Saw this beautiful video today reminding us that we are stewards--not owners--of the earth.
Amen, brother!



Clothing Communicates

We "don't wear things in a vacuum."  There are many social and historical implications in what we wear.  See this thought-provoking article on cultural appropriation.

We can communicate so many things with our clothing and grooming:

Something as simple as how much time and effort, time and money someone spends on their appearance tells others quite a lot about them.

Alternate Opinion: Communicate Respect

The Kindest Husband in the World and I actually disagree on the topic of clothing, on many fronts.  He is not someone who puts much meaning in clothing and appearance, except to say that you dress to show respect.
You don’t go to a job interview in sweatpants and you don’t go to church in a sweater (it should be a button down shirt, preferably with a tie).  You don’t visit your in-laws in ripped jeans and you don’t wear your filthy project pants to a store, even Home Depot.

To me, this is a lot of don’t instead of do’s, and it sounds a lot like conformity, which I’m not a fan of.  Still, basic respect for others is never a bad starting point.

Clothes Change Us

The scientific fact is that what we wear does not just affect what we communicate to others, but it changes how we see ourselves and even how we function.

You Shouldn't Be Surprised

I can remember living in Miami after the Overtown riots and finding myself on the “wrong” street from time to time.  I learned that while it could never be my FAULT if I were attacked*, I shouldn’t be surprised if I were in a place I knew I shouldn’t be.

It’s this shouldn’t be surprised element of clothing that I want to mention:

I can also remember in college getting asked out by a string of guys who expected a particular end on a first date and I was complaining to my friend.  He looked at me like I was a complete idiot and asked me what I thought I was communicating with the 1960s miniskirts.  It really wasn't my fault.  I'd just discovered the coolest vintage shop!

*Harassment. First of all, people are responsible for their own actions.  There’s no way around that.  And it is a fact that most women in most public places are harassed regardless of what they’re wearing.  There is NEVER a situation where clothing gives one person the right to another person's body!  
One of the assertions of harassers is often that the victims are asking for sexual attention with the clothing they choose.  In some cases this may be true.  But an outfit that communicates you are available/open to a relationship is NOT the same thing as communicating that you want to be harassed, raped, groped, followed home, or even gaped at by strangers in a public place.

Dress Codes & Free Speech

Our clothing and grooming choices do communicate something.

If this is true, is it interfering with our right to free speech to impose a uniform or a dress code at a school?  Kindest Husband in the World says no.  He says the right to free speech was supposed to protect the people from government-imposed silence on political topics.  I guess he's right: the legal description is "to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction."

Image courtesy of
mellowbox via Flickr.
1.  Do dress codes amount to government restriction of an individual’s freedom to express beliefs and ideas?  
We don't really have to decide whether dress is part of speech to answer this question.
While free public school is provided* in all 50 states, you are not required to attend.   Education is compulsory up to a certain age (varies by state), but may also be provided at private institutions or even at home.  The government cannot be restricting your rights if you don’t have to be there.

*The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms a right to education, but it is not part of the U.S. constitution.  That task is left to each state individually.
“States not only control access to education but also have the responsibility to provide every child with a free, appropriate education.” See an excellent discussion of this HERE.

2.  Do I have to follow the rules to stay at school?  
Every educational, civic, privately owned place has rules. Most schools and many employers legally have a Non Fraternization rule, even off-campus.   If you want to be welcome there, you have to follow their rules.

Students can be disciplined or expelled for rule violation, but they have a right to “due process” or fair procedures.  Rules may not infringe on first amendment rights.
The ACLU can help students understand their rights.

Your school’s rules and policies are required to be reasonable and have a logical relationship to the school’s legitimate interests.

Image courtesy of gruntzooki via Flickr.
3.  Are dress codes reasonable and related to the school's interests (i.e. education and safety)?
They are intended to reduce visual distractions during lessons.  This is true whether we’re talking about a 30” rainbow spherical wig, menacing messages on T-shirts, 10” miniskirts, or facial tattoos.

   3a. Are modesty dress codes an extension of a Non Fraternization policy?
Probably, though no one appears to be saying it out loud.

   3b. Do modesty dress codes at school actually discourage off-campus sex?  
Don’t ask me.  We had uniforms.  Everyone still knew who was sexually active and who was not. We all knew who was rich and who was not.   Goths wore spiky black hair with their plaid and old money their pearls.  We found ways to express ourselves within the parameters we had.  I still have a four inch marionette earring sculpture of Rhett Butler that I wore with my uniform to express my love of film and art.  I wonder if that distracted anyone?

