Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Volume 9, kind of, with a side of drear

Torsten is in Germany for work this week and... ehhhh. It's not super fun. He doesn't travel for work all that much, so I can't really complain (especially since his work is remote and that often comes with a hefty dose of travel). And when he has domestic business trips it's not so bad. But the German ones are just... blah. First of all, he leaves on Saturday afternoon because it's an overnight flight so he arrives in Germany on Sunday morning, takes a nap, has dinner with his parents, and then is rested and ready to work on Monday morning. So we lose pretty much a whole weekend with him every time. Second of all, the eight-hour time difference is absolutely killer. He and I have almost no contact the whole time he's gone--just a couple of quick texts exchanged during the few moments when he has just woken up for the day and I'm about to go to bed.

But the worst part is that he doesn't get to talk to the kids at all the whole time he's gone. When Torsten wakes up for the day, the kids are asleep. When the kids wake up, Torsten is at work. When Torsten gets home from work, the kids are at school. When the kids get home from school, Torsten is asleep. And... repeat. So, it's a full week, not just a work week, of solo parenting for me, combined with a side of the kids missing their dad and asking repeatedly when they're going to get to talk to him and when he's going to come home, and all around it's just no fun.

Also, today is the ninth anniversary of our first date, which is also the day we met for the first time and the day our relationship started. Normally this is the anniversary we care about most, more than our wedding anniversary, but... different continents today, so. Bleh all around.

Anyway! Dreary attitude aside, things are fine, really. The weather has finally turned fall-like, and I noticed this morning that there's fresh snow on the highest mountains, so that's great, and also lovely. With Torsten out of town I can't get to the gym in the evenings, but I've managed to fit in a couple of afternoon sessions, so I feel good about that. A dear friend came over last night after all our respective kids were asleep for the night and just hung out and chatted, and that was delightful and a refreshing dose of adult company. I have a sitter coming tomorrow so I can go to my book club, which I love, so I'm looking forward to that too. And honestly, the kids have been happy and well-behaved and it's going fine.

Also, the kids and I took Montana to the dog park on Monday and for the first time, Callum and Montana really played together, like buds, running together and waiting for each other and just having a good time. Montana has always been totally fine with our kids, gentle and protective, but she has never been thrilled about them--you could tell when we brought Callum home from the hospital that she felt like she was being punished for something, and waves of that rescue dog needy-people-pleaser remorse came rolling off her, and while she's adjusted in the ensuing almost five (!) years, it's never been one of those relationships where kids and dog are BFFs. But at the dog park, they WERE lovely together and very happy, and that was really nice to see.

So it hasn't been a bad week, truly! But. I don't know, it's just dragging. I miss Torsten, and the kids miss him too, and... well, like I said above: ehhhh.

Anyway! Happy anniversary to us. These are the only two pictures I can find of just the two of us from the last year. So... better get on that whole photo-taking thing, because my, how things have changed. So many photos back in the day! Ah, well. The relationship is thriving, so I guess the photos are secondary? Let's hope, anyway.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bathroom paint advice, please

OK, so, we have just made the impromptu decision to paint our main floor half-bathroom. This was unplanned because we only just finally got our handyman in to repair all the paint and drywall damage caused by the window installation, and luckily the guy who fixed and flipped our house before we bought it left all the paint he used, and it turned out that we had every paint we needed except the one for this bathroom, BUT we didn't realize that until our guy had already used a slightly off shade of beige around the window, so right now the bathroom has a two-tone look going on.

We have made no changes to this bathroom whatsoever since moving in (unless you count hanging up the ceramic lizard--eventually we will hang more stuff on the walls, when we get around to it). It has a beige paint color that we never would have selected ourselves, and the same goes for the mirror and fixtures, but we don't hate them or anything and aren't interested in spending money to replace them. But, I'm also not interested in bothering to try to paint-match the beige, which wouldn't be a sure thing anyway since we don't know anything about the paint that was used in there, and would rather spend a little more time and money (and it's not much more, since it's such a small bathroom) to make it a much nicer color.

So! Here's the bathroom in its current state. As you can see, beige paint with white trim and chair rail, white marble-ish counter top (with gray streaks) over dark brown cabinetry, weird frosted/etched mirror that is ostensibly neutral in color but has always seemed to me to have a mint green undertone, gray window blind. I had some trouble with the lighting in these so the paint color doesn't look the same in all of them, but I think the current color is most accurately represented in the close-up of the lizard.

