Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two Gift Ideas (that we already have, but recommend to you)

This is the time of year when I always start feeling panic-y about the hard-to-shop for person on my list, for whom I still haven't figured out what to get.

I really appreciate it when people post about gifts they've received or loved or had success giving, so I'm going to throw two ideas out, just in case you're feeling particularly stumped.




Electric Salt and Pepper (Spice) Grinder.
Our friends in Germany had a version of these, and to be honest, had we not tried theirs first, we never would have purchased this item for ourselves. It seems so silly! An electric grinder for salt and pepper! Please! How lazy can we get?

Well, pretty lazy, apparently. But whatever! Because these are so FUN! And oddly satisfying to use! Just push the button on the top and ground spice comes out the bottom. Everyone we've given them to has really liked them as well. We've been buying ours (as gifts) from various vendors on Amazon, but they are also available at specialized kitchen stores.


Wind-up Toys / Ornaments
The two wind up toys above are from Kikkerland. They spark and jump and turn and move in funny paths. We gave them to our kids last year for Christmas, although, due to the sparking, etc., they're not recommended for younger kids. The kids used them with supervision and they have held up fairly well.

This Jack in the Box ornament below has also been a big hit with the kids. We've had it since 2008. It's missing a bow, but still works! As an ornament, it doesn't stay on the tree for very long. The kids can't wind it until about age 3 or 4. Now we're at the point where there's always a bigger kid willing to wind it for a smaller kid. I always feel like I won a small victory when something encourages an older and younger to work together.



There's definitely some irony in these suggestions. DON'T wind your spice grinder, but DO wind a toy. Did you catch it?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The weight of things going on in life has overwhelmed my ability to small talk.  As far as this blog goes: I think it's healthy to post about small things. I think it keeps me from being overwhelmed. I think I'm better at small talk in real life when I'm practicing it here on my blog. And yet, at the same time, when I am feeling particularly worried, it's hard to think about the details. It's hard to be lighthearted. It's hard to be funny. It's hard to be creative.

Instead, I find myself obsessively reading the latest news cycle to take my mind off Weighty Things in Life. It's a poor strategy. The news cycles have been pretty horrible the last month.

I'm not a big fan of being obtuse, nor do I want to overshare: so let me do a short version of Weighty-Things-in-My-Personal-Life:

My mother had a series of panic attacks last month. This is the first time anyone I love has ever spiraled into panic attacks. My experience has been: you see it coming and feel pretty helpless to do anything about it. Actually, I was very concerned that the whole spiral was going to end in a heart attack (or worse). So far, I've noticed one doesn't just snap out of it. It takes time. It takes medical leave. It takes patience. What else? I don't know, I'm still learning about this. I feel frustrated to be thousands of miles away.

My uncle, who lives nearby, has spent the last 3 years battling lymphoma. He is undergoing his third round of chemo now. The most recent cancer return has been the most aggressive variant yet. The cancer is everywhere in his body, and most days it feels like every piece of medical news is bad news. In fact, about three weeks ago, the doctors gave him 2-3 weeks to live without treatment. He's still alive. I'm learning the human body can do amazing things, but learning this through experience is not something I would wish upon anybody.

I think: I would like to stop reading the newspaper. I would like to post about non weighty topics. I think I will post about other things. But I also felt like I had to share this information to move forward.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Silver bullets

1.
Shortly after Noah was born in 2007, my Silicon Valley friends visited us in Munich.

As I pushed Noah in his stroller through the gardens at Schloss Nymphenburg, they showed me all the cool features on their fancy iPhones, which were, amazingly(!) receiving calls from California while mapping our walking route through the trees.

"But it doesn't refresh fast enough for mapping in the car," said Leslie, shaking her iPhone as though it might just work faster with a little physical encouragement.

Those iPhones: they felt like a definite step up from a clam shell! But I still couldn't really think of a good reason for ME to get one.

2.
After Trixie was born in 2013, I confided to my friend, with a baby about the same age as Trixie, that I couldn't go anywhere in a car without the newborn Trixie screaming, screaming, screaming. I'd sing, I'd enlist the boys help, I'd cycle through songs on CDs, I'd (carefully!) break or accelerate a little faster, hoping to distract her. Nothing.

