I’ve been stuck in the routine of Alltag. It’s not a bad thing, per se. No matter who you are, you have the things you need to do every day and even very important people have their daily routines.

Today was Saturday. The kids didn’t have Finnish school, so after breakfast (Gamma was very pleased that today was a pancake day), we cleaned their rooms. Then we went to Beta’s caroling even with other homeschoolers. Then home to lunch. Then quiet time. Then we hung out and did as little as possible. My husband worked on the basement, I went to do some weekly cleaning and feeding of the ducks and chickens, who were very happy to see us. I sent the kids outside to play in the snow and get some fresh air. Omega took her nap. I leafed through a cookbook. Watched a movie. Warmed up dinner. Remember I needed to laundry and got that started. Cuddled and played with Omega. We ate. Then we cleaned up the downstairs, I hung out the laundry, then bedtime routines for the kids.
It’s so much like every other day, but in tiny ways it’s different. The choir caroling, for example. That was unique to this Saturday. It’s also December 1, so the kids broke out their Advent Calendars and opened the first door. Or, if you’re Gamma, opened several doors (none of which were labeled 1) until the Calendar was taken into protective custody. He threw a fit over that.
I’m frequently reminded of the short story “Old Woman” in the collection “Old Home Town” by Rose Wilder Lane, where the titular old woman complains about how sick and tired she is of knowing that every Saturday night, her husband is going to take a bath and she’ll have to dump out the bathwater and longed for just one thing to be different. If he just wouldn’t take a bath on Saturday for once, or maybe the bathwater wouldn’t need dumping out. If only anything would change.
She had longed to travel the world and her husband had promised they would have they got married, but a secret heart condition had led him to cancel his plans and they settled into normal domesticity instead.

Everyday life can sometimes feel like a drag — this is why we go on vacations. But there’s comfort in it, too. I know exactly what I’m going to do tomorrow morning (Omega will wake me up, we’ll go downstairs, I’ll start making breakfast while the rest of the family slowly make their way downstairs). I’ve lately tried to cultivate an awareness of how quickly everday life can change. I recently read The Wave, a memoir of the 2004 tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala, where the author lost her husband and two sons. One minute there, one minute gone, you couldn’t imagine a more sudden and traumatic break from every day life. How would I cope if that were to happen? How does one cope if that happens? Would I be able to cope? I don’t know; I don’t want to know. I’d much rather take for granted that each morning, I’ll be there and so will everyone else in my family. No dramatic twists and turns for me, thank you very much.

I’ve often thought it’s amazing how determined humans are at maintaining normalcy even in blatantly absurd circumstances. People attempt to drive through flooded roads (and drown) because they have to get to work, staying home would be unimaginable! They’re expected at work! Or how determined some at the World Trade Center to keep on working until it became obvious that something was very, very wrong.

But what is even more striking is how hard it is to establish a new normal after the old one is completely destroyed. How are the people of Paradise, CA going to return to normal? They won’t; they’ll end up with something else they’ll begin to call normal. That’s what Sonali eventually ended up with.. a new normal, and not necessarily a pleasant one, either. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that gave a better sense of what it feels like to be haunted, the memories of loved ones so close to being present, like they’re just at the edge of your vision and if you fail to focus enough, you’ll be able to see them as if they were never gone.

It’s reassuring to know that no matter what happens, every day life is strong enough to reassert itself eventually. As they say, life must go on. And it usually does, at least for those of us who are still alive.

The Best Laid Plans

We’re trying to finalize our plans to move to Finland, hoping that we will actually be able to do it, that every thing will fall into place and nothing will impede.
I find myself constantly thinking of all the things I’ll have time to do once we’re living there because we won’t be doing work on the house, the kids will be in school/daycare, so we won’t be homeschooling. We’ll have so much more TIME.

So far I plan on:

  1. Writing more
  2. Exercising more. Maybe I’ll do yoga in Finland!
  3. Biking more, a given since we won’t have a car.
  4. Learning Finnish. I’ll get to take Finnish for foreigners classes and have more time to study on my own.
  5. Planning to redo our landscaping at home once we return. I’ve even bought some landscaping how-to books to read while we’re over there.
  6. Experimenting with fermentation some more.

After a while, it entered my mind that I might be a bit too ambitions with my plans considering the kids are only going to be at school for 5 hours a day and will probably have some homework we’ll have to deal with. Plus, obviously I’ll still have to work.

