Repetition becomes habit becomes tapestry. I remember a life without Pickles in the vague sort of way that one remembers a dream. It is vivid at first, weird, meaningful, maybe even interesting, but slowly fades into obscurity. Must not have been that interesting after all.
Definition Morgenmuffel: Not a morning person. Definition Morgenmuffel: Baby Pickles. Her roving hand keeps me half awake for the hour she she spends after 6 am, eyes closed, nursing and rolling and feeling around, nursing and rolling and feeling around. When she does wake up, sun shines from her face. One of the sweetest parts of co-sleeping with kids is waking up next to that sort of smile. (Also: The part where you never have to get up and move from the bed in order to get a woken baby back to sleep. That part may or may not be even better. The jury is still out on my priorities there.)
I stay horizontal for as long as I can while she toddles around the bed. She nurses. If the Beard is home she would throw herself onto his chest and he would pull her beneath the blanket to spoon for the moment’s patience she still has for laying down. He was not home this morning, so after 20 minutes I rolled myself out of bed to get Pickles some milk and me some coffee. Mmm coffee. She hops around on the bed and floor while I click around the internet for a few minutes. Then we both slip into rubber boots for the walk to the bathroom where I have to hide all the toilet brushes before setting her down to play semi-attended for the few minutes we’ll spend there. I always forget to bring along the laundry that I should be shoving into the washer.
After the usual morning dance (getting dressed, new diaper, teeth, hair, face), I load up the bike trailer (snacks, water, rain coats, tools for fixing flats, baby, toys) and pedaled north. I want to go for a ride—with the Beard at work staying home alone with Pickles can get a bit dull—and so pick a friend’s house as a destination. Wandering no longer suits me. Time has become too precious. A bike ride always means time just for me, with Pickles in the back playing notes on a tiny plastic keyboard, time for long naps (hers), and it makes up for the time I might have spent at the gym had the Beard been home to watch her himself. But a destination is necessary to get me out the door.
We arrive after almost two hours on the road, and my friend’s dog is barking, her son in tears. One of those mornings. But eventually our kids settle into entertaining each other, running back and forth across the apartment, passing toy cars back and forth, and we can sit and chat, almost uninterrupted. Add a social element to child care, and it is immediately, infinitely easier. This is where the village comes in. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to keep a parent. I will never understand why our culture promotes the isolation of the nuclear family. It’s not making anything easier on anybody.
After lunch I rush back to my bike, hoping to make it home in time for a neighbor to take Pickles for a walk. But it is only my second time riding this route (the first being that very morning), and I still have to stop and look at the map, still make a few wrong turns. I miss my neighbor, and we get home in an hour, too late. Pickles opens her eyes just as we are rounding the path before our Wagen. It is almost 3 pm.
It rains, and I am relieved to have a reason to stay inside. We sing songs (me: singing, Pickles: starting to muddily mimic the movements that go with the words of Twinkle Twinkle and Wind the Bobbin Up), and when Pickles becomes absorbed in removing and inserting a handful of objects into a cup, I read (Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman). When she needs my full attention, I put on an audio book (Sabriel by Garth Nix). If I don’t keep something playing, keep my brain somehow stimulated, I get bored of play time faster than you can say Abhorsen. I occasionally flit back to my computer, set up on the dresser, for a quick click around the internet.
Hunger follows, and dinner, which I cook in the kitchen Wagen with Pickles doing laps up and down the room. We eat in the red Wagen after I mop down the rain-wet high chair. We usually eat outside. Pickles eats attentively, her breath even and audible as it always is when she is concentrating. Bratwurst and mashed sweet potatoes (you know you live in Germany when…) disappear into her mouth, and I think of my parents asking me if I had a hollow leg the way I used to put away food as a kid.
Back into rubber boots we walk in circles around the property, following cats, stomping in puddles, going up and down a ramp, until suddenly Pickles is whiny and surly. I sweep her off to home, slip her into a thick diaper and pajamas, and within four minutes of laying down to nurse, she is asleep. I read until I can hold my eyes open no longer, and then I join her, her arm draped across my ribs, pressed together beneath two blankets.
Sometimes I forget how great being on a bike can make you feel. How exhilarating it can be. Like, for example, when you don’t ride a bike for two years because you’re pregnant (and then too nauseous and then too spacey and then too enormous and keep kneeing yourself in the belly when you try to peddle) and then because your freshly squeezed newborn doesn’t do anything but scream when you try to use the bike trailer. I forgot then.
