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Waiting to surprise – Photo by Two Sticks Studios

Today, Little Guy fell down in the living room.  It was a minor fall.  Nothing worth crying about – in fact, not a tear was shed.  But he looked over to me to see what my reaction would be – which was nothing.  Everything seemed to be ok, so he got up, walked three steps, and then glanced over to me and fell down saying “ut ohhhhh, da da”.  Still no reaction. . . still no tears.  The third time he “fell down”, I asked him if he was ok and the universe exploded, the heavens collapsed, and immediate medical attention was needed (in the form of a comforting hug and a pat on the back).  Now that he had my attention, he took full advantage.

Interesting title to this post.  To clarify, I am not offering free Architectural services, only using a few words to get some attention.  False advertising?  Smoke & mirrors?  The words “free architectural services” of course imply that there may be services. . . Architecturally based. . . that may have no cost.  This is true, I suppose, in that my firm, Studio m Architecture + Design, will meet with you for an initial job meeting (at no cost) to determine if we want to work together, but after that, we’ll go into a contract for an agreed upon fee.  Look how fast that attention grabber dissolved.

“Act now”.  “Limited time only”.  “Order in the next 10 minutes. . . . “.  “ut ohhhhh, da da”.  “The diet that could be killing you”.  “10 things your toddler is going to do and almost kill himself”.  I get product recalls sent to my inbox.  Non-organic food is going to turn everyone into a mutant.  Exercise to stay healthy.  Too much exercise will hurt you.  That water has too much oxygen in it.  Stay out of the sun.  Close the blinds.  Hide the kids.  Make everything out of Nerf. . . . . . . . .

Everybody settle down.  Pause.  Breathe deep.  Now resume.

It’s interesting seeing my son learn a little manipulation.  It’s actually pretty humorous and reassures me that he is developing.  I could sit there all day with him and keep picking him back up.  Let him run into my arms for comfort again and again.  In some ways I start to question whether I am coddling him or not, but for now, it’s just a fun game as he learns to test his world.  He’ll move past it and start working us in another way; walking away and giggling after his reward of a hug.  I start to realize that our world is filled with these tests.  Little attention grabbers here and there.  As an Architect, I’ve worked with a lot of contractors.  “We’ve got a big problem here”, I’m greeted with on the phone one day.  “Hello, <contractor>.  How are you this morning?”  The “problem” turned out to be solved with a job site visit, a quick sketch on the new drywall, and actually a price reduction to the client because our new resolution was actually more efficient than the original design.  Big problems.  Major issues.  I’ve seen people get caught in the whirlwind and join the panic and bring a few others into the chaos on the way.  Pause.  Breathe deep. . . . . now resume.

I like to pride myself in not getting caught up in too many of these manipulations.  There’s usually a solution or an answer to our problems, but if you’re stressed out and fixated on the negative, you’re going to have a hard time finding the right way to go.  If everything went perfectly, maybe life wouldn’t be as interesting.  There’s a fine line – apparently – between complacency and outright panic.  Sometimes I find I have to lean one way or the other – more so for the other person.  Nobody wants to feel unheard or minimized, and others need to be brought down a bit so that they can actually hear what you’re saying.  I don’t have all the answers and I certainly have my share of overreactions.  All things I need to work on so I can teach Little Guy how to get to tomorrow.

(Amusing side note:  As I’m about to hit “publish” on this post, my son is waking up from his nap and just threw his stuffed Mickey Mouse out of his crib.  He’s now uttering “ut ohhhhh” thru the monitor in an effort to get me to come in. . . . and I can’t wait to get there.)

Oh, also. . . Act now and “like” DesignAdad on Facebook!  Hurry!  Time is running out!!

493 lessons learned

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It’s a very arbitrary milestone, 493 days, but it’s how old our son is at this very moment.  Someone asked me the other day how old he was and I replied “Just over 16 months. . . so, a year and 4 months. . . . almost a year and a half”.  I’m not sure if he was still listening at that point, but I began to think about the randomness of milestones and markers that we assign in our lives – and the thousands and thousands of days I’ve been able to wake up in the morning to learn a few lessons along the way.

For Little Guy, we can literally see the advances that are happening every day – all 493 of them.  Today he said the word “slide” because he wanted to go on the slide again. . . . and we were kind of blown away.  It’s pretty amazing knowing that tomorrow, it will happen again.  We expect it.  We can’t wait for it.

In between trips down the slide, I’ve been working on a few projects that Studio m Architecture + Design has going on.  I’ve been fortunate that my new firm has been gaining a bit of steam and I actually have 4 active projects now including a new home and a large student housing renovation for a local University.  My days are filled with the continuous melding of toys and design drawings, playtime and office time.  It’s refreshing and reassuring knowing that it’s working.  When I need to give up designing wooden block towers in favor of designing more permanent structures thru the firm, I can very easily shift focus and get into it – thanks to the support we have in place with Little Guy.  I’m busy.  It’s go, go, go.

I start to wonder if I’m keeping up.  He’s learning something new every day.  Motor skills, ABCs, jumping up and down (both figuratively. . . . .  and even more literally when he wants something extremely important like a piece of mango or to splash around in the bath).  I’m busy, but what am I learning?  What new information do I have today that I didn’t have yesterday?  I have the resources, the contacts, and the drive to acquire new knowledge, but why is it that a 16 month old is advancing at a much faster rate than I am (I realize that he’s in a different developmental stage than I am, but why should that be an excuse?).  It’s inspirational, really, to see such advancements in his life – every day – and I don’t even know what tomorrow will bring, I just know it will be amazing.  Why don’t we have that?  Why can’t we seek out new knowledge or experience something new every day?  It could be the case that it’s literally just a decision to be made.  Can I decide that, yes, starting tomorrow. . . no, today!. . . . I will dedicate time to better myself or experience something new. . . every day?  It seems very intimidating. . . overwhelming. . . . impossible?