But compared to our current schedule, it’s going to be so much easier. We make things work at home, but there’s no question it isn’t hard. We have no help, we have no family nearby, so things are a bit crazy at home. It helps we both work from home, so my husband can help out a bit in the morning while I’m working with the kids on their schoolwork if the younger kids are misbehaving. But it would just be nice to have a bit of a break.

It grates on my husbands when friends talk about how busy they are and that sort of thing when, compared to our schedule, they aren’t really. “They only have one job between the two of them and one kid! They don’t know what busy is!” I have to remind him it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’ve never been busier than 1 job and one kid between two people, then it’s busy! And this would be why our friends tell us “I don’t know how you do it!” Well, we do it by being EVEN BUSIER THAN YOU ARE.

Sure, we could get a nanny. But we don’t really need one since we’re both home all the time. We need basically a mother’s helper, but I’m not entirely sure where one finds one of those, and I worry I would have issues stepping  back and letting the mother’s helper get on with her stuff. So we just continue how are.

When I was talking to a friend about all the stuff I hoped to do in Finland, a friend reminded me that we’d also have my in-laws to help out, too. I paused at this…oh yeah! I completely forgot about them! Of course they would be able to help with the kids on the weekends too! I’m just not used to having people to turn to. But my in-laws are very involved in the lives of their grandkids in Finland, so it will be nice for my kids to build a relationship with their grandparents as well. And hopefully, hopefully, I’ll be comfortable with that and allow myself to step back and relax a bit.

This year in homeschooling…

I’ve watched a few fairly depressing videos of people unboxing this year’s homeschooling curriculum. They shouldn’t be depressing, but since the videos were posted by fundamentalist Christians, they were. Yep, it’s great how all you have to do is open those PACE packets and put them in magazine files and you’re set for the year. And how convenient that they’ve updated the versions…by making the graphics flashier while not changing the content! Afterall, the content in these pretty much doesn’t matter…most of it is Bible verses and what isn’t is inaccurate anyway.

So I decided maybe I should put some non-depressing homeschooling content out there. Not a fan of videos though, so I just took some pictures.

Here’s what Alpha (fifth grade) is going to study this year:

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These are his main subjects, which he does nearly every day. Since we’re loosely following a classical structure, I added in logic because 5th grade is the first year of the logic stage. A lot of logic curricula are religious, which is not something we’re into, so I had a bit of a tricky time finding something meant for his grade level that wasn’t religious. Logic countdown meets this need and I finally realized that the analogies they would have us do later in elementary school as bell work was actually logic. I wish they’d just tell us things like that instead of keeping it a secret.
He’s also working on cursive. His hand writing in the book is neat and legible. Outside of it, it’s a mess and he doesn’t use cursive at all unless he decides to write something his sister can’t read. Sometimes, I’m not even sure why I’m still doing handwriting with him since we never see any improvement and the last thing he wants is neat handwriting. Whatever. We’re doing it.
We’re also continuing with Sequential Spelling. They’ve updated their format so that now you have a big ass thick student response book that has other activities in it as well along with the teacher’s book that has the word lists (this picture shows the teacher booklet). I think that’s kind of annoying and so does my son. Word searches and scrambles are a dyslexic’s nightmare, guys.
We’re continuing with JackKris Publishing’s Growing with Grammar and Winning with writing. The only things I dislike about these books is there is a bit of overlap if you’re using the two and sometimes it breaks things down a bit too much. Other than that, it explains grammar really well (I’m learning how to diagram sentences now, too!) and how to write detailed paragraphs.
And of course, Singapore Math. His math has finally become advanced enough that I got the teacher’s book just for the answer key to the problems because double checking them all myself was starting to take too long. But other than that, math is going well for us.


Now for this year’s science selection: Pandia Press’ Biology 2. Holy crap this is a lot. I love it, but it’s a lot and my son has complained it’s a lot. We’re trying to squeeze everything into two days, but he thinks reading the chapter, doing the Famous Science Series and the general lab in one day is Too Much. I countered that if we save the lab for a different day, he’ll have to do it on one of the days we do history. He’s fine with that, apparently.
I love Pandia press, though. We’ve used it since the very beginning. I love how thorough it is and how it’s Science Based Science, something that can be hard to find in homeschooling curricula. Yes, the Earth IS millions of years old. The Theory of Evolution IS true and no, a theory is not something you’re just guessing about. That’s a hypothesis. In science, a theory is something “ an explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can be repeatedly tested, in accordance with the scientific method, using a predefined protocol of observation and experiment. Established scientific theories have withstood rigorous scrutiny and embody scientific knowledge.” Thanks, Wikipedia. It also covers human reproduction and we do a frog dissection. Exciting!


