Thursday, August 29, 2013

Screen Inspiration, the backstory

I first introduced the metal screens designed for our new house a while back and promised to explain the inspiration behind them. Our architects wanted these screens to be personalized with a design unique to us, something meaningful and significant. At first we were completely stumped as to what design to use, thinking we had to come up with something that would represent us and also look artistic and abstract. Then they made it easy on us and asked us to just send them some images of places and things meaningful to us.

I don't remember all the images we sent, there was definitely a Jayhawk somewhere and possibly a mountain scene and a few other travel locations. And then there was this image - vineyards in Tuscany - and that is the image they chose.  Ryan and I honeymooned in Tuscany, and I spent the most amazing year of my life living in Florence. Italy holds a special place in both our lives.

I had no idea how they would eventually turn this image into a design for our metal screens. But now when I look at this picture, I can only see our screen design. Amazing. Here's the step by step process of how they adapted this image of vineyards in Tuscany into our personal work of art.

I have no idea what this image really means, except that somehow there is a software program that converts the lines and shapes in an image into a digital map.

The image is first sectioned into grids as shown above. Notice that they zoomed in on three different sections of the original image to create a unique design for each of the three screens (there was a fourth small screen in the original plans, upper left, that was eventually dropped from the overall plans).

After the images are put into grids, lines are drawn to capture the patterns in each image (see lines in white visible in the lower of the three images)

This is how the images look with just the white lines depicting the pattern.

Those lines are then turned into dots, and here you can see the red dots overlaid on the white lines...

And the dots alone, with the white lines removed.

This next step is where the finished design starts to emerge. I'm not sure how they determine the shape that is used here, or its size, but essentially each dot is encircled by a roundish/oval shape, almost leaf-like in some places....

and here is a visual of that shape with the dots removed from the center. This is the final design.

According to our architects, these are "rhino-scripted custom-perforated steel panels" in case that means anything to you...Can you still see the rolling hills of the vineyards when you look at the finished screen designs?

Now you know the inspiration story behind our metal screens. When we look at them we are reminded of one of our favorite places, and we are awed by the very personal works of art these turned out be. Bella vista!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Battery recharge

Last week was a whirlwind of planning, meetings, and last minute problem solving leading up to the year end dinner celebration for this organization, and the career development conference the next day that kicks off the new year. I felt incredibly proud of the body of work we produced over the past year - and also very relieved that my role in steering this ship is over. 

As I wrote in this post last year, I was nervous and excited to take on the challenge of running this large network of women. If anything, it grew in size and prominence over the past year  - but it was a ton of work from day one through last Friday afternoon. I was incredibly fortunate to work with amazing women, and create professional relationships and friendships that would never have formed outside of this experience. I had big shoes to fill in this position and I simply could not fail. I had a lot to prove, mostly to myself. 

I looked around the conference on Friday afternoon and saw all the faces, some familiar, some new, listening attentively to the speaker's message and I thought, "I did it. It's over. Breathe." Of course I didn't do it alone, and that is why the year was so rewarding - but the pressure was fully self-imposed. And now I have permission to let it go.

The end of the year celebration was a huge success - a sold out dinner of 200 in an elegant setting (the Chancellor came again!). I would equate the high I felt Thursday night to finishing a marathon - a huge accomplishment that took a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck on race day. But just like finishing a marathon, there is a let down that comes with a big achievement, a sense of 'now what?' that lingers no matter how happy and fulfilled you feel. 

My favorite speaker from the conference was Shane Lopez, the world's leading authority on Hope - how cool is that job title? We can all use a little more hope in our lives. I think our group's efforts spread some hope on Thursday evening and on Friday - hope for fulfilling academic careers and for happy, balanced family lives. Perhaps it will become my life mission to spread hope, in big and small ways, every day. 

I stayed at home yesterday - hiding away from reality and all the other responsibilities at work I've been neglecting in the past few weeks. I needed another day to recharge, to recover. I went for an early morning run and ate breakfast on the deck with the kids. We went to the library, took an afternoon nap. The only title I have at home is 'Mom' and the challenge of being a good one was all I was up for yesterday.

I found it hard to go out the door this morning. Time with my kids can be addictive - the more time I have with them, the harder it is to be away. It's like that for them, too. The day back to school after a long weekend is always the worst drop-off at day care. We're all creatures of habit I guess. It's why you shouldn't take more than two days off from your exercise routine. It's why I had to pull myself away from this perfect spot this morning...