I have a bit of an edge.  As an Architect, I’m in a good position to constantly research a new material or building methodology.  It’s easy to get online and find. . . anything really. . . like How to learn Something New Every Day.  That will, no doubt, advance my professional life, but that could also just be considered my job.  I want to show my son the world.  I want him to experience new things.  I can teach him the things I know, but how great would it be to explore new things together; seek out knowledge that neither of us have?  What’s the best way to make a paper airplane?  That sounds like something DesignAdad should know.  I’m sure he’ll be teaching me some things as well.

 

Architecture/Design Products:

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The Polish company Ringo produces cardboard play sets that are “durable and difficult to destroy”.  Obviously they have not spent a day with Little Guy, but nonetheless, it looks like an interesting concept.  This could be a fun toy to learn how to set up streets and city blocks. . . . or maybe just step on and reflatten. . . .

Check out Ringo

 

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Living in the NOW

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Outdoor Ice Bar at State Street Grill in Clarks Summit, PA

We all tend to shift focus once in a while – for better or for worse.  At the moment, we’re in the middle of a big thaw in the area and the streets are rivers, the gutters are waterfalls, and some people are holding their breath hoping the influx of water leaves their basements dry.  Soon, Spring will be here, we can get Little Guy outside again, and I can stop living on the treadmill.  But while we impatiently watch the mercury slowly rise every day, Today may be passing us by.  Without the deep freeze, the annual Ice Fest in Clarks Summit would not have been as great.  I wouldn’t have taken my son sleigh riding for the first time.  He wouldn’t have had the opportunity to bang on the window and wave, watching me shovel the driveway. . . again (he also loves watching me mow the lawn).

The Now is happening. . . . well, now!  I’m really busy at the moment with my new business Studio m Architecture + Design.  It’s great and very encouraging to have this much work so soon.  I’ve been operating in the mode of “work as much as I can. . . whenever I can” in order to get everything finished.  It’s working at the moment, but I start to wonder if there’s a crash looming in the distance – something I’d like to avoid if at all possible.

A few months ago, we ended up in the hospital with Little Guy for a number of days.  There were bouts of extreme pain and discomfort every 15-20 minutes and at times, all we could to was hold him and wait for it to end.  A true nightmare, for sure.  After things would settle, we would sit there, tears in our eyes, dreading what was to come in 15 more minutes and dwelling on what had just passed.  And out of nowhere, a little hand would reach up and grab our noses, or a belly laugh as my wife’s hair fell across his face.  How, we asked, could he be happy during our crisis?!  Talk about living in the moment.  When things are good, they’re good!  Maybe we could learn something from that.

You can’t ignore the future and you shouldn’t forget the past – of course.  A little more living in the Now, though, could help things.  As busy as things get, I’m reminded, one of the main reasons I decided to start my own firm was to increase my flexibility and spend more time with my family.  When things get really busy, it’s easy to set a few things aside and just keep working – kind of the opposite of my goals.  Although I highlighted how great it was to not have a schedule in one of my previous posts, it may help to throw in a little scheduling of time to make sure the important things don’t fall by the wayside (this revelation comes courtesy of my wonderful wife).  It’ll probably help avoid a crash in the future and end up giving me more time overall to get everything finished.

All of this is pretty much the opposite of the way an Architect works on projects.  Rarely do I make a move without thinking about the 50 things that decision will affect.  Although. . . sometimes living in the Now and getting an idea out there – regardless of the consequences or the complexity of the idea, is the only way to get it done!

Here’s to Now!

 

Architecture/Design Products:

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Congratulations to Strawbees!  The company was recently funded thru Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, and is on the way to producing a pretty cool product.  Just add straws & cardboard!  Check out the Strawbees Facebook page too!  I’ll keep an eye on this one and when it comes out, I’m sure Little Guy will love it.

 

Why workdays no longer exist (and weekdays have gone too)

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“Night to Day” – Tim McLain

It sounds fantastic!  No more workdays and no more weekdays:  the goal of those who retire, win the lottery, or are on permanent vacation.  Mission accomplished, break out the champagne, time to kick my feet up!

Well, maybe not quite yet. . .

In reality, the disappearance of my established work schedule and absence of the much welcome “weekends off” is only an indicator that things are changing and things are actually starting to work.  But now what?  Studio m Architecture + Design has been very fortunate to have landed a few jobs and is actually starting to see some money come back (rather than just flow out in an effort to start the company).  So, you would figure that sitting down at 8 in the morning and working until 4 or 5 would be happening 5 days a week until “TGIF” comes along. . . you would figure.  However, that’s not one of my goals.  In fact, one of the reasons I left the firm I was working for was because I wanted to be able to introduce more flexibility into my life.  Little Guy is almost 15 months old and is into absolutely everything and I LOVE it – especially since I get to be here for most of it.  He joins those of us who are awake from 7AM to 7PM (and that does not work well with a typical workday).  How could any work ever get done then?

I work all of the time – and never.  Could that possibly make sense?  I’ve managed to get rid of “workdays” and “weekends” and any other classification of time that indicates when I should be getting work done.  In some respects, I’ve also managed to blur the lines between night and day and have learned to start thinking of things a little bit differently.  There’s just time. . . that’s it. . . and I get to decide what to do with it.    Some of that time needs to be used to eat, to sleep, and to exercise.  Some of it is allotted to taking care of Little Guy and connecting with my family.  There’s a portion of it that needs to be dedicated to my practice and the jobs I have – and just managing the things that need to be taken care of with the business.  I have some consulting “on the side”.  I have to market the firm and go to events and make sure that I’m always looking to the future or else I’ll run out of work.  Sounds like enough to overwhelm and overtake any thought of finding free time to just relax.

So how can all of that get finished at the same time?  It can’t.  That’s impossible.  And, although I am a firm believer in multi-tasking, the truth is that you can really only do one thing at a time.  So, that’s what I do:  one thing at a time.  When I worked from 8 to 6 every day, there was always a pile of things to finish and I assigned priority based on deadline, client needs, or the magnitude of the task.  My new strategy is no different except it’s 24 hours a day and the task list is much broader than before.  Getting frustrated and overwhelmed (although it will still happen from time to time) only amounts to wasting valuable time and essentially adding another task to the list that doesn’t need to be there.  At any given point in time, I’m working on whatever I have decided the priority is.  Sometimes it’s getting some drawings finished or making some calls.  Other times it’s playtime or bathtime.  Every day is a continuous mix of everything that has to be attended to.

