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.
Sometimes there isn’t much space available to fit a bathroom into a home. The idea behind this custom cylindrical vanity was to avoid filling the small room with bulky cabinetry and making it feel even smaller.
There’s a fat man inside me struggling to get out.
I’m not going to let him.
Part one of my three-step plan to thwart the fat man is to cut sugar out of my diet. Part two removes fat and carbs. Part three eliminates food altogether. That’ll show him.
Turns out it’s not so easy to forego sugar when it seductively whispers your name throughout the day, promising ecstasies beyond mortal comprehension. To silence the voice (that lovely, wonderful voice), I have tried sugar-free everything, but I just can’t get past artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, and the thought of contorted, glowing green lab rats with cancerous pustules oozing atop other festering cancers.
The after-lunch cravings are the worst.
Here’s Where the Cocoa Comes in…
I had a solution… nurse a cup of sugar-free cocoa, like a baby with a pacifier, but more dignified and adult-like. The only problem was, I couldn’t find a good sugar-free, packaged hot cocoa, or a decent recipe for that matter. Empty-handed, I had little choice but to attempt to create a recipe of my own. Keep in mind, I’m no chef, but the bar was low. As long as it didn’t taste like wrung-out sweat sock juice, I was good. A quick analysis of the problem indicated three major hurdles:
First I needed to find a sugar-free, low fat substitute for milk (even 1% milk is loaded with sugar and fat, albeit the good stuff apparently), with a non-watery, pleasantly thick consistency. After testing every form of liquid known to man, including numerous varieties of tequila (those were good days), I settled on Silk’s Unsweetened Cashew Milk. There are other brands available, but they are too strong and nutty for my taste.
The next hurdle was finding a sugar-free sweetener that wasn’t potentially harmful or just plain icky (I’m looking at you Stevia. Yuck). Frankly, the sweetener was the toughest part. Monk fruit extract was my prime candidate for a long time, but no matter what I mixed with it, the fruity, sickly aftertaste remained (not as bad as Stevia, but not good either). I suspect it tastes fine in fruit drinks, but definitely not cocoa. Then I came across Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener, Classic. It’s a granular substance that looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, but is comprised of a tiny bit of Monk fruit juice mixed together with a whole lot of Erythritol (a scary sounding alias for fermented corn). The name alone almost turned me away, but I felt better after doing some research. Apparently it’s the Great, White Hope of sugar substitutes. You can find it at Whole Foods or online.
Finally, I needed a cocoa richer and tastier than the standard Nestle or Hershey powders typically found in grocery stores: a dark and rich chocolate, but not bitter (I don’t ask for much). The answer was Dutch-processed cocoa. My preference is Cocoa Barry Extra Brute. If you don’t want to order a two pound bag online, many grocery stores carry an acceptable, not quite as dark, alternative by Droste.
To tame the dark cocoa, I add some non-alcohol based vanilla extract.
If you are looking for a milky, hot cocoa… this isn’t it.
It’s dark. “As dark as your soul,” says my wife, Robyn, “and thick, like your B.S.” I think it’s like drinking a candy bar.
Best of all, it’s:
Sugar-free with no artificial flavors and non-GMO
Zero on the glycemic Index
Relatively low in calories and fat, with just a few token carbs
Gluten, lactose and anchovy-Free
Compatible with all the trendy diets: Vegan, Mediterranean and possibly Martian (we won’t know for sure until we discover their ancient ruins). Sorry, it’s not Paleo. I guess cavemen didn’t ferment corn or use state-of-the-art industrial processing facilities.
Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa
The four ingredients required for basic dark cocoa are listed above, but if you want to try the chocolate banana cream pie, you will need these, as well :
LorAnn Banana Emulsion. This is a flavoring used by bakers to enhance their creations (it is not sold at your local grocery store, but may be ordered direct from LorAnn or Amazon).
LorAnn Marshmallow Flavoring (an extract without alcohol). Who needs all the sugar and gelatin of real marshmallows. You know where gelatin comes from, right? If you want to have fun with your cocoa, try some of their many other flavorings, from English Toffee to Cookies and Cream.
Shredded Coconut, Unsweetened.
Here’s the Recipe…
Sugar-Free Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa
Zero Sugar, low carbohydrate, low fat, dairy-free, soy-free, non-GMO, Vegan
I’m a modern traditionalist who likes his pens and paper. But I have to say, technology has made great strides and may someday even supplant my old-school sketchbook. I drew this quick concept sketch of a house on my phone. My Phone! Using my fingertip! Not too shabby.
When my son, Beck, was quite little I taught him the fine art of drawing monsters, mostly to show him what was lurking under his bed at night. While sitting on my lap trembling (hey, it was his idea!), we created a whole new concept in artistic teamwork: Simultaneous sketching. One piece of paper and three hands (to be fair, one of mine was tied behind my back). I’ll leave it up to you to determine who contributed what.
I think Beck wandered off during the drawing below, or I hid his pencils, or something):
After the lesson, I nudged, alright shoved, the little bird out of the nest. Here’s his final exam:
Honestly, I’d rather find one of my monsters under the bed than his.
Here’s a plan of a home. Can you tell what the home looks like by looking at the plan? No? I can’t either.
How about the elevation below? Does it help? My answer would be, “a little, but I still don’t really get it.”
Part of my job is to help clients visualize the home I designed for them before it’s built to ensure they are satisfied with my work. Plans and elevations are not enough. These two dimensional representations simply cannot convey the feeling of three dimensional spaces or the impact of the architecture on the site. Virtually walking through the home via a 3d computer model provides a much greater understanding, but does not quite paint the whole picture, either.
