April Loves May


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


It’s not April anymore?


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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


Creative Clutter



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





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.



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.





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.



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


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


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?


Sam’s been at his summer camp for a week and it is awesome! It’s Reggio-inspired, his teacher is a painter, the kids get lots of time outside, and the focus of the summer is making art from recycled materials. I wish I could go to summer camp.

The camp is in a semi-industrial part of town, tucked between the Platte River and the railroad tracks. Every day, arriving and departing, Sam has noticed what he thought was a well, in the parking lot. We kept meaning to stop and check it out, but there was always something stopping us. We’d be late to pick up Bel, there’d be an approaching thunderstorm, and yesterday, when I really wanted to stop, we had the adventure of changing a flat tire (in the industrial wasteland, late to pick up Bel, with hints of a thunderstorm on the horizon). Needless to say, we didn’t have time to check out the well.

So today, with the slashed tire repaired, we finally stopped! And it isn’t a well after all. It turns out it’s a storm drain, which was still pretty interesting for Sam. He thought it was a well because of the big yellow blocks surrounding the drain, and because on all of the previous days he could see a huge puddle of water inside the yellow blocks.

You can see that most of the water has either filtered down through the grate, or evaporated. The mud became even more interesting than the drain, as he poked around and talked about the difference between wet and dry dirt. He was also wondering about the difference between mud and clay, so we’ve got a plan to talk to his Grandpa Roth about that, once we get to Washington.

It reminded me that some of the best experiences are also the simplest. At work, to guide our process through some much needed curriculum changes, we’re reading Young Investigators by Judy Harris Helm and Lilian Katz. The authors advocate engaging kids in field experiences or site visits that are close to home (or school), at the beginning of a project, rather than elaborate field trips when a project or unit of study is complete. A very simple concept, that doesn’t always happen in traditional school settings.

I know that Sam would choose the storm drain in the parking lot over Disney On Ice any day, which is why this summer camp is so perfect for him. On the first day, the kids and teachers walked the parking lots around the office buildings, looking for materials for art projects, and just checking out anything that caught their interest.

Did I mention that I wish I could go to summer camp too?


The Book Post and a very small contest


I got a book in the mail! It’s The Power of Play by Frank and Theresa Caplan, circa 1973, and it’s certainly re-used  – mercifully saved from the discard pile at Peninsula College Library.  Here’s the first paragraph, from the introduction:

We aim to present a hypothesis of such far-reaching implications that no parent, pediatrician, educator, sociologist, or politician can afford to ignore it. It is our intention to present data that will substantiate our premise that the power of play is all-pervasive. We invite our readers to examine the power of play with us so that we might garner for child play the prestige and wholehearted public support it deserves and must have.

I’m looking forward to reading more. The Caplan’s were the founders of the original Creative Playthings company. They collaborated with many mid-century modern artists and had connections with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The current iteration of Creative Playthings that might pop to the top of your google reader is not the same, so dig a little deeper – it’s worth it!

We’ve been playing with and reading a handful of other great books, that relate to re-using, reducing and recycling. Here are our top three recommendations:



And that brings me to our very small contest, to round out this unpredictable month of April. The first reader who can identify the location (the intersection or other nearby points of interest) of the bird in the photo below, will win his or her very own copy of The Creative Family, by Amanda Blake Soule.  Obviously, Denver friends have a huge advantage in this contest, but I know some resourceful people that might be able to figure this out, regardless of locale. Just post your guess in the comments, and maybe I’ll send you a book.

Are you ready?


La Cotidiana

I’d like you to meet my favorite word in Spanish – la cotidiana. The common translation to English is “the daily”, but a closer cognate is “quotidian”. It’s too bad that quotidian doesn’t have the best reputation in English. It brings to mind a daily, mind-numbing grind; something that’s overused and worn out.

For whatever reason, flipping it to Spanish brightens it up, for me. La cotidiana…These small moments are going to happen every day, but there will be new beauty, when you look a little closer. It’s the same cup, the same counter, the same soft lavender sweatshirt, but today I see it all for the first time.

I haven’t been on-point with our grand plans for documenting the 3 Rs this month, but in a way just returning to appreciate la cotidiana is a form of re-using and recycling. And by looking more closely at our daily patterns and habits, we might also be moving toward reduction. Editing down to what’s really essential for our daily lives. There’s nothing we need to buy or add, to magically become happier. It’s all here, each day, waiting to be discovered again.

In that vein, I hope you’ll check out Lisa’s Steps and Staircases blog – she’s re-started with daily photos of her family’s important things. Lovely and inspiring, as always!