Free the Toys

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How did Silver Surfer get trapped in a bag on our window sill? And why is he so desperate to escape?

It’s a convoluted tale, that began at the Northwest Denver Toy LIbrary. We’re fortunate that the toy library is in the basement of our closest Denver Public Library branch. We make it there a few times a month, and the kids each choose two or three toys to check out. Sam usually chooses something that complements his own toys, like the police station below. Isabel always chooses the noisiest toys, with our blessing since we’ll be able to return them in three weeks

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The concept of a toy library exemplifies the idea of playing well with others. Our toy library has been a free resource for Denver families since 1980, always run and stocked by volunteers. We’re usually there on Saturdays, and inevitably run into someone we know. Kids and parents end up playing, talking, and building community.

Sam has recently decided to let go of a few of his toys, in order to make room for more Legos, Trashies, and Nanospeeds. The toys that he’s willing to donate are all collected from Happy Meals, but it’s a great start. You can see that SpongeBob isn’t sold on the idea of leaving his happy home.

IMG_8558The problem is that SpongeBob can’t move to the toy library. Donated toys that aren’t brand-new, must include proof that they meet federal safety standards. SpongeBob and all of his friends don’t have papers, so we’ve come up with another option. In the tradition of The Toy Society, we’re going to start leaving the toys at playgrounds, parks, and other spots where a toy might come in handy. We decided to wrap the toys in bags marked “Free Toys” so the finders will have no doubt.

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Tomorrow we’ll start the great toy drop. Got any creative locations, where Silver Surfer and SpongeBob might find appreciative new owners? 

Make It: Foodie 500

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Time to cool down the stovetop and warm up your keyboard! To continue with our intentions to stay flexible and improvise, I’m challenging myself to craft something from words. I very much enjoyed a few literary hours at Lighthouse Writers tonight, attending my first Friday 500 event with Angela. The theme tonight was flash fiction. We learned that flash fiction doesn’t need to be written quickly, but the final product should be brief (we listened to examples that ranged from 25 to 1000 words) and powerful. One of the discussion leaders talked about writing a story using 1000 words, then cutting his word count in half, then in half again. As you can imagine, if you cut a story to 250 words, you have to be meticulous in your word choices, the way you structure your sentences, and the devices you choose to move the narrative forward.

My challenge to you, should you choose to accept it, is to write a flash fiction piece, 500 words or less, with an overarching “Foodie” theme. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, why not try something new? I can’t offer you a fabulous prize for your winning entry, just the satisfaction that comes from flexing your brain cells. If you decide to take the challenge, and you’re brave enough to share, you can send your Foodie 500 to projectflip180 at gmail dot com.

Now go write!

The Cupboard Wasn’t Bare

 

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We were cleaning out cupboards and setting aside some food to donate to Bienvenidos Food Bank. Isabel asked, “Who’s the food for?”

It’s for anyone who needs it. Anyone who’s hungry. Maybe a girl like you, who also likes soup and granola bars and macaroni and cheese.

She was satisfied with the answer, so she continued to help fill the grocery bag. When it was full she pulled it to the back door, and asked when we could take the food to the other little girl. The food bank drop day isn’t until Wednesday, and it was very cold outside, so I told her that we’d have to wait, but she asked about the food a few more times during the course of the evening.

None of us, in our family, have ever been truly hungry. When we say that other people don’t have enough to eat, none of us can really comprehend how that feels. We’ve been hungry, but we always know that we’ll get food eventually, from our well-stocked cupboards and fridge. I’m grateful for the abundance in our lives, so I want to do better, by sharing more. But when I start reading statistics about hunger and poverty, making a difference feels impossible. And that leads to inertia. Tonight I’m grateful for my daughter, for reminding me that even one bag of groceries can make a difference.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” – Mother Teresa

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

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We held a small party for Kings Day this evening. Well, very small in terms of number of attendees, but very grand in the areas of ruckus making, shouts of glee, mischievousness, and all around joy and love. I should have some photos from our celebration ready to share tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking (again) about giving, and the many definitions of treasure. When we were making the crowns, Sam was digging through a bowl of treasures that I keep on my desk. It’s full of old buttons, beads, hairpins, and mismatched jewelry. Every piece is beautiful to me, but there are some that shine a little brighter. My favorite thing is a simple mother of pearl button. It’s special because it belonged to my Grandma Reese, but there’s also a quality to it that just shines, that makes it more interesting than any of the other buttons. Sam could care less about that button, but he’s in love with a small Chinese coin that came from an old earring of mine. We see the story of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ repeated each day, at many levels.

