Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creating in Silence

I published the following article on the NaturalKids Team Blog yesterday. I wanted to share it with my readers over here, too. Hope you enjoy it.


I was waiting for my daughter at dance class recently when I discovered this really cool article in the July 2011 issue of the magazine Real Simple: Life made Easier.

Oh boy, was it noisy in that hallway where I was waiting for my child. Waves of noise were coming at me from all directions: jazz and ballet music drifting out from classrooms, younger siblings chattering and crying, mothers making phonecalls. In the midst of all that I was trying to read this article on “Silence”. Kind of ironic.

In the article Holly Pevzner talks about noise pollution, and how it affects people in a negative way. The author argues that there is strong scientific evidence that growing noise levels in our modern world cause a host of problems in humans. For example, health studies have shown that loud noises make human hearts beat faster and increase blood pressure. Scientists even have gone so far as to directly link loud traffic noise to a great number of heart attacks that killed people. Not sure how they proved that one. Besides these direct health effects, noise can lead to problems with attention, aggression, insomnia, and general stress.

I can very much relate to the insomnia part. One thing that really frustrated me when I moved to US was the loud train whistles that go off all the time. I nearly fell out of bed when I first moved here and heard the trains the first night. “What is that? ” I asked my husband as I jumped out of bed.

Our family lives about 1.5 miles from train tracks where each morning, sometimes as early as 3 am, freight trains blast through blowing their whistles like there is no tomorrow. How stupid I thought. Why do we have to live with this kind of noise terror? Wouldn’t it be better to build gates so that cars cannot go onto train tracks at all rather than make all that noise? They have that sort of technology in Germany. How can the guy driving the train stand it? He must be going deaf for sure. My previous fondness and nostalgia for trains whistles, I believe, are gone forever.

I suppose as time went by I learned to live with this kind of noise pollution. Or maybe I have just learned to live my life around them. The train alarmclock has led to some lifestyle changes for me. I have become an early riser. What’s the point of staying in bed when you can’t sleep anyways?

But Holly’s article also made me think of other noises: Random noises, like people talking on cell phones everywhere, with no regard who they are standing next to and what that person is doing. Then there also the noises that we can choose ourselves to be surrounded by: like the TV, stereo, or radio, ipods. Pevzner suggests that we cut down on all of them and try some simple kind of meditation once in while.

She says: "You don’t even have to go to yoga class for that: Just sit in a quiet spot, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Try and relax your whole body from head to toe. And breathe! I really liked it."

Inspired by her article I tried something else. I turned off the radio in my little studio/work space. I usually like to listen to the radio, and I have some favorite CDs I like to play when working on my dolls. After reading the article I stopped that completely. What was the result of this experiment? I loved it! I found that by turning off the noise, even noise that I perceived as enjoyable, I was much more focused and relaxed in my work. I got a lot more work done, and I was in a better mood and happier. You should really try this some time.

I remember a conversation I had in the Etsy forums with other natural toymakers. We talked about why our natural toys are so much better for children. The main advantage over modern toys is that natural toys don’t overstimulate like so many lights-flashing noisy plastic toys.

That got me to thinking that maybe we adults would be better off too if we made some healthy choices about “our toys”. Maybe we’d be a lot less stressed if we turned off that cellphone and jogged, cooked, cleaned and created in silence…

Here are two books on the topic Pevzner quoted from in the article. I must find them in my quest to lead a simpler and better life:

Listening Below the Noise by Anne LeClaire
Peaceful Parenting by Nancy S. Buck

Monday, September 26, 2011

You could win something...

Hey, who doesn't like to win stuff? If you have a couple of minutes, please go visit my friend Julie's blog. And enter in her Monday Meltdown Giveaway.

You could possibly sweeten your Monday by winning one of these cute silk-wool knitted bunnies. Aren't they adorable? I love them! How about you?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

acorn baby in green pocketdress

green acorn baby 1 copy, originally uploaded by germandolls.

this little feller is looking for a new home...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Custom Order Mania

Okay, I think that handshake with Mr. Chimney Sweep is totally working for me.
September has been the best month so far. I will just ignore all news about Wallstreet and the economy. I am putting my head down and making dolls, dolls, dolls. Who cares what they say...

I have been receiving so many of custom orders this last week that I am kind of freaking out. I must pace myself. I don't want to take on too many for fear of not being able to finish them in the end. I want to put the same amount of love into each doll and make them perfect. I also have nightmares about getting the details mixed up and loosing track of information and deadlines. To battle these issues I made myself this handy-dandy "Custom Dolls Order Detail Sheet". On it I mark all the important information. What do you think?

My little sticky notes are just not big enough to put all the info on them. A few Christmas seasons ago I could barely look out my window because it was pasted with them.

How do you stay organized running your small business?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Time for "A Clean Sweep"!