Illustrated dress code in Thailand.
Image courtesy of MattC. via Flickr.
Does my experience mean uniforms and dress codes are useless?  Not really.  Because when we were in class, we did focus on the lesson.  And that’s the whole point.  Maybe FEWER distractions* is a good thing.
*Though I've taken issue with that argument before, especially when it means the elimination of windows in classrooms.  Daylight--in spite of the supposed distraction--improves performance significantly.

4.   The manner used to disseminate policies and enforce them can be much more important than what the policies actually are.  Dress codes should be clear and include illustrations if they really want people to follow them.  For example, if we're going to measure how high above the knee a skirt is, we'd better know where on the knee that measurement is starting.
Regarding enforcement, the caption to the Thai image says that additional clothing was available for rent if you did not have it.  Just like a jacket and tie at a nice restaurant.  NOT like the "shame suit" that one young lady was directed to wear when her skirt didn't measure up (The school said they had problems with the borrowed clothes disappearing.  A deposit or rental fee might solve this easily.)

Gender-equal dress code at a shop near the beach.
Image courtesy of smjr via Flickr.
   4a.  Dress codes should exhibit equality.  They should never imply that boys cannot control their sexual urges and it is up to girls to cover up their bodies so that the boys will not be tempted.  This furthers a culture of harassment and rape.
Dress codes should treat the genders equally.  If girls are not allowed to remove their shirts, then neither should boys.   Never imply that modesty is more important for women.
Rules should be equal, even if body type is not.  You cannot allow a thin girl to wear a low cut blouse if you do not allow it on a buxom girl.  While defining "too sexy for school" might tend to vary with body type, rules that are easy to follow cannot be applied or enforced on such subjective terms. Besides, young peoples' bodies are constantly changing.  That's a lot to keep up with.

   4b.  Policy enforcement should never shame a student.  It's a policy.  You are a teacher.  Figure out how to request compliance without shame.

5.  What if I disagree with my school's dress code?  Come up with a better one and submit it to the school board.  If you want to be taken seriously, consider dressing professionally for the meeting!

A Final Note on Modesty

The reason for this post is that I’ve been seeing some sometimes ridiculous and sometimes thought-provoking discussions on modesty lately as it relates to dress codes at schools and even at a variety of church-sponsored events.

Image courtesy of North Charleston via Flickr.
Modesty in dress is a very interesting topic.  It has moral overtones, sexual undertones, and is in every way relative to context (are you at the beach or at the symphony?).  Its requirements change with age, marital status, and body type.

But true modesty isn’t really about clothing at all.  It’s a state of mind.  Clothing is only one extension of that.  Dictionary.com says modesty is:

  1. freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.
  2. regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
  3. simplicity; moderation.

Do we dress to flaunt our wealth, our taste, our body in a na-na-na-na-boo-boo sort of way?  I hope not. Nobody likes or respects a show off for long.

Communicate Well

When deciding how you will clothe yourself, do you consider what you are communicating?


3/4/2015 update: check out THIS amazing visual commentary on skirt lengths and what they mean.

YOUR HERITAGE (& buildings)

Pioneer Day, July 24

We just had Pioneer Day here in Utah.  It's meant to celebrate the arrival of folks who had crossed the plains and the mountains before a railroad was available to carry them.  Many of the people who live here are descended from these brave souls and get out their family histories for a day of remembrance.

Family History & Geneaology

I don't have any pioneers of that sort in my own lineage, but I sure have some interesting characters!  I wish I could finagle a way to get on that show Who Do You Think You Are because I have enough information to know that there is a lot more very interesting stuff to find out.

I started two sites about my paternal & maternal family history, mostly to share historic pictures with my extended family (and hoping they might share with me).... but also a place to post cool stuff if I found it.

Right now I'm trying to take my Drinkwater line back one more generation.  Currently I have: 

John Thurston Drinkwater, born 1821 in Virginia, moved to Missouri with his parents when he was still young.  

I haven't been able to find information on his parents by any obvious avenues yet.  But then I began to find some information on what I believe to be a brother or cousin, Samuel.  One of the ways I learned about Samuel was from a history of Cooper County, Missouri that talked about the construction of a church building there in 1860.  

Building History

It hadn't really occurred to me before to research building histories when researching my family.  When I think of visiting family history sites, it's usually the grave sites where a family mourned, not a place where a family lived, worked or worshipped.  This is SO much better!