It works – for now anyway.  I don’t have any employees at the firm, and that helps tremendously.  I don’t need to show up and be present for anyone to make sure they have what they need to work.  This may greatly influence the way the firm grows.  There may be a time where “office hours” exist and schedule and structure come back, but as long as the flexibility remains, I think that the overall strategy can work.  Hopefully I have enough time to figure it all out. . .

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Top 10 Reasons my Son is amazing

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You will hear it again and again how incredible peoples’ kids are.  They are much more advanced than they should be for their age.  It’s unbelievable that they can already do this one thing that nobody else in the world could do at that age!  And if, like mine, your facebook friends are an ever increasing pool of people who are contributing to the world’s population, you have a front row seat to it all.

There are infinite “cute” pics that fill my screen – lots of the kiddos sitting there chewing on something – a few of them holding something they shouldn’t be – lots of them dressed in clothes that they couldn’t care less about.  Although a picture’s worth a thousand words, maybe sometimes we need to know why you think so.  So, here is why I think that my son actually IS amazing:

1. Mind Control
Little Guy is lucky enough to have been born with the power of mind control.  I didn’t realize it at first.  I thought that maybe we were all just getting to know him better and anticipating his wants and needs.  Not the case.  At 13 months old, he can already direct me to do things he wants me to do without me even thinking about it.  Just the other night – in a comatose state – I rose from my bed, changed his diaper, and returned to my resting position without even realizing what had happened.

2. Eccentric Food Critic
Although he has not developed a British accent yet, Little Guy has already perfected the “don’t bite your tongue” approach to judging food – in both presentation and in taste.  Some reality TV cooking shows have taught us that sometimes, the brutal truth is what the aspiring chef needs to motivate them properly.  In “spot on” impressions of Gordon Ramsay, plates are tossed across the dining area, food is spit out, and frustrated but determined cooks head back into the kitchen in an effort to continuously please.

3. Male model
I cannot complete a shopping trip without a slew of googly-eyed ladies swarming my son.  I’m not kidding.  Babies are cute, for sure, but I believe that Little Guy has been sneaking out at night to watch Jake Gyllenhaal movies while listening to Michael Buble – all the while studying their every move to assist with his own crooning efforts.  We are in trouble. . . .

4. Passion for Life
How do you wake up in the morning?  Do you get up, get excited, and stand up in your bed jumping up and down in anticipation of the day?  Do you laugh and smile when someone opens the bedroom door to take you from your cozy bed?  Can you hardly wait to see what the day will bring?  He does.  Maybe we should too. 

5. Thirst for Knowledge
I’ve never seen anyone become enthralled with a credit card.  Some of them are pretty cool, don’t get me wrong.  I customized mine with some of my photography, but they are still just mundane pieces of plastic – to me.  After swiping my payment method the other day, a little, grasping, flexing hand reached over in a silent ask to inspect the item I was holding.  It was either a credit card or a rare, newly discovered artifact that had only just now been experienced for the first time by humans.  Amazing, indeed.

6. Slight of Hand Magician
Like David Blaine, Little Guy leaves people standing there in awe asking, ‘What just happened?’, or ‘Where did that go?!”  With the quickest movement, something that was just in his hand one second ago is gone.  Divert your eyes for an instant, and he’s across the room.  Amazing, scary, and absolutely keeps you on your toes.  A true entertainer.  Does anyone have a dollar bill or a cell phone I could borrow?  Don’t worry. . . . you’ll get it back. . . .

7. Cold Hard Self Control
There is a quality that James Bond, 007 has that shines when he is held captive.  Despite the evil villain’s best efforts to get him to break, the secret spy can endure hours of uncomfortable situations all while keeping his cool and still managing to deal out witty remarks.  Likewise, my son can push the same button over and over and over again listening to the same sound or quirky song again and again and again.  Sometimes he’ll look me in the eyes and without flinching, just when I think it is over, he pushes it again.

8. Stamina, Tenacity, and Perseverance
Sometimes, despite my best efforts, there is nothing I can do to stop the drive and effort that this kid puts forth.  He wants to go over there and he wants to go over there right now.  Nothing will distract him.  Nothing will divert his attention.  There is one goal and one goal only.  He will also enroll me in helping him get there.  Nothing will stop him and you had better not try.

9. Conditioned, Determined Triathlete
Not exactly “swim, bike, run”, but more like “climb, climb, climb”.  Little Guy will crawl right over you if you’re in the way.  Up the stairs, thru the chairs, over the cushions. . . there’s always a leg being thrown up in an attempt to rise above.  Most of the obstacles are taller than he is – doesn’t matter.  I don’t know how many things per day I attempt to get over that are as high as my shoulders.  He attempts them all.

10. Instant forgiveness
Sit him in the playpen for 2 seconds or take away the deadly weapon that he’s chewing on and you will definitely get an earful from Little Guy.  How COULD you!?  But bygones are bygones, and as long as you are up for it, he’ll gladly hang out and play some more once the worst part of the day is over.  At the end of the day, all is right again.

Building your Baby – Guidelines for Success

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“Build a Baby Kit” – ACME Archives Direct

I’ve heard many business owners refer to their creation as “their baby”, in relation to the amount of time and effort and care that goes into creating and maintaining its existence.  I’m fortunate enough to be nurturing two babies at the moment – my Little Guy and Studio m Architecture + Design.  Both need lots of attention.  Both of them bring me great joy.  Both of them have the potential to bring wonderful things into my life.

I’ve poured over approximately 4.2 billion books, articles, forums, blogs, videos, and legal documents about my babies.  Some of the information is helpful.  Most of it is gibberish.  I’ve distilled some of my new knowledge down into a few points.  You decide what baby they apply to!