"Oh!" said my friend, "I just throw my iPhone in the baby seat. I have an app for white noise!"

3.
My new sister-in-law is pregnant. She has an app for her phone telling her what foods are safe enough for her to eat. She uses it in restaurants. The waiters get a workout between the table and kitchen while they trace down the source of all the ingredients in the food. Some eggs apparently have significantly more toxins in them than others, you know.

I'm pretty sure that the precision of these concerns would simply NOT be possible without a smartphone.

4.
A few weeks ago, I missed another important text from a friend regarding our children. And I felt (again!) the guilt of my technology aversion. Maybe it's time I finally got a smart phone rather than using this dumb phone. I'm ruining my friendships! This really has to change, it's time I grow up and get connected.

I've thought about buying myself a smart phone with my very modest earnings from my Etsy store this fall. But, I have to confess, I'm still not sure I can bring myself to do it. I'm not sure I really trust myself to put the damn thing down. And what if I stop singing to my kids because my smartphone really is a silver (or rose gold!) bullet?

Monday, October 19, 2015

I don't know how you do it.

Telling someone you "don't know how [they] do it" is sort of a compliment.

Sort of. 

But it's also a backhanded way of announcing, "You're doing it the hard way!" or, "I'm glad I'm not you."

It's the opposite of empathy. It's a public declaration that you don't really want to try to imagine another person's situation.

Personally, "I don't know how you do it" is one of those compliments that I'd like to never hear again.  In full disclosure, I will also admit that I've most certainly used this compliment before. I've probably used it right here on this very blog.

For this, I apologize.

I'm going to do my best to never let it pass my lips again.

Updated to add: I mean, it's not just the words that are bad - it's the sentiment behind it that I could improve upon, right?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Whose turn?

Trixie has been a hot mess of toddler independence lately. She wants to do everything herself and she's far more determined about it than either of her brothers were when they went through their toddler independence streaks. Trixie's independence streak includes everything from eating, to walking, to riding her bike, to picking up, to putting on clothes by herself. The putting on of clothes is probably the biggest area of contention right now. If she's not allowed to put on a sock or a shoe or a pair of pants on completely by herself (which she can BARELY do, by the way) watch out! If I even touch an article of clothing while she's doing it herself, she rips the clothing off and starts all over again. "My turn!" she yells. It's sort of funny - and yet horrible in slow, painful, drawn out way. I would have been really disturbed by this behavior if she was my first kid, but being my third, I think I'm a little more, "okay – whatever."



Well, I'm not completely "whatever" about it. We are working on it. This week, I convinced her to let me lay the clothes on the floor for her before she tries to put them on. This makes it somewhat easier for her, since we can at least 1) orient openings in the right approximate direction for limbs and 2) make sure that nothing is half way inside out before we begin. Excuse me, I mean, before she begins.

One of the surprises in her independence streak is the discovery of Noah's influence. For example, today we went out for a bike ride. Trixie wanted to ride her balance bike, because, of course, everyone else was riding their bike. I wanted Trixie to sit in the bike trailer. She's pretty fast on the balance bike, but we were planning to go a longer distance. And, well, she's not keep-up-with-her-brothers-on-real-bikes fast. Trixie and I went back and forth: she, insisting on her bike, me, using every parenting strategy I could think of to convince her to get in the bike trailer.

Finally, Noah stepped forward and said,

"Trixie, you want to ride in the bike trailer. It's much more fun than the balance bike."
She listened to him and then climbed into the bike trailer without further ado.

It wasn't that Noah said anything I hadn't already said. It was more like she didn't trust me. She needed to hear it from someone else. Like her brother. I was miffed. She's only two, and somehow, I'm already not cool enough to listen to? I'm glad that she will listen to someone, but.... And then a similar thing happened to Fritz when he had all three children at the museum.

I'm still processing the idea that our parenting strategies need to include the calculation that the kids might listen to each other better than they listen to us.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Recent

The weather turned (a bit) more fall-like this week. I'm not sure if I can credit the change in weather, or the cooler temperatures, but I suddenly feel like I have a lot more energy. I don't think I'm built for temperatures above 90 degrees. The 80s are sort of pushing it, too.