And I happen to know something about researching buildings, too, so that's extra nice.

There are so many digital resources available online these days that are utterly amazing.  However, just because you can't find it online doesn't mean it's not at your state or county archive.

Types of Resources

1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of part of my neighborhood.
"D" stands for dwelling.  
Pink represents brick construction and yellow represents wood.
The number of storeys is indicated with a number.
Distances between buildings are shown.

  • Sanborn fire insurance maps originally created for insurance assessment purposes: google "sanborn maps" with your location to see if there are any libraries that carry them.
  • HABS/HAER survey documents at the Library of Congress.  Many listings including measured drawings, photographs and histories are available online. Others that have not yet been digitized may be requested for a nominal fee via email.
  • National Register of Historic Places (neighborhoods or individual buildings).  This designation is typically reserved for special buildings or places where there is a special history for a given location. Residences are not usually included unless the owner was famous or the architecture was important.
  • County records of permits at a given property will tell you what work was done on what dates and who did it.
Happy Heritage!


the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
Image courtesy of anaulin via Flickr


Two decades ago I spent a lot of time researching the architectural typology of the temple.  I really wasn't too enamored with the subject at first, because I thought it had already be exhausted.  But as time wore on, I discovered a great depth of love for the topic.

Sacred Places

One question that I have continued to ponder ever since is
"What makes a place sacred?"

This turns out to be a really extensive topic with many perspectives that I won't get into today...
But I will report that the results of my research revealed that the "highest and best use" of a sacred place is personal prayer & revelation.

The Short Answer

Sunrise Over Mount Sinai
Image courtesy of Thom Chandler via Flickr
What if you can't get to a temple for your personal prayer?   According to years of research, the top two* places are these for communicating with the Divine:

*You may be surprised, like I was, that church isn't at the top of this very short list.  A church building is primarily for the gathering of worshippers for fellowshipping and mutual encouragement as well as for group communion/sacrament/ordinance.  This use is quite distinct from a sacred place for personal prayer.  Having said that, some large churches do have small niches that are intended specifically for private prayer.

Prayer in our Home

In our home, prayer isn't terribly solemn.  It looks something like a group small of monkeys trying to be still & quiet and not poke the dog while mommy & daddy painstakingly ignore them.

Our family prayer never looks like THIS.
1903 portrait of the Manwaring family
Image courtesy, L.Tom Perry Special Collections,
Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, Utah

We try to teach about prayer, about the importance of

  • avoiding distraction (kneeling, folding arms or hands & closing eyes),
  • being reverent (focusing minds in gratitude to our Heavenly Father), and 
  • speaking our desires (help with struggles, blessings for others, guidance)
We usually do this on the living room floor (once it's been cleared of toys) or on the bed in the master bedroom (once it's been cleared of laptops & doggies).  And family prayer is a struggle pretty much every time.  So like I do with just about every problem, I started thinking about an architectural solution!

Domestic Chapels

Of course, having a sacred space in a residence is nothing new.  Royalty and even aristocracy often had private chapels.  Some, which were basically closets, adjoining a bedchamber.  Others were in the gallery (not visible to those below) of a larger church associated with the palace (see a panoramic view of the one at Frederiksborg Castle HERE, illustrated with paintings of the life of Christ).

But to be honest, these options are a bit out of my price range.

Prayer in a Home that is not ours

Image courtesy of Paul Mannix via Flickr
I was visiting Vermilionville in Lafayette, Louisiana last week.  It's a wonderful cultural heritage park with transposed historic buildings and authentic Cajun music (we even heard Jolie Blon), crafts and food surrounded by cypresses and their little knees, drowsy swamp and a more deliberate bayou.  There were beware-of-alligator signs at the entrance, and the trees were drowning in Spanish moss.

One of the two-room, raised-above-the-ground-cabins we saw had the most lovely corner dedicated to private prayer.  There was a kneeler, about twenty small candles and a folk painting of Madonna and Child above.  I can
Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flickr
remember seeing these kinds of places growing up and thinking (from my very Protestant perspective) that they were too shrine-like, almost pagan.  

I saw it very differently this time.

First of all, I was thoroughly impressed that a home shy of 400 square feet had a dedicated place for private prayer, when most homes today do not (regardless of size).

