DIY – Removable shelf board

We have a diaper changing station that is foldable:

Wickelstation

Recently, we found that the table is too full and too messy and that it would be handy to have a small board nearby for all the stuff we need around the table, like creams and wet cloths and diapers. However, when installing a fixed board, the table can’t be folded anymore, unless we attach the board high above the table, but then it is not handy… The solution could be a shelf that can easily be detached from its holder and put back. Once, I had a board like that: A cute little mole on the wall “holding” a board. Inspired by that, I decided to make a “mouse board” that also looks decorative in a child’s room. The mouse design was easier to realise with the technical facilities that I have.

Every DIY project should start with drawings. This helps getting clearer about the steps and the material needed for construction. It will reveal the weak points of the idea and ways to improve the plan. It results in a list of parts that have to be produced, items that have to be bought, and devices that have to be employed. For the mouse board, I need:

  • 1 central body as the actual board holder which is attached to the wall in the end
  • 1 head and 1 leg part as “mouse” decoration
  • 4 additional parts (“arms”) to support the board
  • 1 tail
  • 1 shelf board, 60x25cm
  • 6 screws 2.5cm, 2 screws >4cm, 2 dowels
  • jigsaw, impact drill, cordless electric drill
  • paint and brushes
  • a few bristles from a broom
  • felt stickers (those that are usually put under the legs of chairs and tables)

The only thing I had to buy was the 60x25cm shelf board. The other parts I could saw from remains that I kept from earlier DIY projects (Never throw anything away! You never know when you are happy that you still have it!). I cut paper models of the mouse parts, drew the shapes onto the wood and cut it with the jigsaw. I also made the corners of the shelf board round (for safety reasons).

Mouseboard1

Mouseboard2

Next, I assembled the mouse: The head with a screw from the back to the top part of the body; the legs with a screw from the back to the bottom with the tail in between; the smaller half circles as top support and the bigger half circles as bottom support (with screws from the side) so that they form a gap that is about 3mm wider than the thickness of the shelf board. I also drilled small holes through the two narrowest parts of the body (the “throat” and the “back” in the gap). The holder will be attached to the wall with screws through these holes. I marked the respective spots on the wall, drilled holes into it and plugged the dowels in.

Mouseboard3

Before attaching the mouse on the wall, I painted it. I didn’t do that very professionally or with special wood paint or lacquer. I used cheap “poster paint” that I still had from an earlier art project. I think, that is not the best choice, but the mouse looks like a mouse at least.

Mouseboard4

After the paint was dry, I attached the felt stickers in the gap on the supporters and the broom bristles in small holes (made with a corkboard pin) on the nose. Then, it was ready to be attached on the wall. The diaper changing table is still foldable when the shelf board is not in the holder. With the felt stickers, it is firmly attached in the holder and doesn’t move easily so that things can be stored on it safely. I am happy with the result!

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Recipe: Goji-Sesame-Corn-Bread

I like Asian food! Really! Much more than German food, actually! However, there is one thing that we Germans are really spoiled with and that Asians are simply not able to produce: Good bread! Besides beer and sausages, probably the most outstanding item on the list of typical German food! Living in Taiwan, I kind of miss the large variety of tasty bread. Here, I can only get some soft, tasteless, almost cake-like, sponge crap, like American sandwich toast. Some local bakeries try to make “German bread”, but I have never found anything close to what I would call “good bread”. On the contrary, when I made a “good bread” for some friends, they couldn’t appreciate it, because it was “too hard” for them, “like eating steak”. I guess, it is a cultural thing.

Good that I like baking! I just make my own bread! And since we are in Taiwan, I try to combine the “German idea” of bread with the availability of typically local ingredients. Here is my recipe for a rustic rich-flavoured Goji-bread. It features tasty and very healthy Goji berries (枸杞), black sesame and polenta (coarse corn flour), adding up to the “German colours” (the colours of the German national flag).

Ingredients:

  • 500g flour (I usually use 300g wheat flour and 200g whole grain flour with rye and barley)
  • 1 big spoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 30g butter
  • 12-15g dry yeast (or according to the instructions on the yeast package, which sometimes comes in portions for 500g or 1kg flour)
  • 300ml warm liquid (I usually use 80-100ml milk with hot water; the more milk the less fluffy the end product)
  • 100g polenta (corn flour)
  • ~80g coarsely ground dried Goji berries (or “a good hand full”)
  • 1 big spoon of black sesame
  • 100ml hot water
  • extra wheat flower (up to 200g)

Gojibrot1

Procedure:

