What’s Fun: Three Rocks or Marshmallows?

As a teen, my brother was always bothering me with the comic strip Zippy the Pinhead by Bill Griffiths. He thought it was brilliant and would show me strip after strip. I thought it was inscrutable, but with great artwork. A particular strip outlined the meaning of fun:

Zippy: What is fun, Ernie?

Ernie: Three rocks.

My brother would show me this particular strip and laugh until he was falling down. Literally. Later on in the strip, Zippy asks Ernie if four rocks are fun, and if two are fun. According to Ernie, no, just three rocks are fun.

I never got it. I still don’t entirely, though I found an article that kind of explains it here, in the ninth paragraph:


However, after being heavily advised by many over the last few years to “try and have some fun, will you?” I realize that fun is still an inscrutable concept for me these days.

So I looked on the handy dandy internet for inspiration. According to the first definition search, fun = enjoyment, amusement or lighthearted pleasure.

Hmmm. To be honest, I do not let myself indulge in those emotions much these days. That could explain a lot. I’m out of practice! There is just so much to be done and it is hard to accomplish things with little kids around, which is frustrating.

Now that I really think about it, my aversion to fun is a scheduling issue.

Starting in school, I developed the good habit of reserving fun for a time after my work was finished. After school, after I practiced this piece of music enough, after I finished my homework, after school let out for the summer. That sort of thing.

I am an expert at the Marshmallow Test – you know, the test where researchers determined that children who could delay the gratification of eating a marshmallow sitting before them on a plate for a few minutes for the reward of a second marshmallow had significantly better success in life than those who just ate the darn thing right away.

And I have to say it is a pretty good prediction of success. I graduated from college and held some good paying positions. I got married, have a house, have children. Yay!

However, I’ve gotten so good at it that I believe I have forgotten to eat the marshmallow. In fact, I think it has swung way too far the other way. I don’t even want the stinking thing at the end of the day. You can keep your two marshmallows, you jerky researcher, I am exhausted, I seem to be saying in my own personal tantrum.

I guess I have to schedule back in the fun.

When I was working for a company, the schedule was easy. It was just like school – save fun for home rather than the office, for weekends and for vacations. I remember disliking talking to co workers about non work related subjects unless it was lunchtime.

I have to admit, unless it was art related or outdoors related, I found all of the many diversions my co workers would mention (usually football, basketball, baseball and  buying cars), huge sucking wastes of my time. But, I think maturity is finally, after all of this time, kicking in. My co workers were expressing to me what they thought was fun! I’m sure they were reliving the fun in memory form a little, to enjoy the day a bit more.


OK, honestly I just could not figure out WHAT they were doing when they were in that state at the time. When people would bring those subjects up initially, I assumed they were just trying to find common ground with me, and I would nod and smile and say I didn’t follow those things closely but I could see how they could like those things. But they still would talk about that stuff.

Now the sports debate can go into another blog post altogether. Suffice to say that I am still irked that I have to learn a little about football to get along in the world in general and NO ONE has to learn about the mathematical beauty of the circle of fifths in MY world. I accept that is just the price I have to pay for honestly having different predilections, of which I am finally proud of having.

Anyway, fun.

What’s fun? It is one of those personal questions. If it had a simple answer, entertainment executives would have a much easier time of it. Fun has a spontaneous edge to it. To me, it is the instant enjoyment of a moment that has no overt purpose.

I have heard a bit about the book The Theory of Fun by Raph Koster, which I should read. Albeit this book is about game theory, not just life theory. I hear that in a nutshell, fun is achieved in games when the player is faced with a challenge that is not too hard and not too easy, that takes a bit of effort to get through. When the player meets the challenge finally, endorphins strike. Hooray!

Sounds a bit Marshmallow Test, really. I could see the difference between games and life being that in games, this is choreographed and staged fun, where in life you have to cultivate it.

It strikes me that reliving memories of fun could be helpful. It is one of those tasks that is hard to motivate myself to do when I am stuck in the tantrum of frustration of not being able to accomplish anything. But hey, perhaps that is why many moms like scrapbooking and journal writing. It gets you into the memories, back to a roadmap of what you are forgetting.

Finally, it strikes me that it is key to enjoy the little accomplishments, like winning the battle over barbarism after my three year old threw her breakfast plate across the room and she actually picked it up after fifteen minutes of pouting. No shouting on my part. Explained that was not OK and to please pick it up. Waited it out. Then success!

Appreciating the little “funs” does sound awfully Hallmark, but really, it takes effort. It is easy to forget and wallow in the bigger non-accomplishmenst. I just had to remind myself of that moment. It was great. Go mom. Yay! Fun.

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Startup Tantrums

In Mid September 2014, I assisted in running Startup Weekend Kids. It is a morning long event during Startup Weekend Tucson to give kids a really great introduction into the world of the business startup company. I think it is also an introduction to some key business concepts in general.