John Wesley's personal prayer chapel
Image courtesy of bobgjohnson via Flickr
Secondly, that this quiet little corner achieved (architecturally) exactly what I was trying to teach my children!  
  • There are not too many other things you could be distracted by when kneeling in a corner.  
  • It's hard not to contemplate the nature of God when there is an artist's attempt at representation in front of you.  
  • A candle is lit to mark supplications, helping to focus on each one individually.  

Where do you pray?


Elizabeth Gaskell 1851
portrait by George Richmond
Elizabeth Gaskell was a writer and friend of Charles Dickens.  She wrote for his journal, Household Words.

In 1855's North & South (one of those novels you can read again and again), Gaskell has set her story in both the North and South of England... and the setting steals the show.

The South is a place of countrysides, gentry, gardens and church-based morality.  The North is a place of urban proximities, industry, hard conditions and business ethics.

Throughout the story, a young woman from the South is first accosted by and then eventually enticed by the ways of the North.  It is a story of modernity.

"North and South" Illustration by
George Du Maurier, engraved by
Joseph Swain.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

...and to eat it, too.

As modern people, we want both!

Prosperity and leisure.  
Urbus and countryside.  
Practicality and inspiration.  
Manmade cities and Godmade nature.  
Sophistication and an unaffected manner.  
Education and following the gut.  
Books/culture and money/smoke.   
Mercy and justice.  
Tradition and progress.  
Luck and hard work.   
Heart and “having a bit of spirit.”

Even as a kid, I used to dream one day of a having a place in the country and a place in the city.  I wish that for my kids now, to be able to experience both and appreciate the energies of both.  Urgency and peace.

Watch It

I highly recommend the read, but there's also an excellent 2004 BBC adaptation for film with Richard Armitage (a.k.a Thorin Oakensheild) & Brendan Coyle (a.k.a. Mr. Bates).  You can stream it on Netflix or Amazon.


TINY: a documentary

THIS movie (2013) explores an attempt to DIY a tiny house....
You can stream the hour-long movie on Netflix.

Check out the trailer below:

Tiny Stats: 

Hartsel, Colorado. Image courtesy of bgautrea via Flickr
  • located in Hartsel, Colorado
  • temporary structure on a trailer with wheels (to get around minimum square footage requirements)
  • 124 square feet
  • 19' x 7'
  • completed in one year
  • cost about $26,000
  • SolMan solar generator
  • composting bucket toilet
  • sailboat fireplace

How Tiny is a Tiny House?

Image courtesy of AtomicLlama via Flickr
At 4:15, Darren Macca (a tiny house owner) tentatively asserts for the sake of definition that a "tiny" house is be less than 200 square feet.  I'm going to disagree with that assertion a little bit, because I believe it matters how many people you're housing.  His home houses two, so maybe that's a good number.
My family has five people.  At 200 square feet, our house had better be a padded cell, because that's a formula for insanity!  Shafer reports at 52:15 that his family-sized "mansion" is 500 square feet.

What is a Home?

Image courtesy of anna gutermuth via Flickr
  • a place of attachment
  • a place to selectively surround ourselves with our stuff
  • not a consolation prize
  • a sense of home, a sense of place, a sense of belonging
  • a place where you spend time; not empty of family
  • = freedom (?)
  • where the inside draws you in and the outside draws you out
  • helps a person define what they want from life -- their values
  • livable, regardless of size
  • a self-portrait
  • people
  • an experiment
  • a collection of details that tell who we are and where we belong
  • a point of orientation

Image courtesy of nicolas.boullosa via Flickr

    Other Stuff

    • 10:57 & 41:20 check out the beautiful little fireplace heaters
    • Watching this, it occurs to me that when I build my tiny house I should build a patio or deck first, so that I can have a level workspace.
    • Tumbleweed Tiny Houses: ready-made or build-it-yourself
    • the erroneous idea that "bettering oneself" is more square footage
    • some crave the open space of the country; but by building on it, we change it.
    • be comfortable with you you are, because you are may be all you're ever going to be.


    No, I'm not talking about Suri Cruise or any other celebrity child's education...

    The Education of Ludwig Wittgenstein

    Portrait of Wittgenstein,
    By Clara Sjögren [Public domain],
    via Wikimedia Commons
    Have you heard of the Wittgensteins?  I confess I had not, until I was strong-armed into breezing through several tomes of philosophy on the premise that it would give me a context for understanding architectural theory (the jury's still out on that one).  Nestled in with the Derrida, Kant & Hegel was Ludwig Wittgenstein.

