Another One Bites the Dust

Oddly enough, I can actually picture this kitchen screaming, “I’m too young to die!” No, the thought doesn’t keep me up at night, but Robyn tells me I’ve been sort of weepy-eyed lately.

We architects tend to think long term. We design for centuries, or at a minimum, decades. Not a couple of years. This penthouse I designed barely made it that. It was purchased from my former clients last year, along with the unit below it, and is now undergoing a two-story merger of sorts. Wonder where it will end up?

Read more about the original design here.

The former kitchen
The kitchen in its current state

Playing with a 3d Printer

Back in 2014 I dabbled in a new medium, 3d printing. I suppose I should have printed something architectural… instead I created two snowmen ornament prototypes (probably need to mix it up a bit or I’ll forever be known as “that Snowman Guy,” rather than “that Chippendale Dancer Guy”). For the first ornament I asked myself, what would a snowman look like if it was turned inside-out. Why, you ask? Give me a minute. I’ll come up with something.

Snowman 2015
Snowman prototype 1 – 3d model

The other ornament is four snowmen in one. It is a reflection of the myriad, disparate people (or states of mind) within each of us. If you are wondering, I spent most of that year as the one screaming to get out! Still trying, by the way.

Snowman 2014
Snowman prototype 2 – 3d model

The ornament’s head-block is attached to the flat, internal belly piece and rotates to conceal it. You can see it on the first and last photo. This is intended to display a locket-sized photo when rotated.

Unstoppable Energy is just that… Unstoppable.

Woo Hoo! They did it! Team Unstoppable Energy stepped up their game last weekend and advanced to the state level of the Lego robotics world competition on February 24th. The competition is getting much, much tougher. These three fifth-graders are now up against teams comprised mostly of eighth-graders. Of the 640 Minnesota teams (Minnesota has the most teams of any state, btw), there are only 50 left (about 8%). We couldn’t be more proud (except, maybe, for the Vikings). Go team!

2017 Christmas Ornament Wrap-up

I got off to a late start making snowman ornaments for Robyn this year.  With less than a week until Christmas, I made my move (which amounted to scratching my belly, drinking some holiday margaritas, and catching up on my emails). Determined to win yet another procrastination trophy, I put the whole thing out of my mind. Despite this, ideas seeped past my protective subconscious barrier like acid rain through an old roof, and I gave in. We’re talking Faberge Egg quality ideas. Too bad they all required way more time than I had left. So I decided to wing it, and just started cutting wood to see what evolved. The sound of band saws floated through the cold, night air.

I have to admit, not all the ornaments this year were painstakenly crafted in my shop. The first ornament took about as long for me to make as for Robyn to unwrap. After 26 years, I think she’s catching on to my “managing expectations” ploy, because she seemed to sense better things coming. I have to give her credit, though, at least she feigned interest. I could tell this by her many questions about how I made it, materials used and such. Questions like:

“Did you use, I mean steal, the balls from grandma’s dining table centerpiece to make this?”  To which grandma replied, “He did what!?”

“Is that a colored pencil as the nose? You stuck a colored pencil through grandma’s table decoration? Seriously?”  “He did what!?

“Was this the box you asked me to wrap on Christmas Eve? You had me wrap my own present, didn’t you?”  “He did what!?

I wish grandma’s hearing wasn’t so good.

Yep. That went about as well as expected (for those of you worried about grandma’s centerpiece, the ornament is held together only by friction and a knot of ribbon. It’s fine. Really. Please don’t send emails.)

The next ornament falls under the category “good in theory, not so good in practice.” The idea was to create a customizable snowman ornament toy, changeable each year with different features and attire – a Mr. Potato Head for the Christmas tree. Except, I’d use magnets. Fun, huh?

I thought I was so clever. I’d just buy a couple of steel balls and a variety of magnets and let Robyn and Beck do the building. Score one for Team Lazy.

It didn’t work. It was far too heavy and plummeted right off the branch, homicidally taking two other ornaments with it (which I now have to repair, damn it). And, it is too small and fussy to handle. The tiny neodymium magnets are seriously strong and can hardly be pried apart from all the other tiny parts. They naturally snap together in a clump, pinching fingers on their way.

What’s more, all the shiny reflections obscure its features, like its eyes and nose. The Christmas tree needles reflect off its surface giving it better camouflage than a sniper. If your tree is steel-reinforced, you may be able to hang it (I’d recommend securing it with an arc welder), but you will never find it again. I’d show you a picture of it hanging on a tree, but you’d have an easier time finding Waldo. Plus, I don’t dare attempt to hang it again. Someone could lose a foot.

Maybe someday I’ll try making another one. I’ll bury the steel balls within wood balls and embed the tiny magnets into wood features and… yeah. That’ll be a cold day in hell.

No worries, though, two snowman down, and I was ready with more. Thank you, Lego Company. Beck and I raided the Legos he received last Christmas (which were the ones, actually, he gave to me for Christmas, but why quibble over ownership). We got in some play time, and Robyn got some ornaments. A win-win (except I have fewer Legos, now. Or Beck does. Whatever.). Of the two snowmen, one of them is a bit closer to the grave than the other. See if you can guess which.

The next ornament is the first of my new primitive collection. That’s what I’m calling it, because I’ve already used the word lazy, and I’m too lazy to use a thesaurus. Honestly, I like its bold simplicity (in addition to it’s speed of manufacture). Not sure if most people will know it’s a snowman, though. Must be art or something.