I admit I was a little concerned about this one. This is Pandia Press’ History Odyssey: Ancients Level 2. It’s a lot of reading, writing down summaries and so on. My son loves history, but he finds reading books (instead of listening to audiobooks) challenging and dislikes writing things down. History odyssey involves a lot of that at this level. I don’t know if I helped matters by telling him to wait until he gets into high school because it gets a lot worse in that respect. But, so far he’s doing it. He complained the other day because lesson 3 wanted him to read TWO CHAPTERS in The Story of Mankind. “Well, why don’t we just open it and see how long the chapters are.” One of them was most of a page. The other was two pages. Me: Just read them, seriously! They’re short!
The lessons are designed to be self-guided so the student can work independently. My son can manage a lot of that, but I still check through things and make sure he understands what he’s supposed to do.

Now for Beta (second grade)

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This is her history curriculum, again Pandia Press History Odyssey. But this time it’s Ancients Level 1. I used this curriculum with Alpha when he was in first grade and it’s nice to revisit it again and see how History Odyssey really gets harder through the grade levels. This one is much more to Beta’s level, which is a relief and we read things together and I put the Story of the World audiobook on for her for those reading portions. Pandia Press is working on developing a secular History-as-Stories book for level 1, which annoys me simply because now I already have ALL of the Story of the World Audiobooks. I’m not going to buy their new version that’s secular when I’ve already bought this other version. Instead, I just yell at the kids that such-and-such is a myth or that it’s inaccurate to say that the Netherlands is called the Netherlands because it’s far away from the great European capitals of Berlin and Paris (no dummies, it’s called that because Nether means low. They’re the Low Lands. And it’s actually pretty close to that Great European Capital, London. Jeez) or that nowadays that country is called Holland (noooooo it’s still called the Netherlands! Holland is a province!)

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Her Science: Pandia Press REAL Science Odyssey Life (Biology 1). Again, I’ve used this before. It’s going to be a lot of fun revisiting these things with her. She likes getting to try out some of the stuff Alpha is using in his science, like the microscope, too.

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These are her core resources. They’re essentially the same thing as Alpha, except she’s not doing cursive yet, though she could because she did Printing Power once already. Somehow I ended up with excessive copies of that, so she’s doing it again. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t bother with Grammar and writing at this stage because it’s pretty boring and stupid easy, but it makes me feel better about having a “complete” language arts curriculum and this way she doesn’t finish ridiculously early compared to her brother, which would raise cries of “that’s not fair!!”

In addition to these, we also do German and Finnish. For German, I use Einsterns Schwester, which is a German language course for at home. They’re both still in level one because we’ve been going through it s-l-o-w-l-y. For Finnish, my husband has a Finnish for Foreigners booklet he printed out for my son. For my daughter, he’s teaching her how to read Finnish using the Aapinen book we bought (basically, a primer on reading) and building vocabulary playing games.

Aside from that, they have their sport activities at the Y, their German and Finnish Schools, and art class. We also take part in some co-ops that are mainly for socialization. I think that’s busy enough, don’t you?

Under the North Star Review

I haven’t been blogging lately and my convenient excuse is that I signed up for Goodread’s reading challenge where you set the number of books you aim to read in a year and then read them. Because I’m ambitious and didn’t think to do the math, I decided 100 books would be a nice, round number to read during there. Then I got to it. Sometime in mid-march, I paused and realized there was no way I was going to make it since 100 books in a year means I need to finish one book every 3.5 days. I’m an avid reader, but not quite that avid.