It is an excellent program. Kids think of a business idea (usually an invention of some sort, but it could be any product or service) as soon as they arrive. They give a pitch to the group, and then work most of the time creating a poster presentation, in which they must think about things like what their prototype will look like, what materials they will need and setting a price. They also think of who their customers may be and are encouraged to interview potential customers. Often the interviewees are the adult Startup Weekend attendees, who find the mini-me’s just darn cute.

The kids’ business ideas are sometimes a rather ambitious pie-in-the-sky invention (my all time favorite was the jet pack), but sometimes they are quite possible, like this year’s basketball hoop laundry hamper, or the cat shelter yard sale donation web site. The kids are not given too much time to worry about the idea really. The effort comes later in experiencing the whole startup process.

The kids range in age from 5 to 15. Parents are highly encouraged to attend with the kids. Why? Because it’s a tough program! However, it is well worth the effort and rich in experiential rewards.

My son also participated. This was his second time through the workshop. I remember the first time through being a bit challenging for him, but fun in the end. The second time was the same way.

I am writing about Startup Weekend Kids because during the event I noticed how just about every kid had a little meltdown or hit a challenge-wall at some point. The energy in the room the whole time was super charged, made more electric by all of the excitement from the adults upstairs doing Startup Weekend Tucson. This energy made the room feel very optimistic yet made kids rather sensitive to these roadblocks. I think it came from the old belief that the idea is all that you need for a business to be successful. The challenging reality of the process, even on a 4 hour long micro scale, was a surprise to everyone and hit them at different points.

The following are common meltdown points I noticed. Now, adults, before you feel all superior and charmed by this list of children’s little meltdowns, let me explain that my reason for writing this is that I have seen adults have the EXACT same meltdowns either at previous work projects or during my experience at Startup Weekend Tucson. I’ve certainly experienced a few of these freak outs myself. Though, no, I did not have a tantrum you could hear or see.

Here they are:

1. The prototype. After a kid has just pitched his/her most awesome invention ever to the group and gotten applause, they realize they would like to draw or construct some sort of visual representation of the amazing gizmo, to realize they don’t really have a good idea what it will look like. After a few failed attempts with pen and paper or maybe just the THOUGHT of picking up pen and paper: Meltdown!

I think that some people need to draw or sculpt to understand their own idea in its entirety. That concrete reality is very helpful to them. I am this way. But I think others need to talk it out. Perhaps they are used to going through the world in more of an abstract way. I wonder if some of these meltdowns are caused by differences in the way we naturally interface with our world, visual or kinesthetic, verses aural. I also wonder if sometimes this is a developmental roadblock. Perhaps the child has not drawn a lot, but would be fine at it if they tried it, so they don’t know if it will be helpful or not. Oh, the anxiety of the new and untried! But, its the fun part if we embrace it I think.

All in all though, I saw this meltdown just a few times.

2. Define the Customer. After a kid has their idea well understood and defined, they think they are done. Then their accompanying adult or Startup Weekend Kids moderator mentions they need to define their customers. And the kid says, “The what now?” To tell the truth, I think this is where most of us as adults also freak out. Me included, during my startup experience! Our idea, our baby might enter the world and be judged by others. Will it be ripped apart? Will it be sued for some reason we could not have possibly foretold? Will someone say it is just dumb? Ahhhh! Customers???!!

In addition, potential customers are not always who we think they are. They could be just like us, but they could also be nothing at all like us, which is hard to understand because perhaps we just can’t fathom this type of customer. We flounder and freak out because maybe this idea is only good for a small number of people. Or maybe it could be used for unintended purposes by others. Oh, the anxiety of the unknown! But, I suppose it is a fun part as well…if we embrace it.

My son hit a wall at this point this year right here. In fact, he was ready to scream at me a few times. I had to talk him into taking a walk outside just to let some energy out and talk a bit. It was hard on both of us as I didn’t know the right things to say except that I understood that it was hard and that I thought he had a good idea and to encourage him to think outside of himself a little bit. However, I think this is something that cannot be cultivated with one talk. Looking back, I think the encouragement was all I could do. Perhaps next year at Startup Weekend Kids it will be easier for him. But there was only so much encouragement I could give. I could not live this lesson for him.

He did think of some possible customers in the end, grudgingly.

3. Writing the Survey. Then it is time to interview customers and do some good ol’ market research. They need to write a survey. This requires a kid to think about the problem that their business idea solves in addition to the customers they believe the idea is serving. These questions require a kid to realize that they do NOT know the answers. Everything that they were working on up until this point was based on a gut feeling, an intuition, that this is a good idea to them because of X, Y and Z. But none of that matters in a survey. You can’t convince people by presentation in a survey. You have to let the people speak for themselves.

