Monday, April 26, 2010


I'm tiredly tired. Life has been a total whirlwind the last few weeks... I feel like I'm barreling towards one deadline, then another, but luckily all fun stuff. Stuff I enjoy doing. If I could only let go of that edge of anxiety then it would be perfect, but maybe it's the motivating force I need... not sure. Anyway, I've been doing positively SCADS of birthday parties... I filmed a zombie movie with four twelve year old boys for a super fun birthday party, and I did a fairy party, two marshmallow shooter parties, a spa party (we made bubble bath and custom scent spritzers), and a messy party. The messy party really warmed the cockles of my heart, whatever those are... the kids just had SO much fun. Of course this messiness would be close to my heart, it goes without saying. It was so easy... I just dumped out about ten big bags of cornmeal on a sheet of plastic and laid out all sorts of kitchen implements.... whisks and muffin tins and measuring cups... and I brought my water table and filled it to the brim with water and suds and bubbles, and then also laid out nice brimming bowls of finger paint in all the colors of the rainbow, and laid out lots of nice fresh paper around, weighted down with rocks. This was a party for a 3 year old and I loved it because, though some parties end up being more about pleasing the parents than pleasing the child, the birthday girl was definitely having the time of her bubbly, paint-y, pretend-cupcake-making life. Super sweet.
I'm also halfway through now my fabulous Tinkering class for home schoolers... which is a total dream come true, because it is my testing ground for all I learned during our weekend with Gever, and the mom who set it all up for me attended a few of the events that weekend and is a total Tinkering School fan now so everyone is totally on board with the technique. As, now that I am trying it, I think lots of people would be... it really is just SO fun and is an infinitely more relaxing and inspiring way to lead a class than trying to lead kids step by step through some pre-planned activity. Anyway, I'm going to be crowing about all that a lot more for sure, so, I won't go on and on about it now. I'll leave you hungry for more.
And though it seems a little horn-tooting, I simply can't help but crow also about getting mentioned on the blogs of some of my FAVORITE people in the world. Way off a few months ago, Filth Wizardry, which is this absolutely capital blog who pretty much knocks it out of the park with almost every single post... simply brilliant ideas, in the tinkering vein, but for the preschool set.... anyway, I was pretty thrilled to be mentioned by her on her blog. I mean, you just gotta go over and check out her ideas! A gimungo geo-board? A glow-in-the-dark wall in their house that you can write on with a light pen? Easy homemade light sabres? And on top of that all sorts of other great hands-on messy fun. And I simply have to write about the plastic-bag decal method she developed on my (poor, neglected) Mungo.... anyway, all this with this rockstar blogger, and what'd she go and do but write about me AGAIN! I just noticed it today, because I haven't been able to do my standard blog perusals what with being so busy and all, but I did notice that my blog had been visited about 50 million times more than normal (because yes, I've been too busy to respond to your emails and what-all and I'm sorry about that, but checking my blog stats, I'm never too busy for that...) She's the best, my heart is aflutter!
OK, I have to chill on the swooning, I do believe I'm over my swooning quota on this post, but what can be done, I have to swoon a bit more. A LOT more. Because Gever Tulley mentioned Austin Tinkering School on HIS blog TOO! I feel a bit like I've stepped through the looking glass, with that one. So many times I have looked at his site and all the cool stuff he's done... never dreaming that we would one day be pals. It boggles the mind.
So that's all for now, and let's just hope these ego strokes keep a-comin'.... you know how it is, you just keep needing a higher and higher dose to maintain that wonderful feeling....

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Austin Tinkering School is HERE!

It's on the web so it must be true.

Check it out:

Still run out of my backyard, but I have found the perfect space for it... right next to Treasure City Thrift on E. 12th. So if you know someone who's got some extra bucks to throw around, and who would care to throw them towards the tinkering cause, point them in my direction!

Tinkering for all!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


My family really likes this series of books called Uncle John's Bathroom Readers. Disgusting-sounding, I know, and believe me, this was after my time at the house. They're really just big books full of interesting lists and facts and stories that you can peruse whilst whiling away the hours. A few years ago for Christmas I compiled something I called Uncle Kami's Bathroom Reader. It was super easy... I just photocopied all the good articles and funny tidbits I found in magazines and books and had the pages bound for my family's reading pleasure. I rediscovered good ol' Uncle Kami lately and there's some excellent stuff in there... a lot from the pages of Harper's magazine, which I don't even get anymore. Might be time to resubscribe. Anyway, found myself wanting to share this piece, found originally in Harper's:

"Did you Know?" by Jeff Johnson, was published in the Spring/Summer issue of Fence.

