Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hakuna Matata (No Worries)

On Sunday, I noticed the weather forecast was a long string of hot days stretching through the foreseeable future. And I felt frustrated, because, enough with the heat! I'd like autumn to arrive. Now.

Many of my summer clothes have holes or stains. They need to be replaced or repaired. I thought maybe some store would be having an end of summer sale. But I felt too HOT to get in the HOT car and drive anywhere. (Also, no fun to do these things with three kids in tow, and they would have been in tow.) So I looked online and every store I looked at was sold out of the items I thought I might want for this prolonged summer weather.

So then I went downstairs to my fabric stash and found some of the rayon challis that I bought over a year ago. And it felt so nice and cool and silky that right then and there I made it into a skirt in 45 minutes flat. I didn't even make a pattern. I just ironed it, folded it, hemmed it here and there added some elastic and Voilà! Skirt! You'll wonder, so here it is:



There's the critical part of me that says: Um, it looks like kind of funny; like maybe tuckered where it shouldn't be? And why didn't you put in any pockets? And maybe a slit on the other side? That would make it better.

And then, there's the part of me that just felt happy to have a nice, silky (not too hot skirt) in 45 minutes without further fuss and complain and critique and extra money and shipping and so on. It think I'll grab that satisfied version of myself and let go of the other one. I'm not so talented at this Hakuna Matata attitude. I especially can't let go of my perfectionist tendencies on big things, but sometimes I forget that I CAN choose to let go them on little things. And when I DO let go on the little things, I can (still) be happy.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Things Lost

I am in summer survival mode around here. That means: 1) I'm ready for the kids to go back to school and 2) I can't possibly keep up with them, so please don't look at the state of the house.


There is no camp for anybody this week. No visitors and no trips planned. Fritz has started teaching, so he's not around much. August is always teaching season for him. I won't lie: I'm always overwhelmed by handling both the end of the summer and the start of school year all by myself. You'd almost think it was planned: things like evening classes that Fritz has to teach only happen two or three times per year and every year it just happens to happen on Meet The Teachers Night. Where hundreds of nervous elementary aged kids run around on a playground under the auspice of getting to know their teachers and classmates. Riiiight. They should call it Lose Your Preschooler Night.

During summer survival mode, I adopt a policy of if-its-not-broke-don't-fix-it. I let the kids do what they want, assuming that it's safe and not hurting anyone. If the play seems rather pointless (like filling up endless cups with water and flowers), so what? It is makes a mess, we'll deal with that later. You want to make a salad with mint and carrots? Sure, why not? Just do it yourself. As long as they are happily playing, they get to play. I do not micromanage. In fact, I rather ignore them. When they start crying or fighting or going over the tip-top, I intervene. In order words: if they play well, they get to continue playing. And as soon as they stop playing well, they have to clean up the mess they made. Or I take them to the grocery store. Or I separate them. Whatever it may be. What I certainly DO NOT DO is put them on a schedule of any kind. It sounds counter-intuitive. But I find they will play quite well for hours on end as long as I don't intervene. Having a schedule (like: at 11am we are going to the pool and at 3pm we are meeting friends at the playground) is EXACTLY the way to make my life more miserable.

I think it interrupts their rhythm and their imaginations and they simply forget how to play if I am always pushing an agenda.

At the moment, we are badly in need of a trip to the grocery store, but they are wheeling themselves down the driveway in a toddler trailer. They are perfectly happily playing. So, we won't go to the grocery store until they are unhappy. And I will have some time to post.

In the spring, I had a job interview in which I was explaining this to an interviewer. For most of our professional life we are taught and expected to be planners. We think about what we are going to do when and why and we prioritize and write and down and then execute it as close to what we envisioned as possible. But being a stay at home parent doesn't work like that. At least, not comfortably: it's not about planning, it's about strategy. If planning works like a ladder: one step after the next, then strategy works like a tree. Every time the tree branches, you survey your options and choose the best route. You're still climbing, but it's more improvisation. And when the branch you are sitting on is strong and stable, you sit on it and rest a bit.

The thing is, this strategic type of thinking, which many people used to learn from parenting? It's a lost art, because there are so few of us who take the time to learn it anymore. We're busy with work and schools and camps and, generally: schedules. And if you notice the way so many of our kids are: sensory processing issues, ADHD, video games, massive amounts of screen time, easily bored, etc.  Well, you see the fallout from losing our strategic parenting skills.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sheesham Table

One project this summer was to refinish our dining room table, which took on a very sorry state in the last few years. Any type of heat clouded the finish. The shaving cream that Grandma let the kids play with on the table revealed unfinished wood. Oops.


We purchased the table while living in Germany. I loved the size: 1 meter by 2 meters is the PERFECT sized table top, as far as I am concerned. It was made of solid wood - that was Fritz's request. He wanted something that could be refinished. It came to us finished in a really dark stain. It matched the dark stained chairs in the photo above. Oh wait... maybe I have a more detailed before of the stained wood table. Here it is:


In the photo above, the dark stain is already coming off. Note the area beneath the plate and colander.

Anyway, we didn't have a lot of money for the table way-back-when, so the table we bought came from a German-Ikea-knock-off store. It was about $400. The wood was... Sheesham. Sheesham, it turns out, is also known as Indian rosewood. It's basically an imported hardwood that is sold at a semi-affordable price. It's super heavy and sturdy. But it traditionally has problems as far as the Western Furniture market is concerned. Sheesham is super vibrant: there are huge variations in the color of the wood. It has light areas and dark areas and areas of grey and blue and reddish brown and yellowish brown. And it has big knots. Therefore, on the Western markets, Sheesham is typically sold covered in very dark stain. Or in lime-washed finish. And often it also has a distressed finish. Sometimes, it's sold as "Reclaimed Wood," despite the fact that it's actually brand new wood.

But, if you sand away all that distressed/dark stain and you get something like this:


It is sort of wild, right? I'm not sure I would have purchased this table if it looked like this originally. Maybe the furniture companies are right to cover it in dark stain. But then, sometimes I wonder why we are so eager to make something naturally vibrant conform to our staid (and boring?) expectations.


