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 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


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


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


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.