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good thinking, good writing

I found a new writing mentor. It’s exciting when it happens. I hope one day to be as wise and funny and put it all in writing as well as this random internet advice columnist. Or maybe I could do it right now if someone would give me a column… Okay, world, I invite you to send me a description of your problems, and I will tell you what to think and do. Go.

my husband is FAMOUS

(See his pretty face at 2:27.)

here and now

I enjoyed this article on travel writing in the NYTimes a few days ago. “If I am skillful enough to capture and hold this moment now, someone reading my words at some distant time and place will feel the same here-and-now-ness that I did back then and there.” In workshops he asks his students to write as much as they can for 5 minutes, beginning with the prompt, “Here and now I am…”

I tried it on the bus home:

Here and now I am on the Metro Rapid bus, headed home. Here and now I am yawning, yawning. Here and now I am a little bit hungry because all I’ve eaten today is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, as I walked across campus between one of my seven hours of meetings and another. Here and now I am wondering what I have the energy to do tonight. Here and now I am quiet, and happy to be quiet. Here and now I am thinking this deodorant that I put on this morning is better than the other kind I’ve been using. Here and now I am wanting a beer. Here and now I see palm trees, and a condo complex going up. Here and now I sway back and forth with the brakes of the bus. Here and now I glance surreptitiously at my fellow passengers, as we maintain the fiction of public privacy. Here and now a gnat crawls across my screen. Here and now my neck hurts, and I regret not going to yoga class two days ago. Here and now I see a tall thundercloud in the distance. Here and now a stop is requested. Here and now I think of my unanswered emails. I wonder about the castle that’s been constructed on Congress—some gaming place? It looks like someone drove a car through the front of one of my favorite gift stores. I must put my computer away and get off the bus.

speaking of data visualization

How about this weekend project? I knew I was saving all those bottle caps for a reason. Turned out it was to answer the very important question: what colors cap the beers we drink?

bottle cap histogram
(Canvas –> prototype –> execution. This is the side of our tool shed facing the backyard. Now just a little bit weirder.)

A: mostly red and gold

jazz data viz

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity it affords to dabble in a lotta things I like doing. I’m no graphic designer nor statistical wizard, but I do love some good data visualization. So when we wrapped up our fabulous jazz MOOC this spring and no one asked me for any sort of outcomes or overview, I made up my own.*

Conventional in-the-media wisdom pegs MOOC completion rates at 5% and calls the enterprise frivolous. Of course the story is more complicated and interesting. This graphic was my attempt to answer the “what was your completion rate?” question in a way that was still clear but more nuanced. As so many of my plans do, it began with markers.

data viz sketch jazz

Jazz Appreciation edX summary results (1)

*Using a highly sophisticated graphic design program called “PowerPoint.” And then spamming it out to every one of my current colleagues.

Memorial Day

Seven Memorial Day weekends ago, we were getting married in the wooded hills of Berkeley, California. This year, we were doing some light pig butchery in Tool, Texas. Somehow it was a perfect celebration.

pig behind screen

I was unable to tell my camera-phone to focus on the action outside instead of the window screen, but I’m actually fond of the result. It’s like an instant-nostalgia lens, that captures the essence while blurring the details of the pig insides. The whole weekend had the feel of one we’ll remember.

from the improvised recipe files

Been a while since I posted a recipe, right? (Uh, been a while since you’ve posted anything.) So here’s one from last weekend. Give it a try! Perfect for summer!

yogurt pop

Strawberry Honey Yogurt Pops, in 10 Steps

1. Flip through your recipe collection and—because you have some popsicle sticks laying around from that weird fundraising-arrow construction project—have attention snagged by a Bon Appetit recipe that’s been languishing in the “try me” section for a few years, for Blackberry Honey and Yogurt Pops. Plan to try it.

2. Instead of the called-for 18oz of fresh blackberries, recall that you have half a two-week-old pint of strawberries that have sort of dehydrated themselves in the fridge, but they were so tasty, back then, that you haven’t managed to throw them out.

3. While checking the strawberries for mold, notice the half-quart of honey-flavored greek yogurt lurking behind them. Sure, it has a best-by date in January, but it still looks, smells, and tastes fine, so, it’s totally fine!

4. Also find a lemon.

5. Realize you have basically all the ingredients for a modified version of the recipe, right now. Stop making your grocery list and brew up some simple syrup, let’s say half of what the recipe calls for since your yogurt is sweet already, and you’re probably not making the whole volume anyway. Or maybe you are, who can say? But this feels right. 1/3 cup each sugar and water, boil till the sugar dissolves.

6. While that’s cooking, wash, stem, screen for mold, and chop the hell out of those half-dried strawberries. Damn, they look pretty good actually.

7. Pour the syrup into a measuring cup and drop a couple ice cubes in to cool it down (in fact, stick the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of minutes for good measure). Forget about the honey because, again, your yogurt is fortuitously already honey-flavored. Scoop that yogurt into a bowl and lick the spoon to make sure this is really something you’re going to be happy to eat.

8. Stir together the yogurt, syrup, chopped strawberries, and juice from your lemon. Tiny sprinkle of salt, too, why not? Taste it again.

9. Pull out the four plastic cups you own, and split the mixture evenly between them. Cover the top with foil and poke a popsicle stick through the middle (the foil will hold it upright enough). Special, single-purpose equipment you never need: popsicle molds.

10. Pop it in the freezer and get back to that grocery list.

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(They seriously were delicious.)

crafting for a cause

My feelings about fundraising fall somewhere between getting a cavity filled and slowly cutting off all my toes, knuckle by knuckle. “But Leslie,” you might ask, “weren’t you as recently as a year ago trying to raise, like, half a million dollars to open some nonprofit?” And I would not have a great explanation for that. Fortunately, the lovely org where I now channel those efforts includes some ladies with far greater skills at the raising of the funds than I possess, and we also have goals that are (I hope) far more attainable. This allows me to concentrate my efforts where they can be best used: back-of-the-envelope planning, and weirdo crafts.

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We’re gearing up for a big summer push to raise the money we need for 6 months of expenses to run a retail store and event space, so obviously we needed one of those big fundraising thermometers. So happened that I snagged a bunch of foam core conference signs from a SXSW waste-diversion event we helped with, and so happens also that Bryan is not crazy about the space they’re hogging in our tool shed. A match made in heaven. Special refinement: instead of a boring old thermometer, how about a big arrow like the one in our logo?

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Yep, it’s happening.

Just another weekend in Texas

Preparations for our memorial day pig roast are coming along.

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house projects

I keep meaning to write a recap of the SNAP challenge, but now it’s getting in the way of other things. So remorselessly: here are some recent projects we’ve worked on to make our pretty house weird enough to suit us.

shed doors

We turned the doors of the Thanksgiving shed into chalkboards. (Turns out you can mix a bunch of grout powder into any old latex paint, stir till it looks like cake batter, and voila! Chalkboard paint!)

We mixed up that chalkboard paint using a quart of dark gray I had left over from upholstering a chair for Matt’s Brew & Brew, a project I was also pretty proud of:

chair

(All my upholstery projects are catalogued in a gallery album and in slightly more fun formats on a pinterest board. (Pinterest! my new favorite time-waster.))

Finally, we mounted a tree branch to our bedroom wall and ceiling to approximate a limb growing through the wall. The room has always felt a little like a treehouse with pretty branches outside all our bare windows, and we hatched this plan quite a while ago. We very seriously considered driving home from the Hall mini-ranch with a salvaged branch strapped to the Jetta roof before opting instead for a neighbor’s uprooted crepe myrtle.

branch