Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lessons From Triangles

This piece of art has been teaching me a lesson.

Inspired by a graphic print named Big Pieces and created by Little Studio Design, I decided to tweak the original to improvise my own version.

Which I did. The finished product is now hanging on the wall of my home office, just behind my left shoulder as I write these words. Family and friends have given my handiwork the thumbs up and you'd think I would have moved on to the Happily Ever After phase of our life together.

But those bright triangles speak to me, humble me, knock me down to size whenever I walk past.

Here's why.

See, I made this piece by cutting triangles from paint chips. Making precise measurements and using my paper cutter with extreme care, I did everything in my power to create triangles that were exactly the same size, and would therefore fit together perfectly in the composition.


I was not interested in "close enough." 

And though I brought all my mathematical skills OCD tendencies to bear on this puzzle, I did not succeed in creating perfection. There are, in several places, tiny white gaps between the triangles. And where the tips of several triangles meet, they are, in several places, slightly misaligned.

Oy vey.

As I discovered this ugly truth, my daughters consoled me. "Pish," they said comfortingly, "That's nothing...we barely notice those tiny imperfections."

But I noticed them. And I stewed over them.

I peeled some of the triangles off and reglued them.
I recut several triangles to make them fit more exactly.
I considered starting over.
I thought about throwing the whole thing out.

But a little voice from the triangles - a voice much wiser than the crazy voices inside my head - said, Stop. Let it be.

And I realized that this creation had become a poignant metaphor for one of my most persistent faults.


If life is a colorful mosaic of hand-cut triangles - and I'm willing to entertain that notion - then a few tiny white gaps between the pieces are to be expected. Compared to the bold colors, delicate symmetry and pleasing proportions of the shapes, those white slivers are nothing. In fact, one might even argue that the lines of white imperfection draw more attention to the lively triangles which they outline, adding to their rambunctious spirits. 

From that observation, it's not much of a leap to see the lesson laid out before my eyes. Imperfections are not only a part of life, but they increase the delight of our days.

Okay, okay, okay. I get it. I understand. And deep down inside, I agree.

But still, every day as I walk past this piece, my eyes leap right to the gaps and I ask myself, once again, "Please can I rip off all the triangles and start over??"

No, my artwork answers me. Stop. Let it be.

Smart little triangles.

A Quiet Morning In Danang

This story has been sitting in my draft folder for almost a year. Half-written and passed over for a condensed version of this adventure, this timeline caught my eye tonight. I'm engrossed in preparations for my third annual trip to Danang, and at two weeks before my go-day, feeling a bit stressed about what I might be forgetting. Memories of this sunrise slow me down and remind me that, one way or another, I'll make it to the other side of the planet and everything really will be okay. 

* * * * *

4:00 am  First alarm went off. Groaned.

4:10 am. Second and final alarm sounded. Groaned again. Got up and pulled myself together. 

4:30 am. Met up with my posse, helmets on and ready to ride. Our bikes purred through the freakishly quiet streets of Danang under dark night skies. 

4:40 am. We turned west and then north, crossing the Han River, passing through the still-sleeping town of Son Tra, and edging along the perimeter of the mountainous peninsula north of the city. 

4:50 am. Passed an assortment of joggers, cyclists, and walkers who were taking their morning exercise. The first hints of daylight were gathering in the eastern skies. 

5:00 am. Pulled off the road at an ideal viewpoint. While we hadn't reached the easternmost point on the peninsula, we had a fantastic watery view of the predawn skies. 

5:05 am. Clouds gathered and threatened to diminish our view. Distracted myself by taking a few shots of predawn fishing boats. 

5:10 am. Still waiting. Took photos of flowers.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the sun burst through the hazy clouds on the horizon and flooded the day with light. And in that instant, a quiet morning in Danang came alive. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Birthday Surprise

My husband is a pretty practical guy. 

Not the type to covet luxury items, his birthday wish lists usually lead off with Cabella jeans and plaid flannel shirts, followed by options for Starbucks gift cards and dark chocolate candy bars.