Writing a survey requires some really intense critical thinking.  And WOW!  Does it ever. What are you really trying to find out? Maybe you will find out you were wrong all along, your idea is really is dumb to others. So I saw a lot of kids freaking out here too. It is a really tough turn. Talk about the anxiety of the unknown. But if we embrace it…

And of course, your idea will sound dumb to others. But so what? How many others? How many people love it? That will re-fuel your energy and excitement. But I digress.

I had to talk my son through this part. I don’t think he was ready to turn the corner on his own. I gave him a framework, suggested he ask his interviewees how old they are and what  problems they have with cleaning up Legos (my son’s business idea was a maker bot that could make lost Legos). I really led him through it. It is a tough concept.

4. The last freak out point is often going out and taking the survey. Kids are shy. Adults are often the same way. I think it gets easier for everyone with practice but it is rare to a have a person that just leaps in front of a total stranger with strong confidence and says, “Can I ask you a few questions about my awesome business idea?” I’ve met one or two people like this, but really, it is rare.

It helped for the adults to go with the kids. However, I had to argue with my son a bit that he was going to be the one asking the questions. He did ask the questions though. We started with his friends to make it easier. In the end, he warmed up. But hey, there were a number of kids who would have rather hid behind their adult helpers than talk to a stranger.

So, by the end of those freak out points, kids had enough information to make a presentation on a foam board with what they learned. And they really learned some great concrete stuff. That concrete stuff was hard won! They were proud. Their adults were proud, and a little tired. But happy.

So in the end…

The poster presentations were a breeze in contrast to all of the other stuff. Almost all of the kids who were shy to make their original pitch were fine to make the final presentation. By then, they’d been through so much that morning that the presentations were really exciting, easy and fun.

The energy crackled. The kids got applause. They totally deserved it.

Can’t wait till next year, Startup Tucson!

Tucson DIY will be running Startup Tucson Kids next year as well. Check us out here!

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The truth is, we all are going to have to face this issue. It is just hard to get our heads around it. According to The Onion’s headline, World Death Remains Steady at 100%, it is undeniable. Still, we kid ourselves into forgetting this fact. I, for one still hold out the tiniest hope that technology will somehow advance so far before my demise that I will be able to avoid the issue entirely. Maybe Mary Kay will put out a revolutionary anti-aging serum that will make all adults look like they are 25 again. It is the tiniest of hope though.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s podcast advertising, August was Write a Will Month. Every time the announcer mentioned this advertisement, I first pat myself on the back for actually finishing our will this year and then reminded myself that I still have a few more things to finish up with that process. Blah.

While we do have our family trust legal paperwork finished by a law firm (we went to one that specializes in Estate Planning for those of you who are looking for counsel and are wondering who to see), we still have a few more things to finish. As it stands so far, we have all of the big stuff in writing (children, house, car, etc.), and all of the big people chosen (executor, etc.). However, we still have to write down the little stuff that is still important to us, like specific funeral wishes and who we would like to give certain sentimental items. That kind of thing, nothing that requires a lawyer, just writing letters with the hopes that who we leave behind will read them and follow our wishes.

Yes, this stuff is kind of a drag. It took us SEVEN years to get this far. For six of those years we thought we could just download a form will from the internet for $35 but the form sat on my iMac’s Desktop until I finally opened it and decided we needed counsel about six months ago. So as you can tell, we have been dragging our feet avoiding the tasks involved.

I am pushing to complete this stuff soon partially to be a grown-up as I want to make sure we take care of the children. Also, it is because the most stressful thing about being left behind after the death of the loved one (next to the death and departure) is NOT knowing what those final wishes are. I do not wish that on who I leave behind. I have seen the NOT knowing go badly before and it is awful.

However, the subject of death overall made me do a lot of thinking.

Perhaps it isn’t really foot dragging that is making the process take so long. Maybe part of this is that these are just big questions to ponder. In the end though (ha ha), I believe that just making the decisions will be relieving. And kind of fun! Once we get going, that is.

As a side note, I will say that I might have a head start on thinking about death when compared to my peers. When I was in my 20s, I knew quite a few harpists who embarked on the journey of learning to be a therapeutic harpist, which is playing music for people in hospitals and hospices, taking care to play music appropriate to patients’ state of healing or dying. Since I moved to Tucson, I have two close harpist friends who play for hospice. The subject has been knocking around in my head for awhile as I often hear stories from them about the sometimes beautiful, sometimes sad, and sometimes surprising deaths of patients. It is good work, though draining, I hear.

I’d also like to share on this side note two podcasts on the subject of death I thought were really interesting:

This American Life: 523 Death and Taxes.  Act 1 is a fascinating exploration of hospice and hospice nurses. This podcast made me grateful to hear about the death process and the care that goes into dying with dignity. Hooray for medicine, for sure.

