How to be an Explorer of the World

February 29, 2012 § 3 Comments

Guest post by Anna Marie.

It rained all day Thursday in Chicago. The best days to be outside here are when weather is happening; it’s a reminder that nature still exists, the city can’t escape it. I went for a bike ride. I got distracted by the way street-light travels through puddles. I stood on the sidewalk, and the sound world soaked in.

When I’m feeling a bit stale, lost, or overwhelmed by Chicago’s grid system, somehow weather finds its way to me, as do the books of Keri Smith. They meet me along the wandered paths of museum gift shops and little bookstores. Her books poke me in the sides and ignite flames in my ears. They make me want the freedom to live out the oddities of existence and to be ravenously curious about everything. They give me permission to step outside of expected behavior.

Here are three of her books I recommend; they will challenge you and make you smile. They each have their own focus on how to shake out of normal routine, to get us to imagine.

Challenge #1: Deconstruct familiarity

How To Be an Explorer of the World is filled with guidance and quotes that encourage us to stop taking things for granted, start seeing them as though we’ve never seen them before, fight assumptions, and begin to love ordinary things for their possibilities.

The book takes us through a series of explorations to help those of us who don’t know where to start. Here are some of my favorites:

Document any naturally occurring faces you find on your travels. Look for them in plumbing parts, fixtures (door hooks), in nature (trees), in human-made objects, in the clouds, etc.


…Document an overheard conversation.
Alternate: collect words you find interesting.

Einstein used “thought experiments” (questions that can only be solved using the imaginzation), on a regular basis. He actually formulated the special theory of relativity by asking the question, “What would it be like to travel on a beam of light?” It is interesting to conduct these thought experiments in the midst of everyday life.

Anna’s Thought Experiment: What if I could dive into a puddle and arrive in that reflected world? There were puddles for two days from the Thursday rain. I kept walking around and staring in them, taken by their pond-like ability to inspire rest, despite their size and shores of pavement.

In a puddle I can see the reflection of branches from a city tree. If I could dive in and appear in those branches, then puddles would be physical portals into dreams. Of course. I see city branches, but when my mind dives through, I arrive in a forest, with a vast sky and landscape of stillness, solitude. No social norms or career conveyor belts, only the old stories of the trees, a place where my heart can listen and expand beyond the grid.

Challenge #2: Let go of perfection, assumptions of what success is.

In Wreck This Journal, each page is a simple instruction on how to wreck the journal (the person who took a picture of theirs has done a delightfully thorough job of the wrecking). It tells you to do things with it that make you uncomfortable, like:

Break the spine right away,
Scribble on it everywhere,
Not to follow her instructions,
Leave it somewhere outside overnight.

There is also a page dedicated to negative thoughts (“What is your inner critic saying?”). I had to stop and journal when I read that, because my inner critic was saying a lot: “This is dumb. This is not even helping me. Why would we learn to be so orderly as adults if it were only hurting us and we just had to unlearn it? What if nothing interesting happened when I left it outside? That would be really disappointing and I’d feel dumb.”

At the beginning of the book she warns that in order to create, you have to destroy, and that by going through the book, you may begin to partake:

“You may begin to see creative destruction everywhere. You may begin to live more recklessly.”

Challenge #3: Co-create. We change human history, we change the nature of things.

This Is Not a Book takes us through a piece of work that is anything but a book. Every single page starts with “This is…” followed by a word, description, and/or set of instructions revealing what that page is besides a book. Every page requires interaction to make it something other than a book.

For example,

Some of my other favorite pages were:

this is a PUBLIC SPACE
invite people to add something to this page

select a piece of writing you really like. Read it out loud, where others can hear you.

1. Make a list of your personality traits
2.Take those traits and exaggerate or embellish them. Create a character (or Avatar) with these traits as superpowers.
3. Create several superhero accessories.

I know that I am not alone. Many people I have talked with feel lost, wondering if we can find a meaningful place for our talents and passions, trying to reconcile what we’ve learned and are encountering about what’s true, about the nature of reality. I have nothing figured out. I leave you this last thought from How To Be an Explorer


Breakfast with the Gents

February 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

I often say “To eat is to share.” One of my favorite meals to share with others is breakfast or on most weekends brunch. It’s just really nice to wake up with the sun beaming through the window and to  begin the day with others by breaking bread. I decided to compile a list of gentlemen that I would love to host some day for breakfast along with a recipe.

I would invite Garrison Keilor and Ira Glass to my home and make this Crustless Quiche with Spinach and Mushrooms for breakfast. On the side I would serve a bowl of blueberries. The breakfast will linger into early evening due to all the stories we would share. I imagine that every once in a while I would close my eyes just to listen to their voice because they’re so familiar to me. This would be satisfying on so many accounts.

Photo by Joy the Baker.

Some time ago, a friend introduced me to the world of Wes Anderson. He has such an interesting and strong way of telling us about his characters. Wouldn’t it be something if his quirky characters joined us for breakfast? Oh boy, the Banana Bread French Toast would be gone so quick.  I can’t wait, just can’t wait, for Moonrise Kingdom to come out, but for now, here is one of his most recent commercials.

Readers, you probably are already aware of my love for Megafaun. I would share a classic brunch with them: eggs any style, turkey sausage or bacon, hash browns, and toast spread with homemade raspberry jam. Give a listen and you will love them too.

Who would you want over for breakfast?

Weekend Do: Escape

February 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Awhile ago, I came across this quote by author A. C. Benson, “All the best stories are but one story in reality – the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.”

So no matter what you’re escaping from or to this weekend, here are a few things to help you on your way.

