Posted on Feb 7, 2014 Leave a Comment
With three trailers (Wägen) our daily life has changed again. It is always changing. The nature of life, the nature of parenting, the nature of the passing of seasons. It feels worth recording. It feels like the more of these posts that I remember to write, the more interesting it will one day be to look back at them, wondering at the people and places I have been.
With a cousin visiting the chores spread themselves out among three instead of two, and the difference is a noticable sigh of relief. He may sleep later than Pickles ever lets us, but he loves making kindling for the stove, washes dishes almost every day, cooks spicy Indian food that makes our noses run and our stomachs happy.
When does the day really start? The first time that Pickles wakes me up, asking for a drink, at 1 or 2 or 3 am? At 5 or 6 when she threatens to wake up for good, but usually falls back asleep for a few hours with milk? At the very latest it starts at 7 or 7:30, if we’re lucky 8, when she wakes up for good, usually in a bad mood. “Milk!” “Eat!” “Peepee!” I vaguely remember a time when she woke up happy, and we played games across the pillow from each other until I could bear the thought of getting out of bed. Now she wakes up cranky, demanding. I can’t say I blame her. I feel the same way.
Let’s just assume that this is a day when the Beard is at home.
He gets out of bed first, motivated, I can only assume, by the dream of coffee. Whoever makes the coffee lights the woodstove in the kitchen. Whoever doesn’t lights the woodstove in the sleeping trailer. Except when the Beard is faster, which he almost always is these last few weeks. Then he shoves paper and medium-sized logs into the woodstove and leaves it to relight itself on last night’s embers before heading to the kitchen to do the honors there. It takes somewhere between 10 minutes and 45 for the stove to relight. The pressed mulch briquettes we use to heat at night keep the trailer at a comfortable tempurature until we wake up, and leave enough embers to make relighting a hands-free process. Long live pressed mulch briquettes.
Coffee is ground by hand, water boils on the stove, kindling crackles in two wood stoves, the Chemex is prepared, and it all results in a cup of coffee delivered to my hands. While the Beard heads off to wash dishes or smoke or where ever, I get Pickles dressed, brush her hair (screaming), brush her teeth (more screaming; it is a nightmarish process that you have to hold her down for). I attempt to sneak in a few minutes on the internet, alternatively, while she either plays happily or begins to scream “outside outside” over and over. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like. That kid loves the outdoors, the trampoline, and walking around the property anywhere that isn’t our direct yard. Sometimes I actually wish that she liked tv more. HA.
The Beard and I trade off Pickles in shifts. One goes to the park so the other can write a few emails. I take her to play groups and dates (and on Thursdays, child care at the gym) so the Beard can fiddle. The Beard cooks lunch, and we all eat together around the new kitchen table that I am already starting to take for granted. Shifts are traded. We bike to the grocery store. We bike to the playground. We bike into town. We bike to a friends’. Sometimes we are lucky enough to get a nap. At home diapers have been replaced by a potty, like magic (the kid potty trained herself).
The Beard, or maybe my cousin, or maybe even I cook dinner. We eat around the table again, reveling in the luxury of delicious food at every meal. Talking about music. Playing music. Pickles refuses to stay in her seat and insists on sitting in my lap. I refuse; eating is holy and I want my space. She clings to my leg, whines, starts yelling and signing “sleep” over and over to signify that she’d like to go back to the sleeping trailer, and she’s not going to leave me alone until we do. Sometimes the Beard takes her over, and she screams until I follow. Sometimes I take her over, leaving my meal half finished, disgruntled. Yesterday we brought her high chair back in from the shed and strapped her in, and she finally had no choice but to sit there until we were all finished. It wasn’t even that dramatic. What a relief.
After dinner she plays in the sleeping trailer for an hour or three. We’re trying to cut back on what sick time has made a rather extreme television habit to a night time wind-down habit, so maybe she watches an episode of Baby Einstein on my computer. It is a quiet, relaxed time most days, and I can read a page or two of a book between interuptions to look at cars or set up train tracks or kiss hurts. Sometime between 8 and 11 she’ll show signs of tiredness, and I’ll whisk her into bed. She usually doesn’t need more than 20 minutes to fall asleep, but they are the longest 20 minutes of my day, spent waiting in the dark. Being kicked. Feeling impatient. Ready for a break.
Now that our kitchen is finished we sometimes hang out there post-bedtime, not worrying about how loud we’re talking or playing music or drinking beer. What luxury! But more often than not I am too exhausted and want nothing more than to lay in bed, reading by the light of my solar lamp, visiting fictional worlds, and finally winding down myself.
