A friend emailed saying she almost quit this writing challenge yesterday. I got to thinking about quitting.

Yesterday, I wanted to quit the renewl process for my National Boards. It is due May 15th but I have a busy day job and have travel plans for Spring Break. I’ve set aside most weekends to write the 25 page document with 2 video attachments. But yesterday it felt like I still had so much to do. I wanted to quit and stop spending hours and hours sitting at a Starbucks on the weekend writing.

A few years ago, my husband and I wanted to quit building a new house. My creative, architect husband designed an energy-efficient new home for us but our contractor wasn’t making it happen and the site looked like this for far too long.

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With the house, we found a supportive contractor and he built the house to my husband’s specifications.

With my National Boards project, I texted my study buddy (a colleague also working on her Boards) and suggested a lunch break. We met for a burger and after eating, we both sat at a Starbucks and worked together for another hour. Before departing, we agreed to check on each other on Wednesday as we both made a plan for what we would accomplish next.

With my friend, she got her post in before midnight. Her email ended by saying, “thank you for your support – it’s in part my not wanting to let you guys down that has kept me going.”

Quitting. A natural response.
Support from others – priceless!

NOTE: Just picked up my phone to pick a photo as my “featured image” and the time is 8:11am. (something I wrote about on March 15th) I smiled and am ready to write more for my Boards as I sit now at Starbucks on a Sunday. I’m not quitting!

My Top 10 Favorite Spaces

Yesterday a slicer named Adrienne posted right before me a slice entitled: 5 of Our Favorite Places. It got me thinking about what would be on my list. Being married to an architect, the places I go tend to involve architectural wonders. So today I’m going to reflect on and write about my top favorite built environments. Thanks, Adrienne for helping me write today.

My Top 10 Favorite Spaces

The Lawn, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
* Thomas Jefferson designed a space to be a functioning academic village and called it the University of Virginia in 1812. As you walk the lawn today, all ten Pavilions showcase examples of classical architecture. If you haven’t visited the Lawn yet, I recommend taking a walk down this UNESCO World Heritage Site. (My husband, myself and one of our daughters also our proud UVA alums!)

The Morgan Library, New York, New York
* JP Morgan’s home on Madison Avenue in New York was already pretty impressive before architect Rezio Piano designed an addition. During my last visit there, I ordered lunch and sat and read my book in this peaceful, sunlight open space.

The High Line, New York, New York
* What a gift this walkway/park is to the city of New York. As a pedestrian, it is fun to be three stories above the street level, taking a walk! Plus, it shows how with a little imagination, an old, abandoned raised railroad track can be transformed into a park!

Storm King Art Center, Hudson River Valley, New York
* One fall, we took a trip to the Hudson River Valley and fell upon Storm King. All the large modern art installations are magnificent. But my favorite is The Wall by Andy Goldsmith. There is something uplifting about being outdoors, walking along and then seeing modern art!

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
* Another large outdoor space is the impeccable gardens on the du Pont’s estate. Now open to the public, visitors can walk and enjoy the flowers and trees in all seasons and at times, enjoy a fountain show.

The Inn at Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina
* The inn is a modern-designed set of rooms on the grounds of the Middleton colonial farm along the Ashby River. I enjoyed staying at this hotel designed by one of my husband’s UVA architecture teacher, W.G.Clark. Especially the simple concrete, glass and wood design and the floor to ceiling windows .

Seaside, Florida
* A visit here occurred so my husband could see in-person this 1981 New Urban planned city he learned about in architecture school. Lots of great architects were involved in the design of the houses and buildings in the town. I enjoyed my stay in the cottage on the beach.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
* What a building designed by Frank Gehry! I toured it with my family just after it opened. Recently, I enjoyed watching this light show video to celebrate its 20th Anniversary.

Venice, Italy
* ALL of Venice is utterly unique. ALL of it!! My husband spent his last semester studying in Venice while getting his Masters at UVA and I joined him for a week. Then we returned three years ago with our girls to share this magical city with them over Christmas and New Years. It is now a family favorite city!

My house, Arlington, Virginia
* My husband designed the house we live in now. He calls it White-Out House because we razed our old house or whited it out, and build this energy-efficient home. Looking back on the kinds of spaces we like to spend time in, I start to see more clearly why my husband designed our home the way he did. I love it!






Our Fox

“What is that?” I asked.

It was just after dusk. The sky still has a thin stripe of yellow at the horizon but darkness now covered the foreground. Something drew my eyes out the window and I began to survey my backyard. I stepped closer to the dining room sliding door and looked out, first to the the far left and scanning to the right. Mostly all I saw was shades of gray and black. As my eyes started to adjust, I could make out the tall oak tree.  Next to it, a raised mound in the middle of the otherwise flat ground appeared. Then the mound moved.