I finished a custom clown costume the other day. I think it turned out really cute! I took some photos before I shipped it off, and, well, I hope it is loved.


Fritz is starting to get grumpy about my "free" time being diverted. I mean, he talks a good, supportive talk, but I can see some pouting. It would be easy to get sort of self-righteous about having time to do The Stuff I Want to Do and brush off his unvocalized feelings. After all, how many years have I put prioritized him and the kids, often a high cost to myself? Many. It seems like an unhealthy perspective, however. And sometimes I think I have to be especially careful with my thoughts, lest they become more than just observations, but self-fulfilling prophecies as well.

Still. It's so easy for me to sink into a project, to make myself busy by obsessing over things. (Maybe that should be the definition of busy: "Putting things before people.") Either way, I'm slowing down, refocusing on my family. Although, I am trying to make some sheep masks for my mother... but I'm making them sloooowly, and then, I REALLY am going to stop making things for a while. Here's my prototype:


I don't know. This sheep mask is somehow not right. Maybe the whole face and ears need to be white? Maybe the ears look too much like mouse ears? Maybe I need to ditch the "eyelashes" that look nothing like eyelashes? (I was trying to make the sheep look sweeter, or something. I don't know.) Maybe I need lighter grey thread.

But, see? Here I am obsessing, over THINGS.... The truth is, designing anything is a lot of obsessing and trial and error and time-consumption. There's a reason that I haven't done it much in the last 8 years. The trick is figuring out how to allocate time going forward, so that it doesn't overwhelm the people around me but so that I get start doing a little bit of what I love.

I guess.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Me making stuff

Lately, I've been neglected this blog as I bury a fair amount of time into making clown costumes. I don't know why.  Somehow I really LOVE making clown costumes. For me, there's something so satisfying about the process of making – well, the process of making just about anything. The clown costumes are such a good excuse to be a little more cheery and bright and silly than I feel like I get to be in everyday life. I've exceeded the number of clown costumes my children could ever reasonably use, so they are for sale here. The costumes are getting more gorgeous and well-made with each rendition. For some reason, their extravagance alone motivates me to continue making them.

When I first started making clown costumes, I mentioned that my goal is to teach myself how to sew well enough to sew clothes for me. Five years ago, I was disassembling pants and then copying the pattern and re-sewing new ones. It was a struggle. With the clown costumes, I had to re-work the store-bought pattern to get the size and proportions and silhouette that I wanted. I'm feeling a lot more confident after all the clown-costume-making than I was after the pant-making. Now I'm starting to think about designing a shirt. A shirt for me.  I've reached the point where I feel confident enough with my pattern-making and sewing skills to try. Although, it's a pretty simple design. I've also been collecting old sheets to cut up and use on my trial run(s).

The other thing I would really like to design is a Christmas Tree Skirt. I don't know why we don't have one! No: I DO know why. Every year, I wrap a table cloth woven by Fritz's grandmother around the bottom of the tree. I tell myself that it's sentimental and therefore ideal. And it sort of is ideal. Ideal-ish. Except, it's a off-white table cloth (with brownish flecks), and I would like a red tree skirt. And it fits well enough, but not great. Also it's a table cloth! I never use table clothes on tables (at least, not with kids), so it's nice to have an excuse to use it. See? Ideal-ish.

Anyway. I haven't really dreamed up the perfect tree skirt yet. I'm never moved enough by the tree skirts that I see in the stores to buy one. But maybe if I start putting some brain power into thinking about tree skirts NOW, I'll come up with something to make before Christmas...

Except: while I'm buying making stuff, so are the kids. The messes and disorganization are beginning to pile up, so I might need to set aside my own projects for a bit.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What Counts

I really like(d) Volkswagens, so I'm feeling betrayed by the recent revelation that their diesels have been cheating emission standards for the last 6 years in the US.

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, my whole family is something of VW affectionados. My brother, who normally rides a bike, but drives a Golf TDI the rest of the time, called me to rant about how he thought he was making an environmentally responsible car choice, but now is embarrassed to be driving a VW.