The surface is now super smooth and LOUD. It's really... I don't know, a conversation piece? An accent piece? I'm trying to enjoy the something different aspect. Also, it only cost about $50 (and the time) to refinish.



Next up, perhaps? The chairs. I started refinishing them a mere 5 years ago: I think it's time to finish that project, right? Unfortunately, I don't thinking the difference will be quite so striking: the wood isn't Sheesham.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Re:

It's raining here in Colorado. It rains so seldom, that it's refreshing and invigorating when it does rain (for me). In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm twice as likely to post on a rainy day as compared on a sunny day.



The kids are running in and out of the house, setting up rain traps. And I am not one bit worried about tracking their time in the sun, or slathering them with sunscreen, or pushing hats. It's a relief. The floor is pretty wet. OH WELL.

This last week, I had quite a few orders for Schultüten. It was SO NICE. I feel really lucky to have some awesome customers who have pushed me in some new directions. If I could consistently be that level of busy with my Etsy store, it would be perfect. As it is, the Schultüten are such a niche market; it will only last for a bit (this month, maybe?), and then I'll be back to looking for work as an architect. This is fine, as long as I find a job in architecture. I really like architecture more than sewing, but the sewing could be fine, if it was consistent. But it's not.

Anyway. I DO enjoy the chance to create something. I'm getting a little more brave as the time goes by. Some of my favorites:




I'm always looking for ways to use my fabric scraps. So, my new strategy is to sew pictures onto the front of the cone. The raw edges fray, but I think it still creates a neat aesthetic. The rainbow is sort of quilted-looking:


And these flowers are more of a sketched-outline:


These stars were kind of cool, too.


I like the tension these designs create between finished and unfinished. Somehow, lately, I feel the need to say that beauty and function can exist even in a rough form. Honestly, I think there's something psychological here: like, I'm exhausted of always trying to be perfect and finished.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Activity

One of my take-aways from our recent houseguest is that I really want to start exercising regularly again. I mentioned this to Fritz, along with a Maybe-when-school-starts-it-will-be-possible-except-maybe-not-if-I-have-a-job-since-I-don't know-what-it-might-entail-timewise.

Fritz then informed me that he's been wearing his exercise monitor in the morning when he gets the kids ready for camps. He's been doing this between 6am and 8am every morning this summer, while I devote time to learning Revit. This is really the most time in 10 years that he has had so much responsibility for the kids without help from me on a regular basis. (Let's not get too excited: he's only picking up 10 hours a week.)

He claims he's getting LOTS of exercise while running up and down the stairs to help them get ready.
He said, "you'd be surprised how many stair steps you run."

Hmmm. I wasn't quite sure how to take this. Do Fritz and I have different standards of what enough exercise is? Is my activity level really different than I imagine? Is there yet another meaning beyond his words?


(I did carry this one for about a mile at altitude this weekend. But that's not really typical.)

I think I'll just take Fritz's comments at face value for now. But it was sort of interesting to think about quantifying the physical difference between my typical day and Fritz's based on the type of work we do. Maybe I'll finally take that Fitbit my parents gave me for Christmas out of the box and see if it works.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Houseguest Process

My mother-in-law was here visiting for about two weeks.

My opinion about houseguests has really changed over the years. When Noah was still a baby, and even when Mattias was a baby, I loved houseguests because they provided me some adult time and some extra help around the house. And I didn't need to hire a babysitter! As our family grew, the visits stopped being very helpful. The kids were really upset by the change in routine and dynamic. I was overwhelmed between the responsibilities of being a good host and the needs of the children. By the time Trixie came along, I really had my hands full with the kids' needs. The job of hosting, too, was one too many.

Now that we've made it through everyone's toddler and baby years, I have a little bit of space again. Hosting is easier than before. But I still don't enjoy it the way I did when Noah was a baby. It's still more work for me: the invisible kind of traditionally-woman-work, for which I am not paid/ compensated. I think I'm NOT supposed to complain about it because it's just expected, right? Also, we visit other people so I guess I should just see it as a trade-off, right? But still, taking care of the kids is MORE difficult with houseguests. And the houseguests are more people to take care of. I think it's okay if I acknowledge the many sides of the situation, yes?

My current strategy is to clear out my schedule and lower my expectations. I don't expect to complete projects. I don't expect to have a surplus of help. I try to keep everyone happy. I try not to feel resentful.

I think it mostly worked this time. Which means, we made it through without major breakdowns. The kids created artwork with Oma. We had a gallery opening on the last night of her visit.


It was very sweet. We will definitely be finding permanent places for some of these. The kids were so proud of their work. Oma did a lovely job presenting their work and talking about all the techniques that they tried in artist-speak. They just beamed with pride.

But getting there was sometimes fraught. Turns out, the kids are every bit as opinionated about their art as Oma is. Also, my kitchen island looked like this for almost the entire two weeks:


Let's get a closer look at that mess, shall we?


I was a good sport publicly. But I kept thinking to myself that I know many who would never allow such a mess to accumulate – and stay for two weeks! – on the kitchen island. I cringe to think of those sayings about how Your Space Reflects what You are Feeling on the Inside. If an organized house is an organized mind, is a super-organized house an uptight mentality? I guess we can just think of our island mess as full of variation, depth and complexity. Convenient! Those are my favorite types of people!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Summer Transition

There's always a bit of lag time between the end of school and the start of summer: time when we haven't quite figured out the new rhythms. Time when some of us feel more edgy/less comfortable/not relaxed. Yesterday, 10 days into summer, it started to feel like we were finally reaching the new summer equilibrium. I do think it takes that long.


