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A Pattern Language

This book was full of answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask. I’ve always been interested in the design of spaces indoors and out, but the actual science of design is so technical that it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around. A Pattern Language is written in laymen’s terms and is as much rooted in psychology and sociology as it is in the study of architecture. The “language” is comprised of 253 “patterns” that anyone can use to create a space that feels comfortable. I think the term patterns is misleading. They’re really just basic principles of design, and I suppose the authors chose to call them patterns because they occur again and again in a wide variety of spaces. The authors acknowledge that not every pattern will apply to every project or even suit the tastes of every reader, but taken one by one I found many of them quite interesting. For example (paraphrased from the book):

114. Hierarchy of open space. People always try to find a spot where they can have their backs protected, looking out toward some larger opening, beyond the space immediately in front of them.

134. Zen view. If there is a beautiful view, don’t spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition–along paths, in hallways, in entryways, on stairs, between rooms. If people are able to sit and stare at the view without effort it will lose interest, but if they catch only glimpses in passing it will remain beautiful forever. Optionally, provide a special spot to sit so that enjoyment of the view becomes a definite act in its own right.

140. Private terrace on the street. Let the common rooms open onto a wide terrace or porch which looks onto the street. Raise it slightly above street level and protect it with a low wall, which you can see over if you sit near it, but which provides a sense of enclosure. The wall can double as seating or table space.

159. Light on two sides of every room. If this is impossible it can be helped by high ceilings, white walls, large windows, and deep reveals.

180. Window place. In every room where you spend any length of time during the day, make at least one window into a “window place.” Build a window seat, or provide an armchair, or surround the space with windows on three sides.

185. Sitting circle. Place each sitting space in a position which is protected, not cut by paths or movement, roughly circular, with paths and activities around it so that people naturally gravitate toward the chairs when they get into the mood to sit. Place the chairs and cushions loosely in the circle, and have a few too many.

191. The shape of indoor space. With occasional exceptions, make each indoor space or each position of space a rough rectangle, with roughly straight walls, near right angles in the corners, and a roughly symmetrical vault over each room.

249. Small panes. Windows which are broken up into small panes afford more interesting views. They also provide a greater sense of protection and help to create filtered light.

251. Different chairs. People are different sizes. They sit in different ways. Never furnish any place with chairs that are identical. Choose a variety–some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, some with arms and some without, some wicker, some wood, some upholstered.

252. Pools of light. Place lights low and apart to form individual pools of light which encompass chairs and tables like bubbles to reinforce the social character of the spaces which they form. Remember that you can’t have pools of light without the darker places in between.

I focused mostly on the patterns relating to residential design, but nearly half of the book relates more directly to public or commercial spaces. Even those that I don’t think I’ll ever have occasion to use were FASCINATING. If you’ve got even a passing interest in architecture or design I highly recommend A Pattern Language. It’s easy to skim over the patterns which don’t interest you–heck, I skipped the first 100 because I wanted to get to the residential stuff. It’s pricey, so I recommend checking it out from your local library unless you think you’ll be referencing it often.

I may be creative, I may be thrifty, but at my heart I am truly one thing: lazy. And wherever I can find opportunities to do so I employ strategies to save myself time and effort. Some of these are simple, but some you may not have thought of. And if you’ve got tips to share please do! I need all the help I can get

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  1. I keep lists on my phone. I have a running to do list, a list for upcoming blog post topics, and lots of lists of random things I want to remember. I use the basic notes app in my phone as a sort of all-purpose notebook. Not only do I have it with me and easily accessible at all times, but it’s searchable. No paper notebook can compete with that.
  2. I use a grocery list. Tying into the first point, I have a basic list on my phone of everything I buy regularly at the grocery store. Before going shopping, I copy and paste the list into a new note and go through my kitchen deleting whatever we don’t need. I have a similar system for shopping at Target (I go about once a month to stock up on some things that Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry). As I’m shopping I note in the list how much each item cost, which makes it easy to estimate my total before I get to the checkout.
  3. I shop on Amazon. I absolutely love having Amazon Prime. If I need just one or two things that I’m not even sure I could find at local big box stores, like, say, the perfect pedometer, I’ll just click over to Amazon and can pretty quickly compare prices and reviews and then get free two day shipping. The selection is amazing, the prices are good, and it saves me from making a trip to a crowded store where I’m likely to spend more money buying things I don’t need.
  4. I wear minimal makeup. My makeup bag is tiny and holds everything I need: some Bare Minerals powder and blush, a brush for each, one eyeliner, one eyeshadow, one lipstick, and one chapstick. I usually put my makeup on in the car.
  5. I never iron. Ironing is for the birds. If something looks like it will need frequent ironing I don’t buy it. Everything else I just hang or fold right out of the dryer. Sometimes it takes several rounds in the dryer before I manage to get to them while they’re still warm, but I very very rarely have any significant wrinkle issues.
  6. I do my banking online. Balancing your checkbook is sooooo 1999. And I recently signed up for Mint.com so we can keep an even closer eye on our spending (spoiler: we spend too much money on cable TV and going out to eat).
  7. I save my veggie scraps. I used to do this for compost, but I decided that composting is too much work for me. Now I save them in a giant freezer bag so that when fall rolls around and I want to make soup I can use them to make broth instead of having to plan ahead by having broth on hand or chicken bones available.
  8. Speaking of chicken, I buy it in bulk from Zaycon. And when I need to shred it I do so in my stand mixer. Throw cooked chicken in there with a paddle attachment, flip it onto low speed, and watch as the chicken gets shredded before your eyes.
  9. I automate wherever possible. I use automatic bill pay, use Dollar Shave Club to keep us stocked with fresh blades, and have reminders set on my phone for anything that can’t be automated further, like remembering to give Juliet her flea and heartworm medicine.