1. The first steps are the toughest – hang in there.
You will never be fully prepared ahead of time.  Something will happen that feels like you’ve been thrown off course and maybe aren’t ready.  What were you thinking?!  You’re probably going to mess it up. . . and you believe it.  It’s happening.  Step up.

2. Things may go to s#!t.  It’s what you do next that matters most.
Despite your best efforts, some things are out of your control.  The inevitable will happen and make things more difficult – and that stinks.  Each time, you learn to accommodate and become more efficient.  Deal with what you’ve been given, and try your best to make the change.

3. Make sure to set the tone early so that you have something to live by.
Rules are made to be broken, but if you don’t have them, you won’t have anything to gauge the progress.  Decide what is important to you and stick to it.  It may be the foundation for the future.  You’re allowed to change the rules.

4. Every day will bring something new to deal with.
Prepare all you want, but you have no idea what you’re going to be dealing with tomorrow.  Welcome it.  Learn from it.  You’ll find that you’re slowly building your toolbox to deal with anything that comes along.

5. Don’t underestimate how much time it will consume.
Seriously. . . . . don’t.

6. Expect some negotiations to break down.
Sometimes holding your ground works.  Sometimes it just makes things way worse.  Pick your battles.  The ones you pick, you still might lose.

7. Nobody will care as much as you do.
It’s true.  When you go to sleep at night, you try your best, but sometimes everything ends up in bed with you whether you want it to or not.

Who is this guy? A new identity emerges

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“The Son of Man” by Mike Stimpson

This morning was one of those days when you look up and think “Who is this guy?!”. . . . twice.

Little Guy is fast approaching 13 months old and will be at a nice age for the holiday season.  He’s beginning to show excitement for different things, remembers what to do with various items (comb goes on my head, socks go on these feet, and if I touch that thing over there, everyone will freak the hell out).  After we had our morning ritual of looking out the window to see the day (there’s snow today!), played with a few toys while listening to new music (this morning was Christmas Jazz), and ate some fruit and oatmeal, Little Guy walked over to the steps, turned around, and reached out his hand with a summoning “Daaad” so that I would come over and assist him with the climb. . . . then nodded his head in excitement as I started to make my way toward him.

Who is that guy?

After the “hand off” so I could get to work, I sat down, made a priority list, and dug in.  Time management is paramount with the new business Studio m Architecture + Design.  Snap your fingers and I am now a business owner with a laundry list of things to do (including. . . literally. . .  the actual laundry) to make sure I am starting off the right way with the business while maintaining the role of Dad at home.  Spring into action, sit down, bang out some drawings, and I can take a break to write a blog post if I get enough finished.  I have a proposal to write.  I wonder what we’re going to make Little Guy for lunch today.  There’s some consulting info that I need to reach out for.  Is the Holiday Train coming tonight or tomorrow?  There are 3 draft emails that need to go out today no matter what.  Oh, and I started running again – and I love it.  Pause. . . breathe. . . and we’re back.

What just happened?  Who are these new identities that have very mischievously emerged as we built our block towers and formed our new companies?  Don’t misread what I am saying, this is not a complaint.  The “hustle and bustle”, the changes, the transformation really, that both Little Guy and I have (and are going) through is not a bad thing.  It’s just very interesting to realize it as it is actually happening – and the realization may actually assist with the process.  We are changing as people and if I see it and if I know it, then I can react to it and make sure that the good things, the desirable traits and habits, don’t change too.

Who are these guys?

Although it’s been over a year since our son joined us on our journey, my wife and I still look at each other and say things like “we’re a family”, or “we have a son”, in a kind of amazed, sudden realization.  Actually, we take turns being amazed while the other is thinking “Yes, that’s great, now could you please figure out how to feed him without it looking like a food explosion just occurred. . . and change his diaper while you’re thinking!”.  I didn’t know that is what they meant when they said “The only thing that’s constant is change!”

 

Architecture/Design Products:

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A good friend of mine recently gave my son these cool foam blocks by Edushape for his birthday.  (Side note: this morning he was actually sorting the blocks by color – which I thought was a fluke until I messed them all up and he did it again!).  He has been all over these blocks (my son, not my friend) since he got them and absolutely loves knocking over the architectural masterpieces that I create for him.  Perfect gift for an Architect’s son.  Edushape – My Soft World-City 

Where to begin – a search for work

With the new company up and running, the conversation quickly turns to “Now what?”  Up until now, I have been operating under a direct cause and effect mode of operation.

I should have a business plan or some goals – done.
I need to form an LLC – hire a lawyer.
I need a website – build a website (www.studioM-ad.com).
Business cards, bank accounts, software – check, check, check.
I need some work. . . . . . . hmmmm. . . . .

You can absolutely make the case that this last item does have its own cause and effect relationship.  Marketing, word of mouth, donating time:  all of these things will, no doubt either directly or indirectly, lead to work, but aren’t necessarily energizing those new bank accounts that were so easy to open up.  Some days I already question whether or not I should have taken “the leap” – not in defeat – I think that’s just the way it goes.  It takes time to get things moving.

In the DesignAdad spirit, I have found some design projects to keep me busy!  Last week, Little Guy and I broke ground and immediately cut the ribbon on the LRCC project (that’s the Living Room Chair Castle in case you were not aware).  The completed project captures the constant draw to venture under the dining room table with the safety of a tensile fabric roof to alleviate potential head trauma on the previously referenced table.  Unfortunately, plans to demolish the structure were immediately carried out as dinner was being served.

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But what am I really looking for?  Although LRCC may be a bit on the “smaller side” of projects, it is the definitely the case that I am more able to handle the smaller now that I have my own firm.  I hear it often that ” I can’t afford an Architect”.  It’s all relative, but the chances are that I can take a look at your home renovation or maybe have some advice for your small modification.  I’m also willing to expand the job!  Just because I own my own firm doesn’t mean I’m looking to create the next architectural monument.  Architectural consulting (to other firms), drafting, shop drawings, peer review – all viable sources of work.  Ego aside, I’m here to work and spend time with my family.  The big projects are out there.  I welcome them.  But I realize that there are a lot of people out there who just need some help.