Planet Money: The Town Where Everybody Talks about Death. This podcast describes a town where almost everybody has a will. The amazing thing is that the hospital’s costs are very low because most people’s wishes are to have do-not-resusitate orders in place. Just sayin’ its pretty interesting how important having your will completed is to the benefit of everyone around you.

But anyway, the point of this blog entry!

My final wishes, or at least the ones I am OK with sharing with the public.

The boring stuff:

– Cremation. No fancy box in the ground. No burial plot. This was the hardest choice for me. For a long time I was afraid that I might be able to feel my body being immolated if I chose creation, that it might take awhile to really be dead. Then I was freaked out that I would feel the worms eating my body for weeks if I got buried. Maybe I needed an airtight coffin!  A nurse friend assured me that dead is dead within hours. After that, it was easy to decide. I don’t like clutter. Ashes to ashes is best to me.

Now what to do with the ashes after? A good friend of mine told me there is this company that will make your ashes into a diamond! Isn’t that awesome? I did a little search and I found some companies that do this! Here is one of them. He joked that he wanted his wife to wear him on a ring. While my husband thinks this is the most hilarious thing ever, I think it is rather sweet.

But, really, where? Lake Superior. It is pretty there. I love staring at the waves and the water is quite clear. I saw the best Northern Lights there. Like fireworks! Plus, whomever spreads the ashes gets to go visit Late Superior. You’re welcome.

– The Memorial/Funeral. Do I really need one? If you have to, have a potluck at my house. Drink. Or don’t drink. Make sure you eat a lot. Don’t skimp on the cheesy casseroles. But you can also skip this and go straight to the dance party.

– All My stuff. I’m making a list of the stuff I care about and where I think it should go. It won’t be long. Everything else, I don’t care. Really. So don’t worry. And don’t fight over it or I will seriously haunt you if I can. In fact, here is my wish based on Mommy Law: if anything is in contention, it gets donated to the Salvation Army.

The fun stuff:

– The Dance Party. With the exception of one or two, most of my friends and my family will not dance. I don’t know what happened with those great overzealous Czech and German dancing traditions. I never saw them. Maybe that is why my ancestors came to America, because they refused to dance. So, perhaps this final wish will be rather torturous for them. Trust me, I do love you all.

The thing is, this will also be my last ditch attempt to get those very people to stop walking around with a stick up their butt and enjoy some real booty shakin’ joy. It’s a human cultural desire to dance. And it is soooooo fun! You know you want to, you are just worried about looking like Elaine from Seinfeld. Get over yourself. In case you didn’t notice, Elaine IS having the BEST time. It’s a gift. You can be a wallflower or actually discover what you were missing all this time. You’re welcome.

Will there be alcohol? Sigh. Yes.

I know some of you guys will need something to loosen you up.

So, what do I think will happen after we die?

Who knows?

I’m a rather fanciful person so I am rather attached to the idea that there will be something for us after life on earth. However, I am completely aware that there might indeed be nothing at all. In all honesty, I believe that this is an unknowable question.

On the one hand, no one has come back complaining. On the other hand, no one has come back period.

Throughout my life, I have met people that are deeply convinced that there is something more after life on earth. I have heard this from all sorts of people, not just those of a faith. These people are often highly intuitive so that feels reassuring to me.

I was brought up a Christian Scientist and as those childhood beliefs run as deep suggestion no matter what I believe as an adult, so the idea that we go on after death but there being no Heaven or Hell still resonates with me.

However, my brother, who is also highly intuitive (but not at all spiritual) felt from a very early age that there was nothing after death. He didn’t feel this way as a way to rebel. He just felt this was the truth. It is hard to deny his opinion is weighty as well.

There are also the Near Death Experience (NDE) people, who write down their encounters. Some of the stories I’ve read seem rather self serving to me, while others seem quite believable. I found Embraced By The Light quite beautiful. There were some things in the book that seemed very real to me. I had a hard time NOT believing this NDE story. I know, most of you probably won’t read it because you think it is too weird and woo-woo of a book, but trust me, even if you don’t think the story is true in any way shape or form, the book was a beautiful read. I also have a friend who wrote a book after his experience in a coma and it has a similar metaphysical feel as Embraced By the Light. It is called the Tao of Shu.

There are also quite a few near death survivors who report no visions at all.

The one thing I do know is this: if you live your life as well as you can, think about how you make other people feel, learn from your mistakes, don’t hold onto grudges, don’t waste time, work diligently on your bucket list, minimize your regrets, enjoy your family and your community, take in the beauty of this world and of this life, you will be in a good place.

If there is life after earth, then you will have learned a lot for the next life and being some joy into it.

If there is no life after earth, then you will have enjoyed what you have thoroughly, which is the best you could do.