Did You Know?
1957- U.S. public school/elementary student pie consumption: at least 14 pieces annually (school year)
1982-- student pie consumption: 4 pieces
1999- s.p.c.: 1.77777703 pieces

Did You Know?
That early pie in schools was mainly pumpkin. Or apple. Made annually from more than seven tons of felled, bruised apples from Oregon, Michigan, and Washington State.

Many school cooks were convicts (before government watch programs were started).

Many cooks had ailments and wore conductor's creme on their elbows and other joints.

Many cooks lied, gambled, swore, drank beer, and abused their spouses. Many cooks were honest citizens and doubled as youth coaches.

During recess many cooks played tackle football with young students but would not hit them hard, often gently placing a rugged hand on the small of a child's back and easing him to the ground and saying, "you're down."

Many cooks, over time, refused to bake pies from scratch;
schools grew;
pies were shipped in,
packed with perservatives and additives;
students shied away from them--- bland pies that had been frozen for months on end;
sometimes a wristwatch or a Band-Aid would drop into the pie
during the process.

Did you know that John Lennon's 1973 hit "Mind Games" has played on more transistor radios in elementary-school kitchens than any other song? Second place belongs to a Men at Work hit, "Down Under."

Did you know that the student pie revolts of the early 1960s put an ugly deep scar on the face of the school-lunch program? In fact, if the school-lunch program had a face, it became a pinched, worrisome, blemished face, peering in to the windows of a diner, with cupped hands, looking for father and not finding him, then turning sharply toward the street and getting doused with slush from a passing taxi.

Cooks had nicknames for different pie situations: a dropped pie that was still baked and served was a hornet; a dropped pie that was unsalvageable was a bluebird; a pie that was too hot to be served without mitts was an eagle; a pie that tasted better with whipped cream was a goose.

The school-lunch program had an auxiliary army; in the summers many cooks would fight in Korea, Western Canada, Vietnam, or wherever duty took them.

The cooks liked to travel to war by ship and sang sea shanties.

Did you know that in 1975 the first ever national cooks vs. custodians bridge tournament was played in Bakersfield, CA?
The custodians won.

Many school-lunch cooks were women, and they resembled Rosemary Clooney and often doubled as nurses. Many of them worked without proper credentials, often diagnosing problems based on intuition.

Many cooks battled the flu on the job, unknowingly passing it to students who often passed it to their parents or pets, or the people their parents worked with or slept with on the side.

Once the flu is "baked in" to a casserole, it gestates and becomes fourteen times more lethal.

Many school lunchrooms doubled as gymnasiums and auditoriums and some of the worst student plays were performed in rooms where chow mein had been cooked not more than twelve hours prior.

Did you know that many of the worst singers, dancers, and actors in these performances were students who had large amounts of meatloaf digesting in their stomachs and intestines during said performances.

Did you know that there was often a free pine green or dark red telephone in the corner and that when time permitted, many cooks would quietly work out personal-debt problems or domestic issues and that many of the words uttered into these phones, with ladles shanking in the background, are among the saddest known to man?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Most things I've learned, I've learned while making something"

is something Gever said. Or something like that, maybe not that exactly. And I've been thinking a lot about that. This isn't the best photo but see this little playhouse? I built it with my friend Kimberly. I really really wanted a playhouse for the backyard. Matt is a total builder and carpenter guy but I mentioned it to him several times and I could tell it just didn't take. Way on the bottom of the list of priorities. So my ideas was this (and luckily Kimberly was amenable to my plan): Kimberly came over every Tuesday evening. And we worked on the playhouse. It turned out to be a really great plan. Kimberly knew about as much about building a playhouse as I did, which was pretty much next to nothing. Matt thought we were going to make a gimungo mess and the whole thing made him kind of grumpy, so he was not a help at all, and this turned out to be great, because Kimberly and I had to troubleshoot everything ourselves instead of deferring to his authority. But it was really the Tuesday date that was key. If I had been doing it myself I know I would have gotten stuck at some point and probably given up.But every Tuesday here comes Kimberly and I just HAD to figure out the next step or how to move forward. And it really worked out. And everyone loves the little house we built and
always wants to build one themselves. And now I know how to do it and it's really not that hard. Like so many things that seemed infinitely intimidating but now that I've tried them I know I could do the same and even better.
I'm about to make a zombie movie this weekend with four twelve year old boys: a birthday party for one of them. I'm excited for me and I'm excited for them. I have loved movies and wanted to make movies since I was a kid. I actually did make a few movies with my brothers and friends over the years. And then probably got intimidated out of it and decided I had no know-how. Then about 12 years ago I took a film making class here in Austin. We had an assignment to just go out and shoot a short film. I learned so much from making that film, and one of the things I kept thinking was, "Gee, I paid $500 to have someone tell me I had permission to go shoot a movie. But I could have done it any time!" But it was well worth the $500 to get that little piece of info and more. And I went on to shoot lots and lots of little short fun movies with friends over the years. And I'm excited that these kids get to have that experience of, "Gee, whenever we want, we can go shoot a movie!" early on.
And of course this applies to anything you might want to do or try. Let go of your wish to have a perfect end product, because it might not be about that, it might just be like you're taking a class in filmmaking/cake baking/auto mechanics/knitting/what have you.... only you're giving the class to yourself. And you're saving the money so you can spend it on supplies. Cost efficient and oh so self sufficient. So go, git on with your bad self. Bite off more than you can chew. Mmm. Delicious lessons.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stellar evening with Gever Tulley, Carrie Contey, and Bernadette Noll!