Moving away from rough-sawn simplicity, here are four snowmen for the price of one (except I don’t sell them, sorry. So technically it’s just four snowmen in one).

In an uncharacteristic departure from snowmen, I drilled a hole and stuck an eyelet into an old bowling pin trophy. It took no time at all, but Robyn says it still counts. You see, we cleaned out my parents’ old house this year, since my dad lives in Florida now and my mother passed away many years ago. She loved to bowl, and this is one of her trophies. Just a little remembrance. You won’t find our Christmas tree gracing the cover of Architectural Digest, but it works for us.

Along the same lines, I came across a boatload (ok, a box, actually) of old Josten’s paraphernalia. My father spent the better part of his life selling class rings and graduation announcements. A few pieces of that life made their way into this little snowman ornament.

As mentioned here, my ornaments often reflect the zeitgeist of the year, and a good chunk of this year was spent with Legos. Not the little bricks, but the technic robotics. If you didn’t know, Legos makes parts that include a little computer, motors, gears, sensors (such as color, ultrasonic, infrared and touch) that allow you to build autonomous robots (sadly, not the kind that shoot flames and spin blades. Cuz that would be cool!).

Beck and a couple of his friends formed a team last year and competed in the Legos International Robotics Challenge. They built a robot and programmed it for this year’s competition and are currently competing against 600 teams across Minnesota. The team won their first competition while Beck won an award for innovative programming. Kudos, kids! These rambunctious 11-year olds face their next competition in February (unless you read about their coaches in the local paper – watch for stories of escaped mental patients and explosions).

And that’s all folks. Hope you have a great new year!

‘Tis the Season

Sing along with me:

‘Tis the season, yet my workshop lies dormant. Fa la la la la… la la la la. 

Some sort of weird conspiracy between Life and his arch nemesis, Work, nailed the door to my workshop shut – for the entire year! I’m praying the little elves inside have managed to survive on nothing but hopes and dreams, and possibly some mouse droppings. But, I must get the door open soon or there will be NO Christmas this year. Only one week remains to make Robyn’s Christmas ornament. Read the backstory here.

Don’t get all nervous for me, but if I can’t kick aside all those elf carcasses and get my machinery running, Robyn will have to adorn the tree this year with something made from pipe cleaners, Q-tips and cotton balls. Think, Martha Stewart {shudder}.

Just in case I don’t make it (and Rudolph, with that giant red nose always in his eyes, broadsides a building or something), here are a few snowmen from years’ past. The one at the top is the very first snowman I ever made, back in 1992, and still one of Robyn’s favorites (probably just sentimentality talking). I honestly didn’t realize, back then, I was starting a tradition. It’s three snowmen in one, really, depending on your viewpoint, and about the size of an egg (but not from one of those hormone fed chickens, God forbid). Amazingly, I didn’t have any tools back then and I don’t remember how I made the snowman. Probably gnawed at the wood with my teeth.

Sauntering down memory lane

The snowmen below are some of the first ones I made that incorporate a photo – sort of like Christmas tree lockets.


This snowman comes from deep down in the dark crevices of my subconsious, possibly inspired by memories growing up with Alfred Hitchcock on the tube. Gooood eve-a-ning.



And finally, a tribute to the Labrador Retreiver we lost the year our son, Beck, was born.


Sometimes You Can Stick Your Tongue Out at Danger, Other Times…

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, I can’t stop thinking about a couple of my favorite clients and their home on Marco Island. Category 5 is a hefty breeze. Be safe Jeff and Marsha!

Undoubtedly, we’ll soon hear stories of surfers taking advantage of the gnarly waves, which reminds me of a quote by THAT guy:

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,
and I’m not sure about the former. 

Albert Einstein

What Did You Do Over the Weekend? I Built an Ultimate Fighting Death Ring.

Problem: How do you keep the young neighborhood whippersnappers off your lawn?

Solution: Cull the herd with an octagon of death

It took all my years of intense design study and many trips back to the drawing board to get here, but it is complete. Well, mostly. Due to unexpected budget overruns, I was forced to eliminate the chain link and barbed wire. Do you know how much that stuff costs?

Sadly, the octagon of death cannot contain the little urchins without it, so now it’s just an octagon. Happily, my son Beck suggested we repurpose it and use it as a Gaga pit. For those of you older than fifteen, it’s a game like dodgeball and has nothing to do with the Lady.

Now my yard is regularly trampled by even more tiny little feet than before, proving the adage, if you build it, they will come. Much like the Coyote, I am relegated to forever dreaming up new, fiendish traps. The spinning-tree-swing-of-death, for example (that didn’t work either, btw). If only Acme sold something useful…

It started out as a chunk of forest. A little work with a chainsaw and Bobcat, and voila… a mudpit.

I enlisted grandpa and a few of the neighborhood kids to help out while I oversaw the construction. As an architect I never actually build anything. Rather, I nurture others in their dreams of building (or as many of my contractor buddies would say, sit on my ass and dream up stuff that’s impossible for them to build – eh, one or the other).

If you were wondering, my wife, Robyn, gave me that shirt in the pictures. It says “50% Architect, 50% superhero.” Sweet, huh? Now everyone asks me which I am today, a half-assed architect, or half-assed superhero. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that her intentions were good.

Note: No children were harmed in the making of the octagon of death.

The wood wasn’t even cold before word spread across the neighborhood