I took this photo Wednesday morning at the zoo in Denver. Apparently, not everyone feels the same. Or not everyone has heard the news. Or maybe some people feel along the lines of It's The Thought That Counts:


Anyway. I think this changes my mind about ever wanting a CrossBlue. But, you know, there is something I find remarkable about this whole debacle (beyond the fact that it happened in the first place): the fact that Volkswagen has been relatively forthcoming. I mean, how many times does a company actually admit guilt and say that they are sorry? Recently, the Huffington Post has been running exposés on companies who have done some pretty crappy things to consumers with their toxic chemicals. (Interesting series, if, like me, you often feel that regular news articles are a little shallow.) There was Dupont's Teflon which resulted in cancer and birth defects and deaths and extensive pollution. Johnson and Johnson's Risperdal causing children to grow breasts. And the difference here is that neither of these companies have remotely stepped forward the way that Volkswagen has. It's been a much larger, longer game of obscuring the facts and running the clock with these other guys.

For what it's worth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Not so Prime

We use Amazon Prime. We started using it when Trixie was a baby.  Spending lots of time in the car running errands with three kids was horrible. It was just so much easier to buy on Amazon. We signed up for Prime, because our frequency of ordering made the free two-day shipping was worth it to us. I confess, we've become a little addicted. It's so easy to get just exactly what we want, and not more and not less. (Unless you count the excessive number of cardboard boxes around the house.)

For two-ish years, Amazon Prime deliveries were done by UPS. But in the last two months, it appears that UPS has been booted and replaced by USPS. At least, that seems to be the case here in Denver. I'm hard pressed to find anything in the news about this switch – or at least anything that correlates date-wise with my experience. Even if I wasn't an Amazon Prime user, I would notice just the based on the sudden absence of UPS trucks driving around my block. I suspect I'm not the only Amazon Prime user in my neighborhood.

Now...I'm happy to see that USPS has more business. I don't have anything against our national postal service. Except they're not as reliable as UPS. My two day packages are not arriving in two days. That's irritating, especially since Amazon Prime has raised their rates since I became a member.

Maybe it's splitting hairs to complain – but it seems to strange – am I really the only one who has noticed this? Doesn't UPS losing a huge contract / USPS gaining a huge contract (presumably) seem like it would be worthy of mention in the news??

Also, I want two day shipping to be real, not theoretical.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Crafty Segue

I am so happy to announce that between school starting and kids get older, I'm spending a lot less time carrying people around.


I mean: THANK GOODNESS! Huge relief. The youngest is actually almost adept enough at the balance bike that I might soon be able to run while she bikes. Isn't that fabulous?? I thought I was going to do that with Noah, but then I got pregnant with Mattias and then Trixie came along. And, well, you know. Some plans are get suspended with babies and little kids. (As they probably should be!) 


But guess what? My life is now a little bit like I-have-only-one-child (with her brothers in school all day). MARVELOUS! And well earned, I'd say. Here's Trixie painting some Caran d'Ache. Do you know these? They are water-soluble crayons. You can probably buy a cheaper version for the bathtub made by Crayola and then use them on paper like Caran d'Ache. They're fun! Although...Noah never thought they were much fun, when he was my (true) only child; he had about a 5 second attention span for such things.


Unless arts and crafts involved painting on rocks or something. One day after school, Noah painted these rocks with watercolors. That's about as artsy as he gets with a paint brush; it lasted for all of about 3 minutes.


Using rocks to build, however, is a different story. In this, he can be both creative and persistent. One morning before school, Noah and Mattias flipped a doormat upside down, lined it with rocks, turned on the hose, added some lego "canoes" and made these rapids on the deck steps. Everyone got very messy and muddy and wet and had to be dragged away to change clothes before school.


This stadium was a much neater project, although I'm not really sure how much I want to encourage him in pursing building anything vaguely architectural. I guess, at least, stadiums are a rather profitable end of the construction industry.