    Years later, what I remember most about Ludwig was how he was raised:

    1. turn of the century Vienna, HELLO!
    2. dinner parties hosted by his mama (yay, woman power!) with awesome guests, which leads to...
    3. music and cross-discipline artistic/ philosophical collaboration in a social setting
    4. with an insane amount of money: they were the Carnegies of Vienna.
    "The family was at the center of Vienna's cultural life; Bruno Walter described the life at the Wittgensteins' palace as an "all-pervading atmosphere of humanity and culture".  (from Wikipedia)

    Some of the dinner guests Ludwig & his siblings were familiar with growing up include Brahms and Mahler.  The Wittgensteins in fact were patrons to many arts and musicians for generations: not in the modern sense of buying a painting from time to time, but in that they supported them while they created their art.

    For a renaissance or artistic movement to really flourish, you've GOT to have interaction among the arts.  There are many ways to do this, but I'm a big fan of the dinner party / salon.

    And Yet

    "Parent Child Yoga" Stephanie Riddell
    via www.familiesonline.co.uk
    And yet, with the various tutors and governesses-- the best that money could buy-- the children's education suffered and was recalled in later years with regret.  There had been no overall supervision of their learning, progress, and individual temperaments. 

    And that's the humdinger, ain't it?  Parental oversight is the great game-changer when it comes to education.  We may choose to delegate the actual classes to public school teachers or private tutors or tackle it ourselves regardless of our own individual expertise.  But we can never delegate the responsibility to anyone else.  It's one of a parent's most sacred obligations.



    When to say no

    Galaxy SOHO by Zaha Hadid
    Image courtesy of 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia
    via Flickr
    I just read this excellent article from Architectural Record: "The Architect's Dilemma: When to Say No"

    I don't pretend to agree with everything in this article (in fact, most of my concerns were articulated nicely in a comment posted by Lewis2522 on 6/4/2014 11:29 PM CDT) but the questions it raises are ones you don't hear often enough.
    And, they are COMPLEX questions, perhaps without satisfyingly clean answers.  But the questions are important to pose.

    Regardless of what field you are in (or will be in), it is important for all of us to review the ethics of our business choices, for our own souls as much as for the rest of the world.

    Offshore Construction

    Bullwinkle platform being towed out to sea
    past Port Aransas, Texas
    Image courtesy of Jay Phagan via Flickr
    For a time when I was growing up, my daddy supervised offshore construction in the Gulf of Mexico. From time to time, someone would die. It was devastating for our small community when it happened, and devastating to Dad who felt like it was his fault for not somehow preparing better.  It was very dangerous work, with unbelievably tall platforms and underwater welding and everyone knew it was dangerous work before they signed on.

    In a "free" country like ours, you might say it was advisable to get different work.  The whole time I was growing up in the South, the economy struggled along, and there were not a whole lot of career choices for the majority of blue collar folk.  Most breadwinners chose between fishing (you eat like a king but have little money) or working offshore and making good money as long as they were strong enough to do it.

    We're Better than Them?

    "Laborer with Fall Protection - San Francisco, California"
    Greg Younger, via Flickr
    In America, we rather pride ourselves on OSHA and our other safety standards that reduce death and injury rates in a variety of jobs* compared to some other countries. But we do not eliminate them.
    An architect friend of mine, when working in Venezuela several years ago, lamented the high number of workers who had died constructing her last building.  She was sad about it, but felt that it was entirely out of her control... that's just the way things work.
    *rates are different for each job: construction comes in third by industry in the U.S.

    Where Do you Draw the Line?

    "Construction workers eat their lunches atop a steel
    beam 800 feet above ground, at the building site
    of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center."
    Image courtesy of daily sunny via Flickr
    Should we refuse to ever do anything that might be the catalyst for injury to another?  If the answer is no, then never get in a car again. Don't buy a TV or a computer monitor.  Don't let children play on a playground.  Don't ever speak to another human being.  Hmm, perhaps that's going too far?

    Accidents happen, and they are terrible when they do.  Where is the line that you draw between

    1. taking no action, &
    2. taking part in activities that might possibly hurt someone else?
    I hope none of us ever have to decide what is an acceptable number of deaths associated with our business!



    "Chief Mardi Gras" by G.W. Drinkwater 
    I've been a little distracted lately, working on another blog. This one is an art portfolio, and happens to be of my daddy's artwork.

    He's always been rather skilled at sketching and drawing and even a bit of drafting, but when he got sick in 2000 he was encouraged to indulge in some art.

    Subject matter ranges from Louisiana wildlife to desert plants to native American themes to golf to helicopters, etc.

