Muddy Boots and a Full Heart

31 07 2011

I never feel more connected to the world around me than I do when I get a chance to play in the dirt. There is something sensual and revitalizing about getting dirty – the feel and smell of freshly turned earth; the wind on your cheek; the sun on the back of your neck.

My mother did her best to instill a fear of all things dirt, and for the most part I dutifully spent my early years in the quiet pursuit of art and literature. But I liked to build things, and inevitably that led to a soul-satisfying grubbiness. Some of my happiest memories from childhood were of making: a model log cabin with my father; a fort with my best friend; box and lawnmower mazes in the big, open field behind our houses with the neighborhood kids. What with Legos and Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and Erector Sets, I was predestined to become an architect.
In my teens, I became a Boy Scout, which deepened my feelings of connection through the dirt. One year, we participated in winter ritual Klondike Derby. Too bad it was one of the warmest winters on record for southern Germany. We spent the day trudging through the mud, dragging a sledge filled with supplies behind us. By the time we got home that night, we were coated head-to-toe in caked, dusty mud, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t have been happier.

Yes; whether it’s hiking in the rainforest, digging in the garden, or laying a patio by hand, I have dirt under my nails and in my soul. It lets me feel connected to everything; a part of the process. It goes a long way in explaining how I practice my craft.

In college, I came up with a quote explaining my vision of architecture: Architecture is the earth, through human activity and aspiration, reaching for the sky. That inspirational bit of pretense aside, good design first supports and nurtures human activity. No amount of awe or delight in the viewer is going to keep the heat in or the rain out, if the building is designed or built poorly.

That said, I get a charge from the act of creating spaces and places that work – designs that evoke a “Yes!” response from the Client, and a “Wow!” response from the User. And you can’t reliably get those kinds of responses without really getting in and knowing the client; knowing their challenges, their pains, their struggles; as much or more than knowing what makes them smile.

The same thing is true of the Contractor: you’ve got to know their pain, and work to eliminate it. You’ve got to make the design easy for the contractor to build, not simplistic, but clearly documented, thoughtfully detailed, and well laid out. And you’ve got to be willing to get your boots muddy and your hands dirty.

So far in my career, I have found by fully participating, I have gotten as much from the people I’ve connected with as I have given. By listening and being open to those around me, I have learned to become a better designer. Sure, by listening and fully serving my client’s vision, I’m not always building a thick portfolio of published work, but I’m not in it to stroke my own ego. I’m in it to be part of the process. Let’s connect.


Blue Canary in the Outlet by the Light Switch

9 06 2011

Wickedly Awesome.

I was wandering the interwebs last night after a particularly grand day, and I came across this bit of pop-candy.

Blue Canary in the Outlet by the Light Switch

Who Watches Over You

Anyone who went to high school or college during the Post-New Wave era of They Might be Giants has to have the blue canary night light (l-i-t-e), from Think Geek, the same purveyors of the technologically sublime that brought us the “rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock” and “Meh” t-shirts.

It makes me want to completely redo the guest room in a blue canary theme.

Anyone know where I can get a golden fleece bedspread?

One of Those Mornings

3 06 2011

I am having one of those mornings.

I awoke at 3:30 am to an intensely painful charley horse. I slid out of bed and crept to the bathroom, where I spent the better part of the next hour clenching, and swearing, and pacing. And reading about a local designer who is putting a particularly Seattle spin on the look of local restaurants and hot spots. This intensely crafted feel that even larger, more institutional buildings have; a real sense of the human hand making for human occupation. But that’s for another posting.

I snuck back into bed at 4:15, only to realize that the sun was already lightening the sky. It was creeping up behind the plum tree, making for a particularly graphic scene framed by the window, the neighbor’s shed roof clipping one corner. It made me want to paint it. Did you know that, even as the sky gets bluer in the morning light, the quadrant where the sun rises almost turns green?

Anyway, the excitement of being up to see the sunrise wouldn’t let me go back to sleep, so I got up to enjoy it. I put on a pot of coffee – Starbucks, naturally – and took a cup out to listen to the morning birds. It was still so quiet, so still outside, that I could hear ships whistles on the Sound in the distance. I breathed the last perfume of the cedars at night, and went to start breakfast. This is definitely one of those mornings where I’d like to make the world chocolate croissant, but I guess I will settle for making Paulie steak and eggs, with a side of tomato and brie salad.