But this year, two weeks before his big day, my frugal spouse told me he wanted a $270 chess set.

It's historic, he explained. The pieces are modeled after the very first chess set and constructed from a valuable resin from some weird place. Honestly, I don't remember much of what he said because my brain was experiencing a full-on state of shock: 

Is. He. Even. Kidding. Me.

Precious days ticked by as I contemplated this uncharacteristic idea. Oh, the money wasn't my main concern. Dropping a few hundred bucks for a gift is definitely far beyond our normal birthday budget, but for a special request, we could manage the indulgence. 

What I genuinely and sincerely questioned was how my budget-balancing finance director of a partner would embrace this whim once he saw the outflow of cash in his bank transactions. 

He'll change his mind, I hypothesized. This is a passing fancy, and by the time his birthday rolls around, he'll forget all about this swanky Historic Chess Set and opt for an L.L. Bean online shopping spree instead.

Well. I was dead wrong.

* * * * *

On Monday afternoon, thirty-six hours before the Big Day, I checked in again. So what are you thinking about your gift? I casually probed.

"I sent you the link for the chess set two weeks ago," he stated.

Okay, I continued. So you're sure you still want that?

"I wouldn't have sent you the link if I wasn't sure." 

Alright. Point taken, Mr. Nothing-but-the-Facts. 

Fifteen minutes later, Amazon was processing the order and my fate had been cast. 

* * * * *

But now I faced the classic post-modern gift-giving dilemma: While the ordered-online-at-the-last-minute item is still in transit, what will the recipient unwrap on his actual birthday?

I'm a stickler for a timely birthday ceremony and it's essential to me and my nurturing instincts that family celebrations include an actual, physical gift to be unwrapped. Now, we're all adults these days, and have developed sufficient self-control for second-day shipping, but in my view of the universe, there simply MUST be some representation of the gift on the dinner table for the birthday boy [or girl] to unwrap.

I pondered this problem deeply, and while driving home from a student's house on the afternoon of my husband's birthday, the solution came to me in a vision.

A photograph of a pink prawn against a white background, cut to a three-inch square.

Effortlessly, the whole plan of what I would do fell right into place. 

^ As the birthday ceremony unfolded, I presented my husband with a wrapped gift box [not shown.] Inside, tucked among the handfuls of those crinkly bits of accordion-folded paper squiggles were sixteen small envelopes, sealed tightly shut, with one letter printed on each face. My husband fished them out and stared at me blankly.

First, I declared, you must arrange the envelopes to spell out a secret message. 

 ^ Well done. Now, open each envelope and take out what's inside. The order no longer matters, so you can mix them up.

Luckily, my husband always carries a Swiss Army Knife in his pocket for moments such as these. You never know when you might need to slash through some washi tape, darn it. Better safe than sorry.

 ^ Now, each photo you see is a clue. Figure out the pattern of the clues, and arrange the photos into the proper order. 

Folding his jackknife and tucking it back into his pocket as he scowled at the cards, the birthday boy muttered to himself for a few seconds until suddenly he smiled, and we all literally HEARD the light bulb click on in his head. With a few deft maneuverings, he positioned the cards just so.

 ^ Yep, he got it right. Each photo relates to a piece of a chess set:

Billie Jean KING
Freddie Mercury from QUEEN
Nathan Fillion from CASTLE
and eight perfect pink P(r)AWNS

The master strategist understood the need to place these unconventional game pieces in their proper location, as if readying them for a round of chess.

Now flip over the cards in their current positions and a new message will reveal your gift.

^ Ta daaa! We bought you that chess set! 

At this point in the treasure hunt, my husband was not particularly shocked by my final message. But as he pointed out, he does enjoy solving puzzles and did not mind working so hard to reveal the truth about his mysterious birthday surprise. 

For Now

Last week, I bought a set of coasters for my family room.