I often heard people in Germany say that you should never go on vacation for less than two weeks, because it takes at least one week to stop thinking about work. We don't think that way AT ALL here in the US, but I do believe there's some truth to it. Three day vacations are pretty much the worst: you spend all the time anxious and prepping (prepping to leave, anxious to be in a new situation, and prepping to return) and no time relaxing. Ironically, we've actually codified this miserable experience with wisdom like: Fish and visitors stink after three days (credit Benjamin Franklin). No wonder we have an epidemic of ADHD here in the United States; we're culturally way too quick to change course when things feel slightly uncomfortable. We can't make it through the transition to the enjoyable part. We give up – while quoting our efficient founding father – even when it comes to vacation.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Summer Resonation

Summer vacation for the kids has started and I've been making a list of things I'd like to do this summer:



1) Learn Revit, the omnipresent architecture software. I'm hoping to accomplish about 60 hours of training with tutorials. I think this is a drop in the bucket on learning the software, but everyone has to start somewhere, so here's to hoping the drops result in some waves...

2) Manage my smart phone better: as in, let it go! I think I'll a) NOT carry it with me and b) only check it 2-3 times a day. My Achilles heel is not social media, but the news app. I need to stop reading the news app. Also, the kids are better behaved when my phone is put away.

3) Have more fresh produce ready for snacking and eat it. Sometimes I've been really good at always having freshly prepped fruits and vegetables on hand. Sometimes I've been really good at ignoring all the produce I bought until it rots in the fridge. This summer, I'd like to make sure that I always have some fresh produce ready to eat. And I'd like us to eat it before it goes bad. Most importantly, the kids eat things better when they are ready to eat: peeled and chopped cucumbers, peeled and sliced apples, peeled carrot sticks, sliced peppers, chopped celery, etc.

4) Change the conversation. I need to have fewer negative conversations. When I lived in Germany 10 years ago, I felt like Germans had a lot of negative, depressing conversations. It was draining. I decided Germans were pessimistic. But these days, I find myself feeling the same way about most of my conversations with fellow Americans. The conversations are dark and ominous and hopeless. I have some theories on if-something/what-has changed. Whatever the culprit, whatever the theory, the important thing right now, is that I do what I can to change the conversations around me. Instead of being negative and reactive, I have to choose to be positive and proactive.

Now I better hit publish so that I can be held (a bit) accountable to my list.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Basement Bedroom

Trixie and I finished the basement bedroom last week. Mostly, it's pieced together from various hand-me-down/secondhand pieces of furniture and some Ikea. There is one detail, however, that I am rather proud of: the curtains.


I'm not a big fan of curtains as window coverings. But I had this idea that maybe I could use curtains to balance the asymmetry of the room and ceiling...by hanging the curtains themselves asymmetrically! In the photo below, you can barely see that the ceiling is lower above the dresser. There's a duct running in this soffit. The basic idea was to balance the ceiling soffit on the right of the bed with the grey curtain on the left of the bed. The bed stays centered on the window. And the room feels balanced, even though it's not symmetrical around the bed. A-ha! I think it works!

This is the pink wall: all finished. Okay, fine, it's not so bad, I guess. It works with my grandmother's refinished antique mirror and chair.


The chair was stored in my grandmother's basement when she passed away - a sign, I believe, that she didn't like it very much. On close inspection, I can tell the back of this chair was handmade. I'm guessing she designed it herself. Odds are my grandfather or great uncle jig-sawed it out of wood for her. I can imagine that she thought her self-designed chair back didn't live up to her other antiques. But I must say, I find it really wonderful and even more special because (I suspect) it was her own design.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Fitting

It's been 2 weeks since Lucy (our au pair) stopped working for us, and one week since she went to live with her new host family. That means I'm back to my former life of taking care of the kiddos all the time. The first week I was happy to spend lots of time with them again.

I started deprogramming Trixie. Basically, I am trying to undo the changes in her behavior that occurred under Lucy's care. Look: I'm not saying that the changes in her personality were bad, per se. However, I DO notice that my kids change when different people take care of them. It happens less as the kids get older, but the younger they are, the more likely that they are to shift. This particular shift has been somewhere been slight and moderate. If I hadn't spent the massive amount of time with them that I have, I'm not sure I would notice it. But...I've put a lot of effort into thinking carefully about how I respond and interact with them so that they reflect values and attitudes that I feel are important. Not everyone is so intentional in their interaction with kids. Not everyone thinks about whether or not they are encouraging a child to be whiny by the way they treat the child or the words they use. I never really expected a 20 year-old Lucy to have a lot of intentionality or to share my child-raising goals. But I was willing to let go of some of my control with the kids. And I am (still) sooo eager to do something new with my brain... Well, the situation now is that Lucy DID affect them and now that they are back with me full-time, I'm determined to undo the changes.

So... the last two weeks, with Lucy gone, and me right back where I started...while I'm trying to remain positive, I'm also pretty deeply burned by Lucy's seemingly flippant decision to leave us. It's difficult to just let go of the last year that I spent planning this life change: I had poured so much into preparing for Lucy, finding Lucy, training Lucy, trying to listen to and address her concerns, supporting and engaging Lucy! Admittedly, I was frustrated by Lucy's lack of application, under-initiative, and reactive/entitled behavior. So maybe it was ultimately good that she left. But I'm still really disappointed.

What I can't really do is determine how likely this is to happen again if we get another au pair. I like data. I'd like to know my chances of repeating this experience if we get another au pair. Hard data about au pair experiences are really difficult to come by. (Anecdotes abound, as does a huge amount of one-sided legal complaints.) I've asked our au pair agency for broad statistics: how many au pairs leave their original host families? How many au pairs are successful in completing their year after finding a new family? What is the average length of stay of an au pair? They don't have those numbers available to give to me, although Lucy claims that they told her 50% of au pairs leave their original host families. This lack of transparency irks me. I think, if an organization wants to be good at what they do, the organization tracks this information and tries to find ways to improve. If the organization doesn't know/won't share it's numbers, I have to ask myself: are they prioritizing profits over providing better service to their members? (Are these two things so mutually exclusive?)

Do I care?