Subject flours, sugar, salt, yeast and butter (in small pieces) into a large bowl. Pour the at least hand-warm water/milk mix into the bowl and immediately start kneading with your strong hand. Keep one hand clean, first, to hold the bowl or if needed for something (Trust me: There is nothing more annoying than needing a clean hand right after you just stuck both into the dough!). In the beginning, it feels a bit messy, but after some mixing and kneading the dough becomes more sticky and dry. When your kneading hand is more or less dry, start kneading enthusiastically with both hands. You may take the dough lump out of the bowl and do that on a big wooden board or the table. Knead for 10 minutes! This is very important! The dough might look homogenous after 2 minutes, but you have to continue treating it hard for much longer! This has to do with the chemical structure of flour and the mechanical forces that make the long carbohydrate chains intermingle. The longer you knead the better the bread will be in the end! When the dough is done, keep it covered at a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes for the yeast to rise. Strictly avoid breezes! My father (an experienced baker who taught me many tricks) used to put the bowl with the dough into a tempered water bath. In case your home has a heating, place it there. Taiwan is hot enough, I just put it on the balcony (securely covered to protect from dirt and dust!).

Meanwhile, prepare the “special ingredients mix” (you could just skip this, then the dough will become a very “ordinary” bread): In a suitable bowl or cup, mix the black sesame, polenta and coarsely ground Goji berries (I put a big handful of berries into a plastic bag and smash them with a hammer, but you might find more elegant methods) with hot water (I don’t measure it, but it must be roughly 100ml). Let it stand.

When the first dough is grown to at least double its original size (after about 20-30 minutes), add the Goji-sesame-corn-mix into the bowl. The addition of this watery mass would make the dough too wet, so you will have to add additional flour. Proceed as in the first part: Knead the mix with only one hand first, use the clean hand to add more flour until the dough feels dry enough (when nothing keeps sticking on your hand). Knead again thoroughly for 10 minutes. Keep warm for another 20-30 minutes.

Gojibrot2

After one more round of brief kneading, place the lump in the baking mould. If required (for example, if your baking pan is not of good quality), coat the inside of the mould with butter so that the finished bread comes out easily. Heat the oven to 180-200°C. Meanwhile, the dough will grow further in the mould. Before putting it into the oven, make a cut along its top so that it can “unfold”. Sparkle a few drops of water across the surface for proper humidity in the oven while baking and to make the top perfectly crunchy (don’t ask me how and why it works with water!). Bake the bread in the oven for 35-40 minutes. After taking it out, let it stand for at least 15 minutes. When you cut it too early, it will most likely fall apart.

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This bread is suitable for sweet toppings (jam, honey, chocolate spread, peanut butter, etc.) and for savoury ones (cheese, ham, eggs, etc.). My favourite are slices with spreadable cheese, ham, egg, cucumber and tomato…

Recipe: Avocado-Banana-Choco-Mousse

So far, I haven’t been a big fan of avocado. I was happy, though, when a friend brought self-grown avocados a few days ago, because I heard that they are good and healthy for toddlers. It turned out, however, that you (Tsolmo) don’t like them very much. Therefore, I looked for inspirations on how to enhance the flavour and make something delicious from it. I found several hints like these:

  • Add lemon or lime juice, also to keep the flesh green and fresh!
  • Combine with other sweet fruits like mango or banana!
  • Sweeten it with syrup!
  • Combine with coconut (oil, crème, milk, or shredded)

Fortunately, I had several ingredients in the fridge that perfectly added up to a delicious dessert-like dish. It is easy to make and took me about 10 minutes only. Imitation strongly recommended!

Ingredients:

Bottom layer:

  • 40g shredded coconut
  • 20g maple syrup
  • 10g cocoa powder (for baking, not the one for preparing milk drinks)

Mousse:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1-2 ripe bananas
  • 40g maple or rice syrup
  • 20-30g (2 spoons) coconut oil
  • a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 10g cocoa powder

Avocadodessert1

Procedure:

Mix shredded coconut with maple syrup and cocoa powder. Keep 1/3 of it aside for decorating the top. Distribute the rest into 4 glass cups (we don’t want to miss the visual effect, right?), press it slightly down to cover the bottom.

Peel and cut bananas and avocados, add syrup, coconut oil and lemon juice, and blend the mix to get a homogenous greenish mousse. Distribute half of it into the glasses. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining and blend again shortly to get a brown mass. Distribute this into the glasses as a third layer. Finally, put the remaining coconut flakes on top. Put the glasses into the fridge for at least one hour before serving. Here comes the point: Avocado is fatty enough (around 14% fat, one of the fattiest “fruits” around), so why still adding coconut oil? Cooling it down makes the coconut oil solidify, so that the dessert becomes more “moussy”. You may eat it right away without cooling, but then the consistency is more like that of pudding. No matter how: Enjoy it!