Posted on Jan 16, 2014 15 Comments
Imagine you live in a very small space. Let’s say seven by two meters, to take my own example. Your kitchen and bathroom are in another building, and you even have some space in another trailer for books and guests and piles of things, but those fourteen square meters are where you and the two other members of your family are going to spend the majority of their time. How do you divide it up? How do you make the most of the space? Where do you store shit? Fuck! How is that even possible?
When Pickles was born, she didn’t have her own room. She didn’t even have her own bed. She slept in our bed, and we built shelves with a fold-out changing table and quickly settled into the space as a family of three. You would think you would feel cramped, living in such a small space with so many people, but you would be wrong. It does help if you really like each other though. And did I mention how much money you save when you don’t have to buy any extra furniture? Seems to me that babies don’t need much besides their parents at the beginning. Very young children are generally only expensive if you want them to be.
Now Pickles is almost two, getting bigger and bigger, collecting more and more toys, and kicking us all over our bed. She’s not ready for her own trailer just yet (some kids could deal right away, I am talking her specifically right now), as she still doesn’t like to be far from the parentals, and I would be very very unhappy if I had to get up and go outside every time she woke up during the night, something that still happens at least twice every sleep cycle. But we are ready to start transitioning her into her own bed, and we needed a better system for storing her clothes and toys.
So I got obsessed and started planning a little room for her on the far side of our trailer. One side for her room, one side for the Beard and I’s room. I call them rooms, but there aren’t any dividing walls. Everyone has their own special little space, and when it is time to sleep, we still only have one wood stove to light and tend. (That’s a factor that I see keeping our sleeping room in one trailer for a long time to come.) She’s not spending the night in her own bed yet, but she has started napping or starting the night there.
The last little bobble I needed took forever to arrive (something to keep her from falling out of the lofted bed I built for her). But when we returned from America it was sitting here waiting. I got out the screwdriver and put on the last touches in a few minutes. I remember to take pictures when things were clean-ish. And I am very proud to present to you: Pickles room. In all its four squared metered glory. Turns out four square meter is huge for a two-year old.
And I am going to tell you all about it. But first, behold!
Hanging storage, shelves on both walls, baskets to keep the toys organized. And the bed! I was inspired by images like this one, and lofting the bed helped us keep all the floor space free for toys and playing. Who wouldn’t want a bed that looked and felt like a treehouse? Like a little secret hide out? Like a blanket fort? Every time I put Pickles into her new bed I get a little jealous. The pictures really don’t do its cuteness justice.
The building process. A neighbor had given me his son’s old mattress and part of the bed frame, which I put up on two long legs, attaching the wall-side right to the wall with a few metal “L” bits. The walls are tongue-and-groove boards. Then I painted. The entire room took me one long weekend to set up.
The little window makes me really happy, and Pickles likes to play peek-a-boo through it. She sits up there and reads (it was too dark inside to get a good shot, but there is a small, narrow shelf in there with books) or relaxes with a drink. She’s not a kamikaze baby, so I’m not too worried about her just jumping out, but there is an accordion-like wood thing that I can pull out and secure the “door” with so she can’t fall out by accident. It’s actually meant to keep dogs from leaving whatever room you want to trap them in, and it wouldn’t hold her weight if she decided to throw herself against it, but the point is not that she can’t get out, but that she can’t fall out by accident while sleeping.
I took down the shelves that had been a part of the fold-out changing table, painted them, and put them up across from the new bed. We keep a lot of the small bits—socks, underpants (dude, she suddenly just started potty training herself, a story for another day), and the like—in baskets, and even more of the small bits—cloth handkerchiefs, burp cloths (which are useful for pretty much everything you can think of), small toys—in the hanging net tube pictured below. Everything we have fits perfectly, in part because I make sure I don’t buy more than we can fit on her shelves. Whoever said our stuff grows to fill whatever space we live in was right. And it also shrinks. (Or should, lest madness ensue.)
Beneath the lofted bed are more shelves, both filled with toys and books. Below it I strung two pieces of cord. I laminated a handful of pictures I had printed out at a nearby drugstore, and hung them up with safety pins. Pickles likes to take them down and look at them or play with them. It was cheap (20 cents a print, 7 euros for the laminator at the flea market—though I think you can get this done somewhere for pretty cheap as well), and the string and clothespins were just laying around the house collecting dust. And how fucking cute right? Best part is, we can change the pictures easily and often. And, yeah, more baskets for organizing and because apparently I’m obsessed. (All of which came from the flea market, by the way.)
The space is small, but it is Pickles’ own, and she loves playing in her bed and spreading her toys across every surface in the trailer. But because we finally have a great system, it is easy to stay organized and keep the madness at bay another day. I don’t know what we will do when she outgrows her treehouse bed, but it is going to be a sad day for me. For now, though, we’ll enjoy every second and every square centimeter. Here here!