Words really fail me to describe this amazing evening with these fine folks. It was quite stupendous to say the least. We had a fantastic turn out and the whole thing was a dazzling display of intellectual pyrotechnics.

I was trying to write this last night and was feeling un-enthused. I was trying to remember what the gist was of each talk and was trying to think of how to re-cap each of them. And that all seemed just kind of wearying, not really inspiring. Then out playing in the yard today I thought of a better way (for me ) to approach it... what I learned from each speaker and how I have integrated it into my life. Because each talk really hit me on a deep level ( maybe it was the element of 'danger' [really just the pleasurable level of excitement that came from being the organizerator of the event] that, as we learned from Gever, actually causes information to be absorbed more deeply into the brain [I may be saying this wrong, but I think it's like, if you're attacked be alligators and it's really scary, it's deeply imprinted into your brain, Dude that sucked!! Never go out in the swamp after dark again!!])that I feel like I have been referencing them throughout the week.

Carrie Contey's talk was about the power of the pause. Lucky you, you don't have to listen to my garbled account of it but rather can catch the gist of it here in her Tedx Austin talk. Suffice it to say we mentioned our need for a pause and the power of pause all throughout that very busy weekend. So much new information, so many new connections, I know at times my brain was in overdrive and I'd remember, oh yeah, the power of pause, and would try to walk off and be by myself for a moment. Or I'd notice that I was coming from some big event or workshop and would still get on the computer and be trying to take in even MORE new information. And this with my brain creaking and groaning like a boat that's about to capsize. I'd realize I needed sometime to download and would take myself out for a walk or a nice little sit in the backyard. Such a much better way to live, I must say. THANK YOU, Carrie!! Just one more brilliant thing to remember from you!