1. Do read! Elif Shafak, a Turkish writer, gives an incredible TED talk on the politics of fiction, how reading breaks down all sort of walls and gives us better insight into understanding one another. “If you want to destroy anything,” she says, “surround it with thick walls.”

2. Do enter into the noble act of creating (do we ever have a Weekend Do without this advice?). In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Micahel Chabon writes about comic book artists drawing their superheroes in the 1940s, how the act of creating is itself a hopeful escape.

“In literature and folklore, the significance and the fascintation of golems . . . lay in their soulessness, in their tireless inhuman strength, in their metaphoircal association with overweening human ambition, and in the frightening ease with which they passed beyond the control of their horrified and admiring creators. But none of these were among the true reasons that impelled men, time after time, to hazard the making of golems. The shaping of golem was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something– one poor dumb, powerful thing – exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevtiable failures of the greater Creation. It was the voicing of a vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. To slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straitjacket of physical laws . . . the Senate investigation into comic books always cited “escapism” among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life.”

3. Do watch a heist movie and note their escapist strategies. One of my favorites is The Maiden Heist, where three old art aficionados working at a museum plan to steal their favorite paintings to avoid being separated from them forever.

4. Do browse the dichromatic and odd world of the French painter Bruno Michaud. His work has a note of mystery and intrigue, a world where you could surely lose yourself if you wanted.

5. Do escape into music. Both the name and music of The Wilderness of Manitoba set the perfect mood for escapism in these lovely harmonies. Just close your eyes and drift.

Are you gone yet?

To love and be loved

February 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I can’t get enough of these two individuals.

Ayden – As a baby, I use to soothe his cries by cradling him in my arms and repeat the “Baby beluga” chorus, just the chorus. Since attending 4K, he has taught me the rest of the lyrics to this old children’s tune. At times, I’ll find him cradling a small stuff animal and singing the same tune I used to sing to him.

Ayden in his traditional Hmong clothes. Photo by Pahoua Vang

Delilah – She has a more reserved spirit than her older brother, but definitely goes after what she desires. The only blanket I have ever crocheted belongs to her. I hope she will always know the warmth of love in her walk of life.

My Lilah. Photo by Pahoua Vang

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that we have the capability to love and to be loved. Once, I heard love defined as, “… a choice to seek the well-being of the other and please the other when there are other alternatives available. It’s the choice that makes it love.” My niece and nephew inspire me to love better, love more, and love with abandon. A nod to Ayden and Delilah.

Who inspires you to love?

Recycled Creations

February 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

In my recent spring cleaning, I tossed out quite a few things from cassettes I listened to in junior high (will cassettes – like vinyl – ever make a comeback? I may regret this move) to notes from college classes (my stats class never proved useful).  I also came across things I forgot I had and found new uses for what I might have tossed. Shoe boxes get gift wrapped to hold photos or office supplies, homemade quilts become wall hangings, and stacks of books hold up frames given fresh photos.

It got me looking at how other people are reusing their materials, such as this gallon-drum-turned-bench from Etsy, complete with a bike gear as a drink holder.

Or these tea pots used to hold flowers for a staircase decoration (photo from Pinterest):

Artist Lisa Occhipinti honors old books by giving them new life in her delicate creations, which she shares in her book, The Repurposed Library (if you try any of these, you’ll have to let us know).

And Dan Phillips builds stunning, affordable homes out of  upcycled materials – anything discarded and durable is fair game and each of his creative innovations adds a unique touch, like the ceiling of frames below.

View The New York Times slideshow of his work here and listen to his TED talk below – his take on our waste and perception of what is perfect is both funny and thought-provoking.

This last story is my favorite. By using empty soda bottles, water, and a few tools, those living in poverty in San Pedro in Manila can finally have light inside their homes during the day. It’s cheap, provides jobs, and cuts down on waste. And so creatively simple.

What are you reusing and upcycling?

Collision Echos

February 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

It happened. Ivy and another car collided.

Ivy is the name of my green car. The evening of the collision I had a dream about my attempt to herd a parade of elephants from a poacher by using my car to steer them away from a cliff and being hurt. My attempts were unsuccessful. It was an awful dream. Plus, this cold refuses to leave my body.

This week I wish I could have been covered by this big umbrella. Aleksandra Mir.

Although I feel a bit worn and torn from the week I’m echoing this hopeful mantra for the weekend.

I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.

I want to be light and frolicsome.

I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing,

as though I had wings.

Oh, Ms. Mary Oliver. Her words often ring in my heart and soul.


What words are you echoing these days?



DIY: Lace Flowers

February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Guest post by Grete Bauder.

Since I was nine, it’s been my job at family gatherings – i.e. Thanksgiving and Christmas – to make the table’s floral centerpiece. I use whatever flowers Mom has picked up at the grocery store, evergreens from the yard and nearby arboretum (Shhh! Don’t tell!), and oasis from my stash under the sink. Every year I try to top the years before in creativity and beauty.

This year Mom bought a bouquet of just-opening roses in all shades of pink. I thought they looked delicate and Victorian, so I wanted to create an arrangement in the same vein. As I pulled tapered candles from the top sideboard drawer, the lace coasters and doilies caught my eye. What could be more romantic and Victorian, well, other than puffed sleeves? I had to find a way incorporate them, so here’s what I did.

1. Pinch a lace doily, coaster, or hankie at its center. A round one will work best, but squares work too (as pictured here). Bunch the sides together and hold tight.

2. Find floral wire, a wooden skewer or anything thin, sturdy, and long enough to be the flower’s stem. Wrap a rubber band (or tape) around the fabric and stem.

3. Fluff your flower, arrange its petals, and voila! A lace doily and pale blue, lace-edged coaster among the roses.

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