Archived Ideas for ‘Philosophy’

IDEA 99: BE FLEXIBLE

Oct
2018

It’s already October. The temps have been dipped long enough that it seems like they may not recover, and there have been more clouds and rain than sun in a very long time.

My mission starting the beginning of the year was to take a year off work and spend the summer working on our multi family vacation home. (This is my fourth post about it, if you want to go back and read!) Every August we have a big family reunion and while we enjoy doing most of the cooking and eating outside, finding places to sleep can be hard. A little tiny piece of me thought if the building was enclosed by then we could have a grand camp-out on the floor. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. In August the top floor of the house was still missing, so there were a lot of tents pitched.

We hired an amazing local contractor to build the shell and we were planning on taking it from there, thankyouverymuch. We reasoned we’ve (well, my husband has) put in electrical, we’ve (well, him again) has done lots of plumbing. As long as the big boys put up walls and a roof, we would spend (in my view) a magical, worry-free summer hanging and mudding drywall, laying wood floors, painting, tiling, etc, etc etc.

Obviously it didn’t quite turn out that way. In precious few weeks I will be forced to go back to civilization and furnace heat, and we haven’t laid a single tile, painted a single wall, placed a single floorboard.

The first mishap happened when the site was still dirt. Since we wanted a shower in the basement, the plumber dug and buried the first pipes in the ground. Many weeks later, the walls went up around them and I could see that the drain pipe was not where it was supposed to be and now the drain wouldn’t be centered in the shower. It’s really important (to me, anyway) to have the drain centered. And one of the walls could not move as it had the stack in it. So, I asked for the other wall to move in and lost several inches of space in the shower (which we gained in the rest of the bathroom). By the time I finally saw the plumber again I mentioned the error and he said when he was digging he came upon a huge bolder that couldn’t be moved. So he put the pipe as far over as he could. In the end, I think improvising an alternative plan saved us all from a lot of stress and heartache.

So began the process of flexing.

My summer of DIY became my summer of watching DIY videos while being available if needed, and posting the progress on Instagram. 

As the walls went up it was easier to see what I had designed. Occasionally, there would be something that just didn’t look right. Sometimes it was because the carpenters went off the plan. Sometimes it was that they stuck to the plan but it just didn’t work the way it was supposed to. Sometimes it was just because code said it had to be that way. With such a wonderful, professional crew, we had a lot of communication, and whether it was my boo-boo, theirs, or nobody’s, we talked it through and came up with solutions.

Probably the biggest turn was that I realized I was dreaming if I thought we could string the electric (or heating ducts and vents or plumbing pipes). OK I knew we couldn’t do the plumbing pipes-that was on the contractor’s list already. But since these other things were not included in our contract, I received a trial-by-fire education on how to be the contractor and hire subs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At one point, my brother climbed a ladder to look out the second floor and asked why the hell I hadn’t designed more windows in the front where the view was breathtaking. I had put big windows on the main floor below, but the upstairs had bedrooms so I had treated them more traditionally.

The original window plan:

Fortunately, I had two windows I wasn’t planning on using. I had designed them in and then found out they came too close to the floor for code. The upper walls hadn’t been framed in yet, so I got back on the computer and found that I could create a pretty, and very window-fied wall by using one of the big windows flanked by what had been marked for the front and back bedrooms. With the shorter windows on each side I could raise the bottoms to fit within code and it didn’t look odd because the smaller windows justified the height of the lower edges. Then I used the other large one in the back where it neatly framed a giant oak tree. You don’t really notice it’s riding quite high in the room (almost to the ceiling). All you notice is the magnificent tree.

The new window plan:

The morning I went down to the build site to ask the carpenter about the change, I was pretty nervous. Even if I don’t have it all under control, I like to pretend I do, and to admit I was changing my mind on such a big thing felt kind of irresponsible at best, and indecisive at the worst. I brought down a loaf of zucchini bread and a copy of my new plan. Luckily the contractor had beat me to it (he texted the head carpenter after I had texted him). “It’ll work”. Is all my carpenter said to me, and then “We all wondered why the hell you didn’t design in bigger windows up there.”