But I have been reading some interesting books. I just finished book one in Väinö Linna’s Täällä Pohjantähden Alla (Under the North Star) and holy crap, it was good. First off, it gave me a whole lot more insight into the issues in Finnish society surrounding speaking Finnish vs. speaking Swedish. Swedish was the language of the nobility in Finland, who stayed on when Finland went from being under Sweden’s control to under Russia’s and in the late 19th century there was a huge push to make Finnish the language of public life as well because it was the language of the people, the average Joe spoke it. This creates the odd scenes where the Baron in the book tries to communicate with his tenants but he can only manage a broken Finnish compared with their fluency. Or the scene where he comes across some other gentry who are pro-Finnishicizing everything and they great him in Finnish and he has to request they speak Swedish because not only can he only manage to speak broken Finnish himself, he’s only able to understand the uneducated dialect spoken by those around him (ie, farmers and craftsmen) and not the Finnish spoken by the gentry. This alone shows us three major divisions in Finnish society: the Swedish speaking nobility vs. the pro-Finnish gentry (who also spoke Swedish, but made a point not to) vs. the average person (speaking only Finnish).

While reading, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between this book and Free Land, written by Rose Wilder Lane. Like Under the North Star, it takes place in the 1880s and tells about a pioneering young man (and his wife) setting out to carve a farm out of wilderness. But from there, the stories diverge. In Free Land, the main obstacle David faces is the weather: three years of drought after one good year threaten to drive him to bankruptcy. In Under the North Star, the main obstacle faced by Jussi and his family is the fact the don’t own the land. He’s a tenant of the parsonage and is subjected to the whims of the vicar as far as how much land he’s allowed to cultivate and how many days he, his wife, and his children are required to spend working on the vicar’s land vs their tenancy. It’s absolutely infuriating to read, listening to the vicar and his wife justify making Jussi’s plot smaller to “save him work” because they can’t find any way to live within their means. They need 3 maids, a coachman, a coach, to send their kids to private school and so on and so forth. What does Jussi need? Well, certainly not the land he literally broke his back to clear. They mistake his ability to object as a willingness to agree, although god knows if he had objected or pointed out to them all the ways they could cut back (the Koskelas lived on nothing and built up their capital), the vicar and his wife would have been outraged and chucked him out all together.

It really drove home the difference having title to your own land makes. David could kill himself clearing his quarter section and it would be is (well, after 7 years since it was a homestead…) and, if he wanted to leave, he could sell it for a bit of capital. The Koskelas couldn’t. They could farm it, but would never be able to sell it and move on to something better.

I mentioned this all to my husband and he agreed. “One thing my family always had going for it, whether it was on my mom’s side or my dad’s side, is that they owned the land they farmed. They weren’t tenants.”

I’m going to start book 2 soon, in which Finland gains independence and the tenants gain land reform and then every one decides to have a civil war.

Also interesting to note is the fact that the gentry could use property rights for them to deny property rights to others. The land their tenants live on is owned by them, it’s their property and therefore, they can do what they want with it. The tenants argue that since they work the land and have lived on it for generations, don’t they arguably have some right to it as well? Add into the fact that in many cases, the land was originally not bought by the gentry but awarded to them by a king and the whole feudal mess becomes a bit clearer. This is the sort of land reform issue that was carried out in many countries after socialists took over simply because the roots of the issue weren’t fair to begin with. You couldn’t start out as a small time farmer in BFE, Finland only one day to have some Swedish speaking dude move in, declare the King has made him a Baron over all this land and ta-da! You’re now a tenant and find that fair.

I’m done rooting for soccer teams

I just can’t do it anymore. This world cup has been awful as far as the teams I’m rooting for are concerned. First, Germany got knocked out in the group level games. They played so miserably I began to wonder if their water had been switched out with vodka, a cruel prank by their Russian hosts. Awful, all around.

Then, Mexico got knocked out. I started rooting for them after they beat Germany soundly and I figured since Mexico had never won a world cup, this could be their year! Since their celebration after their win against Germany registered on the Richtor scale, imagine what the celebration after winning the entire cup would do (world jump day, anyone?) And then they went ahead and got knocked out.

Indefatigable, I switched to Uruguay. Uruguay has also never won a world cup and they’re notable for having a team of unusual skill given their country’s size and economic development. So why not Uruguay? I was a late, but unenthusiastic supporter of Team Uruguay. And now I just watched them get trounced by France. Freaking France. Ugh! I’m so annoyed. I feel sorry for their goalie, who just barely let a score in and looked like he was going to cry afterwards. I also feel sorry for the six year old fan, shown on the German broadcast of the game crying in the stadium. Poor kid. Losing sucks! I also feel sorry for the Uruguayan player whose head slightly hit the free kick ball and knocked it more towards his own goal. Whoops.