Well, when it comes to my kids, I do care! When we are talking about 10 weeks of heart-felt investment + the months of preparing now lost, I do care! A lot of people choose to get an au pair because of how affordable they are. For us, the affordability is nice, but the other benefits, like flexibility and the intercultural exchange, are the things that convince me this should be the right option for us. Then again, maybe this isn't such a good option if 50% of all matches fail. Maybe I just need to find a better agency? An agency that screens their au pairs more? I would be willing to pay more for a better au pair and better odds that I don't have to go through this "rematch" process again because of some flaky, mediocre au pair changes her mind. But the data to assist me in determining these odds is not available.

The agency line is: It just wasn't a good fit. This is not at all comforting to those of us who put lots of effort into everything we do. (Me.) Turning over and starting with a new au pair, without any satisfying way to evaluate what happened in preparation for next time, is dumb. Or so my brain is hard-wired to think.

It shouldn't be so hard, my friend the long-time host mother tells me. I don't really know what to do with this piece of information. I guess if we do this again, I try less hard? I give up sooner?

It's the reality of being an employer, my friend the business owner says. I've had to adapt my methods of training new people to minimize my risk. So many employees leave as soon as I get them trained.

Somehow, I find it easier to think in terms of minimizing risk, rather than minimizing effort.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Drama

We had a pretty eventful last week: first, two of our three kids came down with something requiring antibiotics. Second, Lucy really blotched up on her caregiving responsibilities. Third, Fritz got quite upset with her and spoke to her sternly. Fourth, Lucy was upset by this and requested to find a new family for which to be an au pair.

Eh. You know, I have loved, loved, loved having some time to myself. But I haven't been very happy with Lucy's job taking care of the kids or their stuff. I do feel like I've really poured a lot of time and effort into training her and making her happy and comfortable so that she can do her job well... Last night, I had to write an evaluation of how everything has/had been going. It's a very factual evaluation, unlike what I do here on the blog. I carefully listed out all of Lucy's responsibilities and how well she has or has not completed them. The more I wrote, the more apparent it became to me that she's really consistently underperformed. There has only been one big goof up, but there are a whole slew of little misses that we decided to let go. The best things I could say about Lucy were things like: "very affectionate with the three year old." I did NOT add details like, "way too encouraging of pink and princesses."

Those type of details are irrelevant in a general evaluation, but I confess they are deeply relevant to me personally. Because details like that really do help shape a child. I have no doubt that Trixie loved Lucy, and loved that Lucy indulged that "pink" side of her personality. It may have impacted Trixie; lately, she's taken to throwing herself on the floor and sobbing when someone interrupts her or doesn't do what she's asked. Trixie didn't used to do this. It emerged with Lucy's care. And it may be simply developmental. Or it maybe that she's spending too much time with someone who also engages in this type of behavior at an semi-adult level. Either way. Enough.

So, Lucy is leaving. I've already suspended her childcare responsibilities so that she can focus on finding a new family. She will continue to live with us for 2 weeks at most.

I'm regrouping. I'll be taking care of the kids myself while we consider what to do next. I don't know. I may just try to keep networking and casually looking for work over the summer, and then get more serious again in the fall. I feel let down (in many, many ways), but I also feel somewhat relieved. I will try to stay focused on the positive.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday


I had no idea.
Thank the Viking Exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for this tidbit.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Gift of Time

The really amazing part of my life right now is that I have time to think. This is definitely one of those situation of not fully knowing what I was missing out on.

Well...I realized that I was quite occupied taking care of kids. I knew that I missed using my brain in a different way. I knew that I felt lonely a lot. I did not know how much better I would feel with a few hours a day without the kids. The lightness of being without my entourage has now filtered into the little corners of my life that were buried beneath the daily grind. I had stopped making eye contact with people, because I was perpetually scanning for a child who might run away. But now, I am really looking at people – in the eyes! – again. I had stopped casually chatting with people because 30 seconds of distraction might be the difference between escaping a store with or without a tantrum. Without a child in the cart, I now find myself joking more with sample cart clerks in Costco. I had convinced myself that I was not a very friendly person and that I was a huge introvert – but it is not entirely true. The kids' presence and demands have been so dominate in my life for so long, that my interaction with society in general had shifted to account for the children, their care, and my own need for personal space.

I think I currently have about 15 hours a week that I am not directly involved in some aspect of household/children. This time is mostly spent on job applications, interviews/networking, blogging, and occasionally, I slip in some designing for my Etsy store. Around the house, I am still doing all the chauffeuring of little people, the deep household cleaning, and home maintenance projects. Fifteen hours a week is not huge, but it is enough to dig out of the trench I had been living in.

At Christmas time (which coincides with my birthday), my family asked me what I wanted as a gift. And I could not bring myself to tell them anything. I knew that in February, Lucy, our au pair, would arrive and I felt guilty that I would give myself a few hours of NOT cleaning the house, or I would let myself have dates with Fritz, or that I would take time to write job applications. I felt like I was really indulging myself to let go of a few of the responsibilities that I have carried for so long. It seemed terribly selfish to ask for any Christmas or birthday gifts when I was (spending money and) giving myself this enormous gift of time.

I still feel that way. Who am I, to be able to sit here and type up this indulgent blog post? Every bit of everything felt like it needed to be directed to the kids and the household.

But I really wasn't well with so much of the same and so little time for myself.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Paint it Black

This week I'm putting the final round of paint on the steps. It involves painting one coat of paint a day, starting at the top most step, painting down to the bottom step, and then climbing out of the basement window when I'm done. It would probably be more amusing to put a photo of me climbing out of the basement window here. Oh, well. Here are the stairs, now in black steps:


This is decidedly NOT one of my higher quality paint jobs. The wood is really cheap; there was some pretty poor workmanship on the trim (meaning I filled a lot of gaps with caulk). But I think I'm okay with them. The stairs are bold and yet neutral and finished looking, with minimal cost. Also: they're BASEMENT STEPS, right? Just keeping it in perspective.

There's this awkward misalignment between the stairwell wall and the basement wall. Can you see it, at the stair landing? Our basement contractor couldn't bring himself to build a crooked wall to match the bulging stairwell wall, so we ended up with this special "nook" or "accent." I'm not a fan or nooks or accents. So maybe I should have made the contractor fix it. Instead, I thought, huh, maybe we can do something interesting with that... Except, it's been 2 years, and the only idea I have is to hang a mirror there and frame it. Or paint it a different color and hang artwork on it? Hmmm.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mediocracy. A post in code.