So, instead of drywalling, painting, and putting in a kitchen and bathrooms this fall, I’ll be lucky if the subs’ portion gets finished so I can head back to civilization for the winter. And instead of putting on finishing touches in the spring it will be an all-out major do, pretty much starting from an empty shell. But I look forward to finally being able to put some of the things I learned in the DIY videos to use.

And, yeah, I’ll be taking another year off work.

IDEA 98: OUTWIT THE WEATHER

Jun
2018

Weather_Light

Welcome to the continuing saga of the Up North House. This is the third post chronicling the inspiration, design and build of our multi family vacation house.

There’s one thing about building in the north. The weather is brutal. Winds to be reckoned with blow sand (in the summer) snow (in the winter) and ice, hail and rain all the other times of the year.

That’s why as we build a family place to last for many future generations, we are embracing materials that can withstand just about anything for just about forever.

The house will be sided in a material usually reserved around these parts for barns. It’s corrugated metal with a coating to resist rust. I read that it’s quite the thing in remote areas of Iceland. And why not use it?

Weather_siding

I love the rural aesthetic for up here, and the design of the house is based on the lovely barns dotting this landscape. It will be a house. But we will try our best to honor the bucolic, farm-y feel of the area.

End view:

Weather_East


Side view:

Weather_South

The very first things we purchased for the house were two beautiful full-view doors with Douglas fir on the inside and a natty overcoat of barn red cladding on the outside.

Weather_Door

We got these, used, for a song. And like everything about the design, they are simple, beautiful and since they will never need repainting, zero maintenance.

Typical for this area, our roof will be metal as well. You can see how the water beads right up, and with our 12:12 pitch roof, the snow will slide right off too.

Weather_roof_CU

One of the favorite choices so far are these beautiful barn lights we bought for over the doors. The galvanized metal has the dual role of not just weathering the storms, but looking just right: serviceable, with sweet barn character.

Weather_Barn_Lights

We’ve only just started, but as we continue to work, you can follow the progress of the build on Instagram #conboyhouseupnorth.

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IDEA 96: HONOR A MEMORY

May
2018

Charlie Bird_CU_LR

As a kid my siblings and I spent many summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan. My father was born in Northern Michigan, and his family’s farmhouse, a quarter mile from the bluffs, was our vacation home.

One summer day in my childhood, we were exploring the beach. And we found a seagull struggling to free himself from a tangle of fishing line. The three pronged hook had pierced and caught the web of his foot as well as one of his wings. He must have tried to peck his way free as the third prong was now stuck through his bill.

My dad was able to free the hooks and untangle the bird, a favor that was rewarded with a bite on the hand. But it was clear the gull was not able to fly. By the time we were heading back south, our patient hadn’t improved, so we brought him back home with us. He was dubbed “Charlie Bird”. And as our city home was on a large natural pond, we figured we would try nursing him back to health there. My mom fed him tunafish until a naturalist friend told her he’d much prefer a fish from the pond (which he gulped down without hesitation). His physical therapy was administered by my brother leading him by leash down to the pond where Charlie would swim out and be gently pulled back.

Charlie’s time spent with us inspired my artist mom to create a mosaic of him. With broken pieces of colored tile, my mom depicted Charlie with wings spread wide in a perfect picture of natural energy and freedom. I imagine this is Charlie, right when he was freed from his shackles and ready to bite the hand that freed him!