“Wait, I think it’s our fox!”

I kept staring into the backyard darkness. Suddenly, the mound had two ears, four legs, and a bushy tail. Then the mound moved a bit to the left, circled, crouched and laid down. “Look Brian, it’s our fox,” I yelled to my husband in the living room. We both now stared out at our backyard critter. He looked so comfortable. Just chilling in our backyard.

We stood for minutes, just looking. Then we noticed the dark mound rise, strut toward the neighbor’s fence and hop over it, gracefully out of our view.

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In books, the fox is always the perpetrator or the trickster. Today, in my yard, he or she seemed calm and quiet. A backyard friend.

Scratchy, the squirrel


Such a pretty afternoon. The sun was shining, the temperature had reached an unseasonably 70 degrees for the end of February and it sure had a feeling that maybe spring really was on the way. It was too pretty of a day to stay at my school, in my windowless classroom and input grades into the electronic grade book and post the 3rd quarter interim grades. So I walked home, sat at my dining room table and worked. I love my dining room because the one long wall overlooks the backyard and is all windows. If I had to sit and do mindless data entry, at least I could do it is a comfortable space.

As I typed away on my MacBook Air, I heard it. “Scratch. Scratch.” I looked up and out and scanned the backyard. I heard it again and noticed something moving on the large oak tree out back. It was grey and had a bushy tail – a squirrel. What was he carrying? It looked like a large leaf in its mouth. The scratching sound was its feet as it climbed up and around the trunk. I kept my eyes on this squirrel and saw him pause as he reached the halfway point of the trunk. Then he disappeared into what looked more like a leathery, brown balloon stuck to the side of the tree trunk. The he reappeared, without the leaf in his mouth. Scratch, scratch. He scampered down the tree, onto the grass and hopped across my backyard and into my neighbors yard.

Five minutes later, he (or maybe a she) was back. Again with a leaf in his mouth. Again, climbing up the oak tree. Again making a scratching sound as he climbed to the to that leafy brown balloon-shaped spot. Again he disappeared and reappeared.

I guess this is how a squirrel makes a home, his drey. I think I’ll call my construction working squirrel, Scratchy.

What creatures have YOU enjoyed watching lately?

PS: I didn’t film my squirrel but this person did!


Why Don’t ALL Houses Have Large Windows?

As I sit at my double-height dining room, gazing out the south-side wall which is all windows, I am watching a squirrel sit in a tree in my backyard, way up high. I wonder, “How high up is he?” I start to imagine myself standing next to the tree’s base and pick where the 5ft mark would likely be. Then I move my eyes up, in increments of five. He appears to be about 50 ft up, just sitting there on a part of a tree limb that jets out and is very narrow. As I sit and eat my cereal, he is eating, too. The sky is brightening, with a streak of pink next to shades of light blue. And then he leaps to another branch and another and another and scurries out of my view.

Just beyond that tree are the backs on the houses on the next block over. All have that typical, double-hung standard house window which allows light in but is too small to see much out of it. I wonder why? Why did the windows my husband designed to be in our new dining room not become the norm? Why don’t all houses have really large windows to observe the outside?

My mind starts to wander more and I start to think of Laura from Little House on the Prairie and the house Pa built on the prairie. It also had small windows. But then, Laura and her family spent all day outside, easily seeing episodes like the one I am viewing. Then she headed inside her prairie house to sleep. So big picture windows weren’t really needed, not to mention cost-effective or energy-efficient. A house’s purpose then was more for shelter than a place for sitting and making observations.

But as I sit here this morning, eating my cereal in my warm home, looking out my energy-efficient windows watching this squirrel, it seems to me that windows could evolve. I am very grateful that my new house has windows that bring the outside in! Maybe soon, all houses will have windows like my house does!

Literary Gift…for my Architect Husband and Building Contractor!

Two weeks ago, a mother volunteered to read a book to our class and brought The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater. I had a teacher friend who always started her school year using this book but I personally had never actually read it myself. As Ethan’s mom read, connections were made for me!

I was moved by these lines:
First line – “…all the houses were the same.” 

“My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” (stated AFTER main character changes the appearance of his house).

“..whenever anybody visited Mr. Plumbean’s house, the very next day that person would set about changing his own house to fit his dreams.”

“Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.”