Who am I going to root for at this point? I feel like I can’t adopt anymore national loyalties. I mean, I already spoke German so that was easy. I’m pretty good at Spanish, so no problem.

I’m going to support Belgium (aka, France, Jr. or the Netherlands’ Little Brother) in the game against Brazil later on. And Croatia (one of the Little Slavs) against Russia (Big Slav).

I hope to god not all of them lose.

Speaking of losing, Finland apparently has one of the best national soccer teams that has never made it to the World Cup. My husband wants nothing more than to see Finland qualify for the World Cup. They don’t even have to win a game as far as he’s concerned; it’d be enough for them to make it into any group. Beating Sweden would be a plus, though. I told him he could start training them up when we move to Finland. It could be like a sappy underdog movie: He, down on his luck, returns to his home country to help train the perennially down on their luck Finnish National Soccer team. After making several obvious changes (no ice skates on while playing soccer, save the drinking for after the game) and a few not so obvious ones (aim for the other team’s goal and and have some freaking self-esteem), he coaches them to get into the group rounds of the world cup!

At that point they get knocked out (this would be a Finnish movie, not a Hollywood one, so we have to keep things realistic), but they’re fine with that.

Barring this film being made, I would settle for a new world cup tradition: The Drunk World Cup: rematches of all the games, but with all the players being slight inebriated.

Finland kind of started this in 1912 in the Olympics where their team came in fourth. They would have done better, but no one told them exactly when their game was. So they went out drinking the night before and played the next day either still slightly drunk or extraordinarily hung over. Since they came in fourth, it doesn’t appear to have hurt them too much. But then again, in the Edwardian era, it seems that most sports were played after having a few tipples and were probably more entertaining for it.

Introducing Freedom 3.0 (TM)

On this, the 242 anniversary of our original release of Freedom, we couldn’t be more pleased than to introduce the latest version of our original product. After researching current market trends, we’ve come to realize that what people really want in this hectic and modern era is less. We’re too overburdened with stuff. We have too many things to do, too many gadgets, too many toys. As a result, we’ve made minimalism the key feature of our new rollout and our customers will be pleased to find out how much more they can do with less.


The first thing we’ve decided to minimize is choice. I know, I know, you’re thinking: but we love choice! But there are some things you really don’t need to choice. Like Internet, for example. We all know you want it. Is it really necessary to have all that much choice in who gives it to you? No. This is why in most American markets, you’ll find your choice of Internet provider has already been made for you. But we’re going further than that! Soon, you’ll be able to have one option for internet, cell phone AND content provider. Don’t worry, AT&T are great people. We’ve spoken to them, they’ve donated money to us, they’re great. You’ll love them.

We’ve also decided to narrow down your options of political party. Two is just too many (we only count parties that can win, so “third parties” don’t exist as far as we’re concerned). From here on out, you’ll only have one! It’ll be great. Just look at Singapore. They only have one party and it’s been ruling it the whole time they’ve existed. It’s very clean, very orderly…the people there love it! You’ll still be able to vote for other parties…if you want. But they just won’t be able to win.

You say you’re swimming in stuff? Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered. We’re increasing tariffs on a wide variety of imported goods. This way, you won’t be able to afford to buy as much. You’ll have to make do with less. Remember, the keyword is minimalism. You’ll be able to afford less, but you’ll enjoy it twice as much. Your houses will feel so much more spacious!

Speaking of houses, the housing market is heating up again. Prices are going up, up, up. With that in mind, we’ve decided to support your housing wealth two fold. One, we’re going to make sure there are fewer people available to work in construction. Two, we’re going to make sure there are fewer people looking for housing. Both of these aims can be accomplished by limiting immigration. We don’t care what type: legal, illegal, educated, uneducated. We’re just not going to let any of them in. Maybe a few of the legal, educated types, but we’re going to reduce that, too. Minimalism, remember? We need to minimize the number of people here and the number of structures built so you can enjoy those minimialistic vistas so popular on desktop backgrounds these days. As an added bonus, the prices of your houses will boom! You’ll be so rich!



All in all, I think you’ll be very pleased with all the upgrades we’ve included in Freedom 3.0. Like all changes, it may take some getting used to, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy the increased functionality, improved design and layout we’ve included. Remember, If It’s Freedom You Seek, Think Freedom, Inc.

Because why not?

