Wednesday, July 21, 2010

mark frauenfelder interview: diy, mistakes, unschooling

I have to admit that I wasn't particularly interested in reading Mark Frauenfelder's new book when I first heard about it. Made by Hand? Why would we need a book to convince us of something we already love? But now that I know he links diy with the willingness to make mistakes *and* unschooling, I'm more curious.

This short interview encapsulates so much of our family life and what I hope to impart to our children: doing things ourselves when possible, being tolerant of failures and setbacks, and valuing the experience as much as the result.

Life can be made, or life can be purchased. It doesn't really matter if we're talking about guitars, a chicken coop, or how a child learns to read. Kudos to Mark Frauenfelder for getting it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

0 to 17 in 60 seconds

How does it happen so quickly? One second you have a tiny baby in your arms, then suddenly he is wanting to borrow the car. And we are a slow-to-mature species—I can't imagine the agonies of a rabbit mom.

My older son turned 17 over the weekend. We barely saw him on his birthday—he had spent the night at a friend's, we had a wedding to go to, he was performing in a show at night. We texted back and forth, though, and I thought of him all day long. When everyone went to bed, I made him a little video about what it feels like to see him growing so quickly. I wanted to include a photo of him at age 17, so had to wait until he came back from his show this evening to take one. Now the video is truly a portrait of him going from 0 (plus one day) to 17 (plus one day).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

outdoor movies

Of all the movies we've watched outside these last three years, the musical Hairspray (above) has probably been my favorite. It has all the elements of a great outdoor movie experience: vivid 60s color, infectious songs, and a sly, sweet sense of humor.

We are lucky in that despite very hot summers, our local Delta Breezes generally keep the evenings cool. So when we got a projector to show movies in the house, we naturally started thinking about how to project outdoors, as well. The biggest obstacle was in creating an inexpensive, reusable screen. We pondered this problem for years until coming across two sources of inspiration.
The first was a pair of ancient concrete patio stands from my dad's backyard. I looked at them and realized that they would be perfect support for a frame made of pvc pipe. We had various odd lengths of 1" pvc in the barn so using our available materials and aiming for an aspect ratio of 16:9, the frame was designed to be 14 feet long and 7.5 feet high. Here is what the frame looks like fully assembled:
It's a little wonky, I know. The securing bolts in the stands were rusted solid, and the pipe rattles around loosely. The two stands are also of slightly differing heights, so a river rock must be dropped inside one of them to bring the screen level. A small slab of concrete is under the center footing, as well. High tech this is not.
The second serendipitous discovery was of specialized pvc fittings called snap clamps. I chanced upon these online while looking at greenhouse plans--apparently they are meant to secure shade cloth and vinyl to outdoor growing structures. After having struggled with a couple different ways of attaching the screen to the frame, snap clamps turned out to be simple and foolproof.
The screen is simply blackout shade fabric sewn together to fit around the edges of the frame. One of my early experiments involved lacing through grommets. Though the idea didn't work out by itself, it does help firm up the fabric in conjunction with the snap clamps.
Additional security is provided by, um, bungee cords.
We learned through trial and error to prop it against the house. Those same cooling Delta Breezes tended to blow this lightweight screen back and forth like a sail no matter how much additional bracing we used.
It's homemade, to be sure. But when the projector is turned on it, none of the seams or sags are visible--just a brightly illuminated moving picture. I would love to hear your suggestions for outdoor movies in comments--what would you want to watch on a summer night?

(P.S. One of these days I plan to add our screen to this very cool site

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