They were nice coasters. From the moment I saw them, I loved their

round shapes
wooden tones
and dip-dyed shades of turquoise and coral.

For a reasonable price, I snapped them up, brought them home, spread them around my coffee table, and felt perfect peace. 

Oh, what's that you say? You don't see any shades of blue or red in these photos?

Yes. That's because I have a serious problem with leaving well enough alone.

Somewhere along the recent way, I've tossed my lifelong obsession with bold color aside and decided that shades of black, white and grey are my new thing. 

And within just a few hours of bringing these unsuspecting angels into my home and momentarily enjoying their bright coastal hues, I couldn't handle myself anymore. 

Craving some delicious Scandinavian black and white minimalism, I dragged these innocent discs out into my rainy backyard where I attacked them with masking tape, various cans of paint and a passion for reforming them in my new image. 

Now we are all living together in monochromatic heaven and I couldn't be any happier. 

At least for now. 

acacia wood coasters | target
side table | target 
jade plant | home depot

Monday, April 25, 2016

Glass Half Full

Did I predict that there would be some new holes forthcoming in my walls?

Yes, I did.

Allow me to make good on my promise.

^ Holes be damned; there's a hockey game that needs watching and this guy 
will not be deterred from his goal. 

^ Those two black pipes lead down from the shower drain, and were centered at the worst of the leak. I don't need the Property Brothers to tell me what that means. 

Pretty, right? This is the situation in my family room, where moisture had compromised the wall board and insulation. 

I discovered this mess when - in preparation for painting - I took down some art and saw a strangely saggy spot on the wall. Using just a few fingers, I pressed lightly on the wall board which gave way under my fingertips like wet tissue paper. 


Immediately, I diagnosed the underlying problem. The shower stall, directly above this spot, was constructed way back when the builders roughed it in with regular sheet rock rather than waterproof backer board. The whole neighborhood suffered this same plight, and our showers have all gone down like a row of moldy dominoes. 

^ Here's the guilty party, stripped down in shame.

^The toilet area is just an innocent bystander but he's been drawn into the fracas. 

Obviously, we still have some work to do to put these holes right again. 

But in classic glass-half-full style, I am rejoicing that my moisture problems have been properly mitigated. All surfaces are dry and antimicrobial-ed; both rooms smell like clean-chemical heaven. We're ready for the construction guys to come in and build us something beautiful.

 And then my glass will be overflowing indeed. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Life Of A Math Teacher: Sharing Life

Friends, today is a great reminder for us to be mindful and appreciative of this beautiful planet we live in. This world was meant to be enjoyed and explored. Let us not be wasteful of our resources. Take time to reflect on how you can make the world a better, safer, and cleaner place to live in. What you do matters. ‪#‎happyearthday‬ ‪#‎whatawonderfulworld‬

* * * * *

Today I found in one of my feeds this beautiful image and thoughtful message.

Though I would have found them meaningful under any circumstances, I was especially touched when I saw that they were posted by my former student, Tori.

I've known Tori since she was a sweet little ninth-grader, just back in the United States after living abroad with her family for five years, and definitely acclimating to the American high school culture.

Soon after, she became my student and we studied algebra together for several years. Because of the unique path I walk with homeschooled students, our connection has grown and deepened over the years. I've continued to work with her younger siblings as she headed off to college; we keep up with one another's news and see each other from time to time. From my special vantage point, I've enjoyed the privilege of watching her grow into her life as a sensitive, responsible, interesting young adult.

So thank you, Tori, for reminding me of the gifts of our planet on this Earth Day. And thank you too, for reminding me of how lucky I am to share life with all my wonderful students, including you!


Ranger and I see eye-to-eye on the ideal conditions for our daily walk. 

A cool fifty-five degrees with a light mist falling. 

Not only do we feel invigorated and refreshed in the brisk air, but the rain keeps most everyone else inside. 

We love having the streets to ourselves. 

And though Ranger and I definitely enjoy our outing in very different ways, we can both agree that today's walk was perfect.