Next up was Bernadette and she talked about crafting with kids, how it sucks sometimes even despite our best intentions, and some helpful hints on how to make it a good experience. Because making things is fun and making things with other people is fun and making things with some of our favorite people CAN be the most fun thing of all if only all our human frailties didn't jump right there up to the fore when we try to do a crafty project together. Boy howdy do I know all about that. Stressed out mama with a vision of how things should go + kids with their own vision and surplus energy which translates as things dumped out/knocked over/ loss of interest/ what have you = family meltdown. Bernadette was so forthright and funny and down to earth and clear. It was really so fun to listen to. Two points stood out for me. One was, know your limits. Maybe you feel like you should be comfortable letting them smear paint all over their bodies. But the reality is it's making you feel like the top of your head is going to pop off. That's totally OK and you can just honor your boundaries. I remember a moment when that really became clear for me. I had just taken some parenting class that made me feel like I should be a lot more relaxed. We had been having kind of a crazy day already and I was watching Jack push the couch from the living room towards the kitchen counter. I felt this strangledy feeling in my throat and wanted him to stop but said to myself hey, what's the big deal? I ended up freaking out and screaming... and the message was right there, the moment when I could have drawn the line. Ain't nothing wrong with drawin' a line. ALSO, I liked how she said that sometimes you can be the little elf behind the scenes who keeps a project going, just a little bit. Not like, you'll take it over for them and make sure it comes out perfect. But if you notice a knitting project, say, which has been abandoned in the corner for a long time, and you pick it up , dust it off, and maybe add on a little bit so it really looks like it's going somewhere, and then leave it out all enticingly for your young one to find later, there's really nothing wrong with that. Better that than them never picking it up again, never having the satisfaction of having finished that scarf or whatever it is. And I feel like we really used this when building that stick structure the next day. There was a point after lunch where a lot of the kids ran off and were just playing in the creek or whatever. We were kind of wondering what we should do and we decided to just keep building. When the kids started wandering back in, the third story was starting to form and they definitely got re-engaged.
So last but not least, there was Gever himself. This seems really like the hardest to recap but I guess it's not. It just seems like there's so much to it, so much that I have learned that I'm still trying to fully incorporate. Well, let's see here... the first part of his talk was about dangerism... how people are just danger-phobic in this way that they just weren't twenty years ago, and it's not really based on any hard evidence that any of all the safeguards and precautions we put in place really have any effect on making our children safer. I came away from this realizing I needed to be even more firm in normalizing normal behavior. For instance, we went to an egg hunt at this small local college on Friday after school. It was all perfectly fine (except for a little unexpected bible thump, which I hadn't anticipated) and the kids had a good time... acceptable way to spend an afternoon. We were rolling around in the grass and the sunshine way after most people had dissipated, just enjoying ourselves and eating some candy, and Jack ended up climbing this tree, which is pretty much what he always has to do in any given environment. Some faculty and students were standing somewhat nearby chatting, and we were approached by a lady who said in a very nice and friendly way, "We are just so afraid he might fall and hurt himself, he probably shouldn't climb the tree." Normally my good girl personae comes to the fore and I salute authority, especially someone being so nice and all, but Gever's talk was fresh in my mind and I found myself saying, almost surprising myself, "Oh, it's OK. He won't fall." She was taken aback and said, "Oh, but we just wouldn't want him to hurt himself." So I kind of relented and said, "Well, I'm sure he's fine, but I'll tell him to get down." And then I told Jack, "They don't really want us to climb trees here." Which seems like what she could have told me to begin with. If she said, "We don't want our trees to get hurt" that would make more sense then, "I think your kid is going to fall from a 5-6 foot tree, when obviously he climbs on playstructures and all sorts of things all the time". I think that 20 years ago, it wouldn't have been an issue, him climbing the tree. So, we must take it upon ourselves to be the voice of reason, because things have gotten a little out of hand in the past 20, 30 years or so.

The other really amazing thing that Gever said that stands out is about being failure-positive. He showed this really potent little array of videos that kids had uploaded to Youtube. Apparently someone had posted somewhere this tablature for playing Canon in D Major on your electric guitar. This kid who called himself FunTwo played it somewhat OK and posted it on youtube. Next a girl posted a video of herself playing it... this time even more falteringly. Then a little boy posted his video of himself... maybe even a little less good. But a year goes by, and that last little boy posts again... and he's pretty good. A few years even after that... another post by him... and he's absolutley phenomenal. And still probably only 15 or 16, if that. And FunTwo's original post? Has been viewed 70. Million. Times. Which to break it down for you, would mean someone would need to watch it non stop for 350 years to watch it that many times. The point being, that FunTwo's posting something that wasn't perfect inspired others to post their less-than-perfect efforts, and to keep trying, and keep learning. Which is way different than someone posting something that is perfect and beautiful and that we all admire (which of course is good too.... we all want to admire great art and cool things that people do) but that we automatically dismiss as something we could never do ourselves.

The Q and A section was fantastic. I wished it could have gone on into the wee hours of the night. They were really so perfectly suited to each other as a group, really complemented each other well. The funniest part was the last question, and it was just a divine capper for the evening. A woman raised her hand and said that her son was a real maker, he loved making things and designing things. He had decided he really wanted to make a boat and had drawn out this detailed illustration of his plan for his little boat. Well then her husband came along, with the best intentions I'm sure, and looked at the little boys plans, and deduced that there was no way that this boat built as such would float, and proceeded to order a kit off the internet, a neat kit that they could build together that would actually fit the whole family. Sound like a fine plan, eh? Well, no. Gever repeated the question for the audience, "Did you all hear this sad sad story about the little boy who wanted to build a boat and his father wouldn't let him try and bought him a kit instead?" The point was that the kid would learn way more from building the boat his own way and even having it sink and fail than he would from having his dad order him a boat kit off the internet. And that, also, has had a huge impact on me. I'm already kind of like that... very clear about giving kids space to do their thing and not rushing into help or hinder. But this week I've been even more clear about letting Henny wrestle with the car seat buckle that she so desperately wants to do herself, letting Jack sound out the word for himself or spell it himself, or even letting sibling squabbles more space to work out on their own. For even if my ears are burning it is a heck of a lot nicer in the long run if they learn to work out problems on their own.
Well, all 'round it was an awe-inspiring, life-changing evening. Gever just posted this, a comic book version of his 2009 TED talk, but with even more content. I read it and I automatically felt freaked out because I'm so in awe of him and love his ideas and what he has achieved so much. It made me feel like, "I can't believe I was just hanging out with him like it was the most normal thing in the world only a week ago! I must have blocked out how amazing I think he is." It makes me think of Wile E. Coyote when he runs off a cliff and is just running on clear air, which is fine until suddenly it dawns on him where he is and falls into thin air. If I had thought to much about it I don't know if I would have been able to function. As it was I got to work alongside one of my all-time heroes and that was really really fun, and also hear him speak twice AND lead a workshop for adults, and the cherry on top was a few after hour chats and beers with other great friends and a dinner or two. Oh it was really really cool.
And now, in the works for the fall: Gever, again (he'll more than likely be back, he was invited to work with grad students at UT for a few weeks!!) and Bernadette and Carrie again, and LENORE SKENAZY!!! We have already communicated with her and she's totally down with it! Even more awesomeness headed our way.
But first order of business.... start a Tinkering School right here in Austin. I'm on it!!
Thanks to Leslie Baccus-Hope for snapping these photos!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Plastic bag extravaganza