This has become a major pet peeve for me. My kids have started this thing we’re they’ll tell me they’ve decided to do something and sum up their reasons for doing it with “because, why not?” Say my daughter decides to put some flowers in her hair. “I decided to put all these flowers in my hair becase,” she shrugs, “why not?”

WHY NOT IS NOT A REASON. It is not an explanation. I finally decided to give her some reasons why not since she couldn’t find any. “Why not? Because maybe there are bugs in the flowers and they might crawl into your hair? Maybe you’re allergic to the flowers and they will make you sneeze? Maybe they’ll get tangled up in your hair and you won’t be able to get them out?”

“Yeah, but I wanted to put flowers in my hair.” Well, that’s a fine reason to do it. I just don’t get why their reasoning for doing something has started to be summed up by a supposed inability to find a reason against doing something.

Even worse, this has rubbed off on my husband. Today he came inside and told me, “It’s just as hot being inside doing anything as it is to be outside working on the house. So I figured I may as well be outside working on the house because why not?”

Motherfucker. Did you not just listen to the first half of your sentence? You literally just told me the whys! You have reasons! You don’t need to say why not? You don’t need to act like there is no possible reason why you wouldn’t be working outside in the heat because there are very good, obvious reasons for not wanting to (it’s fucking hot being the main one).

Ah well. Now I understand how my parents felt when I over used the word “like.” “And then she was like, ‘what did you do?’ And I was like ‘I ran away.’ And she was like, ‘Oh my god, where did you go?’ And I was like….”


Yeah, it’s exactly like that.

Achtung, Baby Review

American moves abroad and raises children has become a genre unto itself nowadays. This is unfortunate because it means that by the time I get around to moving abroad, the market will already be saturated. I read Bringing Up Bebe when it came out in 2011 (it was instrumental in encouraging me to give up attachment parenting) and now I read Achtung, Baby, about an American woman who spent about 5 years living in Berlin.

As soon as I heard about the book, I bought it. I’ve observed a lot o German parenting and wanted to see others’ observations. What I didn’t expect was for the book to leave me feeling pretty depressed.

The fact that Americans are a bit….intense (other words: dedicated, single-minded, hovering, helicoptering, etc) when it comes to their parenting isn’t new. Lenore Skenazy has been writing about it since I became a parent. But few are the authors who spell it out quite as clearly as Sara Zaske: Americans are very controlling of their children. Even when trying to be permissive parents, we manage to do so in an authoritarian way. Our children are supervised pretty much all day long. They move from highly supervised classrooms with little time for free play to highly structured and supervised after-school activities and then head home to be supervised by their parents. In a country where people think kids shouldn’t play in their own front yard until they’re 13, don’t expect to see a lot of kids playing in their neighborhoods or with neighbor kids.

I’ve known this, but I’ve never heard it spelled out as being controlling and authoritarian. And it has me wondering how on earth we can expect children who have never been allowed to be free to grow up and respect the concept of freedom and participate in maintaining a liberal democracy.

Part of my goal with homeschooling was to give my children more freedom than they would have at school. More free time, more time to explore their own interests, more time to play outside and less supervision. But I can only do this sort of thing at home. Outside the house, they are subject to the prevalent cultural norms. No, they can’t go to the park by themselves because I don’t want the cops called on me or CPS. No, they can’t run into the shop and grab some milk or me run into the shop while they wait outside. And I have had the cops called on me for leaving my kids in the car when I ran into pick up a fast food order I’d already placed, so it’s not like this is an exaggeration. I came out with the food to see an angry man standing outside my car yelling into his phone. I spoke in German to my kids to make sure they were okay and he yelled at me to “Go home.” I did just that (though he was probably not referring to my house) and the cops came by to do a welfare check on the kids (I suppose to make sure I didn’t have them locked in the car still?).

Reading her book and seeing it jive with what I’ve witnessed in Germany made me feel a deep sadness. Granted, German norms have changed over the years. When my host sister was little, she used to walk to school in first grade. Now they do it in second. But these feel like minor quibbles when you consider that American kids can’t even be trusted to walk to their houses from a school bus stop. Instead, the school bus stops five times in the space of a half-mile to deposits each dickes Quarkbällchen in front of their very own house. Even if they’re in high school.