Questions? To the comments with you!
Posted on Jan 10, 2014 9 Comments
We left over a foot of snow and arrived in a false Spring. The air has a warm touch, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think tulips were going to be sprouting any day now. They might be already. And soon February through April will kill them. The fucking birds are even tweeting like green leaves and blue skies are just around the corner. I think we are all going to be disappointed on that front for another four months. At least.
The calendar page has turned, and here we are back in Germany and in 2014. I like the sound of that number. It has a pleasant evenness about it. Rag on 2013 as you will, but it was a good year too. I published two articles in the ever-charming magazine New Escapologist and wrote a mini-guidebook of Frankfurt for The Hunt guides. (If you’d like to hear about some of my favorite places in the city, you can read an e-version here for free. Just click on “buy guide.” You won’t actually have to buy it.) I started my first fiction story in almost a hundred years, something I hope to have wrapped up and sent away in the next couple of weeks. I wrote and edited a shit-ton of stuff for Young Germany too, though the world still seems to be infinitely less impressed by writing that is published digitally. Joke’s on you digital skeptics! Web writing is where most of the regular pay checks are at.
as I was saying
We went to the States. Things happened. We paced up and down the east coast. We introduced Pickles to her American family, stuffed ourselves at Thanksgiving and at Christmas and at pretty much every opportunity in between and slept in a lot of beds that were a little bit too small for three people. There was singing and snow and a trip to the aquarium. There was bad-to-non-existent public transportation, there were peaceful car rides, there were glorious thrift stores, and there were cold playgrounds and books. It was fun and stressful, as traveling with a kid just under two can be. We saw a lot of people, and missed a lot more.
A few visuals of our travels (there wasn’t a lot to choose from, what with not wanting to post photos of any people, but still):
Posted on Nov 27, 2013 Leave a Comment
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Here, here J.R.R. Tolkien, here, here. The Hobbit is just full of tasty lines that apply seamlessly to our own travels. Luckily we are not likely to encounter any trolls. But I suppose that really depends on who you ask.
There have been witches. And possibly ghosts.
Though a comfortable stay in a cozy house with ample food and drink may not make for much of a story, I can tell you this about our first two weeks in the U.S.:
Pickles can now pedal a tricycle and say a lot of new English words. English is winning the language race now that we’re surrounded by people speaking it.
I can now say, tried and tested!, that this recipe for Pumpkin Pull-Apart Bread is the best cooking decision you will ever make. (Oh. My. Cod.)
Sculpture parks can be creepy and fun. (See photos.)
Jet lag with babies sucks more than you ever could have possibly imagined.
There are air mattresses in this world that are actually comfortable.
Tonight will find us on the highway heading south. Who knows when we will make it back to New Jersey. Next year? In three? In five? But it has been fun. And off they drove, tra la la!
Posted on Nov 22, 2013 Leave a Comment
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.
–The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Show of hands: who’s read The Hobbit? And who’s going to see the second Hobbit movie come December?
Posted on Nov 21, 2013 Leave a Comment
He knew that newspapers and television announcers reported on a certain level of reality. What was happening to him was on another level, like a parallel universe. All around him, different societies were growing larger or being destroyed, forming new traditions or breaking the rules while citizens pretended that the faces shown on television were the only important stories.
–The Traveler, John Twelve Hawks
The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks was the only non-digital book I brought to America; I assumed I would enjoy it without feeling the need to read it again—my requirement for releasing a book back into the wild. I was right.
This is a fun book that keeps you turning pages, a thriller, and I enjoyed the ride. But the dystopian elements didn’t do much for me. The ultimate message—that surveillance culture and panopticon-ical control are a bad idea—is an important one, but the capitalized terms for things (like the Vast Machine aka the government/culture of computerized control) didn’t ring out like a note of genius among the muck, the way a well-invented Sf/F term can and should. The story itself is based around a fierce female body guard (a Harlequin) who is (reluctantly!) sworn to protect a man whose spirit can leave his body (a Traveler) and was a bit too alienating-yet-cookie-cutter for me. But this is the new Big Brother! But everything happening in the society of this book is happening right now! Yes. Yet it still didn’t stimulate many brain cells. It still was a bit too lollipop-ish. And I fucking hate hearing story after story about the godsdamned Templar mythology, which Twelve Hawks weaves, albeit sparsely, into the book’s secret-society back-story without blinking.
But I did like it; let’s be clear about that. However, I doubt I will feel the need to read it again in my lifetime, and I’m releasing its pages back into the wild. Before I do, I thought I’d preserve one more handful of its words in blog formaldehyde.