Although he might need to build stadiums for a client with deeper pockets than these lego figures.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Antique-ing

I recently inherited a few pieces of furniture from my grandmother's estate. Sometime in the 1960s, she had begun to collect old pieces of furniture and refinish them. She was generally not so particular about the style. She just wanted things that spoke to her; things that were old enough to call Antiques.


I remember occasionally shopping in antique stores with her as a child. She never bought anything. I thought it was odd. We'd circle the store again and again. She point out things she liked and clasp her hand over her heart or tsk and frown. It was only as an adult that I learned she never bought her Antiques at antique stores. She only visited antique stores for inspiration.


Instead she would buy at estate sales and auctions. She found them deeply depressing and maybe even shameful. She never took me to an estate sale or an auction. "A person's whole life, just sitting there on front lawn!" she once told me in exasperation. And yet, in these lawns, she would find a small, neglected, beat up table or a chair. Reasonably priced. She would see something she liked in it. She'd bring it home, refinish it, and add it to her Antiques.


After she passed away, there was never the slightest consideration that her own household would become an estate sale or auction. Instead, my aunt, uncle, and father carefully divided everything among her descendants. When my father asked me what I would like, it felt wrong to ask for anything. Antiques have never really been my thing. They don't really "match" whatever style I think I have.* I knew how important they were to her. But were they important to me? Was being important to her enough to ask for something?


I never really thought much about the specifics of her refinishing process, other than to recognize it was long and painstaking. I know she frequently asked my grandfather or my great uncle to help her recut bits that were broken or damaged. I know that her primary objective was to make the wood beautiful again. Beyond that, I don't really know exactly what she did to the wood, but she did have a gift for making it beautiful.

As soon as the Antiques arrived at our house, they surprised me by seeming perfectly at home.


I surprised myself by feeling particularly mesmerized by them.


It was like she had rubbed her soul all over the wood. Then my kids rubbed their dirt and grime and toys souls all over the wood. And the deal was sealed.


Even with her soul-rubbed wood furniture gracing my house, there's still sadness in the thought that I never learned from her the specifics of the refinishing that she knew so well. Practically, I find myself wishing she was still around so I could get some advice on my three-year-neglected chair project.  It almost feels like I might be able to pick up where I left off now that 2 out of 3 kids are in school all day. But I also realize that my dining room chairs won't be "refinished" by me alone, so best to just dive in and not spend too much time overthinking it.

* I think we now have more inherited, hand-me-down furniture than self-purchased furniture, so it's hard to say there is any stylistic oversight at all. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Urban Sounds

When I was in college, helicopters used to fly over our dormitories to land at the med center across the street. A lot of people complained about the noise, but one friend used to say how much he loved it.

"The helicopters remind me that I'm living in a city, even if there are hedges all around campus."

In Germany, it was the church bells – the proliferation of church bells at noon! – that told us we were in an urban area. This summer, on vacation in Germany, my kids were startled by the ringing almost everyday. "What's that!?" they'd ask with alarm as the bells tolled noon.

In Colorado, the light rail is expanding. The transit authority has been testing new rails near our house. They need to complete a large number of testing hours (1000?) before the tracks are deemed safe for people transport. The test trains ding-ding-ding! as they approach the stop. That sounds like an urban noise, too. I hope it stays.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Personality Test

I took this free Briggs Myer type assessment a few months ago after I saw it referenced on Design Mom. I can't really stop thinking about it since I took it. I feel that it illuminated – in glow-y screen font – some aspects of my personality that I have really buried deep to get through the last 3 years. (Or maybe I'm just in my cycle of career-obsessed-thinking.) If you believe the online test then I'm an INTJ, aka "The Mastermind/Visionary". What I take away from the test and its analysis, is that careers are pretty important to INTJ. And my career is nonexistent. (I've pasted my test-analysis in all its glorious detail below.)

It also claims I take my role as a parent and a significant other quite seriously. If that's accurate, it's probably the reason why I've been able to set aside my own career ambitions for the last 8 years. But man, do I feel tension! From the outside, it might look like: what's the tension? She's an SAHM! There is no tension! She gets to do one thing, all the time! Even as I've become more and more convinced that I did the right thing for my family over the last few years, it's become more and more difficult to continue to have much enthusiasm for the daily grind. (Maybe that's a reflection of the part about INTJs being "adaptable, and are easily bored by repetition and routine.") My mind is just elsewhere. It's been elsewhere for longer than I care to admit.

