Thursday, June 30, 2011

Origami Fairy Lights

I love origami. When I got married the first time and had the whole white-dress wedding shebang, I made 1001 origami cranes that decorated our reception hall at Union Theological Seminary. Some friends even hung them in the magnolia tree in the courtyard and other friends took pictures of my cranes in various places around New York City.

I've wanted to do another origami project for a while. I've also wanted to create a lighting solution for our porch so we could fully enjoy it in the evening as well as during the day. Originally, the only light on the porch was a single naked bulb that is strangely long-lived. Josh has never changed it once in the 15 years he has lived in this house. It is decidedly more horror movie than mood lighting:

So, when I saw that a friend had a string of fairy lights in her screen house with little origami shades, I thought, "I can make that!" And then had to wait months and months to finally have time to make 200 multi-colored origami balloons to fit over the bulbs of a couple extra strings of Christmas lights I had:

During the daytime, they add a cheerful splash of color to the white painted walls and trim:

At night they have a magical glow that truly lives up to the fairy lights name:

And create the perfect mood for sitting out on the porch sipping a mojito made with the fresh mint that grows right outside the door.

Would you care to join us for drinks on our porch some evening this summer?

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Garden Journal

I have wanted to start a garden journal for some time now. I need a place to keep track of the things I have planted and what I have learned during the growing season. All those fleeting thoughts and ideas that come to me while I'm digging in the dirt need a permanent place that I can look back on in late winter and benefit from this year's lessons for next year's garden planning.

And speaking of late winter, I can use the proof that there were once tomatoes growing in the yard as a jumping off point for dreaming of spring when things get really rough.

There are immediate benefits, too. The garden journal feeds the obsession I have with my garden right now. Not only do I get to work in the garden for hours on end, I get to write about it, muse about it, and fixate on it when I can't be out there. Double the pleasure!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cyberspace Game

Ellis's other class at Leonardo's Basement was called "Raiders of the Lost Junkyard," which was essentially free range to make something with junk. After seeing some kids makings "civilizations out of computer chips," Ellis thought he'd make a game called Cyberspace. There are three levels: Sky, Land, and Sewer plus a bonus arcade level. At the end of each chapter, you have to beat a monster called a "Cyberzilla."

The Cyberzillas are mostly hybrid creatures like things out of some crazy plastic toy mythology. In the picture above you can see Polar Bear on A Plastic Thing, Monkey Guy and Native American-Headed Spiderman (not pictured: Spiderman-Headed Toy Soldier)

There's also Starfish Guy:

Man-headed Bear:

And let's not forget Bear-headed Man

There's Video Game Guy who runs the arcade bonus level and looks like some sort of cyborg Freddy Krueger:

Ellis spends most of his time in the world of imagination, and it's cool when he makes stuff because it's a window into the kinds of things going on in his mind. I'm always delighted by the way he manages to play around with reality.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Lemon Demon Chair

We like to make stuff in our family. This summer, Ellis is spending four weeks taking classes at Leonardo's Basement, which is a perfect place for kids who are into exercising their imaginations and monkeying around with junk. Last week he had two classes. The first one was "No Ordinary Chair." In the video below, watch Ellis describe the chair and his creative process:

P.S. It's a darn comfy chair for sitting out on the lawn reading while the kids play outside.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Perfect Song

"Nice Try" by I Am Arrows.

I admit that I first heard this song in a Gap store in New York City. Gap seems to know its market pretty well because I often hear songs I absolutely love when I shop there. It makes me feel slightly like a consumerist tool, but mostly I just enjoy the music (and the clothes). Gap + Shazam app = Perfect Song.

And we all like that, don't we?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I have received feedback from many people that I am a good planner. I've often rejected this compliment because it seems like a softer way of saying someone is uptight or boring.  Spontaneous people have the reputation of being more fun. Planners are seen as the antithesis of spontaneous and therefore not fun. Even worse in the work world, being called a good planner is often a compliment for someone who is not considered a "high-level thinker" i.e. not management material.

As I've reflected on the type of planning I do, however, I have come to realize that it is a very high level thinking skill. Through this reflection, I've developed the following definition: effective planning is the ability to project your mind in the future in order to influence outcomes in a direction you desire. Planning requires the mental acuity to be able to identify and evaluate the many possible pathways to an outcome. It also requires the flexibility and the humility to understand that many things that happen along the way are uncontrolled variables that may affect intended outcomes in unexpected ways.