But Pickles doesn’t hate the bike trailer anymore. Now she tolerates it for up to two hours at a time. Now it almost always puts her to sleep for a 40 minute nap that she wouldn’t have taken at home (which, much to my surprise, seems to be resulting in better and more sleep nights, weird). Glory glory hallelujah, I am no longer a slave to the Deutsche Bahn.
Not that I don’t like the Deutsche Bahn. I love the Deutsche Bahn. Public transportation in Germany wins all the awards from me. But it can still be a hassle. And it still costs more money than I’d like to be spending on something I could be doing for free (2.60 a pop, 6.somethingorother for a day pass, 9.80 for a group day pass). Because of the lay of the tracks and the waiting and the walking time, I am actually faster than the train when it comes to going into the city. (A sentence that makes me feel like the bike hulk. Heh.)
Now I go out of my way to find reasons to go for a ride, places to journey out to. Like today, when I was here:
The ride took me to a village to the north of Frankfurt, and the way was almost entirely through fields that looked like this, on paved bike paths where I met the occasional walker, dog, or fellow cyclist. The weather looked mean (it was faking), so only a handful of people had braved the backsides of their doors. And the city lurked off in the background, far away from us.
Judging from the kilometer count, it should have taken me 30-40 minutes to find my way to my friend’s apartment this morning. But it turned out that Google maps had invented a path, and I did a lot of backtracking and stopping to check the map. In the end I was almost 2 hours in getting there. But it was a lovely ride.
Oo la la! A video that we filmed almost three years ago about my Wagen and renovating it and how I dumpster dived the hell out of the building supply store. Deek of the blog relaxshacks and the book Humble Homes, Simple Shacks turned that footage (with help from some other excellent folks whose names you will find in the credits) into another lovely segment of Tiny Yellow House TV. Ever wondered what my voice sounds like after reading so many silent words on a screen? Well, now you know. Enjoy…
The very first tiny house I ever inhabited. All thanks to encouragement from a friend at just the right moment. Here you can read about how I decided to move into this adorable blue shoe. Oh, and if you’re wondering what the hell a Wagenplatz is, I explain it in detail here and here. (Hint: It is an autonomous community of people living in various small houses, “common” to Germany.)
My second tiny Wagen was in a different community in a different city. I shared it with my partner. (Still do, as a matter of fact, though now there are three of us living between these red walls):
Some black cats are good luck. Though be wary if you catch them drinking vodka.
After a while, I was offered this Wagen for free (the one with the black door in the picture below). I took it and spent about a year renovating it (and learning everything about building from scratch while doing it).
It looked quite different when I started. For one it was green. But you can read about the entire refab process here. (Pictures too.)
Then we moved to another city, they very same where my tiny house adventures had begun, but to a different community. And we bought a third Wagen that I am planning on Frankensteining onto the red Wagen, our main living Wagen, this summer.
And now, I can barely even fathom even living in a house again. Although I sometimes do dream about little cabins in the woods. Sweet, sweet, summer tiny house life.
Oh, and if you’re coming over after having watched Deek’s Tiny Yellow House feature on my little house, then by all means, subscribe to the rss feed. Come back soon now.
You can’t get anything done by doing nothing. It’s our country. They’ve taken it from us. The terrorists who attack us are still free—but we’re not. I can’t go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.
-Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow, where have you been all of my life? I know, I know. You’ve been publishing the shit out of a bunch of books, doing tech activism, loving on creative commons, giving away ebooks, running Boing Boing, and saying important things about technology, copyright, privacy, security, and surveillance. Tor published Little Brother in 2008, which means I have spent at least five years of my life with no idea that an author with potential to become a favorite was waiting just off my radar. It took an interview on the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast (best sci fi podcast ever, fyi) to get me to sit up and download some of his books already.
As far as I can tell, Doctorow is a kind of superhero in the tech activism world, and his school of thought is a really good reminder about the positive side of technology. Technology can be awesome. Yup. Nikki-who-dabbles-in-Ludditery just said that. The narrator in Little Brotherputs it like this after pulling another badass move using modern tech: “The best part of all this is how it made me feel: in control. My technology was working for me, serving me, protecting me. It wasn’t spying on me. This is why I loved technology: if you used it right, it could give you power and privacy.”
Oh yeah, technology is only fucked when, for example, the government insists on using it to monitor people, when it becomes a tool of surveillance and control. It is a reminder I need to hear, often. I mean, I actually reallylike a lot of technology, and I have a hard time reconciling those feelings with the worry that the stuff simultaneously plants in the pit of my stomach. It is the “dystopian” (haha, I mean real life) shit that governments do with it that scares me. (As well as the dependence it creates on finite resources, but that is another issue. We don’t need to have that conversation every single paragraph.)