    Now if I could just get him to write an autobiography. He's got amazing stories!



    My sweet sister in law sent me this question recently:

    image courtesy of Horia Varlan via Flickr
    "I have a really stupid, basic question but I've never had to deal with it before because of living in student housing. How do you nail up pictures and bookshelves and things? Is there anything more than just nailing or screwing it in where I want it? Do I have to look for a stud? How? If I'm using screws, can I just use a screwdriver or should I buy a drill and drill a pilot hole? Look how lost I am. What is your advice? I'm going to have to fill these holes when I leave the apartment."

    There are a couple of options:

    Image courtesy of Charles & Hudson via Flickr.
    A stud sensor is a fancy tool that senses the metal
    fasteners which attach the wallboard to the stud.
    1. 3M sticky hooks. These can supposedly be removed without damaging the wall and can actually hold things up.  Haven't tried them myself. 
    2. Studly.  You can nail into a stud or screw into a stud (yes, drill a pilot hole just smaller than your screw shaft; you won't need a pilot hole for 99% of nails).  You have to find the stud first.  Try using a magnet to locate where there are already metal fasteners holding the wall board onto the studs. Typically studs are spaced 16" on center, so once you locate one, try 16" away for the next one.  Nails are fine for most pictures unless they are very heavy, or you can use picture hanging hooks, which make tiny nail holes and are very strong.   For bookshelves or TVs, use screws. Be sure to 
      Stanley Hotel @ Estes Park, Colorado.
      Image courtesy of daveynin via Flickr.
      Really heavy items like big mirrors really
      need to be hung from more than one stud.
      get WOOD screws (not sheetrock screws, which are just meant to be strong enough to hold on the sheetrock).  A wood 
      screw will have a pointed tip and the threads will be coarse (not too close together).  Get ones that are rated for the weight you want to support.
    3. No Stud. If you want to hang where there is no stud, do NOT just screw or nail into the sheetrock.  You've got to use an anchor.  There are several kinds: plastic & metal wing toggle-bolts are most common (don't use lead, that's for a masonry wall).  I hate the toggles, so I usually use plastic anchors.    You drill a pilot hole for the anchor, set the anchor, then use your screw to hang your picture into the secured hole proved by the anchor.  

    As you can see, not a stupid question. :)

    You'll find everything you need on the "fasteners" aisle at HD or Lowe's, and the picture hanging stuff is typically all together in one spot.  

    But What If I Don't Have Sheetrock?

    hook on a picture rail
    Image courtesy of karindalziel via Flickr.
    Oh.  I happen to know you live in a new place, which means studs & drywall (aka sheetrock or gypsum board). If you've got plaster or masonry, it's a bit different...

    For wood lathe & PLASTER, you can still use the stud approach, but not the no stud approach (the sheetrock anchors won't work).  

    If you absolutely must hang something where there is no stud, consider the old-fashioned approach of hanging a picture rail high up on the wall.  The rail is a piece of wood trim that is attached to the studs.  The pictures then hang from the rail with often pretty long wire.  If you can find actual "picture rail" trim--which my HD & Lowe's do not carry--it is a very specific shape that will take supercool picture rail hooks.

    On our lathe & plaster wall, I installed a basic chair rail (very easy to find), and then hang my wire from a nail in the top side.

    If you have MASONRY walls like brick or concrete block, there are no studs.  You have three options.

    1. if you have brick, use a simple brick hanger.  It grabs a standard size brick and provides a hook with no holes to drill.
    2. Use a lead anchor/shield the same way you would have used a plastic anchor with sheetrock.  Drill a hole to fit the anchor, tap the anchor in and use the secured hole to fit your screw.  Do not expect that anchoring into a mortar joint will provide the same strength as the masonry unit.
    3. Use the picture rail approach mentioned above, but instead of hanging the rail to the studs, use lead anchors into the masonry.  
    hang tight,

    p.s. If you are a LANDLORD, picture rails are awesome, because it allows residents to hang stuff where they want them without adding holes to your walls.  


    The Problem:

    As far as I can tell, nobody really "speaks building" anymore, except for builders who do it all day every day.

    cut floor joist
    Image courtesy of ArmChairBuilder via Flickr.
    Plumbers often only speak plumbing, and chop away at structural members in gleeful ignorance of what those members might hold up.  Rough carpenters speak framing and not moisture prevention. Masons don't speak roofing and roofers don't speak foundation.  It's a veritable Tower of Babel in the building industry.