I grew up in an environment where my primary care givers consistently told me all the things that I couldn't do. There were a lot of artificial limits placed on my life at an early age that were rooted in fear or in a rigid sense of how things were supposed to be (for example, girls don't play sports). Because of these limits, I developed a strong sense of determination to work doggedly to accomplish the things I want to accomplish, and a refusal to accept barriers or detours as a permanent "no" to an outcome I want. There will always be challenges. A good plan will address these. In fact, you don't need plans for things that are easy for you. In those cases the logical steps to get where you want to go are already ingrained in you.

Planning is for the hard things, the unclear things, the scary things, and the things that are so important that they are entwined with your life's purpose. A good plan is a declaration of strength and purpose in the face of uncertainty. A good plan says, "This is my life and I have no intention of wasting it."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Proof that the Universe has a Sense of Humor and Sometimes the Joke's on You

Charlie and I headed over the Harriet Alexander Nature center to check out the marsh. The best part about the marsh path at Harriet Alexander is the quiet of it. The bird and frog songs drown out the urban noises and make for a peaceful nature walk. I was having kind of a cranky morning so I was hoping to have some quiet time communing with nature to reset. 
When we got to the center, I realized that this was not going to be the case. Two women were there with a group of kids. The kids were fine, but the women seemed to be very into their roles as teachers and camp counselors. They couldn't stop talking loudly while enthusiastically imparting all the wisdom they have about nature on the poor children in their care. My inner crabby pants was activated by the pure delight they were taking in being the experts and by how they couldn't just let everyone experience the place for themselves. I tried to walk quickly by them with Charlie in hopes of getting more quiet as we moved along the path.

It didn't work out. Charlie had something in his sock and sat down on the path to try to get it out. While I was helping him, the group caught up with us. One of the women crouched down and said, “Is he all right? Do you need a first aid kit?” in that chipper voice that showed she was trying to prove how resourceful and friendly she was helping a stranger. I said, “He's fine, thanks,” in a flat voice. I helped Charlie put his sock and shoe back on and tried to move past the group again.

The path along the marsh is cordoned off by wire cords held in tension between wood posts. Charlie was running his hand along the cords as we walked along the path. Earlier, Ms. First Aid Kit was telling the children how a kid in another group had cut his hands on the cords and that they shouldn't touch them. When her partner saw Charlie walking with his hand on the cord she made sure to say to us, “You know, you should be careful, those wires have splinters and you could cut your hands.” I said nothing. We've been to Harriet Alexander many times and the kids walk holding the cords all the time because it's fun and minor risks are not a reason to not experience cool things. And why do some people have to RUIN EVERYTHING?

We walked ahead of the group finally getting enough space to enjoy the marsh sounds and take some pictures. The group turned back after lingering at a sitting area and Charlie and I walked on finally able to enjoy the solitude. The whole time Charlie was holding the wires and cheerfully muttering to himself, “You can cut your hands on the wire!” He was enjoying himself touching the wires and stating the warning and doing it anyway. At the end of our walk Charlie said, “Hey Mom, I cut my hand on the wire.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Oh Charlie, you're just saying that because of that silly thing that woman said.” Then I looked at his hand and saw two tiny cuts on his fingers. I laughed at myself, the old crank, and when we got back to the car, I got an antiseptic wipe and some bandaids out of our first aid kit. The nature walk certainly did its job to lighten my mood, although not in the way I expected.

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Monday, June 20, 2011


Today Charlie is three years old. Of all my guys, Charlie is my number one partner in adventure. It's been that way since the summer he was born when we'd get into my old Honda Civic with no air conditioning and explore our world together. This summer is a lot like that summer, since I'm home with him full time, and I can say he's still as game for tagging along with me as ever.
I love the way he knows what he wants. I love the way he constantly sings. I love the way that letters of the alphabet are his friends. I love the way he loves to brush his teeth. Most of all, I love the way that he loves, which is fierce and full-bodied.
Happy birthday, Charlie. May life continue to be full of adventures big and small.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rainy Saturday

Playing outside anyway.
Catching raindrops on our tongues.
Wearing raincoats (but enjoying getting wet).
Walking around the block (Ellis and Derek hold hands, just like Mama and Charlie, because they are good friends.)
Splashing in puddles (the alley has the best ones).
Sharing pistachios on the porch in our wet clothes.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Filed Under Why the Hell Not

Charlie has been very interested in the sprinkles we use for Christmas cookies that are stored on top of the spice rack. So when I asked him if he wanted to make cookies, he said, "Can we make the kind with sprinkles?" One recipe for Christmas Sugar Cookies later, we were enjoying a little bit of holiday fun. Now the boys are watching The Year Without a Santa Claus and Rudolph's Shiny New Year. Summer solstice, winter solstice - what's the difference?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Keep Midway Weird

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The Hamline Midway neighborhood in St. Paul (aka my 'hood) has a bunch of different stuff going on - light industrial, a university, small businesses, a ripped up main drag that they are building a train in, and housing that is still affordable for regular people. It's been fun to recommit to the neighborhood this summer now that we've committed to staying in our house and continuing the epic project of fixing it up to our liking.