I'm not saying this so that anyone apologizes or feels bad for me. I'm saying it because I think sometimes I look at people from the outside and everything appears peachy-keen and consequently, I hold myself to impossible standards of always being perfectly fulfilled and optimistic and happy by exactly the way things are. I think that the minute I'm not feeling picture-perfect I should change. At points in my life, I've been addicted to the adrenaline rush of change instead of committed to seeing an uncomfortable situation through. In the long run, I'm not convinced that changes always make things better; sometimes, they just introduce a different set of problems from the ones I already have.  I generally still subscribe to the theory that there IS time for everything, just not AT the same time. I think some periods of my life will be more about other people, and some will be about me. I feel that to do my best as mother of young children, I need to really BE with my children. I think dividing my energy between young children and a career would be more frustrating for me than choosing to focus on just one.

Fritz and I have always been committed to idea that one parent would be working and one would be at home with children. The very first time we had that conversation, years before Noah was born, I was making more money than he was; he was a relatively unhappy postdoc. It wasn't clear to either of us who would be at home. But sometimes, I wonder if it wouldn't have been easier if the tables were flipped. What I do hope, very much, is that someday the tables can be flipped. I don't know if that's really possible. I do know that Fritz's job in academia has a very specific trajectory, and if he can get tenure, the pressure might allow some realignment of responsibilities. And there's always the fact that the kids just keep getting older and more independent.

I just have to stick it out.

I DO have some figuring out to do about me, however. I grow more leary of returning to architecture each day. I still love a lot about architecture, but the prospect of doing it on someone else's terms, after spending the last 8 years dedicated to doing what is best for Fritz and the kids... well, not so interesting. The visionary, work-obsessed side of me (revealed by the test) does exist. It's hard to imagine sitting in front of a computer drafting as the right kind of change. I can see myself working independently, choosing which clients I want to work with or dabbling in architecture, except: you can't really be that kind of architect without a lot of independent wealth or fame. The pragmatist in me thinks I will eventually walk away from architecture; it's just a matter of when I finally get sick of coughing up the money to renew my license every year.

As a side note, there's actually a personality type dubbed "The Architect" (INTP), but I'm not it. After scrounging around on the internet, I found a few other similar tests that were willing to consider I might be "The Inspector/Logistician" (ISTJ), "The Protector/Nuturer" (ISFJ), or "The Counselor/Advocate" (INFJ). But I am not The Architect.  The idea that my results are somewhat ambiguous was a bit of  relief. Maybe we can push our personalities a bit based on where we are and who we need to be at any particular point in our lives. So, anyway, for now, I'll push a bit more in the direction go INFJ or ISFJ, because they both seem much better suited to stay-at-home-parenthood.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bookswapper

The other day, I sold some wallpaper samples from my flailing Etsy store. Because I didn't have an envelope for the samples, I folded the the samples into some wallpaper and made my own wallpaper envelope. All of which reminded me of Bookswapper.de.

Today there are digital books and Kindles and iPhones, but way back when (TEN years ago, that would be, when I lived in Germany), these options were a lot less common and finding English language books in Germany, especially recently published books, was challenging. However there was Bookswapper.de. You could list your English language books and then swap them for other English language books. The system worked such that each time you sent a book to someone via German Post, you got a point in the Bookswapper system which you could then use to request a book from someone else. The book's first owner paid the price of mailing the book to the second owner. It was a relatively small cost because you could send everything media mail. Also, the cost came back when you requested a book and someone else paid. The whole system worked really beautifully. (And it didn't hurt that we lived across the street from a post office.)

It was always such a cool thing to receive something free in the mail. It was cool to send a book away, as well. I never resented it. I always enjoyed wrapping the book in some old wallpaper, in the coolest package I could make, hoping that the recipient would enjoy both the book and the packaging. It was such a small thing, and yet it gave me such pleasure to be part of this tangible community. Sometimes, I still miss it, even though I now have access to all the English language books my heart could desire.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lego Table

Remember two and a half years ago, when I decided to make a lego table? And then it took me another year to acquire a flat file for the project? Well, I finally decided that I'm finished with the lego table. It turned out to be a lot simpler than I imagined. But it works like I hoped!