    And then there's most of us, who have to hire out for a drippy pipe or a leaky roof, or have to get professional advice on whether we can take out an interior wall.

    The Reasons:

    Reason Number One.  Nobody builds their own homes/sheds/doghouses anymore; DIY is relegated to decorating (textures & color) and furnishings.

    wiring being sealed behind sheetrock
    Image courtesy of mealmakeovermoms via Flickr
    If you want to know how something works, just ask any 7 year old: take it apart and put it back together.  Folks in all of history--up until a couple of generations ago--knew how to build.   Of course a few people had a variety of specialty skills, but any guy on the street could speak building, because everyone built their own homes (often more than once) and grew up helping each other raise barns and beams and roofs.

    As time has worn on and our world been converted to a world of manufacture over making it with our own hands (curiously, that's what the word "manufacture" used to mean), we've collectively lost the knowledge.

    Reason Number Two.  Spy-worth hidden secrets.  

    The enemy culprit: SHEETROCK & FIREPROOFING.

    Want to hang a picture?  Simple, right?  Wrong.  First you need to find out what kind of wall you have. Someone asked me this question last year and I was shocked how long my answer needed to be.

    "Electric" Alan Hochberg via Flickr
    Sheetrock a.k.a. wallboard a.k.a. gypboard is an expert at hiding the secrets of how a building is held up.  What is the wall made of?  Where is that stud?  Which direction do the ceiling or floor joists run?

    Nobody can tell these things instinctively: they must be investigated on the other side of the sheetrock.

    The secondary enemy: SYSTEMS.

    Structure is not the only thing hiding behind sheetrock.  Building systems like plumbing and electrical wires are also hidden in the cavities of the same walls and ceilings.  And you don't want to accidentally drill through those.  Even a tiny hole can be catastrophic.

    Reason Number Three.  Buildings have gotten a lot more complicated.

    supercool shed
    Image courtesy of Benjamin Chun via Flickr
    From building code to zoning, regulations ensure that amateur DIY-ers are out of their depth when building an inhabitable building.

    Homes today are huge relative to the one- or two-room starter homes our grandparents built.  It's not a one-day project for your and your friends to raise a roof structure these days.

    Each building system is so complicated (even without a smart house) and requires specialty licensure that few people are doing that themselves.

    And finishes, rather than being hand-applied over time are assembled assembly-line style. Furnishings, rather than being acquired or built over time, are purchased all at once on credit and delivered in a shiny truck.

    chicken coop
    Image courtesy of Allan Hack via Flickr
    The Solutions:

    90% of Americans' time is spent indoors.  NINETY.

    First of all, go outside, because shame on us.
    Breathe some real air.  Go to the mountains or the beach or the park or even the sidewalk and do your best to drive that number down.

    Secondly, assemble stuff.
    Build a treehouse, a doghouse, a shed, a playhouse, a henhouse, a deck, a dollhouse, your own house!

    Thirdly, consider how a house might be DIY'd (that's not the first time I made up a word in this post).

    One of the zessn schoolhouse students (who are perfectly awesome) turned me onto The Good House Book .  I had read another book by Natural Home magazine that I really enjoyed, and this one is even better for learning to speak building. I borrowed one from our library, but I think I should probably own this one!

    Lastly, don't be afraid to take stuff apart and put it back together.

    Happy Memorial Day: be sure to remember the sacrifice of those who have protected our great country in service!



    I always look forward to the annual investment guide that Forbes puts out.  It's got timely and timeless advice and sometimes I remember the recommendations long enough to follow them.

    In 2014, they listed 365 ways to "get rich" (at least, that's what they called it on the cover).  A bit sensational, but I'm going to list a few favorites.

    Favorite Ways to "Get Rich"

    #25  After setting an asset allocation, rebalance yearly; it forces you to take profits when stocks have surged and to buy more shares when they're cheap.

    #46 Use different passwords for each of your online financial accounts; add optional security questions whose answers can't be found in your Facebook or LinkedIn profiles.

    Image courtesy of www.planetofsuccess.com Flickr
    #47 Write down your passwords and hide them; tell one person where they are.

    #60 Use salary increases to boost contributions to your 401(k).

    #64 Don't abdicate investment decisions to your spouse.

    #72 Aim to have five times your salary in your 401(k) and IRAs by age 55 and eight times before you retire.

    #73 Dan Ariely: "If you can't save enough money, be really nice to your kids."

    #80 Work for a charity for ten years and get your federal student debt forgiven.