Avocadodessert2

Final remark: I am not sure, actually, if this is proper food for an 18-months-old! All ingredients (except the shredded coconut) were fresh and organic. It is neither too sweet nor too greasy. The flavours of banana and cocoa dominate, with a slight trace of coconut. As long as you don’t eat too much of it, it should be OK!

Flavour Sensation: Diamond Head Soup

Today something completely different: A recipe for one of my favourite dishes – A Hawaiian pumpkin soup called “Diamond Head Soup”. Don’t ask me where the name is coming from, but that was the title of the instructions that I once found. It is sensationally delicious! That kind of dish that with the first spoon makes you forget what you were busy with the moment before! That’s no joke! Once, I had a fight with my girlfriend, she was mad at me for some reason. I made this soup and gave her a bowl of it. She took the first spoon – “Hmm!” – a second one – “HMMMM!!” – and gone was the anger (the rest of the evening was harmonious as ever)! Here is how to make it:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pumpkin (for best results, take a Hokkaido pumpkin), peeled and diced
  • 1-2 big carrots, chopped
  • 1-2 mangoes (if you have a choice, like in Taiwan, take a big yellow one, or two small red ones, the sweeter the better), chopped
  • 1 can of coconut cream or coconut milk
  • garlic, finely chopped
  • onion and/or leak onion, chopped
  • ginger, finely chopped
  • oil (olive oil, coconut oil and/or other flavoured oils), or butter
  • black vinegar (黑醋, also “Worcestershire sauce”)
  • curry, cumin, turmeric, as you prefer
  • salt and pepper
  • optional: mint sprigs

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Preparation:

Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a pot over medium flame and slightly fry onions, garlic and ginger in it for about 3 minutes. Then add the chopped carrot and fry for another 2 minutes while stirring. Add a bit of salt and a spoon of 黑醋, stir well. Then pour water or broth carefully into the pot until the carrots are fully covered. Add pumpkin and curry powder (or any spice you want). Heat the soup until it boils and simmer it with lid for about 20 minutes with low flame.

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Stir in the mango and boil for 5 minutes. Add water if necessary (it should be enough to just cover everything). Then remove the pot from the stove and blend the whole mixture. The soup should become perfectly homogenous without any lumps. Heat the soup again slightly and stir in the coconut cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper, optionally add sugar to make the taste more “round”. Don’t let it boil again. When serving, each plate can be decorated with a sprig of mint, adding another “colour” of taste (I don’t use that).

Guten Appetit!

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Magnificent

Look, Tsolmo, Guy Garvey of Elbow wrote a song about you!

Well… of course, he had something personal in mind, and who knows what that is. But that first verse and the chorus (not so much the second verse, though) really touch me!

This is where, this is where the bottle lands
Where all the biggest questions meet
With little feet stood in the sand

This is where the echoes swell to nothing on the tide
And where a tiny pair of hands
Finds a sea-worn piece of glass
And sets it as a sapphire in her mind

And there she stands
Throwing both her arms around the world
The world that doesn’t even know
How much it needs this little girl

It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says
It’s all gonna be magnificent

You have to know that my grandparents – your greatgrandparents – live near Hamburg at the river Elbe which is so wide there that it has beaches. As a child, I played there for many hours, watching the ships entering and leaving the harbour of Hamburg, so amazed and overwhelmed by the huge carriers and cargo vessels that I threw myself into the sand. I found stones and sometimes little shells, trash and all kinds of items washed onto the shore by the waves. This image and the memories of the great times I had there all come up when listening to this song. This jaunty happiness, dreaming of a cruise on one of those ships, fighting pirates, discovering treasures full of gemstones… and imagining, almost hoping, that those colourful sea-worn pieces of glass actually ARE gemstones! So, now, I see you standing on that beach, carefree, playing with an empty bottle, and all your thoughts circle around is whether it is possible to stop the waves from rolling in by smashing them with this bottle (“where all the biggest questions meet”). No job, no homework (yet), no bills, no complicated relationships, just this small world full of curiosity and an untamable urge to discover. And your mind will be imaginative and creative, with a blue round piece of glass just as precious as a sapphire. And in this natural state of joy, you want to hug the world that is so great and beautiful and good! It’s all gonna be magnificent! Try to keep this light-hearted optimism as long as you can! How much the world needs you, I can tell! This bundle of love and joy that you are! And if not “the world”, then at least “my world”… Only complete WITH you! I love you, Tsolmo!

