New Cities

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“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”
― Italo CalvinoInvisible Cities

A weekend trip to Ikea led to many cardboard boxes in our backyard. The boxes were the key to drawing Sam away from his two current obsessions, Survivalcraft and Minecraft. At first he didn’t even feel like going outside, but there was a very tall skinny box that became a transporter, and he was hooked. Building Minecraft cities from the boxes was his idea. He began with confidence, sure that he and I could make buildings that looked exactly like his on-line Minecraft constructions.

Sam realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t create an exact match with our materials. He railed about that for a while, and then shifted gears, to create something new. The process took a lot of negotiation, patience, and packing tape. He was proud of his city buildings, even though they look nothing like Minecraft block buildings. It was bedtime, and he bargained to stay outside just a little longer, to put on the finishing touch – a “balancing side patio” for Isabel’s dolls.

I hope the city will last a few days, before the real patio is reclaimed. I love observing the process, and the interplay between the low tech cardboard and his virtual world on the iPad. For more cardboard box inspiration, check out Caine’s Arcade and Caine’s Arcade 2. We’re thinking about hosting a Cardboard Challenge on October 5. Who wants to join us? 

April Loves May

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I thought I’d check in and write a wrap-up post for April.

What?

It’s not April anymore?

Huh.

I guess I’m in calendar denial; I wanted to stick with April a little longer. We’re still into our recycling and reusing projects, and we’re watching the world turn green, so April and May are combined in my mind this year. Mapril. Aprilay? Whatever the name, both of the months are flying by.

We haven’t planted anything, but we like seeing the perennials come back. The rhubarb has survived a a few unexpected snowfalls, and the mint is poised to take control of the entire garden.

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The kids have been obsessed with cracking rocks in the back yard. They’ll disappear for an hour, to search for crystals and sandstone, taking turns with the hammer, both wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes. Sam reminded me that he wants to go to the mining school some day (Colorado School of Mines), so these backyard excavations could be a great foundation.

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If geology doesn’t work out, I think he could be an inventor. Divergent thinking is always a favorite pastime. He’ll look at random objects and come up with a dozen possible uses. My favorite is the   Bubble Gum Nose Protector.

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It’s not a safety device. The Bubble Gum Nose Protector was designed to be worn when taking out the trash or the recycle bin, because protecting yourself from bad smells is very important.

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If Isabel looks skeptical, it’s that she really wants a Bubble Gum Nose Protector for herself.

So that’s Mapril. Coming back to life, spending more time outside, and stretching our wings a bit. We may need to extend into June. Who’s with us for Maprilune?

Play it again, Sam

These are a few of Sam’s favorite projects involving re-used materials.

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We melted old candles and made a plan to use plastic cups as molds. Sam decided to compare four different versions. Two of the cups started empty, the third cup was about half full of cold water, and the fourth cup was half full of crushed ice. I poured the melted wax and then Sam observed the differences between the four cups. When the wax began to cool, he pushed a plastic Trashie toy into one of the cups of plain wax. Later we broke the wax out of the cups and looked at the differences again.

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He’s also been doing a lot of woodworking projects, using wood chips, popsicle sticks, balsa wood, and rubber bands.

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The Ultimate Re-Use

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As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been listening to Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. Rubin got involved in streamlining the New York state organ donor registry, just one of the results of her ongoing happiness project. When I heard that section of the book, I thought that the cause was interesting and important, but I also knew that is wasn’t really “my Calcutta.”

I signed up as a donor years ago, when I got my Colorado driver’s license, and I really hadn’t thought about it since. But once an idea enters your consciousness in a more meaningful way, it has a tendency to pop up all over the place. Since listening to that section of Happier at Home, I’ve been running into many reminders about organ, tissue, and cornea donation.

I saw a Donate Life Colorado poster at the library, so Michael and I went on-line and updated our own records. That led me to the national Donate Life site, which can direct potential donors to individual state registries. Then I read a beautiful and heart-breaking blog post that a friend had linked to – describing the last days of a young child’s life, and the family’s decision to donate his organs, so that many other families and children could live a little longer, a little healthier.

If you’ve ever considered registering, or if you’re not sure if you’re registered, it only takes a few minutes to sign up on-line (at least in Colorado!). You might need to have your driver’s license or other i.d. number handy. Just a few minutes could make a huge difference for another person.

Creative Clutter

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Lately while driving, I’ve been listening to Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin. This  entertaining narrative is a sequel to The Happiness Project, the chronicle of her endeavor to improve her day-to-day outlook, over the course of a calendar year.

One of the ideas that’s resonating with me the most is Rubin’s unwillingness to give in to the clutter-clearing mania that periodically sweeps through our culture. While she spends some time organizing and simplifying her family’s apartment, she also recognizes the beauty and joy that objects often bring to her life. It’s an interesting stance to take, since clearing clutter is generally seen as a virtue, in contrast to extreme hoarding, like that of the Collyer Brothers, who weren’t vilified but certainly were pitied.

I don’t think I’d be classified as a hoarder; I do have a lot of magazines, but we can still walk around the house and I haven’t fashioned any of the stacks into booby traps. If that doesn’t make sense, go back and click that Collyer Brothers link!

I think we’re somewhere in the middle of the ascetic to hoarder continuum. I usually don’t mind some material chaos, especially in my own little studio area. I like having supplies close by, and a variety of media because you never know what will be inspiring on a given day. And of course there are many stacks of books. I go through clutter waves; a few months of stacking and piling and randomness building up, and then a few weeks of organization, but the purpose of the organization is just to set the stage for the subsequent months of creative buzz.