    #85 Before funding college accounts make sure you're saving enough in your retirement accounts.

    #104 Back up your financial records using a secure cloud service.

    #122 Qualify as a "real estate professional" to save big on taxes.

    #124 Burton Malkiel, "Start saving now, not later: Time is money."

    #140 Julian Robertson: Suggest your kid take an accounting course--"It was the course that helped me more than anything."

    #192 Don't let family wealth become a curse on your children.

    #202 Don't count on an inheritance.  If you get one, don't blow it.

    #219 Buy no more house than you can afford.

    #249 Ramit Sethi: Set up systems to automate desired behaviors.  Leave your gym clothes at the food of your bed.  Have contributions to savings automatically deducted.

    #269 Sign a living will, health care proxy and power of attorney, even if you're still healthy.

    #278 Have your kid read The Little Book That Beats the Market by Joel Greenblatt.

    #280 Start saving for retirement in your 20s to put the compounding winds at your back.

    #311 Tap an IRA--not a 401(k)--without penalty for a first-time home purchase.

    #365 Plan.


    I can remember growing up and accidentally landing on Doctor Who while "channel checking" late at night.  At our house, this consisted of lying on the floor and reaching a foot up to turn the dial with two toes.  It didn't take very long to go through the channels, so it wasn't overtaxing: ABC, CBS, NBC, WGN, TBS, PBS and a local weather image.

    Yeah, that show.
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    And if you stayed up "too" late, there wasn't much on.  Charlie's Angels reruns were over at midnight and quite frankly, what ON EARTH was going on with the strange stuff on PBS?  It had creepy music, and worse sets & props than the community theater or a soap opera.  No, I didn't get it.... not even a little bit.
    This was also the era of fairly awful production qualities at Masterpiece Theater.  I can respectfully assert that I'm a convert there as well (ahem, Poirot, Pride & Prejudice, Foyle's War, and even Downton Abbey of late).

    I didn't realize that like a lot of sci fi, the price of admission was getting past the unconvincing sets to a place where you could be challenged by the story lines and characters.

    Enormous straw sculpture of a Dalek (Snugbury's Cheshire)
    one of the Doctor's worst enemies
    Image courtesy of Paolo Camera via Flickr
    A Doctor Who Primer

    It was only been the last few years that I'd heard enough buzz about the Doctor enough that I thought we'd give him a try.  We started with the eleventh Doctor and then went back and watched the ninth and tenth doctor before him.  I've dabbled in some highly acclaimed episodes from the early years: likely some of the very same episodes I'd snubbed as a kid.

    If you're not a Whovian, you might be helped in conversations about the Doctor by knowing a few facts:

    1. The Doctor is referred to simply as "the Doctor" and not "Doctor Who."
    2. Versions of the Doctor
      Image © BBC via Wikimedia Commons
      (fair use)
      The Doctor is "regenerated" into different incarnations; each one has a different personality played by a different actor.
    3. The Doctor is very old (it varies with which episode you are watching, but lately in excess of 1000 years), and in theory may be regenerated into a child's form, a woman's form, or a non-human form, but so far as we know has always been a white adult male human from the UK.
    4. The Doctor is a time lord, meaning he can travel through space & time in his only slightly glitchy time machine, the TARDIS, which looks like a blue police phone box.  TARDIS is a machine but also has a soul, and she calls herself "Sexy."  Sometimes she's just called "the box," poor girl.
    5. The Doctor usually has companions that travel with him, who get to be really impressed by his brilliance and power and who must be contractually required to comment that the police box is bigger on the inside.
    6. A good portion of the travel includes trips to London, which is being invaded again by aliens.

    Why has Doctor Who become so popular?

    TARDIS image
    courtesy of © zir.com via Wikimedia Commons
    Some people say Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant or Matt Smith (the actors who played the Doctor in recent memory), the use of reasonably attractive men in their prime rather than older gentlemen.  Some say improvement in production qualities, some say writing (Moffat?!)


    It's the TARDIS.  Everyone wants one.

    Why should I want a TARDIS?

    • because it's an über tiny building
    • because it’s bigger on the inside (get a tour at the link)
    • because it has a soul and a memory
    • because you can take it with you wherever you go
    • because it takes you on adventures (not necessarily where you want to go, but where you need to go)

    Places of the Soul by
    Christopher Day
    a zessn pinterest board


    It's somewhat ambiguous, but the definition of affordability has to be related to income, right? Income as well as other debt & ob...