Poor him.

May Flowers

11 05 2011

After a long, cool, moist spring (I refuse to call it rainy!), our tulips and hyacinth are finally making an appearance, along with rhododendron, crabapple, and pink dogwood. Even though the days may still be somewhat overcast, the garden is putting on its own fireworks display, thanks all of the gentle showers.

Moral of the story: even when a situation otherwise appears bleak, it may contain the seeds of triumph.

A Meditation on Growth and Experience

29 04 2011

Our past experience represents rich compost for our ongoing growth. It sustains and supports the budding of new experience. Those that take root in this fertile soil can grow into new habits, new patterns of behavior, and new avenues of discovery. Those that fail to root, our mistakes and missteps, do not weigh us down or hold us back, but fall to join the rest the compost, nourishing future development.

On Pity and Compassion: A Meditation

26 04 2011

I spent better than two weeks working on this meditation, trying to write an earnest and compelling argument comparing and contrasting these emotions, and weighing their value in everyday. The problem:  I could never move off a litany of dusty statements, anchored by a few clever quotes. I couldn’t find my authentic voice in the exercise.

“Friends help. Others pity,” Proverbs.

I took a break last week to continue the search for a job, work in the garden, spend time with my fantastic partner and great friends, think about the problem before me, and find the ability to listen. That said, this week  I’m starting fresh.  But on to the meditation.

To pity is to feel sorrow at the misfortune of another.

I was raised to show kindness and generosity of spirit with the less fortunate. The label most often affixed to this was pity, but as I reflect on pity, I find several flaws in it.

First of all, pity requires comparison between conditions, which is an inexact task at best. Who knows enough about someone to truly say their circumstances are less fortunate, without growing a deeper relationship? Like proverbs says, friends help; others pity.

Pity can lead to misunderstandings and resentment. People who need your help genuinely want your help, not your pity. They want a chance to fight their way back, and your condescension will only get in their way. People who want your pity are looking to manipulate your emotions, and who likes to be manipulated? You are open to exploitation, either materially, or in providing justification for another’s baggage.

The interesting thing about pity, there is no corresponding state of being (“I am ___”) associated with the feeling. You can feel pity, but your existence can only evoke pity (pitiful, piteous). When you choose to act rather than feel, then you come into a fullness of being through compassion.

To be compassionate is to actively desire to alleviate the suffering of others.

Choosing between the two, I would choose to be compassionate, rather than feel pity. I may be strong or weak in comparison to others, but I am able to feel compassion for all others, whether they be mouse or millionaire.

In choosing compassion, I can come into a fullness of being. Through practicing compassionate acts, my lot in life is also increased, in positive energy, strength of purpose, and friendship. And my compassion is maintained by being mindful of the suffering of others; it is internal to my state of being, and not dependent on measurement on external values. Without the window dressing provided by pity, it comes down to a simply choice to act or not to act.

In setting down pity and picking up compassion, I make a deeper commitment to my fellow earthlings to stamp out suffering where I can. Operative in this is the statement, “where I can.” It’s not about doing it all, but doing your part: not ignoring suffering, injustice, and inequality; even a smile, a word, or a gesture can lift some of the load.

A challenge: seek and destroy in the name of compassion and love.

My stepmother carries five dollar fast food gift cards to hand out to people asking for money. Carry fold cards listing homeless resources in your area with a couple of quarters taped inside. The next time you have a celebration, ask everyone to bring a sack of food for the local food bank. Next birthday, ask for donations to a cause you care deeply about.

Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy.  -Gretta Brooker Palmer

Pots de Crème au Chocolat

25 04 2011

1 cup heavy cream

4 egg yolks

2 Tbsp. granulated Splenda

4 squares sugar-free Guylian dark chocolate

1 tsp. vanilla

Whipped heavy cream for garnish

Combine chocolate, cream, and Splenda in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking quickly. Remove from heat. Slowly add mixture of yolks and vanilla. Continue whisking. Pour into four desert dishes. Chill for four hours or overnight. Garnish with whipped cream before serving.