houseguests a project is a successful strategy for relieving a portion of the pressure on me to entertain.

Sometimes.

I wanted to finish the mudroom with cabinets, a bench, and a counter. This project has been waiting patiently since we moved in 4 years ago. My father also had a project in mind: painting our stairwell. I'm happy to report that both projects were finished in less than a week. But boy, has it has felt CRAZY around here. I think the projects might deserve their own posts. (Well, at least the mudroom.)

This weekend we are decompressing and prepping for a new round of houseguests on Wednesday. In the meantime, here are a few photos of the activity. It looks strangely calm in these photos. Not really how I experienced it, but, anyway:

My brother, mustached mugging mopper extraordinaire!
The boys use Ikea boxes as sleds. Let us not talk about what they did with the styrofoam.
Toddler helps grandma measure.
Trixie and I test out the bench.
The mudroom construction crew, midway to completion, minus Fritz and yours truly.
Toddler watching grandpa pour paint. 
Repainting the stairwell. Still white, but a cleaner, brighter white.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bulb Trials

After we finished planting the African Dogtooth Grass in our street lawn, my aunt, who had the idea to plant dogtooth grass in the first place, decided we should fill the same area with, "bulbs that will naturalize and bloom in the early spring."


One of the drawbacks of the dogtooth grass is that it stays brown until the ground reaches a temperature of about 55 degree Fahrenheit. That means that everyone else's lawn will turn green and lush in April or so, and we'll still be waiting for another month. My aunt's strategy to combat brown grass? Crocus, hyacinth, naturalizing tulips, and any other low-growing spring bulbs she could dig out of her own garden and send my way. The idea is that the grass will still be brown, but under a sea of spring flowers.

Oops. That would be a fall crocus, in the planting beds. Double wrong.
It's totally cool to have an aunt who can dig up some vegetation and share. I've started to think of gardening, in general, as an indulgence: buying plants is costly, planting can be time-consuming and the results aren't always alive as vibrant as I would like. No, actually I really have killed several lots of too many plants. There's always wild cards: bad weather, wandering toddlers who like to live head as opposed to dead head, hungry rabbits. Results are slower than I wish. Before I ever tried to establish a yard myself, I took all that stuff for granted. I mean: I've always loved trees, and I've always appreciated a colorful garden, but I never saw the work behind it. Beyond the financial outlay, I never really recognized the devotion or the patience or love that nurtured it through the years.


My aunt has been generously giving hundreds of bulbs to me. I don't know exactly how she has the time or the energy to dig them out of her garden, shift them from the dirt and rocks and put them in bags for me. About two months ago, my uncle, her husband, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer relapse. It is less than 2 years since he went through the first round of chemo and a stem cell transplant. Mantle cell lymphoma. There's not a cancer anyone wants to get; this one is particularly unkind. My uncle has chosen to do a Phase I Drug Trial instead of returning to chemo. Here is how the NIH defines Phase I Drug Trials: "Researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects." Later, in Phase II, researchers determine whether or not the drug is effective.


So, those bulbs. Bags and bags and bags of bulbs. At first, my aunt tried to sort them and identify them by type. She bought a book about bulb flowers at Goodwill and thumbed through the pages gesturing at different pictures and different bulbs while I restrained Trixie from sampling them as snacks. We tried to employ the boys in sorting them by type. Then we gave up and simply sorted them by size. The smallest bulbs go in the lawn she told me, the bigger bulbs in the planting areas. And after my aunt gave me hundreds of bulbs, I bought MORE. Just in case. I'm determined to get them in the ground. Determined that they won't sit in my garage and decay. Determined that I give them the best possible soil and phosphate and whatever else they need to bloom in the spring. I can't be the limiting factor in this project. Bulb flowers over brown grass may not be everyone's idea of the ideal lawn. But when and if they bloom, they could still be beautiful.

Friday, November 7, 2014

That Solved That

The Switch Witch visited us.

"Who is that?" the contractor (foreshadowing!) asks.

"It's like Santa Claus," I tell him.

Her rules worked like this: the night of Halloween, the kids can eat as much candy as they want. Then they put all the rest out for the Switch Witch. She takes all the candy and leaves them a non-food present.

When my neighbor first told me about the Switch Witch, I was skeptical. What kind of lesson is that teaching? I thought. Well, I'm still not sure. But now that she has visited our house, I LOVE THE SWITCH WITCH! The kids woke up the next morning and were still excited, but there wasn't lingering candy that I/they/we agonized over for days/weeks. It was simply gone!

The Switch Witch was a little worried about what she was going to do with all that candy. The answer came in the form of a late-in-the-evening 6 foot tall trick-or-treater. He dumped a whole bowl of Switch Witch candy that had been left on the dark front porch into his bag.

That Solved That.

Ragedy Ann (not me!) and friends

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lingering Autumn

We are having a really long, lingering autumn. At least by Colorado standards. It seems that many years, snow falls before the leaves. This year there is still no snow. And the leaves are falling. Noah is still wearing shorts. Daily.