Fritz and I are having lots of conversations lately about mediocracy. Both of us now find ourselves with people in our daily employ who we feel could be doing much more, but seem content and unwilling to step beyond minimum requirement.

I guess it helps to frame this argument by confessing that both Fritz and I are first-born overachievers. We take a lot of pride in, not just completing a task but, completing it really well and maybe taking it one step further. I love the feeling of surprising someone else by my extra actions. It really motivates me. I tend to feel lost and frustrated in situations where there's no standard to exceed. (Like Stay At Home Parenthood.)

But clearly, not everybody feels that way. Thanks to years as a Stay at Home Parent, I'm pretty aware that some of my own kiddos don't motivate in this way. It's good that I got the kids I did, because they've really made me a kindler, gentler, more accepting person. I'm more willing to cut people slack and reconsider situations. I'm now a well-developed empathy machine: and that doesn't come naturally to an overachiever - so thank you, stay at home parenthood for teaching me this.

(Noah programmed this robot to bring cold drinks from the kitchen to the table.
It also has an electric fan on the back to keep the drink cool during transport.
And it's wearing a bowtie, like all the best waiters, of course.)

HOWEVER. There's this line that exists when you are actually paying people money to do their job in a mediocre fashion. And you start to wonder how much mediocre is worth: in terms of both dollars and also in terms of lost opportunities. If mediocre means you put in effort and money and time, and your return on investment sits warm on the stove, but doesn't simmer and certainly doesn't boil - is it worth it? When do you say, my effort and time and money should have yielded a greater return? I could have used my resources more effectively....

Fritz says that he's so sick of debating the merits (or lack of merits) of mediocracy, both with me and with his colleague, that he's ready to cut loose all the mediocre in his life and be done with it. Just the conversations about mediocracy are taking too much time. That's why I'm posting here. Because Fritz doesn't want to talk about it anymore. And I continuously wonder if Fritz and I are too skewed in our innate perspectives.

I think I'd be fussing less if I had a job and was working. Unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to control that, as much as I try – and I am trying! So when do you cut your losses?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Climbing Out

It was subconscious for months.

I'd open my news app, and I'd be hoping, just hoping...

TODAY, WE ARE FINALLY I(ing)TMFA!

Nope. Not there. Not yet.

Now that I know what I'm looking for, I'm putting aside the device.

I'm sending out another resume.

I'm painting the steps. Focus on the steps.


Make them lovely.

Then climb yourself out.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lighting the Stairwell

The basement stairs are looking better all the time; although I am constantly reminded how a "little" project like finishing the stairwell can take more time than a "big" project, like painting a bedroom.

Basically, I've filled a lot cracks with caulk, painted the walls white, and hung a light fixture.

Disclosure #1: Fritz hung the new light fixture. I consider him the household electricity expert, so hanging a new light falls under his responsibilities. Disclosure #2: The light fixture is old, not new. It came with us from Germany (EIGHT YEARS AGO). Disclosure #3: Installing a German-ready light fixture in an American-prepped location is not so easy, and Fritz may have done a little bit of swearing and taken several trips to Home Depot. But after hauling this light fixture around with us for eight years in moving boxes, I was determined to have it hang somewhere in our home. Even if it only saved us $29.99 and a trip to Ikea. (Cough, cough.)

The light fixture DOES actually give the stairwell a more fun personality than before. Also, the color of the light bulb is a huge improvement. You can check out The Before in my previous post. Those of you who find my white walls sterile, (you know who you are) will agree that the light was a good move, I'm sure.

Next up: painting the stairs themselves.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Random

I've been working on many projects lately, trying to feel productive. I feel so much better when I can check things off my list!


This past weekend, the list had four items on it and not a single one got completed. Which means I'm starting the week off a little frustrated. In an attempt to make myself feel better, let's review last week's progress.



1) As part of moving Lucy to her new room in the basement, I'm trying to finish this last section: the stairwell to the basement. Over the years, the kids have drawn on the wall - argh! - so the whole thing needs to be repainted. In the images above you can see the places where I primed over their drawings. I've also been fixing/filling a lot of cracks.

The Plan is to paint the stairwell walls white, paint the stairs, remove the handrails, and switch out the light fixtures. There's a limited budget on this, so nothing fancy. It would be fun to paint the stairs some crazy color or colors. Any ideas? Fritz is opting for bright red. Maybe a gradient would be cool? The stairs have 3 runs and 2 landings, in a U shape. Any gradient effect would be a limited to about 6 stairs at a time.


2) The photo above is Lucy's room, except she is not living in it yet. We still need to move some stuff out of this room (like the bike trainer, the dry rack, and the painting supplies.) The progress last week was that I pained a wall pink. I'm not a pink person, but she is. That's why I painted the wall pink, but then could barely bring myself to take a decent photo of the pink. (Do you see it? On the right hand side of the photo?) Lucy is reluctant about moving to this bedroom, so I was trying to sweeten the deal by making the room more personalized for her. She picked out the color.


3) I started some tomatoes. This year, I'm doing ground cherry and red zebra and green zebra tomatoes. Last year, my cousin brought me some from the farm share he runs in Iowa. They were amazingly sweet. You could substitute these tomatoes for berries, I kid you not. SOOOOO YUMMY. Since tomatoes always do well in our garden, I'm hoping the ground cherries will make up for the fact that I can't grow blueberries (in Colorado) to save my life.

4) Finally, I've accomplished a number of outdoor projects. I re-mulched the area the kids dug up. I put in new stepping stones. I planted sweet peas in the garden. The kids got a trampoline for their birthdays, which has inspired me to do some redesign to our backyard. Oh! And I was inspired by this, which has me thinking about how to make a really excellent outdoor area for kids in a very small yard.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Edgy



I'm feeling really edgy and nervous lately about the fact that I have not yet found a job. On the one hand, you could say that I have only been looking for a month.