seaglass

Sand

Apparently, we don’t have a TV at home – but you don’t care, yet, because you don’t even know, yet, what a TV is. Television is a technology in the field of mass media. In the 1960s it entered almost every household in Germany, other European countries, the USA, Japan, and many other countries, soon ubiquitous all around the globe. It presented moving pictures which was regarded as a huge advancement compared to the other major mass media forms in place, the radio and the newspaper. Why, then, don’t we have one now? To be sure, we consciously and wholeheartedly decided not to have one. To explain that, I’d like to share a story with you:

A professor stood before his Philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty bucket and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the bucket was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a jar of pebbles and poured them into the bucket. He shook it lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open spaces between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the bucket was full. They agreed it was. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the bucket and of course filled up everything else. He then asked once more if it was full. The students responded with an unanimous yes. The professor then produced a cup of tea from under the table and proceeded to pour the entire content into the bucket, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed.

Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this bucket represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends, your favourite passions – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff. If you put the sand into the bucket first,” he continued, ” there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner dancing. Play another match chess. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.” After a few moments of silence in the classroom, one of the students raised his hand and inquired what the tea represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of tea.”

This story is about priorities and about our important and useful ability to step back and reflect on our life, the decisions we make and the options we choose. On the one side, it is good to realise what our golf balls are, because only then are we able to lead a mindful and fulfilled life. On the other side, it is of the same significance to identify and eliminate all the sand! And I can tell you, what we call “progress”, especially the technological one, produces more and more sand, time killers that lure our weak and opportunistic minds to choose them. My standard example for “sand” in this respect is TV. To put it straight: 98% (roughly) of what is transmitted via TV channels is nonsensical, meaningless, stupidifying, dull bullshit (this will probably be the only time you will ever read this word from me here). Yes, there is informative News. Luckily, nowadays, we have more diverse and alternative sources for News, especially via internet. Yes, there are interesting documentaries and educational shows. These are either the remaining 2%, or they turn out to be much less valuable than other sources of knowledge and learning. And, yes, sometimes it is simply entertaining and funny, for example in form of good movies, live concerts, cultural shows, etc. Again, there are better sources for that. When you read a book, your imagination creates the visual impression from the words you are receiving. In your mind, a creative sense-making takes place. When you watch TV, your mind is much less creative and by far less challenged to “make sense” of what it perceives. Besides, culture and arts should also be consumed “directly”, not through a TV screen. Moreover, TV consumption is unhealthy both for body (sitting around, blue light screen) and psyche. This last point deserves more attention and explanation.

The major problem I have with TV consumption is that in the vast majority of cases it doesn’t challenge our intellect, emotional and empathic skills, creativity, thoughtfulness and practical skills. The severe lack of self-fulfilment that goes along with watching TV leaves us behind with the inherent feeling of emptiness (not in the Buddhist sense), of having wasted time, and of stagnation. If you are already “empty” (like most of the people in “modern” countries), you might not even get aware of it. But if you grow into a mindful, creative, curious and active person that seeks self-fulfilment, you will probably choose to watch TV only when there is really nothing else to do (which means: never). When you delve into a book, create an artwork, practice a musical instrument, exhaust yourself with sports, socialise with friends, play in the sun or explore nature, I promise you will always feel “better” than after watching TV. Of course, it is not about always doing something “smart” or meaningful, there must be time for relaxing and low-level entertainment. But then, I imply, it is still about “making choices”, and the TV gives you only an illusion of choice, as Roger Waters wrote in The Wall in 1979: “I got 13 channels of shit on the TV to choose from.” As mentioned above, today, there are much more sources of all sorts of information and entertainment. We don’t need a TV to choose interesting movies, informative documentaries or comedy.

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The problem is: TV is a “simple” way to pass time. Same as alcohol is a simple way to cover sadness. Or as smoking is a simple way to deal with insecurity and nervousness. Or as chocolate is a simple way of self-reward. It is a temptation, a welcome counter-pole to the stressful and difficult “daily life” with school, job, conflict-solving, standing one’s ground and fulfilling one’s desires. People choose TV because they are tired. And because vegging in front of the TV doesn’t require any brain cells. What these people obviously didn’t experience is the power of a passion (a hobby, for example) or of interpersonal quality time (playing with children, meaningful conversation with close friends or the partner) to serve as a huge source of energy. In the terms of the story: sand sucks your energy out, while golf balls deliver energy to you! Even after a long workday, and especially when you are tired. You just need to get your ass up! In Buddhist terms: Watching TV is suffering (dhuka) in the sense that you give in to your deluded desires and your resistance to challenges. Our (your parents’) decision not to have a TV is motivated by the attempt to eliminate all sources of unhappiness and suffering. Instead, we (your Mom and I) play cards almost every night before going to sleep. This simple card game is as “stupid” and non-challenging as a TV show, but we look at each other, talk to each other while playing, interact (at least more than in front of a TV screen) and have fun “in our way” (instead of in a way dictated by a technological device). My vision of the future is a family life full of activities like this, outdoor activities whenever the weather allows it, and playing games, playing music, create or build something together, whenever we prefer staying inside.

