Monday, May 30, 2016

Naked Salad

I have a go-to dressing-less salad that I make almost every night for dinner. Fritz and I split it; the kids aren't into salad. I used to use salad dressing, but about 18 months ago I stopped using salad dressing as part of my one ingredient goal. (Mentioned here.) Since then I've been experimenting with ways to make a salad moist without using salad dressing. The best strategy I've found it to grate carrots or (raw) beet into the salad. If given a choice, I always pick the beet: it looks so pretty with the greens! Also, there's something perfect about the way a raw, grated beet is sweet and juicy.

I'm also a big believer that salad aesthetics are important. I like a mixture of color, intentional chopping of vegetables for maximal textural impact, and visibility of the bowl. Food always looks more appealing when it's full of color! Like me, you've probably also read that food with lots of colors is somewhat related to having a good diversity of vitamins and nutrients. That sounds good to me, so I go with it! Especially with fruits and vegetables, they can be unusual, organic shapes or really standard shapes depending on how you chop them (Thank you, Arch 101), so I try to maximize the shapes and sizes of the various ingredients for a bold textural appearance. And after taking care to make a beautiful salad, I put it in a glass bowl so I can see it. Our glass bowls get so much use that I really could replace them with something a little less worn. I guess I'm currently working against myself on this point. Here's my lovely salad in my slightly less lovely bowl:

1 huge handful mixed lettuces (I buy the boxes of "prewashed" salad because too much fussing with lettuce deflates my enthusiasm for making salad)
1 huge handful baby spinach (Ditto on the box)
3 latitudinally thinly sliced sweet peppers
1 finely chopped slice of onion
1 peeled and latitudinally sliced carrot (or grated carrot)
1 peeled and grated small raw beet (Surgical gloves if red-died hands bother you, alternatively, usually the red beet washes off after about 2 hand washings)
pecorino romano, shaved
handful of raw sunflower or raw pumpkin seeds


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Power of Humor

This weekend we watched the subtitled Er ist wieder da (Look Who's Back), a German movie that is based on a 2011 book.  The movie has recently been released on Netflix. Over the last two years, I've caught several snippets on German media about the book and then film. The idea explored in the movie is what happens when Adolf Hilter wakes up in modern day Germany. Mostly, I'd heard the book (and the movie) were good satires. I also understand that the significance of Germans laughing about Adolf Hitler. Because basically, they don't laugh about him. At all. Until now. In the current times, Hitler finds his audience as a comedian.

So.... I found the movie PROFOUNDLY disturbing. I haven't read the book, so I can't tell you if they are basically the same or if the movie expands where the book left off. But the movie definitely mixes the fantastical storyline that somehow Hilter just wakes up 70 years later in modern day Germany with recent film footage of non-actor Germans interacting off-script with the actor playing Hitler. It's not reassuring; I, as the viewer, had no idea sometimes where the lines between humor and entertainment and and ratings and politics and reality were.

For all the comparisons between Hitler and the apparent Republican US presidential candidate this year, this movie, for me, drew disturbing parallels. The parallels were not about two people and their fascist ideologies. Rather the parallels were about the way we equate entertainment with being a leader. I think most scholars would agree that in Germany of the 1930s, the aspect of entertainment that lead to Hitler's rise was not humor. But watching this movie and thinking about our current political scene in the US, humor might very well be an aspect of entertainment in which we are still vulnerable. I started to think about how many times I've been sucked into a reading an article about the presidential candidates because, he said/did what now? You can't be serious! Are we separating the ability to entertain from the ability to be a good leader? Even if it makes us laugh?

I sure hope so!

And for me, I hereby refuse to read (click on) on any more political articles for the sake of entertainment.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Morning Birds

Sunday was a typical weekend morning. Trixie woke up at 5:37am, which is the normal time for her. Mattias joined us within 10 minutes. All of our children wake up early. Although, in the last two years, Noah started sleeping as late as 7am. We refer to his current sleeping patterns as sleeping in.

I'm a morning person, so I've tried to be kind and generous about the fact that the children are also morning people. Or it seems they are morning people. But I do resent not having the mornings to myself to go running. I loved waking up in the morning to run. Sigh. That was a decade ago. These days, I run kid interference so that my night owl husband can sleep in. Sleeping in for him means the same sort as Noah: maybe 7am (but not usually as late as 8 am).

The kiddos are hungry right away. No, they're hangry. So I take them downstairs for first breakfast. They will eat second breakfast later. Like hobbits. Or because they've got a healthy dose of Bavarian blood surging through their veins. I hear Bavarians construction workers call it Vesper, which sounds like a prayer to my English ears. After first breakfast and before second breakfast, they'll do some of their best playing of the day. That is when I finally get a few moments of time to myself, but I've already lost my enthusiasm to run.