We each have treasure to share with those around us, and our treasure is more beautiful than gold (and hopefully smells even better than frankincense or myrrh, you know, metaphorically speaking). Sometimes we forget the value of what we have to give – the value of our love, our attention, our energy, our time. And that our personal versions of intangible treasures are important.

Our Saturdays will be focused on giving this year, both tangible and intangible. I realized during December, our month focused on giving, that I wanted to be more intentional about giving consistently throughout the year, regardless of holidays or birthdays.

I also want to do more volunteer work, as a family. I was telling Sam about the idea of 26 Acts of Kindness, because I had paid for the coffee of someone in line behind us at the Starbucks drive through. His first reaction was so typical, “You shouldn’t give away our money!” We talked it through, and I explained that I wanted to do something nice because the lady in the car behind us looked so stressed out, and that we would still have plenty of money. Clearly it’s a conversation that needs to continue. I understand that young kids are naturally egocentric, but I want to be sure that we raise kids who are able to show empathy and who are able to share their own gifts with the world.

Since our current focus is on family meals, we’re going to look for some giving and volunteer opportunities that involve food and connecting with others.

Have you done any giving or volunteer work like this? How were you able to integrate your own unique talents? If you have kids, how were you able to include them?

She Made It: Angela Perea

As promised, this month I’m gathering interviews with women who finish stuff. My fellow public-school-employee-by-day, creative-genius-by-night colleague and friend, Angela Perea agreed to jump in and play.

What do you make? How did you begin?

I write, mostly short stories about couples who are non-traditional in the most traditional, Shakespearean way possible. I have two finished novels that have yet to be published, and the musing of a third. I also make short films. I’ve always considered film to just be another story telling medium, and a natural fit for me. I used to draw, but do that less and less as I get older. I would consider myself to be more of a doodler than an artist, and I’m happy with the freedom that this self-proclaimed title brings me. I do a considerable amount of arts and craft projects: crocheting (my mother taught me, she could crochet and watch TV at the same time and never look down), scrapbooking (my sister makes me to keep up with my niece and make one book a year), and some jewelry making (I love beads). I’ve always said that God gave me the crafting bug because he knew I would never be rich and would need to be able to make gifts instead of buy them.

Why do you continue to make stuff?

I can’t imagine what people who do not create something do once they get home from work. Do they just watch TV? Walk the dog? Clean the kitchen? How dreadful. I guess the best answer is I’m wired that way. That creating is how I refuel my life’s tank. Even while raising my three daughters, there was never a time when I didn’t have some project going on. Now that they are grown up, I’ve only ramped things up another notch.

What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?

I made a short film for the 2012 Denver 48 Hour Film Festival. This was my sixth year to participate and this year’s by far my best entry. I’m also crocheting a blanket for my youngest daughter for Christmas and I love the way it looks – all swirls and circles.

How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?

I think I’ve prioritized my creative ventures. Why? Because it refuels me and helps me find the energy for all of the life’s other (and arguable less exciting) details.

What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?

Find others to encourage you. Find others who also refuel with creative ventures and find others who understand you when you say, “I have to create or I’ll just die!” And if you think this sounds dramatic, than you don’t get it. 

How do you know when you’re finished with a project?

This is a tough one. Some projects never feel finished. For short film, there is always another shot you think of, or you meet an actor who would have been even better in a role. For short stories it’s when I stop thinking about them when I’m driving. I do my best thinking in the car and especially when a new story or new characters or new scenes are pestering me. Crafting projects are so much simpler to define as done. When the blanket is finished, when every step in the instruction is complete, or when adding one more thing to it would move it from the “cool” category to the “gaudy” then it’s done.