I would like to leave you with this video from George Carlin in one of my favorite monologues about death. Enjoy!

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Love Songs

Writing songs this month has been awesome. It has been freeing to put my thoughts and words into a tune. I’ve needed to share some of these thoughts for a very long time and they have been leaping out into existence in unexpectedly lovely ways. I have a few snarky songs, a metaphysical song, some poetry, and a perky one I’m working on for Breast Cancer Awareness month. That one is going to be fun, hee hee!

However, I’ve been avoiding the classic, much done and much revered love song. Yep, I’ll admit it. Avoiding.

If you asked me a year ago why I’ve never written a love song, I would have said that the abundance of romantic love songs that exist as compared to other songs has raises my hackles. I would say, Yes, romantic love is a huge part of the human experience, but really, aren’t there enough of them out there?  I would say, There need to be more songs about food, or nature, or taking a long hike. There need to be more songs about telling someone to take a hike. I would say there needs to be more artists sharing goltrai, geantrai and suantrai, the Celtic tradition of a bardic performance – songs to make you laugh, songs to make you cry, and songs to make you fall asleep. Bring ’em back, I’d say. (I still say that.)

I would say, there need to be more great artists like Weird Al Yankovic and Spike Jones who were able to make a musical career out of basically NO romantic love songs at all. Those guys are/were GENIUSES!

Love songs? Piffle!

But, since last year, I have been doing some major work on being authentic and telling my insecurities to go jump in a lake.

The truth is, while it is true that I love every sort of song, I am a die hard romantic. I am someone who is a sucker for the schmaltz. I cry ALL the time at movies, even movies where I already know my emotions are being manipulated (any Disney film). I love Shakesperean comic romance and awkward nerdmance. I love big sweeping Austenesque stories or a Nicholas Sparks novel. I love horribly depressing Celtic slow airs and coquettish Italian art songs. I love Leonard Cohen, The Smiths and Edith Piaf.

Come on! It would be foolish of me not to write love songs because it would be refusing to share a big part of who I am.

I realized the other day that part of the reason I was avoiding writing love songs wasn’t so much because I don’t want to write them, its just that I am realizing that often writing them will be rather painful. Or a pain in the patoot. Likely both.

I think that to actually be able to access the spirit necessary to write a great romantic love song, there must be some drama to write about. However, it is a challenge to draw on those memories because the dramatic times in our lives are often fraught with feelings of being overwhelmed. Its tough to recall a big baffle of images all tumbled together in a pile of egads. It is the landing, the end of the turmoil, that is easier to remember as things don’t happen so quickly and painfully.

Also, that stuff is so personal and it feels weird to share it openly.

I think therein lies the gift of an genuine love song. The song writer is unearthing some mighty touchy stuff to come to light with a whole heap of strangers. But aren’t you glad that that artist wrote that song for you to sing along to in the car, to help you emote when you are tired, or to remind you of a good memory? I am!

Here is one of my favorites these days, The Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields:

So, here’s to taking writing genuine love songs for a spin.

It might be a train wreck a few times but I know it will be worth it.

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I am grateful and blessed to accompany my husband on a conference to Hawaii. I get to relax, ponder, pontificate, putz and bum around to my heart’s content for a whole 10 days with no children.

Lie back and watch the palms as I do nothing at all

Lie back and watch the palms as I do nothing at all

It is awesome.

I’ve been looking forward to going for months. I put the excitement a little at arms reach up until last week so that I could concentrate on the every day. And now I am here.


Hawaii at sunrise, beach near resort

Hawaii at sunrise, beach near resort

I’ve seen advertisements for it in the background, so much that it is a part of our American culture, for years. I’ve seen photos and people have talked of their vacations. I thought it would be a flashy tourist spot full of night clubs, crowded together by the ocean. I expected to see billion dollar homes near the resorts and opulence frosted with handsome surfers on the waves 24/7.

It is not at all what I expected. First minute off of the plane and I was starting to get the idea of the appeal of Hawaii.

It is a place that feels like home. It feels as though it was just waiting here, out in the middle of the ocean, just for people to come in and cultivate it and make it home.

The Kona airport is like no other. It is an outdoor airport. There is no air conditioning. There are no windows. There are no walls. There is a runway and several large canopies (though modern large and substantial brick canopies) over baggage belts. It blends into the land. You are certainly not separated from the land in Hawaii. You are very much a part of it.

Now, while I believe that the earth was not designed for the sole purpose of humanity, (see Douglass Adams quote:)

This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

it is certainly difficult not to see it that way here in Hawaii. It really feels like this place was made “just for me”!

Coral and volcanic rock in a tide pool

Coral and volcanic rock in a tide pool

The weather is perfect, the same every day, all year round. It is just a little humid, but not too much. The water is warm. The sand is soft. There is a freaking volcano here, so things are certainly not boring. The flowers are gorgeous. The scent of Plumeria if heavenly.