So, I'm calling it good and done. It's basically lockable casters on the bottom of a flat file. (Wheels/casters here.) Flat files are large, shallow drawers that were traditionally used for sets of architecture and engineering drawings. These days, many drawings are being stored digitally. Firms have cut back on the number of flat files they have. You can frequently find flat files for sale on Craigslist. (Wood flat files are less common than metal flat files; which is why it took a while for me to find these.)


Flat file drawers are perfect for holding legos because of how shallow they are. None of the pieces get  buried like they would in deep drawers or bins. I had planned to make the top a rimmed table top. The rim was going to be on 3 sides of the table top. I thought the rim would "hold" the legos on the top, but still allow the kids to sweep the legos into the drawers when they were done playing.


After about a year and a half of playing on it without the rim, I finally admitted that maybe it wasn't really necessary.

I did have to make some reinforcements. Originally, there was some type of cheap masonite on the backside. The kids would slam the drawers closed. Eventually, they broke the drawers (you can see the missing corners on the drawers in the first image above) and pushed off the masonite board. Then it sort of looked like this from the backside:


I hastily added some boards on the back to be supports/drawers stops at the edge. You have to look carefully to notice them, but they look and work a lot better than the masonite board:


While our house was under construction last spring, we used the lego table as our coffee table. It doubled well.


(Uck! Feels so cluttered! I am so glad we are no longer under construction. Just digging out the above photo is giving me unpleasant flashbacks.)


These days the lego table is back in Mattias's bedroom, but still getting lots of use. In fact, it is in such constant disarray from use that I had to wait for the boys to be back in school in order to take photos with the drawers closed.



Oh! And! Fritz had an old bookshelf that fit CDs and old VHS tapes. But all of our CDs have been transferred to digital files; VHS we no longer watch. So I removed the back of the bookshelf and hung it on the wall to store lego creations in progress. It might look a little funny; an acceptable trade off for fast and free:


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pulling up the Weed Barrier

I can hear them outside through the open window upstairs. I specifically decide to ignore them, and they play for almost 2 hours. They sound happy. And I fear that if I look too closely, I'll want to end their play.


Sometimes, I think this is the most important lesson I'm learning in my years as a parent: if it's not broke, don't fix it. I love to fix things! I love to tinker and repair and improve! I love to think about doing it; and I love to be surrounded in a project, up to my elbows, involved, changing and fixing. Until the line between tinkering and tampering dissolves.

At least, it dissolves with children. This I am learning: stop fixing. Let them go, let them do their own thing. They'll be occupied for a long time without your interference.


It's hard. They've dug a hole in the mulch. They've pulled back the weed barrier beneath. They dug a hole in the dirt beneath the barrier. This is not the stuff of Pinterest.

It's destructive, I tell myself. I should stop them

No, it's repairable, I tell myself, I should let them play in the mud, like children should do in the summer. Stop being so sanitized. Let them be the ones who are involved.



The water table has once again become the mud table. It's hard to say where the water table ends and the raised planter begins.


The herbs and vegetables and planter are getting re-muddied, I suppose. Too bad there wasn't compost under the weed barrier.


What makes it easier than a few years ago is that I can give the hose to Noah and tell him to clean everything off. And he mostly will (including a few open windows and the glass sliding door). Meanwhile, I shower off the younger ones indoors. But it will still be challenging to clean everyone while keeping them from making a bigger mess. I wish I had somebody to help me. I wish that somebody could read a book with them so that I could REALLY clean up all the mess they made. Just 20 minutes. If someone could just help me for 20 minutes afterwards, it would be so much easier (physically and psychologically!) to let them go crazy in the mud.


I don't know. I waver. I waver between wanting to let them be creative, and just wanting things to be more orderly. Somedays, I wonder how much our environment, weed barrier and all, stifles us. Stifles me? Stifles the kids? 