But back to Little Brother. The premise is this: a high school kid who is really good with technology is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and gets taken in by a fictional version of Homeland Security for a bombing in San Francisco. Bad things happen. He is released. He fights back against what is becoming a very totalitarian state of affairs. Besides being an engaging, page-turning story, Doctorow peppers the plot with information about how you can make technology work for you, how you can hide what you’re doing on the internet, how to do a number of small but neat hacks, where you can learn more, and why a deep understanding of the tech you use can work for you and help keep tech positive rather than scary. I immediately added it to my mental list of “books to get for every young adult I ever need to buy a birthday present for” list (see also, Earthsea). This is the kind of stuff that makes me wish I had a parallel life in which I could have become a programmer. It is that engaging.
Doctorow’s perspective on copyright is intriguing as well. And I quote (from my totally free, totally legally downloaded e-book file introduction):
The Creative Commons license at the top of this file probably tipped you off to the fact that I’ve got some pretty unorthodox ideas about copyright. Here’s what I think of it, in a nutshell: A little goes a long way, and more than that is too much.
I like the fact that copyright lets me sell rights to my publishers and film studios and so on. It’s nice that they can’t just take my stuff without permission and get rich on it without cutting me in for a piece of the action. I’m in a pretty good position when it comes to negotiating with these companies: I’ve got a great agent and a decade’s experience with copyright law and licensing…
I hate the fact that fans who want to do what readers have always done are expected to play in the same system as all these hotshot agents and lawyers. It’s just stupid to say that an elementary school classroom should have to talk to a lawyer at a giant global publisher before they put on a play based on one of my books. It is ridiculous to say that people who want to “loan” their electronic copy of my book to a friend need to get a license to do so. Loaning books has been around longer than any publisher on Earth, and it’s a fine thing.
His argument goes on for pages and pages, and it compelling, but I won’t quote any more of it at you here. (Like I said, you can just download the book with the intro here for free, and read it yourself. Even if you don’t have an ereader you can download a program like Calibre for free and read it on the computer that you must be reading this on right now. And even if you don’t want to read the book, download it for the introduction, and the copyright argument.) Doctorow’s views on copyright just make me want to go out and spend money on all his books. I mean, this guy deserves to have my money. I want him to have it. I want to financially support the man who is going out there and writing this kind of book and promoting this kind of thinking. And that is exactly his point, when it comes to copyright and using Creative Commons, and giving your fans a little credit. I can’t wait to read more of his work.
Have you read any Doctorow? What do you think about his views on copyright?
Why is self sufficiency so attractive? Why do kids love books about survival? Hell, why do adults love books about survival? My theory is this: power. It is incredibly empowering to know that you can provide for yourself, that, left to your own devices, you will overcome, nary a supermarket or paycheck in sight. Our culture has become one of extreme dependence—dependence on strangers and resources completely out of our control, our concern, our sight. Not to say that dependence in general is bad, but dependence on finite resources, on processes we have no connection with or clue about, that is an uncomfortable kind of dependence. Day to day it is convenient, but if anything disrupts the system, well then, fuck. It is the premise of pretty much ever post-apocalyptic book ever written.
Which brings me to solar power. I would love to be completely solar powered. But having always lived on Wagenplätze where electricity was just an extension cord away, I have been lazy about it. Solar panels are expensive. Rewiring your plugs is annoying. Buying a computer capable of running on 12-volt juice is not something I am in the mood to do. (After Mac Air, Mac Sun?) For now, it remains a dream. But if we could power our fridge in the summer (we don’t really need it in the winter) with solar power, imagine how much we would save! Someday.
The first of what I assume will be many small steps toward solar power in our lives were two solar lamps. (You can see a picture if you click the link. Pickles wouldn’t let me get a good shot on my way out the door this morning.) I’d been eyeing them for a long time, ever since reading Deek’s review of them over on the Tiny House Blog. And shit, they only cost 15 euros (a bit more expensive over in America). Another friend bought one when he started a new Wagenplatz sans grid electricity (this is actually the standard for most Wagenplätze, fyi), and it looked pretty sweet.
What you get is a lamp, a bit futuristic looking in that Ikea modernity sort of way. A long bendable giraffe neck holds the bulbs, while a round base holds a small solar panel. You pop out the panel, lay it outside in the sun, and wa-la! Electricity. I love that they are cable-less, I love that they come in black, and I love that my reading lamp is now solar-powered. Win-win-win. Win!