On an intentional community the book’s characters encounter:
“We didn’t want to run away from the world and pretend to be medieval farmers,” Martin said. “Our objective was to gain control of our lives and prove that this Third Way of ours can work. There are other groups like New Harmony—the same mix of high tech and low tech—and we’re all connected by the Internet.”
The Third Way. Not going backwards, like so many off-grid intentional groups are accused of doing, but moving forwards by picking and choosing from all of the tools available to them. I like the ring of that.
Posted on Nov 18, 2013 1 Comment
I am writing this to you from the shores of America.
It is a fact that I still find hard to believe.
The jet lag was horrible; I don’t recommend traveling across time zones with babies to anyone, ever, period, exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point.
I spent 23 years of my life in America, and now it strikes me as a country of people running in circles, frantically waving their hands above their heads.
Not everybody, not individuals, and probably not you: It is a feeling, an image that comes to mind when people start telling me stories about the health care system and gun violence and the economy and abandoned houses and minimum wage and the way people drive. America doesn’t make any sense to me, and I’m not sure that it has anything to do with the fact that I have lived elsewhere for the past eight years.
But we are having a lovely time, eating decadently and enjoying watching Pickles get to know a new set of grandparents. We’ve been to the beach (it was foggy; we built castles) and a thrift store (I miss the warehouse-sized American thrift stores, though it turns out I can get much better deals at the flea markets in Germany) and on walks beneath the brightly colored stragglers still hanging onto their trees.
Posted on Nov 15, 2013 Leave a Comment
The internet is full of Bauwagen toys. (And by full I mean “contains about five different kinds upon being googled.”) I found this one here. Steep price for a play house that you could easily, and perhaps more charmingly, build yourself for under 100 euro. Still, I like the idea. Peter Lustig is probably to blame.
Posted on Nov 13, 2013 Leave a Comment
China Mieville. His name on the program was the reason I had initially decided to attend World Fantasy. Then his name disappeared from the program. Had it all been a cruelly realistic dream? A dream that had resulted in tickets purchased and charges to my credit card? At the airport at 5 am I scrolled through the convention website and found the communique explaining his sudden absence (which actually explained nothing at all, where were you China?!?). Which was also when I found out that Neil Gaiman would be replacing him as Master of Ceremonies. Huh. Now there is a substitution I can live with.
Every morning I walked past the ruin pictured above on the walk betwenn my sleeping hotel and the con hotel. It made me think of China—it would fit right in on Armada, give or take 500 other skeletal vessels lashed to its sides. If you haven’t read it yet, I really can’t recommend Perdido Street Station enough (or The Scar, which is what this ruin made me think of). Neil Gaiman was probably the only author that could have softened the blow of his absence.
I fell in love with Gaiman’s work when I fell in love with Neverwhere, a book about an alternative world in underground London, given to me just after my first trip to the city in 2005. I read Sandman as part of a class on Literature of the Fantastic during college. And I’ve read everything else he’s written (excluding the comics and his first book, which was a biography of Duran Duran that apparently sells for 10,000 pounds these days). American Gods and The Graveyard Book eventually vied with Neverwhere as my favorite. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the scariest book I read this year. His worlds and his words are dark and magical and enthralling. Not to mention that he is a charming, well-spoken human who is married to the force that is Amanda Palmer. He’s become a cult-figure in his own right, and now I was—surprise! wohoo!—going to get to see him speak, was going to run straight into him coming out of the door of the hotel one evening, was going to get used to just seeing around. And the people rejoiced.
I arrived at the convention hotel early on Friday morning, prodded out of bed by my own excitment, jittery with coffee from the all-you-can-eat English breakfast that would become my daily morning routine. I hadn’t planned on attending the Joanne Harris interview, but I was glad I did. She’s written a lot more than Chocolat, you know (don’t worry, I didn’t). She was a joy to listen to, and attending her panel meant that I had secured a front-row seat for the conversation between Neil Gaiman and Jo Fletcher which would follow. Not that I needed to fight the crowds; apparently the changes to the program had gone unnoticed or (and!) the hour was still too early—the room was barely a quarter full.
I didn’t take many notes during their talk—it was more fun to sit back and absorb every word—except for one quote. “You can just do so much if you don’t know the rules.” (Amen.) They chatted—old friends—about the start of Gaiman’s career, about the last time they had attended a World Con in this very same hotel, about making sure you at least make your hotel bed look sleeped in so that the management don’t sell your room to someone else. I’m hard pressed to imagine what could make a day better than seeing Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris speak (Jo Fletcher is a publisher and is quite interesting as well, though I hadn’t known anything about her at the time), and yet that was only the beginning.