On the other hand, I've put years of effort into getting to this place in time where there's enough elbow room that I could apply for a job and feel that if offered a job, I could follow through on my part of the (job) commitment. For so many years, we lived on a shoestring/tightrope/balancing act whereby I felt like I had no room, just. no. room. to pursue anything other than holding up everyone else in the family. For almost 10 years, if I wanted to make a doctor's appointment, or get my hair cut, or even go to the bathroom, without taking along a child, I had to coordinate with Fritz - or somebody else - before I could. During this period, even finding the time to write a resume and have a job interview felt like an overwhelming prospect. If I backed away from the household stuff, even just a little bit, there was nobody and no thing to catch the huge Wyse family infrastructure that I was singlehandedly supporting. I can hear my parents, in Rhode Island, claiming this this isn't true – they would surely help us if I fell. But I remind you, Rhode Island is 2000+ miles away. And Fritz's family is even further away in Germany. And I'm a bit of a loner. As sweet as many of my friends are, they are not particularly close friends. And I think their ability to help is really limited by their own familial obligations. For me, there have been years and years of feeling like I'm living on the blade of a knife.

I knew that if I wanted to go back to work, I needed help. Substantial help. I had to convince myself that I wasn't being weak.  Every full time working mother that I know has nearby family and daycares or nannies. And most of these mothers don't have (as many as) three children. In this way, I think that our au pair, Lucy, was and is the right way to go: she provides a genuine flexibility that other child care options don't. But now, I'm paying her. And I really, really would like to find a job. I would not like to wait another 10 days, frankly.

There's this nagging voice...this part of me that wonders if I couldn't have waited another year until Trixie was in school for full days. But I had this strong instinct that the economy was strong and NOW, not in a year, but NOW was the time to make the jump. I don't know. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should just send Lucy home and wait longer. Or maybe this job thing will never happen and I'll be one of those 50 year old women wondering what to do with my life now that my children have left home. Or daydreaming about how much I loved having toddlers. (Ha!) I don't want to be that person. I really don't.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Decade

It's Birthday Season here at the Wyse Home. We have 4 birthdays within 5 weeks. And Easter. And Spring Break. Honestly, it's a time consuming season for the Master of Ceremonies (me). This morning I asked Fritz if we could spend our Date Night / Birthday Celebration shopping for Easter candy. He wasn't keen on the idea.


We've now been parents for a whole DECADE. Which is great. I don't really have the feeling that the early years went by too fast. The kids were really cute, but it was soooo draining! I like the kids now, at their current ages; they are so much more engaging and thoughtful and stimulating. And I feel that I'm able to be myself with them, in a way that I wasn't when they were babies.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Backfill

During spring break, I had the the kids fix the portion of the yard that they dug into a big hole.


Now there's no more hole to dig in, and I can see them fidgeting for somewhere to dig.


Oh, man. You know what? I think I'm going to have to find another sandbox area. Again. This will be, like, the fourth sandbox I've designated...I keep thinking they are done with sandboxes and that we can move on. I've filled the old sandboxes with herbs, or dumped them out. And good riddance, really, because whenever we have a sandbox (or a dirt pile/hole), we have about 10 times as much dirt and sand and grime being tracked into the house.

But they just really like to dig.

Here they are digging up the path at the playground (which has no official sandbox), since I made them fix the hole in our yard. Sheesh.


I just finished reading Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play makes for Strong. Confident and Capable Children by Angela Hanscom. I love the book. It really confirms a lot of the things that I've observed and practiced with my own kids during the last decade. Mainly, kids need to be outdoors, engaged with nature, and in a less organized and controlled environments. But I think that there's a bit of an elephant in the room regarding this topic. That is: it's a child-raising practice that works best for stay at home parents. It doesn't translate so well to kids in daycare situations. Like breast feeding, elimination communication, and baby led weaning, there's such a substantial amount of cultural buy-in that has to happen to make these practices move (comfortably and conveniently) from At Home to Outside of Home. It's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

From my own perspective, this book really makes me want to move to the woods with my kiddos. For us, the woods are too far away to be practical. It would be a really long commute and the environmentalist in me just can't justify the gasoline consumption. We're sticking to the high plains and new urbanist sized yard, and working with it as best we can.

Do you wish your kids had more outdoor space? What kind of outdoor space would you like them to have?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Gaps

Last week I had two job interviews. They were okay. I'm pretty sure nothing will come from one interview. And the other, we'll see.

My aunt wanted me to put a frog in my pocket for good luck. I did not.
But presumably she wasn't talking about these frogs. 

It's really interesting to be interviewing again, although I admit, I haven't spent a lot of time interviewing in the past. I've usually been hired pretty quickly. This time around, I'm really cognizant of the fact that a quick-coming job may not happen. To the professional world, I have a huge gap in my resume. I'm not up-to-date on the latest industry software. And despite the relatively low unemployment (I think it's 2-point-something here in Colorado), I'm not a Millennial candidate.

That last part: being (or not being) a Millennial candidate is turning out to be significant in a couple of ways. There are a lot of companies trying to woo in candidates with their Yoga On Fridays! and Company Volunteer at the Soup Kitchen! Hike A Fourteener (Colorado's affectionate name for its highest mountains) Together! mantras. It doesn't appeal to me at all. It seems really targeted to the millennials who are looking for the same sort of entry level(-ish) jobs that I am.

And then there's the technology thing. It doesn't exactly play out as cut and dry as you might think:

I was born in 1976. My inclusion in Generation X is on the tail end (born early 1960s -1979). For the most part, I identify with many of the GenX traits: somewhat cynical, but adaptable; and understated, but entrepreneurial. Like most GenX, I was an early adopter of technology: I used the internet in high school – a text heavy version – which taught me how to build a box bike to ship my bike from Rhode Island to Texas for college – without photos or diagrams (too much data). I've used computer based design in architecture; in school we did things both by hand and by computer. I know the zen-ness of mylar pen drafting, I keep a sketch book in my handbag, but I always worked on computer at my architecture jobs. I collected a long list of software knowledge in those early days when software companies still battled it out in the architecture market. I taught myself programs by reading manuals and experimenting. I whipped up 3d models and renderings in FormZ and then AutoCAD, both awkward and clunky 3d programs by today's standards.