Morning Glory on the beach!

Morning Glory on the beach!

There are colorful birds tweeting all around. Every time I step out of the hotel I feel like the island is giving me a sweet embrace. It is paradise.

A Volcano! Kiluea!

A Volcano! Kiluea!

Sand castle with black sand from volcanic rock

Sand castle with black sand from volcanic rock

Me saying "Hello!" on the black sand beach

Me saying “Hello!” on the black sand beach

I feel some parallels between Tucson and Hawaii. They are both resort communities surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. They are both places people go to when they want to relax and take stock. They are both places of peace.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

They are also both places of isolation, for good and bad. There is a lot of wealth that runs through both but also those that live there must fight hard for a life if it is not connected to tourism. They are both places where children often leave to make their way in the world rather than stay to make their fortunes as young adults because of this fact.

So I feel a some kinship with Hawaii.

But, though I feel that it very much feels like home here, it is not my home. Hawaii reminds me that both our communities both need our TLC if they are going to survive, that as its caretakers, we must truly love the land and think of what we can give back to it. We are not the tourists in our own paradise, but stewards. We can’t just lay around drying up in the sun.

Art's fairy house made out of coral

Art’s fairy house made out of coral

Though I do not want to abandon Tucson for the “greener pastures” (think Parker Ranch, ha ha) of Hawaii, I think I see it through the slightly different shade of tourist glasses. I am going to enjoy it in its homey way, drink up the natural beauty as much as I can, not go too overboard on the partying or shopping that is in all travel advertisements. I am going to freaking max out on all of the staring at the ocean – all of the beautiful blue water that I never see in the desert. You would not believe the volume of all of the pictures I have taken of waves, water and beaches so far.

Volcanic rock and beach

Volcanic rock and beach

In all of the places I’ve traveled, I can honestly say, this is one of my favorites. What a wonderful surprise. I knew I would like it but I absolutely love it. I hope we can come again someday, though there is certainly no guarantee.


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Design & Build

Having kids grows you up for sure. They teach us so many lessons about ourselves when we introduce them to things we love and explore just by having the advantage of being able to watch them figure things out for the first time. I just had this happen with my son, his best friend and the design & build process.

In January I started a DIY.org club in Tucson. A friend of mine has two boys and she was considering an alternative to the scouts and was wondering if I’d be interested in DIY.org. I took a look at the site and was immediately a fan, set up a calendar and partnered up with some close friends and started the club.

DIY.org is a site to introduce kids age 8 – 18 to the Maker movement. The site offers challenges in certain skills to earn badges, similar to the scouts. Apart from buying the badges, the site is free. Skills include the scienc-y, such as Physicist and Chemist, artsy crafty such as Cardboarder and Potter, and just plain fun, such as Summerologist and Lego Master.

We have a meeting every month and do something different every time. Our club name is Tucson DIY and here are our sites:



This last week’s meeting was a group challenge. From looking at the DIY.org site it looked to me like the site creators encourage team building. I will be honest, I was a little nervous about team building. I mean, it is volatile as you are practically guaranteed that there will be a ton of arguing and (hopefully) compromise and I don’t have any team building tricks up my sleeve other than life experiences like school teams, work teams and other clubs. And truthfully, I am NO expert. Though I always try.

But I thought – this time, let’s jump in! Team building lessons have to start sometime.

Our challenge to our club: Make a costume out of cardboard for two or more people. Work together!

So, I knew this would be tough, for the parents as well as the kids. The thing about watching your kids do this type of thing is that it is very hard NOT to take over and tell your little one how to do stuff. In general, parents have a hard time seeing their kids struggle. But if you want your kid to experience the joy of figuring stuff out, discovery, and making stuff, you have to back the heck off.

It has indeed taken me 7 years to get that through my thick skull. I am a believer but it sure is tough to watch sometimes.

This experience did not disappoint.

It truly reminded me of every design – build experience I’ve had as an adult!

So, the boys both knew the challenge ahead of time. As typical, my son threw out an idea about two minutes after I’d described the challenge and that was that. He was very attached to it. He wanted to make a two person dragon.

When I got to CoLab, Max’s buddy excitedly talked about the two headed dragon he and my son would build. I thought, great, they are thinking along the same lines. Easy peasy! What was I so worried about?

So we went down to the meeting space with our huge pile of cardboard and I set up a huge pad of paper on the floor and gave the boys 5 minutes to talk about what they wanted to make. The boys decided they would draw sketches of their ideas on one half of the paper each, in a nice orderly fashion.