Zaske also dedicates a portion of the book about Einschülung to the fact that homeschooling is illegal. Being a homeschooler, this is a major sticking point with me. While I can understand the arguments behind forbidding homeschooling and the fact that even children have the right to be away from their parents, I think it overlooks the fact that some children simply do not do well in a school environment. While Berliner parents may protest against things they dislike against their schools and advocate for change, they lack the most significant form of protest: the ability to vote with their feet. American parents have this ability and it’s one I’ve opted to take. I dislike the prevailing culture in American schools and I don’t want my kids to experience its negative aspects and lose their initiative and joy of learning. German parents who find themselves unable to affect change in their schools have very few options, aside from providing emotional support for their miserable children and assurance that it will end eventually. But that’s a sucky way to spend 12 years of your life.

Notably in this book, Zaske includes a chapter detailing their family’s adjustment after returning to the US from Germany. This helps give them perspective about the things they like in the US compared to Germany, but there really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot. Zaske seems determined to effect some sort of change in her California neighborhood, but quite frankly I’m not holding my breath. Compared to Bringing Up Bebe, she dedicates part of each chapter to suggestions on how Americans could change how things are done in the US to improve it or make it more like the Germans do. I can see this rubbing a lot of Americans the wrong way, especially if they’re convinced that the way Americans do things is just fine and they’re sick of being told they need to do things the way foreigners do. A certain segment of the American population shows a disturbing lack of curiosity about the outside world.

The book could have used a bit more editing. Zaske definitely suffered from a lack of German knowledge. She states her the bakers called her daughter “Prinzesschen” when she went to the bakery by herself for the first time and that means “little princess.” It doesn’t. As far as I can tell, it’s not even a word. But the word for princess is “Prinzessin,” so I”m guessing that’s what they said. It would be easy to mix up the two. I also hope to god she stopped yelling “Achtung!” at some point in time. No one says “Achtung.” If someone needs to watch out, you say “Pass auf!” Achtung is like “Attention!” in the military sense. Or in the “Achtung! Achtung! Hier spricht die Polizei!” (Attention! Attention! This is the police!). I feel acutely embarrassed thinking she ran around yelling Achtung for five years in Germany. It reminds me of how I thought the correct response to “Schön Tag noch” at shops was “Jedenfalls” (Cashier: Have a nice day. Me: In any case!) I misheard “ebenfalls” (you too). Cringe.

She gets bonus points from me for including a whole section on how much attachment parenting sucks. Granted, she doesn’t say it like that, but it does suck. It makes parents miserable and turns their children into clingy little parasites who will suck the life out of you if given the opportunity. I’m actually surprised to learn Dr. Sears’ Baby Book has been translated into German considering the fact it advocates mothers quitting their jobs and staying home with their children (NOT the fathers!), even to the point of going into debt and financial ruin. Because, as we all know, only mothers are able to bond with their children. Fathers can’t. Grandparents can’t. And trained Kita Erzieher certainly can’t. According to Sears’ beliefs, all of former East Germany should be a complete basket case full of sociopaths thanks to generations of damn near all kids being in daycare there. Wait! I may have found the origins of Pegida!

At any rate, this has me more determined to move to Finland and Germany in order to give my kids a real taste of freedom. I want them to be able to explore without being warned to be careful, or other parents giving me major side eye because I am not living up to cultural norms.

Seriously, don’t brood ducklings in the house

A few years ago, I wrote a post advising people, should they get ducklings, not to brood them in the house. Later (after the second time we had ducklings and brooded them in the house again), I switched my general advise to people to never get ducks. Because they are awful. The mess is horrible. You always think it won’t be as bad as it was last time, but it always is.

Then, a year or two after our last two ducks were killed by a weasel that snuck into their coop and sucked their blood out (I found their bodies in the morning. It was not a fun morning), we got more ducklings. The things you decide in the winter when you just want to get outside. My husband and I picked out blue Swedish ducks because we didn’t want prolific layers (we’ve spent enough time swimming in unsaleable duck eggs) and we also wanted the ability to slaughter some for meat. So I figured a straight run of 12 ducklings would do nicely.

The box arrived, we dumped them into our nicely prepared brooding area. The floor was covered in newspaper, then towels. They had a nice waterer and smaller container of water for them to splash in, but in which the young ducklings couldn’t drown. And food, of course.