I share this both 1) to explain that I'm not afraid of technology, even though I'm not updated in the latest and 2) to emphasize that technology is not the sole province of Millennials. Yet, I don't fit the typical Millennial mold either because my technology skills don't match theirs. For me, it's a deal-breaker to say that I have to learn the newest, (in this case, Revit), to even be considered for a position. On the other hand, I'm willing to learn a program before I start a job. There's a really fine line between these two positions. Did you catch it? I don't want to be wanted for just my computer skills. So I'm NOT willing to learn a program to get an interview. I AM willing to learn a program for a job. Also, software is fun. Revit looks awesome. If I learn it – and I might just because challenges are fun to me – the firms hiring with a Revit mandatory qualification start to look deeply unappealing. In fact, maybe I'd rather do something else entirely with my theoretical Revit skills. Does that make sense? People should want me for my ability to think, or my awesome time management skills, or my dedication and determination, or my ability to handle not-quite-logical human beings, but NOT my ability to enter shit into the computer. It's a fine line that becomes bolder the more people I talk to.

And it may be The Line that keeps me from coming back to architecture professionally. I'm different from the person I was at 27, perhaps different from the Millennial candidate, and different from a person who is the same age as I am but spent her professional life in architecture: working for an architecture firm no longer defines me or my self-worth.

Work no longer defines me.

I'm proud of that, because it's taken me a long time for me to let go of being defined by my ability to collect money for my work. Today, I do the stuff I do either on the principle of investing in a better future and/or because I genuinely enjoy it.

Work used to define me. Just like it still does most Americans. We Americans, we never really learned to let go of our work as our identity. We're so tied up in it, that we think the Millennials want to go hike mountains with colleagues to force work to seem more like the life part of work-life balance!

If Millennials are falling for this stuff (I'm not so sure they are) then they are just as delusional as the older generations developing the marketing strategy. COME ON, businesses. Pay people a fair amount with fair benefits. Allow them to have a life outside work by asking them to work a reasonable amount of hours. It's just common sense to me. But it's probably not common sense if you have spent your whole life working under the deteriorating conditions/higher expectations of work commitment.

You know how Brits take a gap year between high school and university where they travel around the world, perhaps working temporary jobs to cover costs? You'll know Americans have finally figured out how to stop defining themselves by work when this becomes common place in the US: either in the late teens or even in midlife!

Back to me: Architecture. We'll see. I can let go of architecture professionally if the only way back in is to sell myself out with Revit skills. I want to stay in architecture because I genuinely love designing spaces. But, you know. I've lived with architecture as supplemental home projects for a long time. Maybe architecture – as Revit – will not be the thing for me to do. Or maybe it will be this cynical GenX attitude that keeps me out. Either way, I'm okay if that's the case. I'm adaptable.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Basement Flooring

We worked diligently to get the basement finishing complete before Lucy arrived. My father flew out to Colorado twice to help us, once with my mother and once with my brother.


My other enduring helper was Trixie, who helped install the flooring. We worked on this project for WEEKS! Sometimes, we only did a handful of boards a day.


The flooring is a vinyl plank that looks like distressed wood. (Hopefully it hides all the kid dirt in our house.) It didn't require a lot of prep work or adhesives. This was, in fact, intentional: it was the perfect flooring to install in small batches with the help of a three-year-old. Working in small batches of installation also meant that I didn't have to empty the basement of all our Stuff. Instead, we could move the Stuff around as we were working.


I'm pretty happy with it as basement flooring. Which is especially good since we put it everywhere in the basement: the bathroom, the common space, and the bedroom.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Crazy Quilt Foray

My grandmothers were both farmer's wives in Iowa. Growing up during the Depression, hours away from cities, on an isolated patch of land, it's not surprising that they were both very frugal. They were also crafty: making clothes, quilts, furniture and home decor. They didn't think of selling their crafts for money – crafts were just a practical aspect of homemaking. Maybe they made something extra lovely to share with their friends and families on occasion. But most importantly, they made stuff to use it.

I love the functional and practical aspects of crafting; in our current makers world, I think it's been a wee bit overlooked.

For example, I find myself thinking about quilts a lot. I began thinking about it - really, over a decade ago – when my grandmother made a quilt for me "from the neighbor-who-died's old dress shirts...oh, and an old sheet I had." I was one part weirded-out and one part impressed by her ingenuity. Upon reflection, it seemed to me that there was something common sense about making a quilt out of clothing/fabric scraps. Patchwork quilts, especially the ones that have this long, grand history as an American tradition, did they not start as someone's plan to use up some fabric scraps?

Today, you can buy kits in the stores especially dedicated to making fabric quilts. There are magazines and online patterns and special cutting supplies all built around the making of a quilt. The fabric options are endless – but don't worry – you can find a curator of quilting fabric, if you need help! It's amazing!

But it's also a long way from where quilts started.

Then I discovered Crazy Quilts. (Neither of my grandmothers ever made these.) Crazy Quilts use a random arrangement of fabric pieces. It's patchwork - without repetition. There was something really interesting to me about the idea of getting rid of repetition in quilts.... Crazy Quilts were a quilt fad in the 1800s. Today, most of the interest in Crazy Quilts revolves around the hand embroidery decoration of Crazy Quilts.

Here's one I found on Etsy. Link here.

But I am fascinated by the idea that randomly sized and shaped pieces can be stitched together to create something unique. I love the idea that a machine couldn't do this: not easily, anyway. I love that you can see the hand of the maker, but not necessarily because of fingerprints or sloppy workmanship, but because of the way someone's brain had to work to figure out this random pattern. It's improv in design. So cool!