As far as parameters, we are leaning toward a non-neutral color in the bathroom, something not overwhelming but a little bit bright and fun. Torsten in particular is a big fan of bright colored paint, and we aren't willing to do that in any of our actual big house rooms, so a bathroom seems like a good spot for something a little more fun and less neutral than the light gray that we will probably end up painting most of the rest of the house someday that is probably much further in the future than I care to consider. (Edited to add, thanks to Diane: you know how I feel about purple, but actually I think we'll do our master bath in pale purple someday, so I'm very open to non-purple colors for this bathroom.)

Also, like I said, we don't want to pay to replace fixtures or anything else in the bathroom, though I'd be willing to consider swapping out the mirror if the new color deeply exacerbated its green undertones in an ugly way. The gray blind is definitely not going anywhere since it's brand new, and ideally we'd like to keep the lizard in there as decor as well, though if it clashes horribly it can be relocated, and like I said, we'll add a few other things to the walls eventually too.

So! Please tell me your bathroom paint color opinions. What color? Bright? Dark? What colors are your own bathrooms painted, and what do you like or not like about it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bugged. Except Callum. Hmph.

I'm starting to think that Callum is... well, not quite immune, but generally very mildly affected... by stomach bugs. And also, I kind of hate him for it because I WANT THAT SUPERPOWER and I decidedly do NOT have it, and neither does Torsten, or, evidently, Annika.

We got a bug last year on the day after Annika's first birthday (SUCH A DELIGHT) and Callum did barf a couple times, but then was totally fine, while Annika barfed a lot more and then had gross diapers for DAYS, and Torsten and I were also flattened out, as were my parents and Liz and her family (THANKS FOR NOTHING, stomach bug that appears 12 hours after a birthday party!).

Annika was patient zero with this one, barfing many times in succession one evening last week. We kept her home from school the next day, but she seemed totally fine, had normal diapers, and was perfectly cheerful, so we started to wonder if maybe it was just a fluke? She barfed again the next day and again after school the day after that but I think that was just because she is sort of sensitive and barfy generally and her irritated stomach couldn't handle a) lactose (the first aftershock puke) or b) drinking milk right before a car ride (the second aftershock puke).

So... Annika barfed, then was more or less fine, then 72 hours passed, then we started thinking that it really HAD just been a fluke because 72 hours is a long window for nobody else to get sick, so we started thinking that maybe we were home free... and that was our fatal mistake, because RIGHT after we started thinking that, Torsten woke up in the middle of the night to barf. Then he was down for the count alllll day, while Callum and I were still fine. But then the middle of the next night... BAM. My turn! WOE. So much woe!

(Side note: I DO actually kind of prefer to get a stomach bug about once every year just to maintain some baseline level of immunity? Like, the first stomach bug we ever got, when Callum was a baby, was MISERABLE. Like, the only time in my life when I've ever seriously doubted our decision to have children, because it was so so terrible and NOTHING was worth that level of pain. The next stomach bug we got, about a year later, was also miserable but not QUITE as bad. And since then, we've gotten about one every 10-12 months and while they are always deeply unpleasant, nothing has ever matched anything like those first couple, and it is my working theory that it is because we have some level of immunity left that takes the edge off it. So, if that's the tradeoff, I would rather get one about that often just to maintain the immunity. However, that doesn't make it any more pleasant when it actually shows up. I have not yet learned the zen art of being like, "ah yes, we were due, this is really a good thing, so welcome, hellish gastroenteritis!")

Anyway, so, Callum remained almost totally fine the whole time. He did have a couple of very very mild symptoms, so mild that if the rest of us had not been afflicted I wouldn't have even thought twice about them, but that was IT. He was never miserable, he never barfed, he ate and slept and played normally, and all was well. We did keep him home from school on Monday out of an abundance of caution of not wanting him to infect his classmates (and also because Octonauts makes an excellent, if occasional, babysitter) but as he remained totally fine, he headed back to school yesterday.

The rest of us have now also recovered and are feeling totally normal again, but I'm still a little jealous of my own child for his seeming immunity to such a horrible disease. I keep reminding myself that maybe someday he'll have kids and this will be the most useful skill ever and his spouse will lie in bed moaning between barfs while thanking god for a husband who is impervious to stomach bugs and can handle the kids. So... maybe in thirty years? I'll stop shooting daggers at my kid with my eyes for his incredible luck.