About Studio m Architecture + Design

Of course I am looking for larger projects as well.  I am fortunate enough to have worked in all aspects of many different project types over the years and that gives me the advantage of being to handle larger projects on my own.  It’s unfortunate that some professionals get categorized within a very narrow realm of responsibility while working for a firm.  Luckily I was able to gather a wide array of experience.

So, the “Now what?” is here!  Let me know how I can help you.  In the meantime, I will be exploring the qualities of the various fortbuilding materials that Little Guy and I find around the house.  Maybe we’ll venture into cardboard next….

Architecture/Design Products:

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I have not purchased this product yet, but if you’re looking to step up your fort making, this may be the way to go.  I’m sure there is an ongoing global Architectural debate about maintaining the integrity and the spirit of the home fort and utilizing local materials from the living room may be the way to go.  However, the only thing that is constant is change.  I support both the old school way of thinking and the new wave kit of parts.  www.crazyforts.com

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First Steps

Things have been quiet for a while. . . . in terms of blog posts anyway.

In order to get anywhere, you need to take the first step.  It could be absolutely terrifying when you realize there is not anyone there to hold you up anymore.  Sometimes, just that realization makes you fall.

Take Little Guy, for example.  He recently took his first steps. . . 4 in a row to be exact, and the sudden realization that nobody was holding on anymore squashed all hopes of step 5 (although it was probably his mother’s shreek of excitement that knocked him over!).

And like I often do, I’m following in his “footsteps” and taking some first steps of my own.  In September, I left my position of Associate at the firm and I have been working on getting things up and running with my own practice.  Every bit as terrifying when you see that nobody is holding on.  And where are we going?  “Taking steps” implies that you are going somewhere, right?  There’s got to be a goal, of course, or what’s the point?

I don’t think Little Guy has a goal other than to just keep going.  He was fine when he was rolling over.  Even better when he started crawling (a whole new world opened up!).  And now, with this new, quicker mode of transportation, there’s sure to be a ton of more things to get into.  How fun (and how terrifying in itself. . . )!

My “goals” related to this new business are quite. . . unique. . . for a business.  The catalyst for the whole thing was actually my son!  Now, I know that starting and running a business will take some time – probably more time than I was spending at the firm I left. . . but it will be my time on my terms.  There were increasing days when I missed my son – leaving the house before he woke and getting back when he was asleep – and it killed me.  So, the business goals:

1:  See my family more (already a success.  I’ve seen my son every day so far).
2:  Keep doing what I love to do.
3:  Get paid for it.

I’m still working on #3. . . . .

Honestly, that’s it.  Of course with each project I will have goals and milestones that are related to bettering the Client’s business, growth, etc., but I love what I do for a living and I love my family. . . and as a true Libra. . . I demand balance.

And we keep on walking!  Little Guy is finding his own balance (ha!) and starting to get confident.  I’ve been getting a good response from starting the company and hopefully things continue to move the right way!

Away we go!

For more information about Studio m Architecture + Design, visit www.studiom-ad.com.

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Technologically Classical

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As Little Guy continues to grow, I find myself in a constant mental struggle related to the type of interaction we impress upon him.  I’m drawn to the “Traditional” toys like blocks and other wooden toys.  I think of the stereotypical toys like the bubble lawn mower and the wooden puzzle and the rubber mallet work bench, and I imagine that he NEEDS these things in order to facilitate a proper childhood.  Who DOESN’T have green army men as they move past the beginning stages of school-age?

On the other hand, there is the constant beckoning of the modern toys:  The USB fed stuffed puppy dog, the baby friendly apps for my smartphone, and the endless array of computer screen based learning tools that would no doubt propel my non-walking child into the realm of tech-savvy computer genius by the age of 2.

The same “dilemma” exists in the Architectural profession.  There is a desirable image of “The Architect”, pencil in hand, roughing out a quick sketch/masterpiece that results in a frameable piece of art that can be hung on the wall after the project is finished.  On the other hand, as a profession, we’ve come to rely on the digital representation of space more and more.  There are less models and more computer rendered images; less freehand sketches and more hardline CAD drawings.  For good reason too:  it’s so much easier to update a 3D model than to rebuild a wooden one.

As with most of our lives. . . it’s all about balance.  I believe in the traditional/classic aspects of both the items in my child’s life as well as in Architectural representation (although I will admit that I don’t utilize these methods enough in my day to day).  I also cannot imagine turning away from the “new way” of doing things.  I feel as if I would be cheating Little Guy out of experience and knowledge of how the “new things” work.  He bangs on the keyboard and sees results.  He taps on my phone and sees it light up.  There’s no doubt that there is a new kind of learning happening here.  And the computer is absolutely the way to go with what I do day to day with design.  No doubt there are hours, no. . . days, saved with using these modern tools. . . but I crave the classic touch as well.

So, I imagine that as time passes, I’ll continue to attempt to blend these two worlds.  It may be the case that Little Guy is talking about how “they used to still make things out of wood when I was a kid”, or “I can’t believe that you used to have to plug things in”.  Until then, I’ll keep trying to be retro cool while also portraying my Mr. Tech persona.

Try, Try again. . .

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It’s true that most endeavors are not successful on the first attempt.  I’m currently enjoying (a.k.a. “downing”) my 3rd cup of Starbucks coffee this morning due to the fact that Little Guy decided that last night would be the best time to explore what 3:00 AM to 5:30 AM looked like. . . and by “explore” I mean “scream at”.

My wife and I took turns heading into the battlefield, kind of giving each other a nod to say “good luck in there” as we sleepily passed each other in the hallway outside his door.  “Don’t pick him up”, the Doctor warned us.  “Comfort him, let him know he’s not alone, but do not pick him up.”  That lasts about an hour.  Maybe I should give the Doc’s house a call at 4:00 AM and see what he thinks then. . .

Rocking, humming, patting, comforting, changing, checking the room temperature. . . endless attempts to make it right, and 2 hours into it, the simple statement, “Maybe he’s hungry” changed everything.  1 bottle, 20 minutes later and the universe had righted itself.