So, this weekend I dumped out all my red fabric scraps, and set about making a crazy quilt inspired Schultüte  Why am I combining a German first-day-of-school tradition with an American quilting tradition? I don't know! Because it's a smaller amount of area than a quilt? Because I thought the Schultüte were getting a little too easy? Here's what I've got:

You can find this schultüte here on the WyseWorks Etsy Store.

I think it came out pretty neat. But it turned out to be A LOT of work. Fitting together all those random pieces together was NOT easy. I was also really determined to avoid breaking it down into quilting squares. (That probably would have made it easier, but I was didn't want grids and repetition, right?) I'm not sure I'll do it again. Well, maybe I will because I only used up about a third of my red fabric scraps. And there are a lot more scraps in other colors. We'll see. For now, it was definitely a challenge and a new way of thinking.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Arrival of Lucy

I find that even after 10ish years as a stay at home parent, I still have a hard time admitting how much time I spend doing busy work. It's a combination of cultural and societal pressures, I'm pretty sure. I feel like I should say, "Of course I have time to do that!" whenever I'm asked to do anything. The smorgasbord of menial tasks that I do don't feel worthy of saying "I AM working hard." (Laundry, cooking meals, shopping, chauffeuring, cleaning, home repairs, watching the three-year-old play on the sidewalk because she's not quite old enough to play alone outside yet...)

Long-time readers know that I've been struggling to carve out enough space for myself since Trixie was born. The third child has been really a tough adjustment! (This blog has been one of the casualties of that struggle.) Last summer, when I started playing with the idea of going back to work, I started running scenarios of how I could make it happen.

My preferred scenario was that my parents move to Colorado and become a bigger part in their grandchildren's (and my!) life. Maybe they could help enough to carve out space for me! This doesn't seem crazy to me because it happens frequently among our friends here in Colorado. But it seemed crazy to my parents. And in the last three years, my parents have deepened their roots in Rhode Island by buying an investment property and fixing it up. It takes a lot of their time. Instead of becoming closer to them, we've become farther apart.

So after that, what seemed to make the most sense for us was to get an Au Pair. Au Pairs are typically young women between the ages of 18-26 who come from a foreign country for a year. She lives with the family, takes a few classes, and takes care of the children and household tasks in exchange for a small stipend. For us, without grandparents or aunts or uncles nearby to help out, we really need something more than a structured day care or a scheduled nanny. An Au Pair would mean more flexibility and some extra help with all those menial tasks, like doing the kids laundry and making lunches and driving kids around.

Our Au Pair, Lucy, arrived three weeks ago. Lucy has been transitioning into more and more responsibility over this time. Typically, AuPairs have about 3 days before jumping feet-first into their jobs. Since I am still at home (not employed), Lucy has been working fewer than the maximum 45 hours a week. I've been in the house to keep an eye on how things are going. All the kids liked her immediately. Which is great! But the harder part is building a relationship of respect, especially with the 7 and 10 year old. It's coming, which is pretty exciting to see. Watching the process really makes me appreciate how experienced professionals, like teachers, can take responsibility and control of kiddos right away.

Lucy is German. This is an added bonus both for us and for Lucy. We are a bilingual, dual-citizenship household. The kids, growing up mostly in the US, are always interested to learn more about Germany.

A lot of friends are asking me what it's like to have somebody else living in our house. Really, I think it's fine. With our families in Germany and Rhode Island, and friends around the globe, we have always had a lot houseguests. Fritz and I aren't bothered by it; maybe it is our personalities? Or maybe the whole experience is still too new? We talked about Lucy a lot before she arrived. And when she got here, the kids quickly accepted Lucy as something between a big sister and parent.

We did put in a lot of effort to get the basement finished before Lucy arrived, which gave us some extra livable square footage. The basement was sitting in a sad state of drywalled but not painted or carpeted. My family flew in a couple of times to help with that, for which I am really grateful!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dirt


The kids have been digging up the yard lately, making cool ramps and caves and holes. They're showing a renewed interest playing with the toy vehicles that I'd nearly given away.

We have a pretty small yard. Everyone can agree that kids need to play in the dirt, but when it comes to the REALITY of your kids pushing aside the mulch and hacking through the weed barrier, all to access the dirt below in a space that's already packed with toys...well, let's just say there was some yelling involved.

Often, I think our existence in this newish house with its lack of imperfections is problematic. I yearn for something less precious. It's not only hard to let go of those aspects of life that we think of as done and right and supposedly finished; it's hard to admit it that maybe our grown up ideas aren't the best for everyone.

Like for my kids. The best for them is when their fingernails are full of dirt and the newly dug cave holds the toy vehicles I thought they'd outgrown.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Untitled

You may remember that last year, we found ourselves thinking about moving back to Germany. It was an exciting prospect, but also one that gave me a lot of pause. I felt that moving back to Germany was probably 1) good for the family 2) good for Fritz's career and 3) NOT good for the prospect of me returning to a professional life. I was doing a lot of soul searching about what I want to be doing in my life. And for how long. After years of being too inundated with the responsibilities of the children and running a household, it is/was truly a gift to be able to think about myself.

(You know how marketers always talk about Self Care? I think, sure, that's important. But for many people, at many points in their life, self care is not an option. Maybe you are taking care of dying relative. Maybe you have a newborn in the house and no second set of hands. Maybe you have a sick friend to watch over. Maybe you have multiple children who are your responsibility. Maybe you are financially stretched. In these situations, you really don't just go schedule a manicure. In these situations the act of self care can actually be more damaging to your soul than it is good, as much as you know intellectually that you need a break. So you just do what needs to be done, stay focused, and trust that it too shall pass.... Consider yourself lucky if you have never experienced this state.)

What really came from all my soul-searching is that answer that Yes! I want to go back to work! Disentangling myself from enough of my daily childcare responsibilities so that I can has been a drawn-out process over the last year. I am still working through the chaos that comes with switching to a new system AND working through the reality of finding a job.  In light of all the changes, I find myself in desperate need of reflection time. Which is why I'm back here blogging. I can't promise to blog about everything going on, but hopefully, I can find a nice space between refining my thoughts, being semi-interesting, and oversharing.