Friday, February 26, 2016

Nuts about laundry

For Christmas, we received a box of Eco Nuts, which are dried soap berries for washing clothes. They are fantastic. I cannot recommend them enough. They work really well without leaving any powdery reside, and they are refreshingly unscented. I feel like they also last a long time, 3-4 berries for 10 loads, with 100 nuts in a box means at least 250 loads.

Full disclosure, nobody is paying me anything to write this, I just really like the product!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Brain Guy, Idnow, and Thinks

When we were in Cusco in January, Gabe and I were in the playground and he said something like, "Mom, there's a voice in my head that only I can hear, you can't hear it, but I can hear it. I can talk to it and you can hear me talking but you can't hear the guy in my brain. It's Brain Guy!"

That started a long conversation with Brain Guy, and he'd tell me what Brain Guy was saying. He told me that I had a Brain Mom to listen to and talk with.

Then he leaned close and whispered, "Brain Guy is really me."


Several months ago I remembered a Family Circus cartoon where there's an invisible child in the family that does all kinds of mischief, named Ida Know. I made the perhaps-mistake of telling the kids about Ida Know, and now they each have an invisible evil twin - Idnow is a boy Gabe's age, and Not Me is a girl Val's age. They sometimes have long conversations with their evil twins, who are also responsible for mild mischief like tickling me from behind.

One day last year when we were either just waking up or just going to bed, I forget, but in one of those contemplative moments near sleep Gabe looked at me and help up a finger, saying "I have a think. This is my think about God." He held up another finger: "This is my other think." He held up his fingers in a V, "sometimes my thinks are like this," then held them close together: "and sometimes my thinks are like this. But I'm always thinking about God." 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lego Love (now with more pictures...)

I love Legos, irrationally and completely.

When Gabriel wants my attention he knows that saying "Let's play with Legos!" is pretty much a guaranteed tactic for success.

Right now there is a Lego Fun Fest happening at the expo center next to our apartment complex... you can bet we'll be there Saturday!

At the same time, being a guilt-ridden person by default, I think of the plastic that is going to end up at the bottom of the ocean or in the gut of a fish or seabird. I realize that disposable plastic packaging and containers are a bigger issue than Legos... but I still think about this every time we chuck a broken plastic toy in the trash, too.

This was my mother's day gift last year. The kids do not get to touch it.
 I love the total creativity that goes into playing with Legos. We have so many sets mixed together, sometimes I think how nice it would be to restore them all to their original sets - but I also think that mixing them up can produce wonderfully bizarre and creative things. We make creatures, vehicles, and habitats of all kinds. Once I even made a monkey with moving arms, legs, and tail. It's so absorbing. Like so much of life, I need to figure out how to balance care for the earth with everything else.
Nearest Gabe is the monkey I made

Friday, February 19, 2016


I was pretty worried about how the beginning of this year would go, especially for Bug. After three years at the same preschool, he would be starting kindergarden at a new school. After three years in the same apartment - the only place he really remembered living - we'd be moving. The move was scheduled for 2 weeks after school started.

Last year, Valerie's second year at the elementary school, was very hard for her. She struggled with the food, with rude boys in her class, with increased expectations for what she should be able to produce (especially writing was a big challenge for her). She was throwing up at school from anxiety. We started packing a lunch for her and working on Spanish at home. Eventually things got better.

This year has been incredibly smooth in comparison. Val is so happy to have her little brother at school with her, and having her there to explain things to him has helped him tremendously as well. The school itself has settled into a good rhythm after some major administrative upheavals last year (which I think contributed to Val's anxieties at the time - there was just a lot of underlying tension in the air). Gabe adores his classroom teacher, and Val is thrilled with new classes like Laboratorio (science).

After we moved to the new place, our walk to school changed dramatically and I was worried that the kids would complain a lot, get tired, need to use the bathroom mid-route - but it has been fine. They play "obstacle course" through the apartment complex, and then I Spy all the way to school. Or we talk about different interesting things - what are angels, where do babies come from, etc. :-) The walk to school has evolved a new ritual.

Last year Val's Spanish improved dramatically, as did her drawing skills. I was blown away by the work she started to bring home. It's really interesting to me to hear the differences between the two kids as their bilingualism develops. Val speaks Spanish much more correctly than G, but he is much more inclined to code-switch fluidly.

So I'm breathing a small sigh of relief, for now.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

New Home

These pictures are old, from about 2 years ago, but should give you an idea of why we moved! Our friend Marisol, who works at our office, invited us to her home for Sunday afternoon tea shortly after she started working here. Terry especially fell in love with the huge green space inside the apartment complex, as well as the views from their 12-floor apartment. He said that if they ever heard of an apartment coming up for rent there to let us know.