Yippee! Looks like the German survived yet another hot summer. I so much prefer wearing layers of warm clothing over sweating. This week I gladly carried the window fans down to the basement and got out the warm covers. Finally, sweet sleep is back! No more tossing and turning.

Part of getting the house ready for the cold season means calling the chimney sweep. People say it's good luck to shake hands with the man in the top hat. So call him we did this week. We insisted on the top hat. It looks so cool and doesn't add to the cost.

One of the most useful items we bought for our house was a modern and highly efficient woodstove. It keeps our little old house cosy and comfy. We all huddle by the fireplace in the mornings and gather there in the evenings to read books. There is something special about having a real fireplace. Maybe something to do with our cave dwelling ancestors...

Last year, over Thanksgiving weekend, a family we know had a terrible housefire because their chimney had not been cleaned for a long time. So if you are planning to use your fireplace this winter maybe this is a good time to have it checked for safety and get a good sweeping.

I am glad I made an appointment with Mr. Lucky last week. He danced on our roof for about 30 minutes. I am not sure where the idea of chimney sweeps bringing good luck comes from. Do you know? I surely feel lucky that our evenings by the fire place will be free of worry!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When Osama stole my Friend

Busted. Broken. My favorite serving bowl broke the other day. In this bowl I served many a good meal to a dear friend. I loved that stupid bowl so much. Had it for over ten years. Now what? It makes me sad to think it can't be fixed.

Some stuff just can't.  I normally like to read the papers, listen to radio, or watch the news on TV. Not this week. All they talk about is September 11th and what people were doing that day. Let's see: we were having breakfast and getting our 3-year old boy ready for preschool when we heard the news.

This week our kids came home from school talking about old news footage they were shown at school. My 10-year-old is having nightmares from it. My 13-year-old has this project: Interview your parents about what they were doing on September 11th.

How can I explaine this one to my son?

I am sick of it all. I really don't want to think about it any more. Tried to forget and burry it along with the rubble. Has it been 10 years, really? Nobody I personally knew died that day. Yet I remember a traumatic event tied to that very day. A friendship of mine that was of great importance died that day. Something broke.

How come? Let me just call her K. She was the first real friend I had made since moving to the US. Seemed like we had so many things in common. We worked a the same place. K. lived in a little old house like mine. A fixer-upper with problems. We had kids the same age. Her son went to the same preschool as my son. K. spoke German. She had studied it in college. Spent some time in Germany, too. She loved things German. I suppose I fell into that category, too.

Then September 11th happened. Nobody I know died. It was only a friendship. All of sudden we couldn't talk anymore. Every conversation turned into an argument. An argument about how all people from the Middle East - foreigners - were evil. Could not be trusted. I tried to reason with sweet K. The young woman who had babysat my son while I was in hospital giving birth to our second babe just looked at me with hate in her eyes.

Only six month after I had trusted her with my first-born son everything changed. I never found an explanation for it all. K. just disappeared from my life. She ended all playdates. My son who had been inseparable from his friend J. (K's Kid) was never allowed to play with him again. Our weekly "German" playdates were stopped abruptly never to resume again. I would call her and ask why. I never got an answer. I felt like a jilted lover or something. I'd lay awake at night writing letters in my head: Why K? I did not fly those airplanes into the World Trade Center! I am a German Immigrant. The fact that I have Muslim friends in Germany does not make me a bad person! If you can't love me any more why take it out on a 3-year-old child?  How do you explaine to a young child that he cannot see his friend any more?

Whether they are 3, 10, or 13 years old - I find explaining it doesn't get easier.

On September 11th two friendships ended. I will never forgive Osama Bin Laden for that one. The human tragedy hit on so many levels that awful day...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Apfeltaschen - Apple Pockets

I often wonder whether my time spent at the University of Berlin getting a Master's Degree in North American Studies wasn't a huge waste of time. Wow, I can't believe I said that. I worked so long and hard for that degree I still have nightmares every now and then over the finals...

Reading novels and studying American history may have enlightened me about what I was getting myself into when I moved to the US, yet in no way did it prepare me for the food crisis I would encounter once I started living here. I still  get really depressed when I wonder the food aisles of the typical American grocery store.

Photo by Jes Anthonis

Bread. I miss those hardy German loaves to no end. I miss the multitude of rolls and buns one can choose from at a German bakery in the early morning hours. Donuts and Bear Claws? Ridiculous! If you have ever visited Germany you know what I am talking about...

I am convinced that an apprenticeship at a German bakery most likely would have prepared me better for life in the US. At least food wise. In order to survive, I had to teach myself how to make some of the baked goods that I love so much. I never knew how some of my  childhood favorites were prepared until desperation drove me to search for recipes in imported cookbooks and on the Internet.

One of my favorite childhood sweets are Apfeltaschen. Yum! So simple and a yet so good. My kids agree. What kid doesn't love apples?