Charlie Bird_3


On a trip home to my parents house, I was reminded of this amazing mid-century work of art. It’s an image so familiar to me, yet I hadn’t thought of it in years. We are now building a communal kitchen with sleeping quarters on the “Up North” land and this Charlie Bird mosaic will be featured prominently. I’ll create a color palette pulling from the blues, greens, whites, darks and grays. The vibe will be simple and natural. Like the sand, the trees and the wildlife we came to love, the house will let nature in and not be so delicate as to be wrecked by sand dragged in on bare feet or water from wet swimsuits (or feathers). The windows will be more about what you are seeing outside than architectural details inside. The spaces will be big and welcoming, as we rarely congregate with less than 20 people. The surfaces will be low maintenance, (who wants to spend all our vacation repainting). The house will be more about accommodating the people that gather than about it’s own self. But it will be designed with simplicity, and good, smart, frugal but beautiful ideas.


Charlie Bird_CU_2_LR

This Charlie Bird mosaic may not be the sole inspiration for this project. But it’s influence, both as art and as memory, will be honored and fondly felt.

IDEA 86: DARE TO COMMUNICATE

Jul
2016

July_Note

You never know where the next inspiration is going to come from.

Recently, I was traveling and stayed at one of those chain motels with the free breakfast included (what’s not to love about that?) So, I was already happy about getting a free banana, when I saw that someone had hand-written a note of well wishes on every one. Generally, the notes were all a variation of “Have a great day”, I chose “Soar with the eagles”, which inexplicably lifted the next couple hundred miles of my road trip.

It occurred to me how simple, yet powerful these little unexpected ball-point moments of inspiration had been, from one stranger to another, placed ingeniously on the part of the fruit that would be stripped off and thrown out anyway.

It suddenly made me nostalgic for the days I used to pack lunches for school. Wouldn’t this be a fun way to remind a child that his lunch was lovingly packed? (Or to pontificate on the importance of potassium–whichever is your whim).

So, in this world of email, text and instant messaging, I dare you to try zagging when others zig. Pick up a ball-point pen and a piece of food and have at it! And while you’re at it, Soar with the eagles!


IDEA 85: MAKE YOUR MARK

Jun
2016

Mark_Lilly

My extended family has been congregating on our family farmland for many summers. And the highlights of the reunions are the beautiful big meals, prepared, served and enjoyed outdoors.

Mark_party_scene

A handsome open-air structure, made by my brothers and cousins hosts the meals, and several years ago we replaced the mismatched tables and chairs with something sturdy enough to survive the northern Michigan winters.

Mark_tables and benches

My brother made the simplest of designs and all hands helped out to build the iconic tables and benches.

Mark_Table_end

With all the materials (treated lumber and screws) coming from the lumber yard, the solution is smart, elegant and very cost effective.

Mark_Ben

Even better, each kid who put a bench together got to burn his or her name in the bottom, proof that they pitched in and deserve their place as a crucial piece of this family.

Mark_Mad

The otherwise humble tableau is dressed up with our well worn and faded tablecloths.

Mark_tablecloths

And, of course, lots of helpers make amazing food and natural decor.

Mark_wildflowersMark_napkinMark_GrillMark_Menu2Mark_Picnic_food

It’s an annual ritual, that none of us could imagine going without. I say, take a stand. Embrace a tradition. And make your mark.



IDEA 73: SHARE

Aug
2014

TallTales_crop_cover

When you are mom, you are so busy, it’s hard to even think about anything beyond this day, and the problem that’s in front of you right now. But somehow, maybe in the middle of nap time, take a moment to think back about something you loved as a child that you could share with your little one.

TallTales_inside_cov

Here’s the deal. One day they will be off to college, or otherwise moving away from you. At that time you may think to yourself, “Did I give them part of me?”

When my middle son moved out, I heard he served a “guest” canned peaches, still in the can, straight from the frige, with a fork sticking out of them. On hearing this, my first thought was NOT “Gee, why didn’t you put them in a dish?”  What I thought was, “Did I serve food that became part of this boy’s comfort?”

What are those things that you will share with your kids? Things that were part of you. Things that comforted you as a child, that you will give to them?