And somedays, I wonder if what really stifles me is the lack of time and help – just 20 minutes! – so that I can adequately spray the dumb dirt clods off the side of the playhouse and scrub dirt from beneath their fingernails without a new round of mud play beginning while my attention is diverted.

Friday, August 14, 2015

African Dogtooth Grass Update - It's not the lawn at Buckingham Palace

While we were on vacation earlier this spring/summer it rained in Denver. A lot. More than usual.

Our recently planted African Dogtooth Grass seemed to like this abnormal rainy season very much. The grass grew like crazy. The grass street lawn, in the area I previously called the "hellstrip," looks pretty good. Relatively speaking.

Mostly dogtooth grass in July 2015, 14 months after planting.

Two or three times this summer I went through and haphazardly pulled out a couple of thistles (if I had gloves) and tallish weeds. I don't care about dandelions or clover. They get to stay in this lawn. I've put corn gluten, a totally organic, but expensive fertilizer and germination stopper on it about every six months. I have the feeling it's not stopping much germination, so not sure if I'll continue using it.

The original Kentucky Bluegrass sod, rolled out by the builder – which my aunt was so sure was completely hopelessdidn't thoroughly die even though we gave it 3 rounds of toxic chemical treatment before planting the Dogtooth plugs. Some of the old Bluegrass is still mixed in. I don't mind the Bluegrass either.

At the top of the photo is the Bluegrass, at the bottom of the photo is the Dogtooth.
In August, the Bluegrass turns brown, even when we up the amount of water we give it.
The Dogtooth is (so far) indifferent to the hotter, drier August weather.

We're still mowing the street lawn about every 2 weeks, because of the mixed-in Bluegrass. The Dogtooth grass doesn't seem to mind being mowed, but it doesn't really need to be mowed. It doesn't get very tall. The Dogtooth grass does, however, like to creep over the edges of the sidewalk.

Dogtooth grass attempting to stretch across the sidewalk.
(It doesn't make it more than about 6" when it starts to die.)

Mostly, I want the lawn to be greenish. Not brown. With fewer – or no – chemicals. Let's remember what it looked like at its low point, shall we?

May 2013, or so.
August 2015

After 16 months, it's fair to say that the African Dogtooth Grass has been a success.

Fritz says, "It's not the lawn at Buckingham Palace, but it will do."

Planting the dogtooth grass plugs
Why we planted the grass (a dialog)
The African dogtooth grass experiment begins in May
The African dogtooth grass at 4 months in August
The additional bulb flower experiment
Where the bulbs get eaten by the rabbits
Two year in when the Japanese Beetle Grubs arrive

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tiring Kids Out


I'm feeling frustrated. As I begin typing this, Trixie has spent 40 minutes refusing to nap. Her brothers were so loud and out of control while she was trying to fall asleep, that I'm pretty sure THEY are in large part responsible.


This morning, we left the breakfast dishes on the table and got out the bikes, properly inflated 8 tires, got dressed, covered everyone with sunscreen, packed water and snack, and were out the door for a 2 mile bike ride by 8:30am. Phew! Felt like some real effort to coordinate all that and manage some whiny/fighting/crying behaviors.


We biked to a playground and adjacent stream drainage ditch. The kids played for a little over an hour. When it started getting hot, we biked the 2 miles back home. We returned about 10:30.


And then, I thought, I'd peacefully do the breakfast dishes done while the kids quietly read something or did a puzzle or played legos. (Because they'd be tired, right?)


No. The boys acted like complete lunatics, tearing apart the house, building stuff out of the sofa cushions and bedding, jumping/banging/running all over the place.


Sometimes I have the distinct impression that the more active their activity, the more active they generally ARE. Whenever someone mentions "tiring kids out," I really wonder. There are basically two options: 1) I didn't really tire them out enough or 2) "tiring out kids" doesn't really work. If I believe 1), then I failed today after what seemed like quite a bit of effort and wrangling. If 2) is true, then giving my kids more to do just makes them more demanding; so why bother with all the extra effort?

(Trixie finally falls asleep on the disassembled sofa.)
Being able to do the dishes in peace would be SOOO nice. As is almost always the case, the photos tell a different version.