If you are a German expatriate or just prefer a less sweet treat in the morning enjoy this German recipe!

Apfeltasche/ Apple Pocket

For the filling

Fresh homemade applesauce is best! But you can also use chopped sauteed apples with raisins. You need about one to two cups for the filling.

If you are wondering why the applesauce in my pictures is intensely red: I made it from an old variety of crab apples (you know from before they started messing with the genes to make big ornamental flowering kind of trees). I cannot tell you the location of this tree. It's probably the last one of it's kind in the US. I would have to kill you if I did. LOL

For the dough:
400 grams of all purpose flour
1 package of dry yeast or fresh if you have it
50 grams of sugar
pinch of salt
1 package of vanilla sugar
50 grams of melted butter
200 ml of warm milk
1 egg

Mix all the ingredients together and knead them until you get a smooth dough. Let the dough rest until it has risen or visibly increased in size. Then punch it down and knead it again.
Roll out the dough into a flat sheet. It should be a little less than a quarter inch thickness. Then take a little bowl with a diameter of about 5-6 inches. Use bowl as pattern to cut circles from the dough sheet. You should get about 8 circles. Crack and egg and separate the egg white from the egg yolk.

Put a heaping spoonful of applesauce in the center of each circle. Smear the edges around of your circle with egg white. Then fold over and make little half moon pouches. Pinch the edges firmly together or apple sauce will leak out!

"Looks a lot like an empanada", my husband commented. "You probably stole that recipe from my grandma!" HaHa. Not funny!

Set your apple baggies on a greased baking sheet. Parchment paper works well too.
Cover them up with a towel and let them rise in a warm place once more. Rub the top of each bun with some egg yolk. Once they look bigger bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until the tops turn brown. Takes about 15-20 minutes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

That Silly Old House...

We have been living in our little old house since 1998. In fact we moved in the day our son was born. In those 13 years we have done tons of work on this house. One thing one should keep in mind buying an old house: When you start a project it's never what you thought it would be.

It's sort of like excavating the mistakes of owners' past...

Check out this lovely hallway. We have never painted it. Why? Because the ceilings are so high. One really should use scaffolding to do the job. But who needs that when you have an uncle who is handy and determined to play Cirque du Soleil at your house? The children got so worried about his balancing act on a couple of ladders and wooden planks they started piling pillows at bottom of the stairs and brought me the phone to call 911.

Luckily nobody got injured. The uncle left. The project is not finished. Hmm. Now does this look worse than before? I only have to scrape >a few more areas< where the paint is loose from an ancient leak that must have occurred many years before our time. The previous owners painted over the mess instead of peeling off all the lose paint.

I have decided to do a little bit each day while I contemplate what color to paint it. First I was leaning towards a pretty grey. But after scraping off all that old greyish paint I changed my mind. I want something bright. I want the intense blue they use in Greek houses. Not that I have ever been there. But why not bring Greece here? I still have not found the right shade of blue. Do you have any suggestions? I only want to do this once. I cannot afford to make a mistake here. So please help me find the perfect color.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reminders are Good!

Reminders. We all need them. This summer a bill arrived in the mail. It came as a total shock to me and my husband. How did this happen? How come our electric bill was suddenly double of what it normally is? Not like I stayed up around the clock sewing doll clothes. Was there a broken appliance sucking up all this energy?

Air conditioning? Haha. We don't have that in our little old house. We do have a few window fans to get us through the worst part of the summer but we don't run them enough to double our bill. DH (husband) was quite annoyed. Of course, it must be something we (the kids and I) were doing. Like leaving the refrigerator door open or leaving lights on.

Now we had to get to the bottom of this. Who wants to waste energy in these times of global warming? And who can afford to double their electric bill when the economy is down in the dumps. So we all decided to watch ourselves very carefully. We policed each other about turning off lights that were unnecessarily burning. We turned the dishwasher and clothes washer only on if it was full to the brim. Cutting down on TV time also helps!

Mostly I watched my own actions. One thing I noticed I had been slacking off with was the clothes drying. It's criminal, really. I even wrote an article Simple Steps to Save the Planet on the NK blog a while ago. Back then, I ranted about Americans wasting so much energy by using clothes dryers instead of hanging their laundry and drying it outside. You know how many gazillions of kilowatt hours could be saved if we all dried our clothes on a clothing line? A LOT. But here I was all lazy and Americanized finding excuses: It was too hot, or I am too tired to hang clothes, my back hurts.

So after that bill arrived in the mail it was a good reminder for me. MUST HANG UP LAUNDRY. And guess what? The next bill came and it was $15 less than our normal monthly bill. At the end of the bill was a note tacked on saying that the last bill had been a mistake. They had accidentally overcharged us by double the amount. Wow! I am so glad we found the reason for this strange bill. But even more I am glad it got me back on track doing the right thing for the environment...Reminders are good!