I will admit it: I am wasteful with electricity. My main sin being that I sometimes leave lights on when it isn’t strictly necessary. Though it isn’t much (particularly considering that we have light bulbs that use very minimal power), it is something, and that is always too much. Shit, this electricity is coming from nuclear plants. From coal plants. Fuck! I hate that shit!
We’ve had the solar lamps for about a week now, and already they have completely changed the way I relate to electricity. Where before I might have turned on a lamp while it was still light outside because it was getting dim in the Wagen, now I think, well, if I turn it on now, and then want to read for hours and hours later, will the juice run out and leave me in the dark? (The instructions say the lamp can do three hours, though my friend said he’s gotten four.) Electricity and its consumption has instantly become more concrete. If I remember to set the solar panels out in the sun, I will have light (nine to 12 hours charge time needed). If I do not, I will have no light. It is a simple equation, but one we are rarely forced to consider. I can’t wait for the next solar step.
Pickles has an official first word. Papa. Oh, she’s been making word-like noises for ages, and she obviously understands most of what we say, but “papa” is the first word we’ve really been able to hear her using in context. Of course she also sometimes calls me papa, but, hey, why not?
Thing is, she could be communicating with us already. She could be telling us all sorts of things. That she’s hungry or wants water or more or is tired or that her teeth hurt. Not because we expect her to be some kind of genius who speaks before her first birthday, but because we’ve been teaching her sign language since she was three months old.
The nice thing about teaching your baby sign language is that babies are capable of communicating with signs long before they are capable, developmentally speaking, of using spoken language. Fascinating, huh? Babies are mentally ready for communication much earlier than their bodies. Which of course leads to a lot of frustration. There’s nothing worse than not being able to communicate something important to the people around you. I was intrigued by sign on its own merit, but I also fell in love with the idea of it as a tool for avoiding parental frustration.
Around eight months Pickles used her first sign, “milk,” and she still uses it every day. Oddly, she uses it to mean thirst of all kinds (she has seen “water” and “drink” and “juice” over and over, but has never used them) and sometimes, food. Besides “dog,” which I have just gotten her using in the last month, she uses none of the other signs that we’ve both learned watching Baby Signing Time, a set of videos that are wonderful for teaching babies and which have horrible, horrible songs that remain stuck in my head for days and make me want to tear out my hair. Ah well, it is a price I have been willing to pay. (At least, as far as my recommendation of these videos goes, Pickles appears to be an anomaly on that front.) Particuarly because it buys me a half hour behind a book.
I have theories. The most plausible is that Pickles has enough on her plate, language-wise. I speak English. The Beard and everyone else speak German. And then we both sometimes use hand signals. It might be too much at once. Then again, maybe she’s just lazy. Then again, maybe there is just nothing besides dog and milk/thirst that she feels pressed to tell us. I guess we’ll never know for sure.
Despite the fact that the Baby Signing Time videos make me a little crazy, they seem to be effective learning tools. A woman explains and sings and signs and two cartoon babies and a frog accompany her, as well as myriad real live signing babies. The songs are incredibly cheesy, but they are catchy, and Pickles lights up as soon as I take out the dvd. If you want to give signing a try, but don’t want to buy anything, there are a number of clips available on youtube, and before my mom gifted us several of the official dvds, Pickles and I would just watch this clip over and over again. She loved it. She still loves it.
The walk to the train station is short, all the shorter when a bus happens along just as I turn the corner by the supermarket. I am already tired of the walk—there is nothing beautiful along the path and yet the dilapidation has yet to reach the point of romantic fantasy.
But within the corner of town where we live, there is beauty. If I am picky about where I point the camera, it would be easy to pretend that there are no blocky post-war housing blocks. This morning I set off under blue sky with my laptop on my back to spend a few hours at my favorite cafe (free wifi, vegan food with no soy, yummy local iced tea, fresh pressed orange juice…), only to find that the cafe wasn’t open for another half hour. So instead, this:
(Above: These little plaques have the names of Jewish folks who were taken off and killed during Hitler’s jerk-regime. You see them everywhere, and it is a really effective memorial. Maybe America should do this for the native Americans…)
And with a huge sigh of relief I can finally say it: spring! Spring spring spring!!!!!!
From now on we will be spending all day everyday outside.
From now on we won’t have to make kindling because we won’t have to light the wood stove.
From now on we will cook in the purple Wagen.
From now on we will eat outside.
All dresses all the time! Vitamin D! Sunglasses! In the moment of spring, our living space increases twenty fold. Welcome to mansion season.
But spring has snubbed me once already. On March 8th I said its name out loud, and after one glorious t-shirted afternoon of sunshine, it slipped back into the shadows without a trace. Does spring really mean it this time? Will it abandon me once more?