Thursday, March 31, 2016

Unintentional Art

My cousin Reuben does this thing he calls "unintentional art." I really hope he compiles all his photographs into a book someday because they are often stunning. On his website, he explains:

"Since 2013, Bechtold has curated a weekly art series that features art made by no one, or by nature, or otherwise by divine accident. This series challenges the viewer to consider why life compells us to make art, and why art can make us see life, and the objects in our lives, differently."

I know that #unintentionalart has certainly challenged me to see life differently, as I walk to work to look around me, to seek out beauty in "ugly" places - in heaps of trash, paint spilled on the sidewalk, a pile of old tires. It's easy to see beauty in the accidents of nature, much harder to find it in the accidental byproducts of human activity.

But it is there: an oddly lyrical line of a rusty wire, a pleasing composition of nuts and bolts. Moss growing on a cracked skylight. Candle drippings in the park.

I think sometimes Reuben is secretly laughing at the irony of these beautiful byproducts that rival the most high-brow and earnest efforts of serious artists - not to discount the hard work of artists we know and love. But it's kind of funny, isn't it? While all our focus is so earnestly bent on producing one intentional thing, the accidental byproducts we cast aside can fall in such a way as to make something accidentally beautiful. Call it serendipity, call it the eye of the beholder, but I like to call it the secret laughter - and grace - of God. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mixed Bag

Someone told me today that she uses PowerPoint to create photo invitations; just add a picture, add a text box, and then take a screen shot of the image. Voila! It is super and easy and I had so much fun making a couple of invitations that I wanted to make more. But in the absence of any more events to invite people to, I just played a bit with some images and words. 

Our internet slowed way down just now because everyone is watching Colombia play Ecuador (some kind of big deal soccer/fĂștbol match, don't ask me).

But I think these photos loaded ok. Aren't they fun? I'm feeling like I need more outlets for creativity in my life. I'm stuck though. So it comes out in some playful and slightly random ways, which is fine.


I've also read some interesting stuff in the past couple of days, and after reading a friend's personal "roundup" of good reads, thought I would like a couple here. There's no theme in particular.

Here's a book I'd really like to read, I think, if I read books anymore... on the anthropology of bureaucracy. Well, I do read, but mostly fantasy novels. This is a little heavier. I have a shelf full of books like this one though that I haven't even cracked open.

And here is a really inspiring post about listening to your critics. Honestly I am floored by the way this woman responded out of her hurt feelings, taking a step back and then taking time to listen to the people who were being mean to her, trying to hear where they were coming from, which was usually a place of pain themselves. It takes a lot of courage and strength to do what she did - instead of getting defensive. I find it so difficult to listen to negative feedback. It's something I would really like to get better at.


What else? Well, we celebrated Easter! The kids and I decorated eggs by coloring them with crayons while the boiled eggs were still really hot. It didn't really turn out like the pictures (Pinterest fail, anyone?) but it was fun. They were SOOOO excited about hiding them for Terry and I to find on Easter morning :-) Role reversal!

I was surprised, though, how little attention Easter got at the church we are attending. I'm wondering if that's a reaction to all the pageantry associated with the Catholic celebrations. I really loved the Easter celebrations at the Episcopal church I attended during college, it was an amazing way to connect emotionally to the joy of the Resurrection.

So we didn't go to a sunrise service (we get up at sunrise every day though, thanks to Gabriel our early bird), or buy the kids new clothes to wear to church, or take a beautiful family picture. Honestly I felt a little like a failure, except that on our way out the door Terry said "look! The kids are clean and combed and dressed and we're leaving on time!" I guess success is in how you measure it.

But this is my all-time favorite Easter photo of Valerie (2009), and it will never be surpassed:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

More Socks

I've been on a super sock tear, here are a glimpse of my last 2 pairs. I've knit 8 pairs since September, a little more than a pair a month. This isn't really that impressive except that my average early this decade was a pair a year. I knit the multicolored-with-yellow pair (at left above) in a week!

Unfortunately I'm now a little bit stuck in swatch-land, trying to decide what to make next.

Which kind of describes my state of mind in general at the moment. Trying a little of this and that, meditating on the possibilities, but nothing has quite come together yet. Except for socks. Lots of socks!

Friday, March 25, 2016


Kind of weird to have your wedding anniversary on Good Friday; we didn't go out or do anything particularly out of the ordinary but it was a beautiful day anyway. We hung around the house doing ordinary things - laundry, shopping, cooking, playing with the kids - and it was kind of idyllic in its own way.

(I also have very few pictures of the two of us so this lily - a lotus blossom? - will have to do.)