How could we be so ignorant?  JUST THIS WEEK we had visited the Doctor and relayed to him the increasing instances of interrupted sleep.  “Maybe he’s hungry”, he said.  Maybe we should have written that down.

The whole process is not too dissimilar from solving a design problem (including the coffee requirements and, sometimes, the time on the clock).  It’s great to claim to have all of the answers to every question, the solutions to every problem, and the perfect design for every project.  There’s this stereotypical image of an Architect (bow tie optional) that involves a controlled process of very smartly applying lines to paper in a perfect manner in order to solve an overly complicated problem.  “I think this will work for you”, is muttered as the sheet is handed over to the client.  Light pours off the page and illuminates the face of the bewildered and amazed recipient of the drawing. . . . it’s perfect.

Not the case.

In fact, more often than not, the design process is a chaotic and haphazard one.  What about this?  No, maybe THIS!?  Wait a second. . . try this.  In most cases, the sketch that “works” ends up causing all sorts of havoc when you actually try to make it work.  Move this.  Slide that.  Make that bigger.  No, too big.  It all sometimes ends in frustration.  You’ve just spent all of this time working this out and you’re at the same place that you started.  Not true.  You now know what doesn’t work. . . and that can be the most important information you can have.

“Maybe he’s hungry”.  New direction.  Fresh start.  Successful results.  But everything before that didn’t work gets mentally filed away for next time. . . . maybe for 3:00 AM.

 

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I recently purchased these blocks made by Elegant Baby.   So far they’re a success.  I’m always looking for something for Little Guy to build with or stack. . . or bang together.  These work well and have a classic feel mixed with a modern touch of graphics.

Please do not touch

Tonight we brought Little Guy to First Friday Scranton, the local monthly Art Walk.  It’s been a while since I’ve visited the event – unfortunate since I am a board member – but kind of acceptable since the arrival of my son.  It has certainly been a whirlwind, and finding time for ourselves has proven to be pretty challenging.

But now that he’s a bit older, we’re beginning to seek out things for him to experience.  It’s true that he’s in a stage where almost everything is absolutely amazing.  The other day there was some lint on the floor that proved to be one of the most incredible things in existence.  This was confirmed by the absolute fit that was thrown when I prevented the lint from being tasted. . . .

It’s true.  Everything is amazing.  I’ve been attributing this to the mere fact that he’s kind of new to certain experiences.  What else is he going to think?  Something in the refrigerator is COLD?!  That’s amazing!  Lights go on AND off?!  Say it isn’t so!  But. . . everything. . . is. . . amazing.

My thoughts drift immediately to some of the films of Charles and Ray Eames, particularly “Blacktop” and “Bread”.  If you want to dive further into what the focus of Charles & Ray were, check out “The design genius of Charles + Ray Eames”.  But none of this is the focus of my post.

In the film “Blacktop”, the focus is on the patterns of water and soap that flow across a blacktop lot while washing a childrens’ playground. . . yes, I am serious.  If you’re not in the “artistic” mood when you watch this, it can be one of the more ridiculous concepts you’ve ever thought you’d be watching.  When I first watched it, I was in the right mood.  You can very easily find beauty in the simplest of things if you know what you’re looking for.  The film “Bread”:  Take a guess.

So, back to this evening.  I can’t confirm that a 9 month old knows what he is looking for, but I do know that amazing things are happening every day right in front of his eyes.  I took him into a few venues today and “showed” him art.  He seemed captivated at times, bored and distracted at others.  Could it have been a reaction to what he perceived as “interesting” or “beautiful”?  Maybe.  He responded to the vivid, abstract, bold canvas, while he was easily distracted while looking at line drawings; a factor of the use of color, no doubt.  In all cases, he wanted to touch everything – probably wanted to eat it too.

I think back to my senior Architecture thesis which explored the possibility that your perception of art could be altered by the process of watching someone else experience that art.  All of that was wrapped into a design of the hypothetical Scranton Arts Center that explored the use of transparency to support the thesis.  11 years later, I literally saw this process in action as I held my son.  He looked at a painting, stuck his tongue out, and made a “pthwwwt” sound, to which the woman next to him replied “Ahhh, an art critic.  What’s he looking at?  Oh, I agree”.  Now, I know that he didn’t make her think that. . . but maybe he helped??  Thesis validated.

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Since the “Big Day” is fast approaching, we’re starting to think of ideas for Little Guy’s first birthday!  He was born around Halloween, so there’s lots of fun to come out of that, for sure.  Just today, my wife found an image of this cake though. . . . hmmmmmm.  I think we must do this.  Found at Interesting Engineering.

Milestones – inch by inch

Little Guy and I have been making some significant strides in our lives – and not in one fell swoop either (We both celebrated with some bottles too!).  We’ve decided that it’s time to start moving, and for him that meant literally. . . moving.  For me it meant really focusing in on my Architect Registration Exam (ARE) that I mentioned in a previous post.

It took every second of screaming into the floor for him to realize that it’s actually ok to exist on your belly.  Likewise, I had been screaming into the “Structural Systems” study guides that have forever been my arch-nemesis.  But we both discovered that you have to take that first little step to get it all started (or in my case: to get started – again). 

Once he realized that you can go places on your belly, everything clicked into place.  Why reach for something when you can crawl there?  Why not roll there??  Why not sit up once you get there??!  It’s been amazing to see the little moves and the intricate coordination that has been developing over the past few weeks.  This Little Guy who at one point needed his mom and dad to hold his head up is now barrel rolling across the floor, laughing, drooling, and grunting the whole way.  Every day he’s one inch closer to finding his legs and running out the front door!

Little by little I’ve been studying for my last exam.  There are 7 of them and I had six down.  The last one is arguably the most difficult depending on an individual’s strengths.  It was very frustrating sometimes – looking at formulas to calculate bolt strengths and stresses within steel beams – knowing full well that I will never actually calculate these things in the “real world” (that’s why an entire profession called “Structural Engineering” exists)!  So, I took it like I knew I could handle it.  One little portion at a time I studied and perfected a piece of this puzzle until I felt comfortable enough to take the exam.