Immediately, I bought two copies of this book to use as Literary Gifts:
1. One for my architect husband who designed a very smart, sustainable, energy-efficient home (which we are moving into TOMORROW!!!!) which does NOT look like all the other houses on the street.
2. One for Galaxy Homes, our building contractor, who welcomed the unconventional design of the house, and worked hard to build it, following Brian’s drawings and making his dream a reality.

I taped these two photos to the last page of the picture book, adding my own THANK YOU note – Thank you for building us a home that is NOT the same as all the others!


Additional Findings:
When I googled this book, I discovered it was picked as #48 in Top 100 Picture Books for Children
by ALA.

By going to Daniel Pinkwater’s website, I learned he have written LOTS of books and that his wife, Jill, is also a writer. Then I discovered I have probably heard him on NPR (He is also an occasional commentator on National Public Radio’s All Thing Considered and appears regularly onWeekend Edition Saturday, where he reviews exceptional kids’ books with host Scott Simon.) I see that for $.99 I can buy many of his novels for my Kindle, something I plan to do! And I thought he was only known for The Big Orange Splot published in 1977 by Scholastic!

Celebrate – BEST family EVER!

Looking back on this week, I must celebrate my family, my two daughters, Anne and Bridgit and my husband, Brian.

who shared a clever Ancient Greek Pottery craft she learned while teaching last year in France. With her help, photos of my students were taken posed as Greek warriors or gods, and then used to decorate a paper pot to tell a story, just like the Ancient Greeks did.
Anne ….
who when shopping with me at IKEA, was as excited about their puppets as I was and who helped to type up a planning packet so my students could collaborate in small groups to plan out and then perform puppet shows before we left for Winter Break.
who spent a whole day at my school while home from the University of Chicago where she is earning a Masters in Public Policy and Computer Science and spoke to each 3rd grade class about the job of a computer programmer. She also pushed me to make sure my class participated in Hour of Code activities which they ALL loved! Thanks to Bridgit, lots of 8 year olds are aware that coding can be hard but is something they can all do!
who spent years thinking about the design of a house for us and who spent the last two years overseeing the construction of a very energy-efficient and modern house for us and who received word on Friday that our permit to occupy the house has been granted.

March 27 – Birthday Letter to Brian

Dear Brian,

Happy Birthday!!

Last year, on your 50th birthday, this picture was taken of our project:

Today, on your 51st birthday, these pictures were taken of our project:


Neither of us expected that our project would still be a work in progress after a full year.
However, I truly believe that in another year, we WILL live in our project, our completed project.

We will awake on the 3rd floor each morning when the sun streams into the big, bedroom window.
We will slink out of bed and walk across the radiant floor for a morning shower.
We will sip coffee on the rooftop deck as we read the morning paper.
We will watch Jeopardy after work in the 2nd floor TV room.
We will prep and cook and grab a beer from the street-facing kitchen.
We will entertain in the double-height dining room space and onto the backyard deck.
We will retire to read before bed in front of the living room fireplace.

Neither of us expected that our project would take so long to complete.
This whole past year, you were architect, designer, project manager, quality controller, lawyer, bank negotiator, tour-guide, dad, and calm husband. Soon, we WILL inhabit 5218 N 12th Street.

May all your wishes come true this birthday!
This amazing house you are creating for us is making mine come true!
Happy Birthday!


* photos from http://www.whiteouthouse.tumblr.com

March 12 – I’m getting a new house!

15 years ago, we moved here, 5218 N 12th Street, to live in a 2 bedroom, one bathroom house with no central air. We were a family of four; mom, dad, a 4th grader and a 1st grader. When you do the math, you realize that now, we are a mom, a dad, and two twenty-something girls and yes, still one bathroom. I guess you just make it work. We had a routine. I used the bathroom first daily, in and out by 6:00am, then Brian, then the girls. We picked this house because of the great lot. It had plenty of room for an addition and being married to an architect, plans were drawn to build another bedroom and bathroom, while adding central air conditioning. Then somehow, 15 years went by. Bridgit graduated college and Anne graduates college in May.

Brian and I are renting the house across the street while his design for a 21st century energy-efficient house with geo-thermal heating and cooling and a rooftop terrace is being constructed on our lot. He calls it the white(out) house! As of today, the “before house” has been totally removed and the backhoe has dug out the new foundation. I wonder what the site will look like on March 31st? I wonder when I can start to enjoy the master bathroom? I wonder if I’ll still, out of habit, be in and out by 6:00am each morning. I hope the girls will still enjoy coming home to visit us in this new house at 5218 N 12th Street. I’m excited but a bit terrified as this is a huge project. But I know Brian’s a great architect and I know the white(out) house will be worth the wait!
You can see more pictures at www.whiteouthouse.tumblr.com