Just, please please please let this once a year schedule stick. The thought of them coming more often than not is currently what's keeping me awake at night.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Parental visit and a new zoo

So, as I mentioned, my parents drove out to see us last week. As they made a full road trip out of it, with lots of stops along the way, they ended up only staying with us for six days, which was very short, shorter than their usual visits and puzzlingly short for the kids, both of whom adore my parents. But we definitely made the most out of it, capped off with a visit to a zoo we'd never gone to before, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs.

It turned out that we actually liked the CMZ better than the Denver zoo... it's built right on the side of a mountain so there's some uphill walking involved, but the views are stunning and they have a lot of animals, most (though unfortunately not all) of which seem to have great, roomy habitats. Callum loved the zoo and didn't complain at all about all the walking (according to my pedometer about 7,000 steps and three miles altogether) and was generally a total delight. Annika liked the animals too, and was surprisingly content to stay in her stroller (I think part of this is that a lot of the exhibits can be easily seen from the ground level thanks to glass enclosures etc., which is an improvement over the Denver zoo where you have to do a lot of lifting up of little kids to see things).

We especially enjoyed the very first exhibit, giraffes where you could buy lettuce to feed them. Callum was super nervous about feeding the giraffes at first but did eventually work up the courage to try it and ended up thinking it was hilarious to see the giraffe use its giant tongue to gently remove the lettuce from his hand. Also, the nice thing was that the giraffes were so into the food that they were totally willing to get up close and personally and make friends, much to Torsten's benefit.

We also saw three lion cubs sleeping in a very cuddly adorable pile on top of each other, penguins brushed goats in the petting zoo, and rode the antique carousel. It was a really lovely outing and also a reminder of how our kids are starting to get to an age where they are functional non-babies who can be taken out and about with fairly minimal fuss, and honestly, that is a delight (like I said last time, I swear I will write an actual post on this topic soon).

The rest of the visit was also just lovely. My parents are great with our kids (they have stayed with them a couple times while Torsten and I have traveled on our own, which has been delightful for all of us) and thanks to the magic of weekly FaceTime, they really KNOW my kids and my kids know them despite only seeing them once every few months. Both kids wanted to hang out with them all the time, and Annika actually wept for "Grandma Bapa" when I took her upstairs for naptime.

All in all, it was adorable, and too short. But they'll be back for Christmas, a fact which we will not forget, thanks to Callum reminding us at least twice every day.

Monday, September 14, 2015


I haven't read that KonMari book yet, though I did purchase it (on my Kindle! Because no clutter!) and started reading it, and actually was interested and meant to keep reading, but then switched to my book club book and forgot to go back. And our house still has a lot of clutter and spaces to organize. But! On my maternity leave with Annika, I had some sort of delayed nesting instinct kick in and did a LOT of organizing. I ended up with bags and bags of stuff to donate. Lots of too-small baby clothes (I counted OVER ONE HUNDRED pairs of baby girl pants, which is especially amazing since Annika never wore pants as a baby), lots of too-big women's clothing, lots of stuff in great condition that we just never use before. So I bagged it all up and... promptly stored it in a closet. Because, well, I didn't know what to do with it.

But, with Annika climbing out of her crib and us getting ready to move her into her big girl room, we ended up going through the last couple of spots in the house that I hadn't organized (namely, the closets in the nursery and in Torsten's office). Torsten's office was pretty much where all our crap went to die, and it was a LOT to go through. It took a few weeks of a bit at a time, but we did go through tons and tons of stuff and organize it and get rid of a lot of it. Then I dragged everything to donate down to the basement, where it sat in a HUGE pile, glaring at me while I worked every day.

But then! My parents came to visit, and they made a road trip out of it, which meant they showed up with their giant minivan, so I actually had an opportunity to get rid of a bunch of stuff. I itemized and photographed it all first for tax deduction purposes, which actually didn't take as long as I would expect, and I set aside a few big pieces of baby gear that we paid a lot of money for and that weren't worth all that much as a tax deduction to sell, and then my parents and I filled their minivan with all the bags and boxes of stuff and drove it off to Goodwill for someone else to enjoy and benefit from. And lo, it was a lot, and lo, my house is so much emptier, and lo, it is all delightful and I am happy.