In my old, hyper-scheduled life, I was pretty dependent on my car. It's hard to feel a part of a neighborhood in a car because you are encased in your own little mobile bubble. Car mentality is about getting in and getting out of places quickly and you develop a macro perspective on geographic areas. I've missed having a micro perspective on the place I live, so I'm trying to do more walking and more biking. It also helps that gas is insanely expensive and I am cheap.

There's all kind of interesting happening in Midway. A large group of people seem to be using their property as a form of self-expression (like the neighbors with the metal statues in their yards pictured above). It confirms for me that we live in a place that we fit because we're not "property values" kind of people looking to have a house straight out of HGTV. We're more "our life is one big crazy canvas" kind of people. It's good to know that we live among others willing to let their freak flags fly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mother Nature's Son

Charlie helped me prepare a new bed for planting some mixed wildflower seeds. Apparently for Charlie, gardening is a no shirt, no shoes, no shorts activity.

Gardening also requires lying down in the new bed because you love the warm earth so much.

Whatever ends up coming up in this new bed, I will always remember the happiness Charlie felt because he enjoyed playing in the dirt so much, and my own satisfaction in being able to provide him with that experience.

I'm sure the flowers will be twice as beautiful because the spot is imprinted with Charlie's love that he infused into the soil with his sweet little body.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Long Summer Days

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My sister and I will tell you that one of the saddest parts of our early childhood was being in bed at 8:00 p.m. in the summer when it was still light out and we could hear the joyful voices of other children outside. I try not to base my parenting decisions only on doing the opposite of the things I didn't like that my parents did. However, when it's 9:00 p.m on a summer night, the weather is mild, and my children are running around the block in their bare feet with all the other neighborhood kids, I feel a strange sense of victory.

Friday, June 10, 2011


When I was in school, I didn't like science until I took Chemistry junior year of high school. At that point I had a great teacher and the subject appealed to my love of puzzles and logic. Up until that point, I didn't “get” science and I thought it was just a lot of memorization and weird experiments that I couldn't connect to any reality with which I was familiar. Had someone been able to show me that science was about observation, experience, and drawing conclusions about how things work based on those observation and experiences, I would have wanted to be a scientist.

For me, observation is the most important tool for effectively doing every activity that is important to me. Observation is at the heart of good parenting, gardening, writing, and photography. It is the basis for living life well and developing ourselves based on the unique set of experiences each of us has. Having studied theology, I can say that just like science, the best thinking about spirituality is rooted in paying close attention to what is happening in the world around us.

When we start from a foregone set of conclusions and try to make reality fit into those preset rules, the result is dogmatism, ideology, and incapacity for empathy. When we live in the world, feel things with our hands and our hearts, see things, hear things, smell things, taste things without numbing ourselves with the drug that is abstract thinking, the experience is exhilarating, often painful, but always educational. How can you not want to save a world you live in fully? How can you not be connected to others when you pay attention to who they are and why they do what they do? How can you not want to be your best self when you inhabit every moment of your life?

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dodge Nature Center

Grateful for:
  • Slow starts to the day, but plenty of time for adventure
  • Mild weather soaking into the skin, storing it up while we can
  • 18 minute drives from urban to country
  • Turtles sunning
  • Noisy chickens
  • Fields of lupines
  • A macro lens like an extension of my eye
  • Coming home to floors freshly mopped by a sixteen-year-old
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hey Mom, It's a Nice Day!

Ingredients for a Wednesday bike adventure for my good friend Charlie and me:

1. Bike plus Burley Bee.

2. Beautiful destination, preferably one where rocks can be thrown into water.

3. Chocolate bar to share, and a secret compartment for a young friend to stash the bar while riding in the Burley.

4. Periodic exclamations of "It's a nice day!" by the happily sugared up, rock throwing, almost three-year-old.

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