The first few days were fine. They were little and still figuring things out, but once they did…well. Ducks like to grab a beak full of feed, go to the water, get some water to wash it down, then go back to the feeder and repeat. They like to poop in their water. They really like to splash in their water. They drop a lot of the feed on the way to the waterer and it mixes with the poop and the water that’s getting splashed everywhere until you have a lovely mixture of wet poop and feed. And these ducks had the ability to projectile poop, so we actually ended up getting poop on things outside the run. WTF, ducklings?

We started cleaning their area out every day, to no avail. We would wake up in the morning and the smell of the ducklings in the basement would hit us before we reached the ground floor. Cleaning out their brooding area was gag inducing. And that is not hyperbole. We were literally gagging as we emptied the area.

Unfortunately, our spring was cold this year so even though we got them at the beginning of April, we couldn’t set them outside in the day until nearly the end of April. So for almost an entire month, we dealt with poopy, horrible duck smell.

Towards the end of the month, I hit on the idea of using chux pads, so we could just roll up the mess and throw it out. It made things slightly better, but the damn things were overfilled with water and terribly heavy. And full of poop aside from that.

So, why do people get ducks? Why do we keep on getting ducks even though we know they’re smelly, awful and horrible to brood?

Because they’re really darn stinking cute.


Watching them splash about in the pond is one of the joys of summer. We guided them to the pond the other day (otherwise they’re enclosed in a run) and they had the best time ever, splashing and diving under the water with loud, happy quacks. Ducks are adorable, the question is whether that adorableness outweighs their smell.

New England spring

Spring has finally come to New England. This year, we essentially went from cold as hell with snow to warm, no period of slowly increasing warmth, unless you count that weird week in February.

The outdoors has sprung to life. The grass already needs mowing and I’m on patrol for poison ivy. I’ve spent a lot of time clearing various areas of our yard where it likes to grow and I’m determined not to let it take back over. The most accurate part of IT for me? The part where Eddie looks around and declares, “That’s poison ivy, that’s poison ivy, that’s poison ivy.” Seriously. If you live in New England and go near the edge of the woods…it’s all poison ivy.

We go on walks through our town and I keep my eyes peeled on the side of the road. “Don’t walk there!” I yell to the kids. “That’s poison ivy! No! Don’t go off the road! That’s all poison ivy right there!” Fucking poison ivy.

I found a few small strands with their reddish glossy leaves starting to unfurl yesterday and promptly pulled them out. I’ll have to continue checking regularly.

But my patrols carry a risk aside from getting a poison ivy rash: the ticks are out. Ticks are worse than poison ivy. Right now, they’re nymphs and are extremely small and hard to spot. Getting bit by one can mean getting Lyme disease, babesiosis, another one I’m forgetting and the newly discovered Powassan virus, which can apparently kill you in a few days.

We do a lot of tick checks, but it’s damned hard to find those nymphs. They’re tiny! So I set a bottle of tick repellant by the door and told the kids if they’re going to go out into the woods, they need to spray themselves with tick repellant first. Of course, it’s not as easy as “Just spray yourself with tick repellant and worry no more!” Ticks may still attach themselves. So it’s more like “Spray yourself with tick repellant and we’ll do a tick check every night anyway.” The ticks get into the house. We’ve found two just crawling around on bedroom floors. My husband caught Lyme disease working in the woods in May a few years back, so I know it’s on our property and my tick-related paranoia will not abate.

We made tick tubes this year. Last year, we bought them, but they’re actually quite pricey for what you get. So we saved all our toilet paper and paper towel rolls, bought a bottle of permethrin and sat down one day to soak cotton balls in and stuff the balls into the tubes. We then placed them all over the property for the mice to find and use as nesting material, hopefully killing off all the ticks that feed on the mice, thus destroying a link in the Lyme disease chain.

It’s not a guaranteed thing, but it’s the best option we have to prevent Lyme disease. There’s no vaccine, though apparently they’re trying to develop one that would be a vaccine against tick saliva. Terribly clever, since there is more than one disease you can get from ticks. I know people who have their yards sprayed every year – even ones who are otherwise all anti-chemical and natural this, natural that. But with the chickens, I’m not willing to do that. Plus we have a pond and permethrin is very dangerous for aquatic life.

All of this makes me not want to leave the house. Add in the black flies and I’m covered in slap marks from hitting them, rashes from bumping up against poison ivy, tick repellant and quite possibly actual ticks.

I remain astounded the original settlers of New England didn’t all die.