The day that he first crawled, we weren’t entirely sure that it actually happened.  I mean, he DID move in a direction, it WAS kind of a crawl, and he COULD actually repeat it.  After a while though it sunk in that this was really happening and that his efforts had paid off.  He was officially a “crawler” (something that I have since learned that some babies skip altogether). 

After I sat for my last exam, I walked out a little defeated.  “If I failed this exam”, I thought, “I don’t know what I will do.”  This wasn’t a moment of despair, it was just a realization that I had studied so much and so hard that – if I did fail – I literally didn’t know what else I would do to prepare.  About a billion weeks later, I heard from my wife who had just opened some interesting mail from the State Licensing Board.  Just like Little Guy, my efforts had paid off, and I am now an official Licensed Architect (well, once even MORE paperwork goes thru. . . . . ).

Little steps. . . big results.

 

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When he started grasping items and lifting them, I immediately started thinking about buying him blocks to stack.  First of all, you would assume that finding blocks in the infinite array of stores available would be easy (ha).  When I did find blocks, they were wooden and painted – something that I originally thought was ideal.  I wanted a nice, classic, iconic set of blocks.

But not for a baby who has two new teeth.  After reading reviews on blocks (yes. . . . I actually read reviews on wooden blocks. . . . ), I ended up buying the “Squeeze & Stack Block Set” from Infantino.  I really like that he won’t end up with wood shards in his mouth and they are extremely easy to clean – soft, squeezable, and BPA free.  He absolutely loves them (and especially likes knocking down the towers that I try to construct in front of him. . . a true design critic at heart!).

Design-A-Job

I don’t remember ever deciding that I wanted to be an Architect.  My father was a Masonry Contractor – mostly residential work – throughout my entire childhood, so there were always plenty of drawings around the house left over from finished projects.  Sometimes I would take the old drawings and sketch on top of them, experimenting with shapes of spaces or trying to imagine what the exterior of the house would look like.  I also constructed an entire Lego empire in our basement that grew exponentially with every passing birthday or Holiday.  Once everything was set up perfect, I would take it all down and reconstruct it – over and over and over.

Many years later when it became time to apply to Colleges, I had to decide what my major would be and without hesitation, I started applying to Architecture schools.  I don’t think anyone suggested Architecture.  I don’t remember anyone pushing design or aesthetics on me when I was growing up.  I just knew that this was what I wanted to do.

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On site at Frank Gehry’s Vontz Center for Molecular Studies at the University of Cincinnati in 1999

Of course I can’t help but wonder. . . what will my son “be” when he grows up.  So far – at 8 months old – his skill set seems to lack focus.  There is a very strong chance that he may be a competitive eater based on the amount of things he tries to put in his mouth on a daily basis.  Lately he’s been getting better at yelling, so maybe some sort of announcer or someone who alerts boats that they are about to hit the shore. . . because I think that’s a thing.  My path makes me realize that with some influences and opportunities in place, there’s a chance that you can help guide your children into a direction. . . or maybe the mere attempt at guiding them sends them off in a different direction. . . how would you ever know?

What I do know is that I want to show this Little Guy the world.  Despite the fact that I had no idea that I was going to be an Architect, I can still think back and appreciate the various places that my parents took me (or sent me) when I was growing up.  Our interpretation of our surroundings and environment absolutely influence the way we think about things when we’re older – even if we’re not designing those spaces ourselves.  My hope is that I can at least instill an appreciation of the built environment into him so that as he travels thru his life, he’s not just walking around in a world that he takes for granted, but appreciating and seeing that there is thoughtfulness and design in the things we pass by every day.  It was my parents who gave me the opportunity to start seeing these things in my life.  Before I was even out of high school, I had traveled to England, Spain, Morocco, and an array of cities across the US.  All of this gave me the confidence and the hunger to keep exploring and I ended up in internships in Chicago, Santa Monica, and NYC because I knew these were places that had something for me to experience. . . and it was great!  I hope that we can start to show him at an early age that there is . . . a lot. . . . to see.

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I know it’s really an obvious pick, but I cannot speak about my childhood and Architecture without talking about LEGOs!  However, specific to the topic, I will mention the LEGO Architect Series.  At the moment, these toys are my worst nightmare as each of the individual pieces will get their shot at being digested if I were to present this toy to my son.  But. . . this one might be more for me at any given time anyway. . . .

Design-A-Kid

I decided to name this blog “Design-A-Dad” because of the fact that I am a new Dad/Architect.  In my “day job”, I work at a firm that designs a lot of high-end retail, custom residential, and Urban Core revitalization projects.  I don’t want to come off as too egotistical, but it takes an amazing amount of talent and dedication to work as an Architect. . . . (ahem. . . ).  

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In all seriousness though, it does take a lot of coordination on a day to day basis, and rightfully so.  We are responsible for not only creating bad-assed environments. . . . (ahem. . . ), but also managing all of the parts and pieces leading up to the day that the over-sized ribbon gets cut and you hand the key to the front door over to the guy with the money (those things rarely happen, by the way).  There’s the understanding of the building code, managing consultants, interpreting Owner needs and requirements, and of course working with the Contractors to get it all finished.  There’s about 5,000 other pieces in there, but the point is it’s a lot. . . and it’s a tremendous amount of responsibility.

Hence the reason there are professional licensure requirements for the people who are willing to sign their name to the finished drawings.  You need this license BEFORE you can be responsible for the project.  You have to prove that you are ready. . . . .(I’m currently in the process of completing a series of 7 tests that make up the Architectural Registration Exam).  You can’t just say “I’m ready”.

So, you can see where this is going:  Once I realized that there are truly NO pre-requisites to becoming a dad, I became both confident and worried (confident that I could handle it. . . worried about the rest of the world).  There’s no license to be a dad.  There’s no test.  There’s no system in place to make sure you’re doing it right.