We all need a break from the routine sometimes, time to just be in the moment and slow down. Time to just be.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Meet Hooptie!

We've had a bike seat on my bike since Charlie was old enough to ride along with a helmet (he looks so little here!). But we haven't had a second seat for our second child, which has really limited our ability to cruise the neighborhood by bike. While living downtown, we could walk most places and didn't really need the second bike option. But now we do. 

A few years ago, Ryan souped up his old bike from college with an Xtracycle - essentially an extension of his bike that allows him to carry tons of stuff (he has used it to get the weekly groceries in the past).You can see the flat board and cargo bags in the picture above. The downside is that a conventional kids' seat won't fit on the back of his Xtracycle. Fortunately, Xtracycle recently came out with a kids' seat and ours arrived in the mail last Friday. Meet Hooptie! 

I think Charlie would agree with Outside Magazine's opinion that it is Happiness on Two Wheels. He was so excited to ride around on this thing - he talked non-stop the entire ride!

The company says up to 3 kids can ride on the Hooptie - though it might get a bit heavy! It is recommended for 4 years and up, so Izzy will have to wait a few years to join Charlie in his new seat.

In case you are wondering - that is a green stuffed monkey that Charlie is wearing. The monkey has velcro on its hands and Charlie had it hooked around his neck. I'm not sure what got us more stares cruising around the neighborhood on Saturday night - our Hooptie or the monkey on Charlie's back!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rock chalk!

Ready to show their Jayhawk pride at the KU Corinth Kickoff last Friday night...

Someone in this picture was hungry and getting a little grumpy...

Izzy did not pick up Ryan's beer by mistake, that is a Sierra Mist hiding inside the KU koozie. We would never let our kids have our beer - there would be less for us to drink!

Charlie has been teasing me lately by telling me he is going to be a Wildcat. The little stinker. Maybe this high five with Baby Jay changed his mind.

Monday, August 19, 2013

On finding balance

It's a word that often gets a bad rap, and it means different things to different people.

According to Merriam-Webster, two (of many) definitions of balance:
 stability produced by even distribution of weight on each side of the vertical axis.
 mental and emotional steadiness 
I know when the precarious balance in my life goes awry. Take last week - work was long and tiring, and my time at home with Ryan and the kids was hurried and limited. For me, balance is not about having equal time at work/home, but an amount of both that leaves me feeling fulfilled and happy (and usually pretty tired).

I've come to accept that there will be days, weeks, months even, when my life is out of balance. The key is to recognize it and get back to a happier and healthier equilibrium sooner than later. One sign that my life is out of balance is when I fail to write on this blog.

Last week I threw together one blog post of pictures, not even bothering to include descriptions of the pictures. Writing (in journals prior to this blog) helps me appreciate and recognize the happy moments, the milestones, and the struggles that make my life so full, so worth living. The writing process is the transition point between the experience itself and my memory of it. It seems counter intuitive, but writing about my life keeps me in the moment.

Charlie gave me the ultimate lesson in balance this weekend by learning to ride a 'big bike' for the first time.

We got the bike from his cousins on Thursday and didn't have a chance to get it out of the garage until Saturday. He was a little nervous about it, and I held lightly onto his shoulders while he pedaled around our short driveway for 2 minutes tops. We got the bike out again on Sunday afternoon and he simply hopped on and took off. No training wheels. No fear.

Ryan and I imagined taking him to the church parking lot behind our house and working with him for a few hours, days. You know, the typical teach-your-child-how-to-ride-a-bike parenting milestone, complete with scrapes and tears. Not so. He didn't need any help, he already knew what to do.

We really shouldn't have been surprised. He has been riding a two-wheel bike for two years and cruising all over Brookside and the Crossroads. Thanks to his little orange bike, Charlie had figured out how to balance - the most challenging aspect of riding a bicycle -  a long time ago.

We had our big parenting moment of teaching Charlie to ride a bike two years ago, though we didn't realize it at the time (here and here). This weekend, instead of experiencing a parenting milestone, we received a parenting lesson - our children are learning life skills every day that go completely unnoticed by us.

And I learned from Charlie this weekend that if you aren't afraid, you can easily find your balance.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My day job

I'm a full time Mom and I like to write and express my interests and opinions here on this blog. But my actual day job (what I get paid to do) is teach brilliant, interesting, motivated students about medical research. Every summer my lab fills with their energy, passion, and friendship. They always teach me something new. They are the reason I will not quit my day job anytime soon.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Back to school

I recently turned 40, but this past weekend I went back to high school. 