After the 5 minutes was up, I was surprised to find that Max’s idea hadn’t changed a bit while his buddy’s was 100% different, which was now a tall cardboard giant and a tiny cardboard person. Neither boy wanted to give up his design or compromise and do a combined design. We adults pointed out that the boys had to come up with a project that they both wanted to work on. We gave them 5 more minutes. They finally agreed on a dragon with a robot rider. They were reluctant at first at the compromise but I was impressed that they came up with one. In about 5 more minutes they LOVED their combined idea.

Then I gave them 5 minutes to draw a plan of the dragon robot rider. Now this is when it got really interesting. My son sat with pen to paper and drew out a plan. His buddy walked around the room and came up with about 10 more ideas of how to make the dragon. Neither of them looked at the cardboard to see what we brought. We adults strongly suggested they just look at stuff, feel it, touch it, get ideas. But they really resisted this! Both boys were quite married to their processes.

It took my hubby, who is the engineer with a TON of design-build experience and our friend’s mom, who is a lawyer, to talk the boys into actually looking and finding a big box to become the body of the dragon. The boys debated how to fit in the box.

Initially the boys wanted two leg holes each (so four leg holes total), which is very logical and literal planning. You can see where this would be an uncomfortable design though.

It was hard, but we did not interfere. And it was also HILARIOUS. The sight of them trying to walk around while not able to bend their knees in sort of a shuffle shuffle was too cute for words. They decided to make the leg holes bigger after that. They decided then they needed ONE leg hole each. Hooray!

The boys both had ideas for the wings using a particularly big mailing tube. My son’s buddy wanted to make a pulley crank mechanism to control the wings using the tube. My son wanted to use the tube as a skeleton for the the wings to fit over their arms. Neither explored how to make the wings. They just never got to it.

After that, the boys instinctively split up and one made the dragon head while the other made the robot rider. We helped them with box cutting and hot gluing but they got things to where they wanted. With dragon and robot attached, the boys debated the wing issue again.

My son’s best friend suddenly said, “Hey, let’s use the tube on our arms for the wings!” and of course my son said, “Hey!! That was MY idea!”

So I want to pause for a minute to reflect how very MANY times in my life I have had this happen in a creative group situation. I’ll have a really good idea early on, no one will listen to me, and then a lot later, the same idea will pop back up, and I will sigh in a frustrated exasperated way saying, “Hey!! That was MY idea!” and feel a bit put out. I have often wondered if I just put ideas out wrong or if my voice is annoying or if there was some reason people weren’t taking me seriously.

From this point of view though, I learned a few important things. I think that the process will happen when it happens. There seems to be that brainstorming time when no one really listens to each other and it is just darn frustrating. Then there seems to be a time when people take that info and think it through either by talking or drawing or modeling. Then there seems to be a time when everyone pokes at the real materials or environment. Then, the building. And it will come full circle to a lot of those first brainstorming ideas as things get tuned or the team changes their mind about what they want for the final product, etc. Though I’ve been through the process myself many times I never really saw it objectively, from the outside. My emotions always got in the way.

I think in the future I just won’t be so bent out of shape when no one listens at first. I think I will just ride out the brainstorming and try not to freak out as there is seemingly nothing getting accomplished. Because really, right there is where a whole lot gets accomplished.

I asked the boys, “Is it important whose idea it was?” And one boy said “No!” and the other said “Yes!”

I think both are right. As an outsider, I was just happy they built something. So perhaps it is not important whose ideas were whose. But then again, feelings get hurt if no one acknowledges one another’s contributions. And that doesn’t feel good or build a team closer. So perhaps it is very important to pay attention to whose ideas were whose if at all possible through the storm. By the same token, everyone should take a breath and realize that it is difficult to always remember whose idea was whose and just let it go from time to time.

My big personal take away lesson was that the process happens in steps and to be patient and to cheer on your teammates, tell them when they did something good.

Another cool thing was to see the amazing styles of design and creation our boys had. So different! But both vital. One with many many ideas, the other with a few very well developed idea. Broad versus deep, big picture versus detail. Ever have a dynamic like that in your workplace? I’ll bet you have. Even at age 7 we have a creation style.

At the very end the boys LOVED shuffling out their creation and they had a wonderful time. Enjoy our final video of the cardboard dragon robot!



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Up In the Air

Flying Solo

For the first time in 7 years, I am flying on a plane without a child.

If you have never flown with little kids before, let me assure you, the experience of flying with and flying without them is night-and-day. Flying with little kids requires a lot of physical strength and stamina as well as mental acuity and patience. For safety, tiny kids must fly with a carseat, which I must lug throughout the airport while I either carry my child or walk very slowly with them. During the flight, I must be aware of their comfort, make sure they have activities and snacks, and make sure they aren’t driving the people in the seats near them crazy with the kicking of the seats or the loud complaining. There isn’t much time to relax and enjoy the flight at this point.