Speed Round – The A-List

Artist? Matisse, Proust

Author? Shakespeare, Wilde, Lawrence 

Actress? Julianne Moore 

Activist? I can’t think of a single one, which I realize is a reflection on me more than any of the activists that you’re probably thinking of right now.

Aspiration? published, remembered

Action? energy, movement (I realize I just defined the word action but I wanted to stay true to the instructions and not over think).

Advice? Never say “no” if you can say “yes”.

Thank you Angela! I’m personally inspired to get my own writing, painting and photography in gear, each day when I see you at work; it’s definitely an employee benefit to have a creativity coach in-house, just two cubicles over.

Image credits: The typewriter is from etsy vintage. The Denver 48 Hour Film Project mast head can be found here. The letter A, in all its glory, was taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Transformation

Taking what was run down, grey and worn, and making something new. The theme of transformation has been running around my head this week. It’s what makes stories worth reading, movies worth watching, paintings worth stopping to take a second look – there’s always an element of transformation. In the end you see something new, but that newness only exists because of what lies beneath, what came before.

The mural had to be on that building (I’m told it’s somewhere near 4th and Galapagos) and live the history and drama of that neighborhood. I’m sure it would be beautiful in a museum too, but it wouldn’t tell the same story.

It’s the same with our relationships, our parenting, our teaching. It’s not always pretty, but the real story is built by allowing ourselves to transform, through the relationships. There may be false starts, unwanted graffiti on the building walls, painted over with grey a hundred times. And although a beautiful mural might finally emerge, it won’t stay the same either. I’m trying to remember to pause, take a second look, breathe in the color, the emotion, the energy. To fully appreciate the transformation, and then let it go, of course.

Zamzee! A review and give away, from the 7th floor

 

 

 

Our plans were grand, as usual. The web link mentioned public access on Saturdays from 10 to 2 – great! But when we arrived downtown, the kind security guard said, “Nope.” It turns out that the staircases of Republic Plaza (the tallest building in Denver, at 714 feet) are only open to the public each February, when the American Lung Association sponsors a run to the top.

We found out that none of the taller skyscrapers in Denver are open to the public, due to security concerns. Kind of a bummer, but I actually do appreciate the security. I think that Sam was secretly relieved too, as he seemed to be getting more and more nervous, the closer we got to downtown.

So we changed gears, quickly. We made it over to the art museum, climbed a few stairs, and played with light bubbles. And finally we took two tired kids to the top of the museum (the seventh floor), via elevator.

 

Through it all, Sam kept his Zamzee meter close at hand, to record all the action of the day. He got the Zamzee when we were in Park City, at the evo conference, and he’s been carrying it almost constantly since. The Zamzee is an amped up pedometer (to be more specific, it’s “a three-axis accelerometer specially calibrated to record short bursts of movement as well as vigorous activity”). The meter connects to a private online account through your computer’s USB port, so your child can track daily activity and earn both “Pointz” and “Zamz”, which can then be spent on small rewards. Families can also fund a child’s account with “Goalz” – the child works toward that goal in order to unlock more Zamz.

So far Sam has been earning virtual prizes, like funny outfits for his avatar, which is perfect. It hasn’t become such an extrinsic motivator that he’ll only run for a reward; he is six after all. The Zamzee blog includes an interesting post about extrinsic verses intrinsic motivation. I can see the rewards becoming more compelling to tweens and teens, which is the age range it was originally designed for.

Even though Sam is younger, he’s really enjoyed using it and he also loves participating in the challenges that the Zamzee team posts on-line. I’m considering getting Zamzee meters for me and Michael, in order to play as a family.

The generous folks at Zamzee have donated a starter pack for us to give away this week. The pack includes a meter, a skin, and $5 worth of Goalz.

If you’d like to win this give away, just leave a comment telling us about the highest building you’ve ever climbed. Whether it was 7 stories or 107 stories, we want to hear about it! We’ll do a drawing using a random number generator on Monday, August 13, at 8:00 pm.

We can’t wait to hear about your climbing adventures!

