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

 

Simultaneous Sketching (a New Artform?)

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.

It Gets Better Than This (But Not Much)

My morning path through the aspens – ‘taint a straight line, dude.

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.

The foreboding entrance to Heaven – keeps out the casual skier (and the sane). It’s their loss.

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.

It’s hard to describe the beauty of this place. Pictures don’t capture the quiet serenity, or how it changes as the sunlight filters through snow crusted branches. Some days the fog rolls in and cuddles you in a cocoon. Sometimes I just stand still and breathe in the essence of the place (ok, I’m really just catching my breath. Cut me some slack).

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:

Nothing to do on the groomed runs except pose.
Flashback 35 years. The skiing hasn’t changed much, but occasionally they move the trees around, just to keep us on our ski tips.

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.

Me and Beck – Apparently, it is my job as a parent to teach my kid about life. I cannot imagine a better place. It has both trees and moguls.

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.

 Theodore Roosevelt 1899

Move Over Choo, Chooooooooo!

Seems like only yesterday my son, Beck, and I spent an afternoon in the workshop making trains. He was five and still fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine. The lesson we learned: you can take almost any old leftover scraps of wood, glue them together, and voila, you have a train.

Today he’s ten and needs to make room on his shelves for things less babyish (I’m a little nervous about what that means). Oh well, I’ll save the trains for his kids (or, maybe I’ll just play with them myself).

A trip to a local train yard confirmed how uncannily accurate our wooden trains were to the real thing (except, maybe, in size, shape, color, material, proportion, mass, and function – but we nailed viscosity).

Turns Out You Can Teach An Old Dog…

Meet the next Martha Stewart: my dad.

Leaping Lizards Pottery Studio

A year ago I dragged my father (not by the hair, of course, because that would be wrong, or so I’m told – and also because he is a bit sparse on top) to a little art studio near The Villages in Florida where he lives, called Leaping Lizards Pottery.

Little did he know he was about to blossom into an artisté (had I thought ahead, I would have brought a pencil thin mustache to stick on his lip). He erroneously assumed we were on our way to yet another doctor’s appointment. Yeah, he would have preferred to be poked with needles. But it was time to include him in the tradition of making a snowman ornament to gift at Christmas. You know what they say, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Our expertise working with clay almost exactly matched our expertise playing professional baseball. To say that neither of us had experience working with clay is an understatement, like saying Hollywood dabbles in sleaze. It didn’t take long, however, to get into the swing of things (the clay, not the sleaze – that took a tiny bit longer).

Jennifer Beville, the artist/proprietor of the studio, adopted the patience of a master ninja and the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons (without the leotard) and guided us through the treacherous waters that is clay making (for those of you on the edge of your seats, rest assured, no one was hurt).

Over the course of two sessions my dad’s work improved dramatically. You can see the progress below (from left to right).

Six months later, we went back for another session. Although the results weren’t quite as impressive, we shared time together and made a few memories. And that, my friends, is what life is all about (that, and sleaze, obviously).

Our experience with clay, by the way, was the catalyst for the Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the Day After Christmas…

On the day after Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Thirteen puzzle balls,
Twelve tectonic solids,
Eleven ropes a swinging,
Ten birthdays and counting,
Nine, oh so cutesy,
Eight canes, not candy,
Seven snowman monsters,
Six scrap metal remnants,
Five… snow… man… rings,
Four carved from a nut,
Three disc men,
Two simple blocks,
and a snowman family straight from the sea.


The twelve days of Christmas now comes in an economical baker’s dozen! Thirteen for the price of twelve. What a bargain!

Alright, I have to come clean. I cheated with most of the ornaments you see below, thanks to cheap child labor in China. You see, my initial thinking was to create interactive snowman ornaments that one could pull off the tree and play with, rather than simply look at (give us something to do while waiting to rip open the presents!). What could be better than puzzles? They’re fun for all ages!

It turns out that making puzzles is hard and requires better tools than I own, not to mention patience. So I bagged that idea for a while, until one day I came across this thing called Google. They had cheap puzzles galore, and I thought, “Hey! I can repurpose these into snowmen!” So I did.

I had a bit of trouble finding my local Google store, but once I did, the rest was easy (If you’re looking, it’s next to Sears).

Puzzles prior to turning them into ornaments

I crafted the first two snowmen below from scratch (both made entirely from little wood balls). The remainder mostly involved adding heads and hats to stock wood puzzles.

 

 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


Click here to see the twelfth day of Christmas.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas…

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Twelve tectonic solids,
Eleven ropes a swinging,
Ten birthdays and counting,
Nine, oh so cutesy,
Eight canes, not candy,
Seven snowman monsters,
Six scrap metal remnants,
Five… snow… man… rings,
Four carved from a nut,
Three disc men,
Two simple blocks,
and a snowman family straight from the sea.

Now, this is more like it, the architect in me coming out! Snowmen with a tectonic bent. Perhaps I’ll design a snowman that looks like a house, too. Nevermind, I did that years ago. Check out the bottom of the page.












 

Click here to see the eleventh day of Christmas.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas…

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Eleven ropes a swinging,
Ten birthdays and counting,
Nine, oh so cutesy,
Eight canes, not candy,
Seven snowman monsters,
Six scrap metal remnants,
Five… snow… man… rings,
Four carved from a nut,
Three disc men,
Two simple blocks,
and a snowman family straight from the sea.

I think I went a bit off the rails with these snowmen. Maybe a bit too much Martha Stewart, not enough Corbusier.

 

Click here to see the tenth day of Christmas.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas…

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Ten birthdays and counting,
Nine, oh so cutesy,
Eight canes, not candy,
Seven snowman monsters,
Six scrap metal remnants,
Five… snow… man… rings,
Four carved from a nut,
Three disc men,
Two simple blocks,
and a snowman family straight from the sea.

Here’s a simple snowman ornament to commemorate the ten years Robyn, Beck and I have been a family. Technically, if you include the nine months Robyn spent carrying Beck around before he was born and the couple of months since his 10th birthday, it’s been eleven years. But why quibble.

Click here to see the ninth day of Christmas.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas…

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Nine, oh so cutesy,
Eight canes, not candy,
Seven snowman monsters,
Six scrap metal remnants,
Five… snow… man… rings,
Four carved from a nut,
Three disc men,
Two simple blocks,
and a snowman family straight from the sea.

 

If you are just tuning in to this blog, here’s a quick recap. Every year at Christmas I create a snowman ornament for my wife, Robyn. Read about it here. This year morphed into the Twelve Days of Christmas. We are on day nine.

Cute is the word of the day. Some of these snowmen began their lives as sketches, others sort of evolved in my hands (you can do that easier in clay than wood).

Concept Sketches

Below is… the Snowman Executioner. Dum dum da dummm… Sometimes designs evolve in an unintentional direction. I didn’t set out to create an executioner (springtime usually takes care of the snowman overpopulation problem on its own) and, as you can see, it didn’t look that way on the concept sketch. Oh well, another snowman gone bad.

… and finally, a couple of malnourished snowmen. Remember to feed your snowmen, kids!

Click here to see the eighth day of Christmas.