Wednesday, August 26, 2015


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

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 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.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Shoe Survey

Somebody's awake – and not going back to sleep – at 5am on Saturday, so I've got a pile of the boys' old shoes. I'm looking at them and wondering why some shoes are so good; why some shoes are so bad, and why we can't find the perfect pair.

These came from Target. These shoes only made it through one child and then his toes were poking out the end. I did the like the elastic laces and velcro closure...

...because I can't get my 5/6 year olds to wear shoes with laces. We've had the shoes below for two kids, and neither child would wear them. Thus, they are in very good condition. I'm clearly a failure when it comes to teaching my kids to tie (and wear!) their shoes with traditional laces. Maybe Trixie will wear them in three years? One can hope:

At 7 years-old, one child finally figured out how to tie his shoes. And then he wore the following black and blue shoes until his toes stuck out the end. However, he couldn't always be bothered to properly tie his shoes. I spent many evenings detangling knots in the laces. 

Note to self: buy shoes where the rubber sole wraps over the toe. 
Note to self: traditional shoes laces are over-rated. 

The elastic-shoe-laces-with-velcro-closure (first, above) is not bad.

The sandals/water shoes below lasted through two kids. Too bad I can't convince the boys to wear these through the winter with socks (come on, kids, you've got German citizenship!); even the rubber soles are in decent shape. See! I knew it was possible to make a shoe that didn't fall apart and wear through the soles in 6 months! I think they might be smelly in other parts of the world. But here in Colorado, the climate is so dry that they're fine. Except for the strange loop at the ankle strap. That part doesn't work so well because my kids do not like to waste time putting on their shoes. The little loop is TOO fussy. They'd rather let the strap cut across their ankle, making the shoe a lot less comfortable.

There's a reason that the shoes below are such classics. This pair made it through two kids, and they're still good for a third. (I mean, if you're rather relaxed about making your kids wear used shoes, which I am...) Thank you, rubber toe. Thank you, elastic closure/laceless design. I'm even okay with the fraying. It's shoe-patina, you know. Doesn't affect the functionality.

I'd buy more of these lace-less shoes, but the boys want something with more cushion in the soles. Mattias seems to think he runs faster in other shoes. Hmmm...maybe that's the real reason they lasted through two kids. Which means we're back to searching for the perfect shoes.

Updated: Has anyone tried these Hickies as a replacement for traditional shoe laces? I'd be especially curious to know how they held up and how easy they are for kids to use.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Blog Reading

Every now and then, my blog reader gets a little empty and I find myself seeking out new-to-me blogs.  These are some of my recent favorites:

Muddles as a Mennonite "of sorts" on "whatever" I enjoy almost all of Muddle's posts because she has a beautiful (and yet plain-spoken) way of blending everyday events with personal experience, humor, observation and insight. Her blog falls into the category of exactly what I think a blog should be.  What is the goal and does it matter? is a great example. (I came across Muddles after having a discussion with my grandmother about Tweeback, a twice-baked sweet bread that my late great-aunt used to serve with coffee. My grandmother described the recipe. I went online looking for some sort additional guidance because I wanted to make it myself. And I ended up subscribing to Muddle's blog. Although, I should caution you, this is not a food blog!)

Messy Nessy Chic is like an online collection of vintage, but new-to-me photos and information by various contributors. So, maybe it's less-a-blog. But, oh, I'm learning about lots of twenty-century history! Reading this blog is a bit like taking a visual college history course from some hip millennials. It leans in the direction of feminist studies, although not exclusively. One of my favorite recent posts was on Emilie Flöge, a clothing designer. I think Messy Nessy Chic simply from clicking through links on other blogs.

Brain, Child is a thoughtful online source for writing by mothers of all ages on the topic of motherhood. Sometimes it feels like the lines between magazines, sensationalist online marketing, and blogger conglomerates are blurring. I appreciate the way Brain, Child manages to position motherhood as an intellectual endeavor AND that it is still mostly written by people who are also bloggers AND no advertising.  Jennifer Berney's What Summer Should Be is an eloquent piece about the fluidity of summer. While Antonia Malchik's Self Preservation resonated deeply with me. Despite the fact that Brain, Child pulls its authors largely from a blogging community, the writing does not, in my mind, adopt the quite the same tone as a regular blog. Sometimes, in fact, the posts on Brain, Child are too polished and finished for the type of stuff I want to find in my reader. But I look forward to being introduced to new insights and new-to-me bloggers.

From Brain, Child I started reading Andrea Lani's blog, Remains of the Day. I like it for many of the same reasons I like Muddle's blog. It's beautiful in its simplicity without being put-on or false or marketed. Andrea's been posting a lot about wildflowers lately. I know very little about wildflowers, but I am learning so much by reading. I was particularly impressed by one of Andrea's points about weeds. Something to the effect of: weeds are the pioneers of recently disturbed soil. Which made me feel a little less bad about all the dandelions in our yard. Turns out, I'll buy the perspective that weeds are just the natural beginning of a trajectory any day.

Have you found any favorite new-to-you blogs lately? I wouldn't mind a few more!

(This post from 2012 still, more or less, quantifies my feelings about blogging and blog reading. In fact, I recently made my blog unsearchable by search engines in an attempt limit my audience a bit. I'm thrilled to meet new voices through my blog, but I don't enjoy feeling as though my blog is being raided by internet machines!)