 

Hey neighbor…

 

I grew up in a home that was never locked. Not even when we went away on vacation. There are no keys to the farm house, at least that I know of. Even though we didn’t live in a neighborhood, there was always a neighborhood feel to our home. You could look a half mile east, up Roth Road and see any car or pick-up that was approaching. And with that glance, nine times out of ten you knew exactly who was driving.

Sometimes I wished that we could live in a real neighborhood. Specifically, a neighborhood with sidewalks so I could learn to roller skate, like Beezus and Ramona Quimby. Sometimes our little corner of the country felt too quiet, and I imagined that I’d live in Seattle or Portland someday, and do all the things that I thought people in neighborhoods did. Like maybe playing kick-the-can in the streets or hanging out on fire escapes. I think my idea of neighborhoods was heavily influenced by A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series.

By the time I was finally living in honest-to-goodness neighborhoods there wasn’t a lot of kick-the-can going on. Come to think of it, there weren’t any fire escapes either. But there was a lot of other stuff, that seemed even better in my twenties. My college rentals in Portland were usually surrounded by people who were ready to socialize, anytime day or night. Santa Rosa brought the surreal tranquility of a suburban neighborhood, which I enjoyed along with the parks, the YMCA, and plenty of good restaurants. In Cambridge there was the best running partner ever and some temporary adoptive parents that graciously allowed me to lean on them through September 11th and graduate school. In Chapel Hill we could walk to anything we needed or wanted, and sometimes I’d run into my middle school students on Franklin St. When we bought our first home in Edgewater, we loved walking around the corner to the best Thai restaurant in all of Colorado.

Those neighborhoods were all lovely, but it was always clear that each was a temporary situation – each home had someone else’s history attached to it, not ours. None of the spaces really felt like home, not like my circa 1923 farm house.

When we moved to Volcano, Hawaii, I thought the relationship with our new neighborhood might last. There were great families within walking distance, and we could bike and run in the middle of the road. Our biggest worry was wild turkeys running into the road, not cars. I think I probably could’ve roller skated the loop eventually, if we’d stayed.

By the time we made it back to Colorado, for the second time, I really wanted to find a home and neighborhood where we could take root. The first time we walked into the Grove St. house it reminded me of the farm house and I was sold. We’ve been here three years, and the house has treated us well. The neighborhood has also been a blessing. Our neighbors on every side look out for us, and we’re getting to know more people as we go.

Tonight, at Sam’s urging, we walked across the street to meet new neighbors who were playing soccer in their front yard. Sam is shy at first, like me, so we held hands as we crossed over to bravely introduce ourselves. And it turned out okay. The boys (with Bella doggedly tagging along) kicked the ball, raced to the corner about twenty times, and made a plan for future Lego play.

I don’t know if we’ll stay in this neighborhood forever, but I’m thankful for all that it’s providing us right now.

I’ve seen kids flying down our street on scooters, so maybe there’s hope for me and my roller skate dreams yet.

The Wrap Up

There were some low points, but in the end July turned out to be a good month for celebrations, at least for our family. Our hearts are with the many families that weren’t celebrating, especially those affected by the tragedy in Aurora and the fires throughout Colorado.

We’ll leave July with a short list of some of the best things that happened…

1. We made it to the farm! And the kids got to swing in a very sturdy porch hammock, so there wasn’t a repeat of the spectacular fall that Sam and I had during the summer of 2009. There were a thousand other things to love at the farm – tractor driving, barn exploring, clay  bowl making, and good company.

2. We made it to the ocean! We camped under giant trees and overcast skies, and we had just about the best time ever. There were so many other great water experiences – the Dungeness Spit in Sequim (that is a body of water), Multnomah Falls, and lots of creeks, rivers, and swimming pools in between.

3. We spent a lot of time with family. Even though the time was short, it felt like we had the chance to reconnect and get to know each other again.

4. Emily and Shobi got married! The ceremony was all about love and connecting and community. And then they danced. And I cried, but just a little.

5. We made it back to Denver! The ride home was rough, but we pulled together and now it’s done. We’re all appreciating the city again, for various reasons. In August we’re planning 31 very exciting days of scavenger hunt activities around town, that we’ll share with you tomorrow.

Whether you had the best or the worst month, I hope you found moments to celebrate too.