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.