I’m amazed by all the conveniences modern technology offers. I can’t imagine what it was like to, say, plan a vacation or research a purchase before the internet. And don’t even get me started on smartphones! Those things are amazing. I admit that I look at mine too often, but it’s become such a helpful companion that I can’t imagine life without it.

As excited as I was to move Jack out of the crib, I was a tiny bit heartbroken when I realized I’d soon be taking down the mobile I so lovingly created. I hated to just cast it aside.

I’ve got a plan to reuse the yarn balls, but first I tackled a smaller project: creating a piece of embroidery to fill the green painted hoop. I started working on it several weeks ago using a spare embroidery hoop, then just moved it over to the green one after we’d set up Jack’s new bed and taken down the mobile. My first attempt involved tracing an image of tree rings that I found online. When it was finished I wasn’t sure about the outcome so I texted a picture to my friend Lauren and asked what it looked like to her.

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So with that I started over, this time keeping it simpler. I used a backstitch for the rings and lettering and two rows of split stitches for the bark. And to avoid any unintentional resemblance to anatomy I stitched his name in the center instead of ever-narrowing rings. It’s supposed to look like his name was scrawled on a tree stump.

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The green and brown are perfect accents in his room.

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I love the addition of something round to the collection of items on his wall. I’d like to add something else to the right side but I’m not quite sure what yet.

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It’s kind of symbolic–the rings of a tree are a visual marker of growth and this is a space for a growing child to play and rest.

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It’s hung on the wall with a nail and secured in place with some museum putty. Since he’s not confined to the crib anymore I went ahead and added a bit of putty to everything else on the wall, too, just to make sure that he doesn’t accidentally pull something down and hurt himself when he’s in there alone.

I’ve been working on this embroidery project on and off since May so I’m thrilled to finally have it completed. Next project: stringing those yarn balls into a garland to hang from the ceiling!

 

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image from here

Parenting is one of those things that almost everybody over a certain age has some experience with. If they haven’t been parents themselves, they’ve at least observed enough to form a few opinions. And boy, do they make their opinions known. When Jack was younger, people would say things like, “Oh, look at the cute baby! Where’s his hat?” Or they would ask whether he was sleeping through the night and tell me what I needed to do to make him. Or ask conspiratorially if I was one of those moms who breastfeeds in public. One lady even told me I was holding him wrong! As he gets older, the comments have changed. Now it’s all about how I respond when he acts out and whether I’m keeping a close enough eye on him. People act like he has no sense of self-preservation and I should be on constant suicide watch.

No matter how active Nick is in parenting our child, others will always view me as the primary caretaker and address their comments as such. I’ve struggled with accepting criticism for as long as I can remember. I developed a much tougher skin after my first few years as a social worker but parenting brings it to a whole new level. Add to that the fact that I bristle at unsolicited advice or being told what to do unless it comes from someone who’s paying me and you have a recipe for frustration. I can seethe for days over one comment.

In my line of work I have seen some people really do their kids a disservice. You’d think that this experience would be reassuring, but really it just makes it easy to see all the ways that I’m falling short. It’s like a friend of mine who’s a social worker on a neuro unit and thinks every headache is a stroke. I know too much.

But at the same time, I know that there are only a few ways to really mess up your kids and a million ways to do a perfectly fine job. I feel like my mantra these days is, “he’s fine.” And you know what? He IS fine! Just because somebody says something doesn’t make it true, and even if their way of parenting is actually right that doesn’t mean that my way isn’t also right. But more importantly, I need to stop taking these comments so personally. What kind of example am I setting for Jack to get so worked up about what other people think?

Parenting is a lot like living in a fish bowl. Everything you do is under scrutiny by the general public. I can’t do anything to change that, but I think I can work on letting those comments roll off my back. Any tips?