Well last August a place came open, but we didn't make the cut for getting it. Then in December we heard of another place, a corner apartment on the very top floor. 

Thanks to Marisol, who knew the owners, we were able to rent directly from them which is much simpler here than going through a real estate agency (which most people do). So when we got back from our vacation in January we started working on moving.

It was quite an undertaking - I had no idea we had amassed so much STUFF. We got rid of some of it but there's more now that we want to get rid of as well.

The brick building you can see just over the trees is part of the apt. complex
Moving feels like a bit of a fresh start. In September we also changed churches as well. (Now I just need to get new glasses!) Although G was resistant at first, V absolutely loves our new place, and G has come around as well.

our view
Some things that I was worried about - like walking to school takes half an hour now, instead of five minutes - have turned out to be so not a big deal at all. Other things have taken some getting used to, like the flocks of birds that start singing at 4:30 a.m. outside our window (see those trees?). But by and large it's been good so far. We still have some work to do to get settled in, and Terry sliced his thumb open on moving weekend (needed 3 stitches!), but honestly I went with my gut feeling that said "Yes, do it!" when we saw the place and met the owners for the first time, and I'm feeling pretty sure that my gut was right. So far.

Monday, February 15, 2016


So in October last year Valerie asked me to cut her hair. She'd been asking for a long time, and finally one day I did it. I had just gotten up in the morning and hadn't had my coffee yet, but I really wanted to cut Gabriel's hair and I thought if I cut Val's hair first he'd be more amenable to being shorn himself.

How long it was
I asked, just before I snipped, if she wanted it long enough to put in a ponytail or not and she said no. I had such a sense of misgiving but I cut it anyway... and as soon as she looked in the mirror she ran to her room, threw herself face-down on the bed and cried.

The day I cut it
She hated it. I cannot tell you how horrible I felt. Hair grows back, and getting a haircut we hate is a rite of passage for all women and girls. But it sure twisted the knife later that day when she said, "Mom, I forgive you."

How it is now
A few days later I got my hair cut myself, so we could have short hair together. I'm about to trim her bangs for the fourth time since October... I think by her birthday in May it will be close to the length she originally wanted. We also had fun looking at this artist's renderings of Disney Princesses with short hair. 

I'm sure I have made and will continue to make worse mistakes as a parent but for some reason this is one I think I'll remember for a long time... 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Two weeks in Tirana

I don't really know how to talk about what Tirana and Albania mean to me. The place is inextricably linked in my mind and heart with the first two years of our life as a family of four, with the kids' early childhood years. It was such a gift and a blessing to go back for a family vacation in January. We were able to rent the top floor of a villa in a neighborhood where apartment buildings do not yet dominate, behind one of the oldest schools in the city. It rained and rained and rained but we had a lovely time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Christmas 2015

Going slightly back in time, here are some photos from the Jantzi family visit to Bogotá for Christmas; the top three photos are from the Jardín Botánico, one of the best places to go in Bogotá - it's really big, and has an impressive range of flora organized by ecosystem. 

Metal horse sculpture

Nautilus fossil

Bottle-cap mosaic art (still trying to figure out whose portrait that is)

New water bottles! 
Portrait of Valerie in sidewalk chalk, by Aunt Rosanne

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Cusco 2016

One of my goals for this year is to blog more and Facebook less. Trying for more depth instead of the glib status updates. So I didn't put up a lot of photos of our January travels; catching up now. 

It's becoming a tradition to take the kids to this rock formation near (in?) Sacsayhuaman. You can see Gabriel in yellow and Valerie in pink and Terry in black climbing up there. It got really cold with the wind but thankfully we didn't get rained on. It's fun to think of all the generations of people who have polished these stones with their backsides. 

My camera started doing weird things while in Albania, it shows most when zooming in but it can make a cool effect too. This is at Pukapukara outside of Cusco. We had a great day that afternoon driving around in the yellow VW bug. Making memories.

The same day, at Tambomachay. Gabriel said it was the best day of his life, jumping from rock to rock up the stream towards the ruins. Valerie got tired of it before he did and climbed up the bank to join me where I was on the walking path. At one point Terry took off his socks and shoes to wade through and carry Gabe across a deep pool, so they were able to go a lot farther.

I was standing above with my heart in my throat picturing falls and concussions and all that, but then I remembered that my very favorite memories of childhood are of doing exactly this - playing in a rocky creek with sun-dappled shade and how much it lifted my spirits. I want my kids to have those kinds of joyful memories too.

My mom made Valerie this beautiful dress! The fabric she used is from things my grandmother had in storage. So it is extra meaningful as well as beautiful. Val was so proud and happy to wear it to church last Sunday.