I then photographed the baby gear and listed it all on Craigslist and the first thing to sell was the crib. It is now gone, out of our house. Annika is peacefully sleeping in her new room (which is not entirely set up yet--she is still on a floor bed until she learns to stop falling out, and there's a bookshelf we still need to assemble, and we haven't done the decor yet, but once all those things come together I will photograph it all to share), everyone is in a big-kid bed, and the era of cribs in our lives has ended. And I didn't even feel sad watching it go out of our house. I mostly felt good that the crib, which is still in great condition minus some teething marks from Callum (THANKS KID), is going to be used by another baby. And hopefully that baby will sleep as well in there as both of our kids did.

In the meantime, onwards and upwards! Our baby phase is over and we are both supremely content for that, as we are both bigger kid people naturally (more about this in a separate post eventually). Lots of crap is out of our house, and now it's time for me to get back to that book and then start getting rid of other stuff that takes up space but that hasn't actually been designated as crap to get rid of just yet. Because there is a lot more. And the relaxing feeling that comes from getting shit you don't need out of your house, and passing it on to someone who may actually benefit from it, is unmatchable.

It's interesting... I was naturally neat as a kid and then went majorly downhill in college (I blame my freshman roommate, who was an absolute delight and is still a friend but was a total slob and brought me down with her), and as an adult I kept slobby habits for a long time and over the last few years have been very slowly climbing my way out of that hole, one habit at a time. By now our house is actually generally neat most of the time. We keep on top of the dishwasher. We vacuum regularly. We put laundry away as soon as it comes out of the dryer. And our closets are not stuffed full of crap. The ticket to this has been to set up organizational systems and stick to them. But, there are still a lot of places where we don't have a good enough system in place, or have slipped out of the habit of using it. Our pantry was beautifully organized and is now starting to slip. Same with our toy shelf, Torsten's workbench, and our upstairs hall and linen closets. Those are where I want to start. But I also want to get rid of a lot of stuff that has a place, but is never used and doesn't actually need to be here. That's the next step. Because I've learned that my overall stress level is much lower when things are neat and not cluttered, and Torsten feels the same. And we are getting there, one step at a time.

In the meantime, bye-bye stuff:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Germany vs. the U.S.: A Scorecard

Torsten has lived in the U.S. for 10 years now, and while he continues to love it here and we plan to live here forever, it feels like the more distance he gets from his time in Germany, the more he appreciates some of the things Germany offers that the U.S. doesn't. On our most recent trip to Germany, it seemed like he was wistfully pointing out quite a few areas where the U.S. falls short. To be fair, he had a point on all of those topics. But, we also noticed a few things where the U.S. actually comes out ahead. To that point, some thoughts on the advantages of each (note that these are all small, practical things, not questions about, like, government and life philosophy or anything).

Until I met Torsten, I thought that the autobahn was the name of one particular special road in Germany that didn't have a speed limit. I have since been enlightened: autobahn basically means interstate, and it refers to the entire federal highway system in Germany, which crosses the entire country with a ton of different roads, and large sections of most of them don't have speed limits. There are limits when you go through more urban areas, more dangerous/difficult to navigate areas, construction zones, etc. But otherwise, no speed limits. People routinely drive well over 100 mph. As a result, the "slower drivers keep right" policy is strictly enforced, and you pretty much never see someone pass on the right. I would say that 100 MPH was my comfort zone on our road trip--any faster than that made me feel edgy, and Torsten agreed. Certainly it made the road trip go by faster--we covered 400 miles in under seven hours including multiple stops with two little kids. The traffic patterns were orderly, and the rest stops were multiple steps above what you can usually find in the U.S. 
Winner: Germany

Parking Garages
People in Europe generally drive small cars. The VW Golf is by far the most popular car in Germany. SUVs exist, but are rare, and even those that you see are generally smaller than their U.S. counterparts. This has some benefits (and is helpfully on narrow roads built hundreds of years ago), but also, the German obsession with small cars and efficient use of space has led to the construction of some of the most insane parking garages I've ever seen. Even in Torsten's dad's VW Golf, which is a tiny car, we had a lot of trouble squeezing into spots even though the lines were clear. Getting the kids out of the back seat (even though the Golf had four doors) in those parking garages was near impossible. The turns on the ramps to get from one level to the next were terrifyingly tight, and if a car was coming the other way, watch out. I don't know what anyone in a minivan would even DO. Coming back to U.S parking garages where cars fit in spaces and nobody's back breaks trying to maneuver a kid out of a car was like a huge sigh of relief. (And that's before you even think about the amazing parking garage I saw in Santa Fe where every parking space had a red or green light over it indicating availability and there was a counter telling you how many free spaces there were and in what direction when you got to each floor, because THAT was magical.)
Winner: U.S.