Of course, the flights have gotten better and better as the kids have grown. But still, the opportunity to travel without them is really a treat. For example, we are going on a Hawaii trip next month as my husband is traveling for a conference. When we were debating whether we should make a vacation out of the conference and have me go along, the thing that put me over the edge to say YES was the dream of flying on a long flight next to my husband, with nothing to do but read a kindle book or tap tap tap on my laptop.

Visiting one of the most beautiful places on earth…sounds great! 12 hours next to hubby with no demands…sounds awesome!

Arizona Sky

The clear skies of Tucson make me think of flight quite often. When I first moved to Tucson, I felt like every day was the best summer day of the year. Growing up in the Midwest, a spate of clear days were something to be treasured. I often went a week or two with weather obscuring the sun, rain, snow, hail, or just pesky clouds determined to make Earth creatures a little more melancholy that day. Welcome to Sunny Tucson, as the postcards say, and it does still have quite an “up” effect on my overall mood, especially in February. The robin’s egg blue and shiny sun cannot be beat, at least for me.

The clear skies are also good for airplanes, in which we have so many. I live just a few miles from the Davis-Montham Air Force Base and also, the Boneyard, where many of our  retired Air Force planes reside.

I see so many Air Force jets practicing astounding fancy moves over the city. There is an annual Air Show where pilots show off their daring dos, and it really is inspiring to see five jets screaming throughout the sky straight up. I mean, what kind of a person DOES that? These guys are amazing! Both the crazy acts of flying and the character of the pilots gives my day even more of an “up”.

The songs, Learning to Fly by Pink Floyd and Learn to Fly by the Foo Fighters are constantly going through my mind during Air Show time.

Up In The Air

So many things around me are changing.

The House

I am heading to my parents’ home today in Milwaukee to help them move. For years they planned on moving from their north side ranch house in which they lived for over forty years to my mother’s inherited house from my grandmother in Mequon. The Mequon house is the home in which she grew up and just a few miles from the Milwaukee home.

I’m not sure why it took them so long to move from one house to the next. Their original plan was to move to the Mequon house after I graduated from high school twenty years ago. Maybe it is that moving from the Milwaukee house seems like such a big task; the Milwaukee house is the house that my mother and my father chose to buy together while the Mequon house is the house that chose them through an inheritance.

The Mequon house has been waiting a long time for their prodigal owners to return. It was built in the 1937 by my great grandparents. When my great grandfather passed away, my great grandmother asked my grandfather and his family to move in, else she sell the house. It was just after the second world war, and though jobs were hard to find, my grandfather sold their home in Indianapolis and moved the family. My mother was born just days after they moved into the Mequon house. Since my mother inherited the house, several families have rented it from them.

The house has been “up in the air” since the last family moved out over ten years ago. I am hoping it finds itself resting with the good company of my parents soon and that my visit to help with the move will make it so.

Second Grade

School’s out today for my son: the last day of 1st grade. He will be going to a different school next year. As an epilogue to an earlier post I wrote about choosing schools and commutes, I decided to send my son to a new charter school just up the road from my home. A friend of mine was on the planning committee for the school and suggested it. The philosophy behind the school is to promote critical thinking and learning through exploration while sticking to the typical Vail school system’s curriculum. I have a good feeling about it. The principal has a background in special education and has an excellent reputation after being a beloved principal at another Vail school. I think he might be an out of the box thinker. He is certainly interested in getting to know parents and is easy to talk to.

But it is a change. I am hoping my son will enjoy the change but we must wait until July to see how this new school works for him and for our family.


My daughter will be beginning pre-school in September and will be graduating from being “the baby” to being a little girl. She will be attending the co-op school that my son enjoyed and I know that it will be a good place for her. I look forward to seeing what she thinks of the new schedule of going to school and playing with friends and being away from me.

The co-op school is parent run and I volunteered to be on the board this year. I’m looking forward to serving on the board but a little nervous as sometimes the board must make difficult decisions.


And then there is my brother. For the last six years he has worked so hard at getting his degree. He moved from Chicago to Tucson after the loss of a close friend to suicide. Wanting to move on with his life, he lived with us for two years and now lives on his own while studying at the University of Arizona. He has struggled here for years as his stay in Tucson has sometimes been a good one but has sometimes been particularly difficult for him. He is working so hard and quite determined.

He met a wonderful woman last year, or rather, re-connected with a friend from Chicago days and a lovely romance ensued. He is looking forward to the day when he moves to Florida, where she currently resides. We are all hoping and praying for him to finish the degree he has worked so hard to achieve this summer. I personally have a good feeling about where he is right now.

The End

But I want to end these stories in an authentic way in this article. All four stories, my parents and the house, my son and his school, my daughter and her school and my brother and his degree are all still authoring. The endings are still up in the air.

I have a good feeling about how they are going to end, but really, it is all up to them, the major players.


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