I had “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung to me by my mom. And I had The Tall Book of Make Believe. Being the youngest of four kids, I didn’t have many things that were mine alone. But the “Tall Tales” book was one. My middle brother drew on some of the pages. And the spine has long been held together with electrical tape. But to this day I cannot read Moon Song or the Land of Counterpane without going straight back to a very safe and simple place.

So, if you have small children, I know. You are so busy. But it goes so fast. What’s something from your childhood that helped you? Bring that thing into their young lives. After all, you may not have had time to realize it yet, but that’s what it’s all about.

TallTales_L_of_C_3

TallTales_L_of_C_CU

TallTales_Moon_Song

TallTales_What_I_would_do

TallTales_Wynk_Blink_Nod

TallTales_Back

IDEA 72: THEN, ONE DAY, LET THEM GO

Jul
2014

Boys_Bike_Wave

Last summer, my 19 year old son Ben announced that the next week he and his friend Will were going to ride their bikes to California. He told us this with the same lack of pageantry you would announce you were going to walk up to the store to buy a candy bar.

I wondered if over at Will’s house they had any more warning or explanation of a plan. When we drove Ben to Will’s house, the location of the “send off,” we saw that no, indeed, there had been no more planning over there.

We arrived on the scene to witness Will’s dad explaining that it would be very easy and quite practical to strap a small tent onto Will’s bike. This recommendation offered, because the boys had discerned they would not need sleeping bags (it was California, and therefore a warm place), or pillows (apparently pillows are for sissies), or a change of clothes.

When I asked if it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring an extra T-shirt, Ben’s answer was they could wash their shirts out in a stream. When I suggested he might bring an extra shirt to wear while the stream-washed shirt was drying, Ben saw the wisdom in this, and acquiesced to bring a second T-shirt.

It was heart-warming to see Will’s parents attempting similar suggestions. Somehow they managed to convince the boys to take their ancient second car to get to the west coast so that they might have a hope of, at the very least, getting out of Minnesota. The parents were planning on selling the car anyway (or donating it). The boys had permission to sell the car once they got to California if they wanted to. Or, if it broke down, they did not have to bring it back, but needed to remember to have it towed somewhere.

The plan was to sleep in hammocks, which they had purchased the week before, (but hadn’t actually tried out yet). We all thought, even if the ancient second car completely broke down, it might still offer protection from the weather, and a softish place to sleep.

The timeline for the trip was “open-ended” as Ben quit his job for the rest of the summer and announced that he may decide to stay in California a while and not sign up for school in the fall. Interesting, because I heard Will say he wanted to be back for the State Fair in August, but apparently had failed to mention this to Ben. So it was not only open-ended in the sense they hadn’t decided when to return, but even more so, since they hadn’t actually discussed their plans with each other.

Then, we four parents stood in the driveway waving, and the two boys, with bikes in ancient second car, drove away.

Boys_Bike_Car

I told all this to my girlfriends while sipping wine in the backyard at an annual summer get-together and to my amazement, a year later, when we gathered there next, everyone wanted to hear: Well? What happened on the bike trip?

So, here are some highlights. OK, this is my recollection anyway.

The first night, the boys slept in the car. The next day, the car broke down and they managed to get it into a shop and jumped on their bikes to ride around. They had been aiming to drive from Minnesota to Seattle, ditch the car, and ride down the coast to California on their bikes. The car broke down again, and this time it was irreparable. They left it, and got a bus into Seattle.

Seattle was no disappointment. They located kindred spirits and empty couches on some memo-board (or Craig’s list). They had been gone almost a week but had very few bike miles under their belts. At one point, they decided to take a hike. it was late in the day because, of course, if they were awake, it must be. They headed up a mountain trail with no water. Once they finally reached the peak, they realized they may be heading into trouble. They were far from their starting point and were losing light very quickly. They were regretting the decision (or lack thereof) to bring water, and I think there was a bear sighting.

They ran/tore back down the mountain and managed to return to their respective couches unkilled, which was fortunate, because they had a great story to tell.