Grocery Stores
U.S. grocery stores aren't bad. And we have a lot of variety in type of grocery store (standard such as Kroger/King Soopers, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, etc.). But German grocery stores are something else. They have amazing bakeries in-house, with certified bakers who had to do extended apprenticeships to learn how to bake. They have full-on butchers. They have amazing fresh meat and dairy. And it's all significantly less expensive than a comparable quality of grocery in the U.S. would be. My in-laws went to the grocery store and bought many pounds of delicious, top-quality meat to grill for our six-person (four-adult) group and paid a total of... 12 Euros. Also, the butcher shop in Germany is still a major thing. I would loooove a local butcher around here, but sadly that's just a pipe dream.
Winner: Germany

King Beds
German king beds are actually two twin mattresses attached to one headboard, each with their own twin-sized blanket or duvet. I know that some people actually prefer that, but I don't know WHY they prefer that, because it is awful. I'm certain that I'm being completely objective here, but no no NOPE. First of all, a crack down the middle of the bed is just not pleasant or necessary. What does it ACHIEVE? Torsten and I are both kind of sprawly sleepers who drape on each other a bit, especially when we first go to bed and are in the process of falling asleep, and having a giant crack in the bed makes our usual falling-asleep positions completely impossible. Second, I know that neither of us is a small person, but the twin-sized duvet thing is seriously for the birds. I love one giant king size blanket for us because there's plenty of blanket to go around, nobody is hogging, and there's no cold air getting in the sides because it's so big and drapey. A twin-size duvet with no extra overhang does not cover me, especially if I'm lying on my side, and drape nicely down to the sides of the bed to prevent air from getting in. Do not like. 
Winner: U.S.

OK, even I can acknowledge that this one is purely subjective. And it's not even so much about Germany vs. the U.S. (though partly that) as it is about family traditions. My family typically makes a big deal out of Christmas--big Christmas morning, Santa and the stockings, a huge roast beef dinner, etc. Torsten's family is much lower-key. Also, in Germany Christmas is celebrated with the dinner and the gift exchange on December 24, and Santa comes on St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6. So it's all just more spread out and felt, at least to me, very muted. It was still lovely, and I have no complaints about having done it that way, and also, Germany has amazing Christmas markets, but as a general rule I personally prefer Christmas American-style. It was very weird not to have a real Christmas morning, especially. However, I recognize that this is a serious case of personal taste and that other people would prefer the German way, so I am not going to call this fight.
Winner: Tie

Friday, August 28, 2015

We live in such a cool place

OK, fine, this particular cool place is more like 1.5 hours away from where we live, but whatever. Isn't it cool that you can get in the car and before anyone even has time to fall asleep, you can be at THIS? "This" being Rocky Mountain National Park, where we've been before--and previous times we took our nice camera and got lots of amazing pictures--whereas this time we left the big camera at home because it's so bulky, so the photos below are from a whole bunch of different phones and more portable cameras.

My host family was blown away--they are total country/mountain people so all of Colorado was really their jam, unlike New York, where they spent a day at the end of their trip and were less than impressed. But RMNP pretty much impresses everyone... it's so beautiful and the altitude is high enough that you really feel it and it makes you feel pretty badass.

We got lucky with the animals, too--before we even got in the park we saw two moose, a mother and baby, which was super exciting for all of us because none of us had ever seen a moose before. Further in the park we also saw marmots, prairie dogs, elk, and a deer and fawn. My host family was also very impressed by the chipmunks--I guess it doesn't take much!

We happened to be there during the brief annual window when Old Fall River Road was open, so we drove that, which was fun and only slightly daunting (but totally safe at slow speeds) with the hairpin curves, narrow road, and lack of guardrails, but worth it for the lovely views. We also took a couple short walks, including one up to 12,000 feet for panoramic views (Annika climbed all the stairs--probably 200-300 steps--all by herself), but sadly we did not have time to do the hikes around a couple lakes that we had planned for the eastern side of the park. We spent a total of maybe six hours in the park, and it was not nearly enough. We'll go back soon.