So, I started doing what I do at work: preparation, coordination, planning.  There are endless resources out there to find all of the answers I ever wanted – and then some.  It’s truly overwhelming for sure.  Read, read, read.  It was helpful to know that I was kind of not the only one who ever has – or ever will be – raising a kid, so there’s some comfort in numbers.  I very quickly learned to listen to everyone while not listening to anybody.  Everyone has a different way than the way you’re going to do it, but within the chaos of articles and forums and online encyclopedias, there are pieces of information that are obviously things you should pay attention to. . . I’ve compiled a few below (click for answers).

And so. . . there was yet another creation on the way.  This “project” had its own deadline, it’s own milestones to meet, and I could already feel the weight of my responsibility for its well being.

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I haven’t purchased this product yet, but I plan to.  Perpetual Kid has a lot of interesting items, but one that I thought would be fun to have was the “Constructive Eating Plate and Utensils” – especially since Little Guy is currently experimenting with all sorts of “real food”.  Now I just have to fine tune my truck noises. . . . . I’m sure the contractors at my next project meeting would love to hear me practice. . . .

It’s DADurday™ !!

Our work scenarios result in a schedule juggle of sorts.  We are extremely fortunate to have my father-in-law (the self proclaimed “Manny”) willing to adjust his schedule twice a week to watch Little Guy.  My wife holds the fort down by herself 3 days a week, and Sunday is pretty much the only day we have all together.  That leaves today:  Dadurday!

This is guy day.  In the past 6 months since my wife has gone back to work part time, we’ve done some extremely manly stuff on Dadurday.  We’ve built a tree house, learned to ride motorcycles, tested various levels of hot peppers. . . you know. . . typical dad/baby activities.  It’s truly amazing how quickly he’s picked up cage-fighting!

. . . maybe not yet. . . but. . we do get to go on little missions that are intricately timed around eating, sleeping, having a fit, and spitting up all over the place. . . and of course we have to work around his schedule too. . . .

It actually ends up being very productive time.  In our Dadurday missions we’ve managed to open up a savings account for him (loves the change counting machine at the bank), we try to get the grocery shopping started (while learning colors and the names of vegetables), we purchase pallets of diapers and 55 gallon drums of formula from Sam’s Club, and we go explore new places like hardware stores just to “man it up” a little.  I used to see these “tasks” and “chores” as fairly annoying, but with some little hands to help, it actually ends up being a nice break from the rushing around.  Everything takes twice as long to do and there’s a lot of in and out of car seats and shopping carts, but when you start to accept that it’s not about knocking down chores and more about spending a little quality time, the pace of the whole day changes a bit.

All week long I look forward to today – and in between Dadurdays, I’m on the lookout for Architecturally related baby toys (not exactly a huge market).  Although he’s a little young, one of the first items I bought was Popville.

I’m always looking and have a list of Architectural based products that I’ll start infusing into my posts.  Until then:  Happy Dadurday!!

A shift in the Universe

“Having a baby changes everything”, they say.  Well, they’re very smart.  But, let’s back it up about 10 months (because if you even THINK about mentioning that pregnancy only lasts 9 months, someone who has been, is currently, or will be pregnant in the future. . . is going to hit you).  Actually, let’s back it up even further.

“I think we should have a baby.”

(cue record screech). . . .

Now, the concept of having a child in our lives did not come out of the blue by any means.  We agreed before we were even married that we would be enjoying the company of little ones in our lives.  There were just a few things that I wanted to get out of the way before we made the final commitment:

  • Pass all of my Architectural Registration Exams
  • Run another marathon – in less than 3 hours
  • Design and build our house – with my bare hands and no help
  • Learn to play the guitar – and start a band
  • Be 100% financially secure – to the point where I never have to work ever again

I started to realize that maybe my “life goals” were being a little inflated to the point of unacheivability. . . until we were “ready”.  So, either we wait for everything to be perfect, or we decide that we’re doing this. . . . THAT’S when everything changed.  The second we decided that we were ready (or. . . ready as we’ll ever be), I started evaluating every aspect of my life; really, really important things:

  • Do we have enough room for a baby (yes, how much room could a baby take up, 3 square feet?)
  • Am I ready to have a baby and do I really have to change diapers?
  • Should I work out more?
  • I’m kind of hungry.

It’s really easy to get distracted when such an overwhelming decision has just been made. 

So that was it.  I was going to be a dad and I was really excited about it. That may have actually been the moment when I became a dad: the second I started considering what it all meant, the second we stepped into this new territory.

And the journey began…

From “0 to Dad”

It was not that long ago that I was just another cool-guy Architect wandering the streets with my awesome new wife while we popped in and out of the trendy places in NYC.  Of course some of this could possibly be my own perceived awesomeness, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with a good self image.

Flash forward 2.8 seconds and I have an absurdly large diaper bag slung over my arm (jammed full of an exorbitant amount of diapers, extra clothes, burp cloths, more burp cloths, baby wipes, and more burp cloths – just in case we get stranded for a week somewhere and our baby decides to eat a lot of Mexican food).  I have a pocket full of pacifiers (because somehow, there is a 1 second window where you turn your head and a pacifier turns into a rocket).  There’s always 3 other things I have to bring as well; things that used to be easy to carry like a cup of coffee, my wallet, and a phone; that suddenly become impossible to keep track of and handle with any kind of dignity.  Oh and, where are my keys?

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Of course I am exaggerating a tiny bit.  Having our son last November was the absolute best thing that has happened to us in our entire lives – hands down.  And, it may sound like I’m setting myself up to be Superdad, but in actuality, without my wife, this whole effort would be hopeless.  She’s truly the glue, the support, & the never-ending machine that makes this all possible – and you can tell her I said that (please tell her that I said that).

There are times though when we look up for a second and ask each other “What. . . just. . . happened??”.  All of the sudden we need to be experts on infant nutrition, everything in the house is wet from saliva, and Babies R Us has decided to just make us a key so we can come and go as we please.  All of this while maintaining our careers, attempting to buy/build a house, and try to remain as awesome as we know we can be.

Advice?  Sure, I have advice.  Laughs?  Why not?  I’m hilarious.  My hope is that I can relay all of the amazing, confusing, uplifting, draining, and completely overwhelming moments of going from zero to Dad in 1 second flat.