At this point, the owners of the couches wanted them back, so the boys consulted the memo-board (or Craig’s List) again for a ride closer to California. They were able to secure a ride to Portland for $20. That’s $20 for the both of them. You just can’t beat Craig’s list (or the memo board) unless, of course, you have a silly concern about safety.

Portland proved to be a veritable cornucopia of opportunity. Will had relations there who put them up and fed them all kinds of home-cooked meals. Between this and their attempt to patronize every taco truck they encountered, they were not hurting for chow. But here they ran into a setback. The hike proved to be problematic to Will’s leg, so they found a clinic that would take a look. Not a big deal, but Will would have to stay off it for a few weeks.

Huh?

Remember, they are on a bicycling adventure. Or, at least it was going to start any minute.

I got a text that they were returning by train. Their bikes were packed into bike boxes and checked like big cardboard luggage.

All tolled, it had been just under two weeks. There did not appear to be a lot of bicycle riding in this adventure. And they never did set foot in California. But our boys were returning, after not too much time, and on their own accord. So, we four parents did what one might expect we would. We drove to the train station where, teary eyed, we greeted, we hugged, and did our best to hide our complete and absolute relief.

Boys_Bike_Home_Amtrak

IDEA 68: STAY POSITIVE

Feb
2014

Chocolate_Butterfly_cake_top

We all have our coping mechanisms, and it’s a good thing we do. Here in Minnesota, winter brings a boat-load of snow and this year, record below zero temperatures to boot. That’s why I was so delighted to see this sweet extra-curricular project my daughter fashioned. Here, in the midst of snow days and the occasional power outage, she didn’t just bake a cake. She baked a pink-and-chocolate-and-white cake with a lacy chocolate butterfly on top.

The cake is tiny, only about four inches across. It’s white cake, covered in chocolate buttercream frosting, with rolled white chocolate over that. She piped a ring of frosting around the bottom into which she pressed alternating light and dark pink m&m candies. But the true genius is the butterfly. After melting the chocolate, she folded a piece of parchment paper and placed it, unfolded, onto an open book. The parchment paper took the shape of the curved pages underneath, as did the chocolate, drizzled in a butterfly shape. Once cooled (in the fridge), the resulting winged creature stands 3-D atop the cake as if it just alighted temporarily before moving on to the next posy.

I can’t decide which was the more gratifying winter escape: The beautiful butterfly, or gobbling it up! Yum!

Chocolate_Butterfly_Cake_side

IDEA 67: TEACH SAVING

Jan
2014

Ice_cream_Saving_2

Now that my kids are quite grown (are they ever ALL grown?), it occurs to me that when it came to teaching saving we did two things right.

The first I got from my own parents: Open a savings account for each child. Once the child is old enough to get the concept of money, tell her about her account and show her the balance. Then when your child receives money, tell them that whatever they put in their savings account, you will match. A child that receives $20.00, and is told that if they put 10 of it in the bank, you will put in 10 to make 20, will usually do it and be happy spending the other 10. We did this with all three kids. (The matching in our family continues until the child collects an actual paycheck). By that time the savings account has grown enough for them to want to keep and protect it. Not to mention they now have a long established habit of putting some of their money in the bank. When you think about it, it’s not unlike a 401K contribution that’s matched by your employer. Why not get them into the swing of things early?

My other saving tip didn’t start out about saving at all. It started out about fairness. When some tasty treat would come into the house (like a package of cookies or carton of ice cream), it became impossible for it to last more than a day. Why? Because each child figured he’d better get his before the other two devoured it. Treats disappeared at a frenzied pace because no one wanted to be the one left with an empty carton. So one day I brought home three identical packages of cookies. I put a child’s name on each one and put them in the cupboard. Then I told them they could do with them what they wanted but they were not to touch anyone else’s, and they would not get another package for two weeks. I was amazed how long those cookies lasted. Who knew those kids had so much restraint? But without the threat of poachers they were able to consume the treats at a normal pace. And, the little “lucky strike extra”? Another lesson in saving was born.