So, this amazing artist that I met recently, Virginia Fleck, makes these unbelievably intricate and beautiful mandalas by cutting up plastic bags. Seriously, they're not to be believed. There's some of them down on 5th St. at the Whole Foods bus stop. They're just so beautiful they kind of blow my mind.

She also does these bigger installation pieces with her chosen medium, the ubiquitous plastic bag. Like the piece above, which was at Laguna Gloria. Pretty cool, eh??

So anyway... she was taking down an installation piece she did in Arizona and she was needing to get a few boxes of extra solid colored bags off of her hands. I was SO pleased to oblige! I have been so in the mood to just do tons of experimenting, or tinkering if you will, with some otherwise scorned or thrown out items. So when Austin Creative Reuse opens up, we'll just be rife with dazzling new ideas of ways to use our cast-off items.

I've got lots of ideas and lots of things I want to try, but I haven't really nailed it with anything yet. I'm including some of my failed efforts because I was so inspired by some of the points that Gever Tulley was making. About being failure-positive. And about encouraging others to be failure-positive, too. Like if all we put out there are our most perfect efforts, they can often be intimidating rather than inspiring. And people are less inclined to just give it a shot, if it interests them. 'Cause people on these blogs only ever share their best efforts. And it makes it look like everything that streams out of you is divinely inspired. Like good old Soulemama.... who posts a non-stop flow of perfect handmade crafts... but does she ever share her botched sweater or curdled yogurt? But no one ever shares their mishaps along the way... so I thought maybe I'd share a few. Maybe it's good to do and maybe there's no point to it at all... it's all an experiment, so we'll just have to see now, won't we?

If nothing else I figure I can just cut the bags up into skeins and skeins of plarn. Plarn for all!

Another experiment... with a coffee cup and a straw. If you've got any ideas for me let 'em fly!
I've certainly got the bags to spare.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools

I just gotta tell y'all this story, the story of our best April Fool's Day ever. I was 15 or so and we were in Camp Sherman, OR which is this tiny little town. My brothers and our friend went out after dark and changed all these signs, just by taping paper over certain letters and writing in different letters. For example, we changed the Wizard Falls sign to Lizards Falling, we changed 3 No Parking signs down at the store to No Barking, No Puking, and No Whistling in the Dark. We changed Cold Springs Resort to Moldy Spoon Resort, and Black Butte School to Black Butts School (so lowbrow, but how can you resist with set up like that?). Well we all thought we were so very very clever, but that's not the whole story. The next morning my dad got up and went to the store, and when he came back he said, "Did you hear? Someone went around town last night and changed all the signs." We all giggled to ourselves delightedly with no intention of revealing to our dad our tomfoolery. He then went on to say, " Yes, the sheriff is extremely angry about this. Apparently it's a felony to mess with state property. They're dusting for fingerprints and they should have the culprits by later today." I don't know about my brother Mike but I almost DIED. I was certain I would be spending the years of my teenhood locked in a jail cell... and I don't know how long he let us stew in it before doing the whole April Fools thang. Apparently my younger brother Coop who was probably about 8 at the time had buckled under the pressure and had spilled the beans to my dad. Anyway, pretty clever there Don, I have to hand it to you, giving your children a good old fashioned April Fools heart attack!
This is one we did just now... you can flip a glass of water upside down and then slide the laminated paper (or whatever you have that won't sog all up... a playing card? ) out from under it so that you have an upside-down glass of water. It's a slightly mean trick because you can't really pick it up without the water spilling everywhere. But it's funny. And cool. And I'm not trying to fool you, it's true!