Over the last decade, we've lived in several areas that are quite densely populated with children. Especially during the winter months, I've noticed there are NOT other lights on at 5:37 am in the morning. So I guess my children are just outliers in the waking up early category.

But I hear that second breakfast is more common.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Minimalist Earrings

I picked up these gold earrings for my mom at a craft fair the other weekend. She is always looking for small earrings. These are the smallest earrings I've ever seen.

And they're brilliantly simple! Made from left over pieces of metal from jewelry making, they are nothing more than a line across the ear lobe when worn. Understated and genius: they hold in place because for two reasons 1) the bend in the shape and 2) the fact that the front and back are in balance. Essentially, the middle of the Z fits through the hole in your ear and the front segment balances with the back segment. There's no separate earring back to get lost or poke you! You could wear them to bed without getting stabbed! I'm rather kicking myself for not buying several pairs.

You can check out more jewelry at Sparkle + Stone work here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Fritz can be most easily convinced to cook (or bake) if you give him a recipe that makes a lot of servings and freezes well.

Most recently, he decided to try croissants. He got the recipe from some friends. Our friends make about 20 huge croissants with the recipe. Fritz figured he could make 40 half-size croissants, and we would all be eating croissants for weeks and weeks.

I've never made croissants before. The process is involved! Basically, you make 2 parts: a yeast dough and big slab of butter.

(That's a big slab of butter wrapped in parchment in the foreground.
Fritz is kneading the yeast dough.)
Then you fold the butter big slab of butter into the yeast dough.

(Wrapping the butter slab in the yeast dough)
Then, it becomes a big blur of rolling, measuring, and folding:

(See the tape measure?)

And refrigerate.

And then you repeat the rolling, measuring, folding, refrigerating until you (theoretically) have many layers of dough and butter that be cut and rolled into what we think of as croissants.

Sometimes, as a special treat, I buy frozen croissants at Trader Joe's. Naturally, we had to have a taste test to see which were better: Fritz's or Joe's?

(Trixie is taking notes)

It was a hard call. Trader Joe's makes some pretty good croissants. Even money-wise, I don't think we saved a lot by making them ourselves. If anything, I suppose you can say ours probably used higher quality ingredients. And it was a fun activity for a snowy weekend.

Monday, May 9, 2016

End of the Beginning

We celebrated Trixie's 3rd birthday at the beginning of the month. It marked both the end of birthday season here at the Wyse home, as well as the end of having a child less than 2 in the house. Over the last nine years, there have only been 35 days without a child 2 or less in the house (and those were the days we spent awaiting Trixie's arrival!) Also, wow! I'm not pregnant! It's so nice NOT to be pregnant, or recovering from being pregnant, or thinking about pregnant! Done! Done! Done!

I am so relieved to be done with this (baby/toddler) phase of our lives. I'm not sure if I appreciated it enough - I'm not sure it's really possible. But what I DO know is that I've lived each and every day fully with my kids for the first three years of their lives. I don't feel any guilt about our relationship or lack thereof. I've been there, done that. Lived it well. And I'm so excited and happy to be moving onward!

If you were to scroll back several posts, you'd see both the boys in their respective birthday photos without company. Trixie, it seems, is always surrounded by her brothers in the photos. Someone once told me that they were very "protective" of her. That's not really the adjective that comes to my mind, but sounds sweeter, so I think we'll go with it.

Friday, May 6, 2016

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Last weekend I climbed up on our two story roof to see if pigeons were nesting under our solar panels. I had been getting a terrible run-around from the both the roofer and solar company that replaced the roof/reinstalled panels after a hail storm.

Sure enough, the pigeons had squirmed their way into the critter guard. This illustrates some larger phenomena I find really frustrating: 1) relying on other people to fix things, 2) being told that I'm imagining things or uninformed when work is done poorly/improperly 3) the RIDICULOUS amount of time I have to spend haggling to get something done when I could probably do it much faster myself.

Most of the time with regards to home repairs, I DO do-it-myself. Not because it's cheaper, but because I generally do it better and get it done RIGHT. (That's a sad commentary on the construction industry.) A project that involved working atop a two-story roof and chasing birds, however, felt a little outside my league.

But look! I'm STILL out on my roof, even though I don't really think I should be. I'm armed with my camera to prove to everyone else involved that YES. THERE IS A PROBLEM.

The (so-called) professionals were out to fix the critter guard this week, and I'll be back up on the roof this weekend to make sure they did it right. I wish I could charge somebody for all the time I've wasted between their crappy workmanship and lousy attitudes.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Fences Are For Jumping

Noah and I spent last summer in opposition. It was pretty miserable. At the peak of tensions, a hot afternoon in mid August, he threw a 6x8 inch white board at my head and managed to draw a long red scratch across my neck. I was horrified; less than the scratch and more by the way it actualized our wounded relationship. I'm pretty sure I never threw anything at my mother when I was 8 years old. I felt I had surely reached a parenting deficit so low that we needed to start figuring out how we could possibly afford boarding school. How were we going to make it through the tween and teen years if this was eight?