Image from The Perks of Being a Wallflower official website

We watched the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I can't seem to shake it from my mind, my heart. Wallflower is a smart and quirky coming of age story set in 1991 -  the year I graduated high school. No cellphones, no internet, and trapper keepers instead of tablets. Days when you couldn't Shazam a song on the radio to instantly figure out the artist and song title. And mixed tapes. 

High school for me wasn't that bad, definitely not a horror story. I have lifelong friendships from those days and many good memories. But don't get me wrong, I would never choose to go through it again.

Watching Wallflower this weekend didn't make me reflect on my own high school days so much as it made me imagine the days when Charlie and Izzy will walk those halls. I realized that watching your own children experience this right of passage is likely the one thing worse than going through it yourself. Their failures and heartbreaks will be tougher to endure than my own. I want to protect them from it all - and yet I know these moments, good and bad, will shape who they become in life. I will have to let them experience it all and do my best to cheer them on and pick up the pieces.

I hope they never have to sit alone at lunch. I hope they have nice friends. I hope they are kind to others and learn to be themselves. I found a review of the movie written by Roger Ebert in which he said: "The movie confirms one of my convictions: If you are too popular in high school, you may become so fond of the feeling that you never find out who you really are." It's all so complicated.

Ryan and I kept asking each other throughout the movie 'where are all the parents?' There were house parties with no adult supervision, and scenes of parents meeting with teachers or talking to their kids about life in general were decidedly absent. The only real guidance from an adult came in a positive relationship with one English teacher, and even he wasn't painted as the hero. Paul Rudd's character didn't really do anything other than encourage the lead character's interest in writing. We decided this absence of parents and any influential adults in the movie was purposeful. No matter how well-intentioned a parent or teacher might be, teens must navigate the high school halls themselves. They learn from their friends, their enemies, and themselves.

It didn't help my foreshadowing that the title character of this film was named Charlie. With dark hair and dark eyes, he was sweet and kind - just like my Charlie. We have about 10 years to prep our Charlie before we send him down those hallways to find his locker, hoping he won't get stuffed in it along with his backpack and books. I think I'll go give him a big hug and a kiss now, and every day until then.

Image from The Perks of Being a Wallflower official website

The movie left me feeling completely vulnerable, but also appreciative of the parenting stage I'm in now. Sure, the nights are long and sleep is limited - but our children also look to us for every answer, we control their experiences and what influences them, and they learn everything they know about right and wrong from us -  their parents. They are in our family cocoon, safe and surrounded with love. I wish I could 
keep them there forever.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Report from zombie land

Here it is August, and almost a week since my last blog post. Summer is flying by. We're still adjusting to the new house, new routines, and new sleeping arrangements. It was my goal when we moved into the new house to get Izzy to sleep in her own bed - something she didn't do for the 11 months we were in the loft.

The good news is she is sleeping in her own bed (yay!) but not without several interruptions each night. She wakes up and cries for me (or lately just comes down to our room) and I go up to her room, calm her down and lay half-on half-off her toddler bed for however long it takes to get her back to sleep (or until I wake up!). It is exhausting - I feel like I have a newborn all over again. On the nights Charlie wakes up too, all bets are off - I am a walking zombie the next day, most days. Anyone with a view to our stairwell at night would see me going up and coming down many times each night. Some nights I carry one child up and pass the other one coming down to get me...

I am tired. The days are long, the nights are long. I've been squeezing in a morning run before 6am several days a week. We clean up the kitchen most nights around 10pm. It is all I can do to watch 30 minutes of Conan (Ryan's choice) before passing out. I am loving my new work-day schedule and it is allowing me to do many more activities with the kids on a regular basis. I just haven't found time to fit in any blogs of late...

This is a picture of Charlie and Izzy helping me make some granola last weekend (Charlie can just about make this recipe by himself now). One of my new health strategies is that I can have any sweet treats that I make myself at home, but nothing else. It's a pretty good strategy considering I won't have time to make things too often, and for the most part I've been sticking to it. Next up, Ryan's favorite lemon bars...a family recipe, I'll try to post it here soon!

We have birthday parties on tap for this weekend, Spider Man and Minnie Mouse, oh boy! Happy weekend!