But a rendering… now that can capture the essence of a design in an artistic way like nothing else can.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are four thousand:
Throw in a view or two from another perspective, and now you actually understand what you are building.
To this day, it amazes me that the vast majority of homes, even very expensive ones, are built with, at best, a few elevations and a plan. No physical model. No computer model. No renderings. I don’t know how they know what they are getting. Maybe they don’t care.
I put in hundreds of lights in every home I design, mostly in the kitchens to accentuate every glorious crumb on the counters, but sometimes in the dungeons, too (occasionally the homeowners want to clean out some of the dank or buff the chains). My go-to fixtures use halogen, MR16 bulbs because of their gorgeous light quality. But, LED’s are taking over the world, and while they are much more energy efficient, the light quality tends to bluish and sickly, even the supposedly “warm” bulbs. They sometimes make me long for fluorescent. A part of the light spectrum is missing.
I received a new bulb sample today, the Soraa. It set me back $20. But, finally! I have found the holy grail of lighting, an LED light bulb that not only doesn’t make me bilious, but that I can honestly say I like.
If you have any Low Voltage, MR16 light fixtures in your home, I recommend you give these a look (literally).
Floating on early morning powder, cutting the first tracks through the trees, my lungs scream for more of that damn, thin air. I stop to suck in a few cubic yards. Motionless, except for my pounding heart (which is attempting to break through my chest on its way to a nice, comfy sofa), I revel in the moment. All is still and quiet – not the quiet of an absence of sound, but of sound dampened by a thick blanket of snow. You can sense its muffled struggling, but it can’t quite escape.
It occurs to me that this is the antithesis of my daily life. I am alone in an alien world. Not physically, of course (pretty sure I’m still on Earth – plus, there are no slimy creatures trying to claw their way out of my chest… unless … that’s not my heart pounding after all?).
What’s different is the mindset. As an architect, I spend my life meticulously planning, and then meticulously planning what I previously meticulously planned. Here, there is no planning – every move is a reaction to what’s happening this very instant, and the instants pass quickly.
Here, you literally cannot see the forest for the trees, and those trees come at you awfully fast. You can see the trees immediately ahead, but what’s beyond them cannot be anticipated (except, maybe, by ESP – but I haven’t developed that particular skill beyond knowing who’s likely to steal my piece of cake from the fridge. I’ve got that down pat).
Here, each slight shifting of your skis commits you to an entirely new path with a different set of obstacles, all of them hard and immovable (except the occasional fluffy bunny, but you can’t feel them under your skis anyway). Often you fly around a pine tree, all the while praying there will be a gap large enough to fit through on the other side. Sometimes obstacles lurk beneath the snow [cue ominous music, like the theme from Jaws]. Once, my skis buried themselves under a hidden, snow-covered log. Unwillingly leaving them behind, I gracefully tumbled forward through the air, exactly unlike Baryshnikov. Think Tomahawk Missile. By the time I stopped rolling you could have stuck a top hat and carrot on me and no one would have looked twice.
The Secret Exposed
The powder doesn’t last long enough for us powder hounds. Over time, it morphs into moguls, with trees sprouting up between them. Here’s a little secret, even for non-skiers, because this post isn’t actually about skiing, it’s really about life. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone: Most people try to ski around the moguls and sometimes even attempt to follow a predetermined path between them. This rarely works out well. Moguls need to be tackled head on. Skied around, sometimes, but more often over and through, with the flexibility of a human shock absorber. To ski moguls, just like trees, you can’t plan ahead, you take what comes at you, roll with it and use it to your advantage.
Obstacles vs. Obstacles, What’s the Difference?
We come to a place like this, Steamboat, Colorado, specifically for the challenges, to conquer the obstacles. Sometimes that merely involves tipping a glass at the end of the day without spilling in the hot tub. Some challenges are more worthy than others.
In daily life, our natural tendency is to avoid obstacles. We avoid trees (for very good reason), and we also avoid moguls, without differentiating between the two. But they are very different. One will hurt or even kill you (that’d be the trees, for those of you not paying attention), but the other will add spice and even joy to your life, make you stronger and, hopefully, a better person. Yep, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Never thought much about that saying until now.
Obviously we want to steer clear of trees, but that doesn’t mean staying out of the woods. Embracing life’s challenges makes life worth living. Without challenge there is no failure. Without failure, there is no success. Without success (and the hip bone’s connected to the…). Well, you get the point.
You can’t really know the joy of success unless you personally know failure. Hence my loathing of participation trophies (read about that here).
Embracing obstacles is only half the battle. The other half is how we tackle them. I was once asked why I ski so fast through the trees yet am a veritable turtle on the groomed runs. Isn’t it dangerous? Shouldn’t you go slower? There are two reasons:
First, contrary to common sense, it’s safer. In order to maneuver effectively on skis, you need speed. Think about how hard it is to turn the steering wheel when your car is stopped or moving slowly. The same concept applies to both skiing and life. You either snowplow your way around every tree (what’s the point, really) or you push it to your limit. As long as you keep your wits and don’t panic, you’ll be fine (of course, you might want to master a few skills outside of the trees first. Just sayin’). Be loose and flexible. Tense up, and things go downhill quickly 😉 . If you hang in limbo, neither slow enough nor fast enough, you will likely become one with a tree, young grasshopper.
Second, and most important, once you have tasted the powder, trees and moguls (figuratively, I hope – or literally if that’s your thing. Hey, I’m not here to judge), groomed runs no longer excite. They have no obstacles.
Far better it is to dare many things to win glorious triumphs, even checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.