IDEA 63: SUBSTITUTE TIME FOR MONEY

May
2013

Tile_1

My husband and I have been doing a bathroom remodel. Not the kind you see on HGTV that starts on Saturday and finishes on Sunday. Not even the kind that involves a contractor and subs that click along and finish in four weeks (only two later than intended). No, this bathroom remodel happens on weekends, and occasional weeknights after work, and around dinner and homework. THIS remodel is taking months. So far it has been about 3 1/2 months since we took the walls down to the studs and the floor down to the beams.

But here’s the thing. Everyone that knows me knows I have been working on this bathroom for YEARS. I’ve been clipping, then downloading, then Pintresting bathroom pictures for-freakin-ever. We just couldn’t afford to remodel the bathroom and frankly, although it didn’t go with the rest of the hundred-year-old house, (it had been remodeled fifty years ago) it was functioning, and we were busy. But it made me a little crazy and so I started preparing for my fantasy bathroom.

Not long after we moved into the house someone opened the bathroom door too hard and it swung in and cracked a corner off the toilet tank. I realized if there was a toilet with a tank just an inch or two narrower, the swinging door would miss the tank entirely. A search revealed the perfect toilet that not only fit the bill size-wise, but was the most awesome toilet ever, and cute as a bug and fit perfectly into my fantasy of what a bathroom in a 1912 house should look like. So we bought and installed the Worlds Cutest Toilet (Kohler Revival). This became the first piece of my new bathroom.

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At some point, our sink died and we were still nowhere near ready to do the Big Remodel. My husband was going to put in a temporary sink, the smallest, cheapest thing available at Home Depot. But I talked him into going with me to a salvage place to see if there was a sink that would be fitting for our old house. We completely lucked into a vintage wall sink with a single, centered, porcelain leg. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was pricing out reproduction sinks of this look and the price tags were astronomical. But here was this beauty, and since it was authentic, it was a little smaller than the ones they are making for people’s now-a-days palatial bathrooms. We used that sink for the past year, and it will go back into this remodel.

Vintage_sink

About five years ago I found towels on sale that would fit perfectly into my fantasy bathroom. I bought them and stowed them in a plastic bin in the attic. To this bin I added towel bars, ring hooks and TP holder and toilet seat. I kept my eye out for the perfect medicine cabinet, tub and lights. With the sink, I discovered a chrome plater in our town. The old pieces came back gleaming, and so I decided to do the same with the door hardware. Here’s the before hardware, which will gleam when I get it back.

Old_Chrome

So far we (meaning my husband) have removed a radiator, soldered plumbing pipes, strung all new wiring, installed a heated floor, insulated walls, built two niches in the walls, built a bump-out for the sink to be mounted to, sheet-rocked, backer-boarded, poured many bags of leveling cement and removed the old window and installed a new one. After all these months if you glance in the door it looks very much like a project that’s just starting. I have no idea how the home improvement shows do it. There is no way this would make very entertaining TV.

Current_bathroom_project

But I have been busily stockpiling all the fun stuff in my sewing room/office. Currently, I keep company with: Our toilet and sink, some boxes of hexagonal floor tile, boxes of honed marble, several chrome pieces including the wall hardware, faucets, and hooks, and many life-size printouts of various lights I was using to try to decide which one.

Stash

Our family has definitely had to demonstrate a bit of patience. The five of us have been traipsing down to the basement to shower and dividing teeth brushing between the basement and the main floor powder-room.

It may not be everyone’s ideal, to go this long without the family bathroom, but here’s the cool part. Doing it this way, there was no need to take out a loan. No need even to save up for it. The cost of this remodel has spread over all this long time, and we pay as we go. And that’s a perfect example of one of my guiding principles: If you don’t have the time, throw money at the problem. And if you don’t have the money, throw time at it. Life isn’t always perfect. But at least it’s not without options.

And yes. If we ever get this sucker done, I’ll post pictures of it!