I am totally aware that my aversion against TV is highly exaggerated and for many people even offensive. Of course, not everybody who watches TV from time to time is an idiot! But it is, as always, a matter of balance and – most of all –  a matter of mindfulness and conscious choice! For now, since you are still a baby, we decided not to expose you to TV consumption or any other form of “staring at a screen”. So far, you obviously grow into a curious, active, healthy, energetic, cognitively very skilled girl! Therefore, I believe, it is not the worst choice!

Happy Birthday, Tsolmo!

Dear Tsolmo!

Today it is one year ago that you took your first breath on this planet. Today we look back at a year full of splendidness and joy! Seriously! It is amazing how well you developed! You are bigger than all the 12-month-olds around you, you can walk more stable, you can climb down from the couch safely, climb up (!) the play structure in the park and slide down the slide by yourself, and you dance to AC/DC and the Blues Brothers! Since you are 6 weeks old, you sleep all nights through without waking up, except for 5 (five!) nights (out of 320). Your health records mention 2 light fevers – and that’s it! Not even one diarrhoea! You eat and digest everything we feed you, including salmon, goji, kiwi, seaweed, and all other available vegetables, nuts, grains and fruits. You are able to play with one thing for one hour, and you enjoy exploring every corner of our apartment. Also – and that is the fun part – you unpack every shelf and drawer you can open (which forced us to re-organise almost the entire apartment). I guess it is a cycle: You sleep very well, so when you are awake you have strong mental capacities to explore and be active, so you use up all your energy and can sleep well, which supports your mental and physical development for more activity…

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On the Highway to hell (air guitar solo)

Recently, you developed a stronger will. If you want something you can’t reach, and we don’t give it to you, you can get really loud and demanding! How can we find the fine line between supporting your interest and curiosity and letting you experience that your will has limits? I guess, that is the basic question for many parents: Where on the gradual line between spoiling on the one end and frustrating on the other end do we position ourselves by this or that decision? So far, you are obviously a very happy child, with many reasons to laugh and enjoy your own progress. I guess, it means we don’t treat you too wrong. Sometimes I found myself being impatient and sounding a bit too harsh. Will you remember that? Your behaviour, at least, doesn’t mirror it. All in all, you are rather gentle, calm and peaceful (like your mom). Observing your development confirms my constructivist worldview: there is a strong link between your environment and your development! You are not “born as” anything, but all the patterns that form and all your constitution are the result of the experiences you make and how you in your small world construct meaning from it. It is very fascinating to observe all this, so I can say that it is you who makes us (at least me) learn and not vice versa!

Thank you, Tsolmo, for enriching and colouring our life, for bringing endless joy and astonishment, for letting us experience the most precious human trait: unconditional parental love and the unshakable willingness to care and foster. Looking forward to all the wonderful years to come, filled with your “magic”! Happy Birthday, 小魔女!

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Edit:

We just finished a ceremony that is very widespread in Asia: We dressed you in some kind of “Chinese” dress, put you in front of an arrangement of 10 things and let you pick three.  Your choice is said to tell something about your future. I don’t believe in that kind of fortune-telling, but it is fun, anyway! Instead of following standard procedures or even letting an “expert” do it, we chose to do this ritual all by ourselves. The 10 things I chose and their meaning are:

  • a carrot – always enough to eat
  • a Darth Vader – attracted by the dark side
  • a tool (screw driver) – practical skills
  • a pen (calligraphy brush) – knowledge creation ability
  • a book – knowledgeableness (erudition)
  • a musical instrument (ocarina) – creative artistic skills
  • a bottle of liquor – susceptibility for addiction
  • money – material wealth
  • three owls figure (like the three monkeys) – spiritual wisdom
  • a clock – always well organised

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You picked the carrot first. You seemed very satisfied with that one, and it took quite some time to convince you to choose a second item. You took the book. You touched the three owls, but didn’t take it. Other things didn’t attract your attention at all. I think, that is a good result! At least, you didn’t choose the alcohol, the money or Darth Vader (which would be cool, too, anyhow)! For now, we interpret your choice as an affirmative message: We will provide enough food and enough sources of knowledge (for example books) for you until you are able to provide yourself sufficiently with those things! On a prosperous future!