This dahlia: I planted it two years ago, and never dug up the bulb. Dahlias are NOT suppose to last overwinter in Colorado.  (You are suppose to dig them up.) But sometimes, somehow, you get lucky. This year it bloomed! I credit the weather.


I am especially looking forward to Halloween and Trick or Treating. Fritz spent the last several years chairing a department retreat that always occurred within a week of Halloween. It was difficult to do Halloween as an almost single parent, with Fritz worrying about his own stuff. I'm really enjoying – and looking forward to – his presence this year!


We are putting out a Teal Pumpkin. (Well, it's sort of teal. I tried to mix the color myself. Uhhh... no future for me as paint mixer, I think.) None of our kids have food allergies, but I think this is a really important topic. Idena wrote a really great post about her son and food allergies a few years ago, and it opened my eyes to how food allergies must make a child feel quite excluded. No child should be excluded on Halloween! Beyond that, we have an awful overkill of candy every year. We've been giving out play doh for several years. I'm always shocked how many kids actually seem to PREFER the play doh when given a choice to choose their treat. So: putting out a teal pumpkin was no biggie. (As long as we don't talk about the part where I tried to paint the damn thing teal. Grr.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Food

The kids have been really miserable eaters lately.

Actually one kid has been miserable, one has been picky, and the other is okay.

[Removed photo.]

But let me tell you, the miserable one is taking all the fun out of food by complaining about everything that is available to eat in our house. He's subsisting on yogurt, graham crackers, and the mandatory "try-one-bite." Every time I think I've found something that he will eat, the next time it's offered he doesn't like it. About a year ago we drastically cut back on sugar in his diet and discovered that our very whiny child became even-keel. It's been great.

Except now it feels like he's fighting back.

It's no fun to expend the energy making food only to get it thrown back in your face with a big YUCK.

I think it's a 4 year-old phase. Right? Please tell me that your 4 year-old is or was picky, too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wallpaper Cards and a True-as-Told Story

Fritz's grandparents owned a construction business in Germany in the 1950s through the mid 1990s. As part of their company, they had a small store that sold paint, wallpaper, and basic craft supplies. After Fritz's grandfather passed away in the mid 1960s, the business was run by Fritz's grandmother and Fritz's mother. The story, as it's been told to me, is that being a women-owned construction business in the 60s and 70s was difficult. But Fritz's grandmother was smart as a whip. She talked her daughter into getting a degree in the trade, as a contractor, rather than attending the college-bound high school. The two of them proceeded to run the business for several more decades while raising Fritz and his brother.

By the time I met Fritz, he and his mother were long burnt out by the construction industry. After working construction in high school during the summer, Fritz couldn't wait to get as far away from physical labor as possible. He went into science. When we met, he told me "I went into science so I could pay someone else to do physical labor." And he did stay comfortably distant from construction until he met me. {Wink.} Fritz's mother eventually went to art school and today supports herself as a professional artist. The family business was eventually sold, but the company store sat untouched for decades. Only Fritz's mother used the aisles of the store to hold her larger sculptures and paintings. Otherwise, the store looked the same as the day it closed, plus some dust and cobwebs.

After Fritz's grandmother passed away, we began the slow and sometimes surprisingly painful process of clearing out the company store. Some things, like old cans of paint, were obvious to go. But some things, like the wallpaper, were so intriguing! Fritz and I were drawn to the crazy patterns and dated designs. (I've started selling them here. You don't need to buy; just looking can be fun.) What to do with all of it has been a bit of a puzzle. There were many times we thought we should just be minimalists and let it go. But then there have also been lots of times when digging into the wallpaper pile felt like an exclusive shopping experience, minus the money and time. Over the years, we've used the wallpaper to make artwork for our first apartment (some photos of those here), wrap gifts, design cards, do large kid-paintings and create garland.

This is one of my favorite cards, a Christmas card from when we were still living in Germany. I ran across it the other day while I was looking for an old Christmas photo. The wallpaper is NOT pre pasted, making it easy to run through an inkjet printer. I even made envelopes out of wallpaper. Obviously, this was before children, when I had a lot time on my hands.

Tree printed on the backside of the wallpaper.
Wallpaper design is inside the trifold card.
That would be the wallpaper on the left and the story of the Christmas tree on the right.
The story of the Christmas tree was designed and printed on back of the wallpaper by me.

Inside of the card and wallpaper. No idea who these girls are in the photo.
I didn't have any of the photos we originally used, so I substituted with a photo from an ad. 
"Back" of the wallpaper. Printed with inkjet printer.


For several years now, I've been purchasing photo holiday cards. But this year, I'm thinking about making cards again. Some times I really miss how personal and intimate handmade items can be. There's also something special about this long, circuitous story by which wallpaper comes to be a handmade card. There's something comforting about an actual physical item attached to a story, especially in a world filled with electronic data that may or may not be genuine. And between the story and the time and the item itself? Well, it has a complexity that surpasses a empty dollar amount. That's kind of cool, right?