At the time, it was too rough and raw and painful to post about. The most challenging things often are. I was still thoroughly overwhelmed with trying to meet the needs of all three kids. I was so exhausted that I couldn't even admit the exhaustion, never mind posting about parenting fails. But I promised myself that I would post about our struggles, at some point, because I still think that posting openly about the different aspects real life is the heart of blogging.

That summer, Noah was perpetually angry at me. His anger was very directed at me. Other people would tell me how pleasant he was, or how kind he was, or what a good time they had with him. But in our interactions, he was just downright nasty, on a mission to hate everything I said, or point to how stupid it was, or threaten me for things he saw as unfair, or, sometimes, to just outright ignore me, and always, always, to say "No!" when I asked him do to something.

Like most parents observing a change in behavior, I went through the list of possibilities:
- Was it a change in routine?
- Was there a new influence(r) in his life?
- Was it a developmental phase?

Last spring had been a time of a great deal of change. We renovated 2 floors of the house. We took the kids out of school 3 weeks before the end of the school year so that we go to their uncle's wedding in Hannover. We traveled in Germany and Iceland for a month. These things were decidedly changes. There was only so much counterbalance we could do when that level of disruption was happening. Also, as I mentioned, I was overwhelmed and having a hard time pulling myself together. We had been as supportive and nurturing to the kids as possible given the stresses. If anything else was amiss, it was that we had an extremely high amount of togetherness. Much more than usual.

I also thought a lot about what I was like as an eight year old, trying to decide if his behavior was just a developmental phase. I think I was really not like Noah at eight. If I was, it's entirely erased from memory. I just couldn't relate to his anger.  I talked to Fritz; he also didn't remember being like Noah at eight. These questions struck at the heart of a recurring theme I find myself asking as the kids grow: Is this merely a stage to be waited-out or is this something that needs to be addressed more directly?

I continued to ask around. The general consensus from other people was that Noah was testing boundaries and I needed to be firm. Fritz told me, "Parents who don't have authority get walked all over. Klaus's mother used to say, 'Just wait until your father gets home!' instead of dealing with the problems herself. And so nobody ever listened to her." So I didn't shy away from confrontation; I took Fritz's message to heart, because maybe Noah did think I was a push-over. Why else would he always being yelling, "No!" at me?

We entered into a period that I now think of as the Cycle of No. Each infraction had a consequence, because I wanted to make sure the boundaries were firm. It was a complete failure. Every new consequence seem to build momentum for the next incident. Our interactions were never positive, even as I tried to find something, anything to hold onto. His anger and my redirects were like a snow ball building girth and speed – until the day that the white board hit me.

Once I had calmed down from the white board incident (a whole different story), I asked Noah, "Noah, is there somewhere else you would like to be? Because you don't seem very happy to be at home with me. If you want to go somewhere else, or be with someone else, why don't you tell me, and we can figure it out." He stared out me with big eyes and shook his head that, no, there wasn't somewhere else he wanted to be.

"Well, I don't want to fight with you anymore. And I don't think you want to fight with me either. This isn't fun. So let's stop."

He was a little shocked and taken aback. I can't say that he changed immediately or completely. But it did stop the escalating tension.

Around this time my brother had some valuable insight. He remembered his own defiant No! streak with our mother as a child.  He said,

"I would say ‘no’ just to say it... because I got a chemical release in my own mind through the defiance."

Which got me thinking: sure, kids need boundaries. But they also need challenges to be overcome. Fences to be jumped. They need these to feel in control, they need these things for the adrenalin rush/mental high that comes with it. And really, who are we fooling? It's not just kids who need it, adults do, too.

I'm not sure Noah had been given much control that spring and summer. (Something I posted a little about here.) Between the travel and the age differential, it had been undeniably difficult to allow Noah to push and grow and challenge safely while also parenting Trixie appropriately. At 2 and 8, they needed significantly different levels of freedom, and more often than not, Noah has suffered the consequences of the more tightly controlled world for Trixie.

Without fences to jump, Noah got his adrenalin rush by jumping my boundaries instead.

I never really made a plan about how I was going to give him control, but I did start making efforts like: letting him venture (physically) farther away without me, permitting him to watch more "scary" movies, breaking the rules that pertained to his siblings while pointing out why I was allowing him to do so, and moving him into his own bedroom. 

I also decreased the amount of time I was spending with Trixie by letting Fritz put her to bed. I increased my time with Noah reading to him (alone) each night. This was possible in large part because Trixie was becoming increasingly amenable to Daddy. It helped Noah and I to re-establish our relationship outside of being Mommy-with-Three-Kids-Who-Only-Has-Two-Hands.

I like to think that Noah and I are heading into this summer from a much better place than last summer. I hope so, because summers are always challenging for us, and last summer was especially so.