I remember one of our first conversations - perhaps the very first? I asked Terry what his favorite book was, one of those standard get-to-know-you questions, and when he said "The Lord of the Rings" I about fell off my chair. I was sitting in the kitchen of the MCC house in YapacanĂ­, Bolivia, while he made food (aha! Foreshadowing!). I think at that moment at some level I knew we were going to end up together (though I wasn't necessarily convinced that would be a good thing!) It
was about a year before we really fell in love; a year of many wonderful conversations, arguments, and rescues.

One thing I've always loved about Terry is his enthusiasm. Sure, he's cynical and skeptical and all that, but when he's for something, he's whole hog. I dated a guy once who would only (and even then only grudgingly) walk me half-way home. But when I told Terry I wanted a teddy bear for Christmas, he bought me four
bear #1 of 4

cuz I had to put the kids in somewhere...

So here we are, almost 20 years from the day we met (September 17, 1996), and 16 years from the day we got married. Pretty soon I will have known him half my life (I was only 23 when I went to pick up the new guy at the airport in Santa Cruz!). We've been parents for almost 8 years. So many adventures! New Zealand, South Africa, Central America, Albania, and now Colombia.

Thank you to this smart, generous, funny man for walking this road together with me. I love you.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016


My birthday was on Saturday, but I delayed posting about it because I wanted to show off my new glasses! After 13 years with the same frames I went for something drastically different. Obviously I have yet to master the art of the selfie, but this will have to do. I got my hair cut too, finally after forever, though you can see the shape a little better here:

I'm a wash-and-go girl, so there you have it. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016


This is kind of a follow-up to my post on Legos. When we were in Albania in January, kind of on a whim I started saving the toilet paper rolls and cereal boxes we were amassing. First we made two little people and their house, and then we made a dog and a cat and their house. 

The cat's head was super hard to make! I threw out the first attempt. The second attempt came out a little better.

The kids were so charmed and had so much fun playing with them, they would have loved to take the cardboard animals to bed and to the playground and the mall with them, but they were kind of fragile.

I was actually surprised at how much the kids enjoyed playing with these after we made them! I always end up wondering why we spend money on toys at all!

Monday, March 07, 2016


I just got back from a week in Guatemala, my 5th visit in 15 years. One thing we did there was visit the community of Chuarrancho; the link there is to a web site in Spanish, but the photographs are beautiful even if you don't speak the language and a number of people we met there are featured.

It's an amazing story of a group of indigenous people nearly having their ancestral lands stolen out from under them, and getting back their titles. We sat before a double row of elders, the women in their traditional dress, all holding traditional staffs of office that had been revived during this process. Each introduced him or herself by name, then by office: "Ancestral authority."

I admit that I cried freely hearing these words. These people are so humble and have suffered so much, for centuries, including a nationwide attempt at their genocide. To see them proudly taking up the mantle of their ancestral authority, and having it recognized by the state, is an incredible testimony to their courage, tenacity, and deep attachment to the land.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016


Photo credit: Anna Vogt

I'm in Guatemala! I left my laptop at home so this will be short. I'm tapping it out with my thumbs but I'm weeks from turning 43 so this is not my fallback mode. 

More stories soon. If you are curious, google Chuarrancho.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Infinity Scarf

Warning: This post is pretty much 100% technical knitting discussion. Non-knitters beware!

So this isn't a super great picture, using photo booth instead of my camera, but faster for uploading. This is my first infinity scarf! I finally got what I wanted on my FOURTH try. It's a gift for someone, by the way, with yarn I bought in Denver at the AAA meetings. 100% wool, singly ply, a little itchy but it blocked so very well. Two skeins, slightly different (same colors, variation in width of stripes).

I had a mental picture of what I wanted, but on the first try, I decided it was too wide - so given that I was working with a limited amount of yarn it was going to be too short. I think I'd knit about 8 inches but I ripped it out and started over. Second try much narrower - cast on 28 stitches instead of 45 - and it was too narrow: the sides curled in too much. I wondered, though, if the issue was the pattern rather than the width - too many knit stitches will make it curl under, unless you balance out with some purls. So I made it a ribbed stitch pattern between the yarn over/k2tog pattern - but I didn't like how it looked. AT ALL. Stockinette gave me a much smoother surface, and even the way it curled into itself made it look a little like leaves.

So I switched it up a bit: I inserted a single column of purled stitches into each "leaf," or pattern repeat - it was just enough to ease the curling while maintaining the overall look that I wanted. And I went with a cast on of 35, halfway between attempts 1 and 2.

But the key? Was the blocking! I had a hunch it would block well, and it did - fabulously well in fact. The yarn just *relaxed* into a smooth, flat shape that is almost exactly what I wanted. It's long enough that it could handle 3 wraps around the neck for extra cold days. I adore this colorway and I think the intended recipient will really like it!

Four tries was worth it to get what I wanted.

There are no end of life lessons in knitting. I highly recommend it!

In other news, I just signed up for a yarn-bombing event here in March and April! It will be a great way to kick of my birthday :-)