Sam is even more comfortable with chaos and clutter, and he often questions why he should organize his room. I know I’m supposed to be strong and crack the organizational whip, but really I have the same question. If a person is able to find what they want, when they want it (and he generally does), what’s the harm in letting him use an extremely loose system of organization?

IMG_9175Could it be possible that randomness and disarray might trigger alternative ideas and solutions to problems? Maybe our desire to reuse and recycle will come in handy someday.

What’s your reaction to clutter? Do you love it, hate it, or find yourself somewhere in the middle? How does the type of clutter change your reaction (i.e. papers, toys, household items, etc.)?

Construct, Deconstruct, Reconstruct

 

 

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We tend to make stuff, live with it for a while, and then cut it up to make something new. We’ve got all of these bits of paper, and it just seems a shame to let them go. We’re making accordion fans out of library receipts, sewing together paper robots, and even playing with some extreme makeovers.

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The process of just playing around with materials makes us happy. We’ve got process down, but final products are hard to come by. I always think that someday I’d like to put together a body of work – drawings, paintings, multi-media – but then I end up cutting everything up again. Hmmm… I’ll have to think about what that means.

In the meantime, in an effort to keep our beautiful collection of very important bits of paper, we’re getting serious about organizing. Well, loosely serious. The beautiful stuff bins that Celine gave us three years ago have gotten pretty mixed up, so it’s been hard to find the colors and textures we want, without dumping the bins out on the floor.

 

 

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So we’re working on color coded bins – Isabel wrote the tags. It’s definitely an ongoing project. The bins are heavy on paper, but they also have other recycled materials, for various projects. We’ve got bins for the basic spectrum, and we’re including bins for white, black, brown, silver, gold, and clear.

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How do you store materials that tend to get disorganized quickly? And if you’re an artist, how in the world do you keep yourself from cutting up your finished work?

Paper Love

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Despite the tablets, the laptops, the smart phones, I still have a thing for paper, and I imagine I always will. Though I’d save a few trees by consistently jotting my notes on one of my ‘devices’, I still seek out a sketchbook, a notebook, a sticky note, a scrap of paper, the back of an envelope, even a napkin, when I want to get an idea down. Even though I’ll lose the papers eventually, in my disastrous purse or in one of the teetering piles on my desk, I still love those papers.

Maybe the tiniest particles in a sheet of paper resonate with my own fragile, human molecular structure. We’ll both return to dust more quickly than metal and plastic. And not to be overly dramatic, but if we were to lose the energy sources that power all of these laptops, we could still figure out a way to pound tree bark into paper, so that we could keep making marks, to connect and remember.

So when it comes to paper, we tilt toward the reuse and recycle sides of the triumvirate. I just don’t want to reduce. Except for junk mail. Fortunately our city has a comprehensive, single-stream recycling system, and they accept almost anything that would qualify as junk mail:

– Opened mail, greeting cards, postcards, index cards and file folders, loose leaf and legal pad paper, stationary, letterhead, copy and typing paper, paper envelopes (plastic windows OK), brochures and glossy ads

If recycling junk mail isn’t as easy where you are (or if you’re really committed to the reduction side of things), Denver Recycles has put together this ‘junk mail reduction kit’ that includes ten form letters to download, print and mail to the US companies that send out the most unsolicited mail. I’m not sure which other countries have similar campaigns (or whether junk mail is more of an American disease).

Since reusing paper is the most fun of all, I’ll devote a whole post to some of our favorite projects and resources soon. Until then, what’s your preferred method of dealing with the superfluous paper in your life? Do you embrace it, or do you stop it at the front door?

Old is New

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We may as well categorize every month as Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, because we’re big fans of all three. Well…sort of. One family member is really into reducing, while two of us prefer reusing. We’re all cool with recycling, although we could probably stand to recycle even more than we do now.

One of our goals for April is to investigate what happens to our recycled materials and trash. I participated in the Denver Urban Gardens master composter training about eight years ago, and we had the chance to tour a recycling plant and a landfill. I’m hoping that Sam will be able to visit both places this month – I still have to check on the minimum age requirement for visitors, and whether we’d have to be part of a larger group to visit both locations.

I’m excited to be starting on this project path. Do you have any ideas about these topics, that you’d like to talk about this month?

Make It – Minimalist Drink Markers

IMG_8134These are our super-minimalist party glass markers. When we make stuff at home, most of our projects are:

  1. Simple and easy to make
  2. Open-ended – there’s not one right way to complete the project
  3. Made from materials we already have at home (in this case, old Scrabble tiles, bottle caps, buttons, string, twist ties, bobby pins, and velcro tabs)

We’ve been using our fancy glasses every day this week, and since they’re all identical, creating simple drink markers was a useful project. Because our goblets have a downward taper, we had to make skinny markers that rest at the bottom of the glass. At first I was playing around with paper clips and pliers, but I quickly realized that the metal wasn’t flexible enough. Shower curtain rings were way too big, and rubber bands slipped down the glass too easily. The best ties for our glasses turned out to be twist ties, bobby pins, and string.

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We threaded the various types of ties through old buttons, and then worked to attach either Scrabble tiles or bottle caps to the buttons, using velcro. I like this design because the tiles and caps are interchangeable. The tiles could also be attached using glue.

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Now we’re ready to make a toast and go for a double word score – Cheers!