Viewing entries in
Work/Life Balance

Interviewing Tacos

Henry.jpg

I’m not a big sports guy, but there is a special place in my heart for baseball. Maybe it’s because I grew up going to my brother’s games. Maybe it’s because the the pacing of the games are so measured. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because of the mascots.

The Missions are San Antonio’s minor league baseball team. They have not one, but two mascots and both of them are food items. In this episode of the San Antonio Storybook we’re going to tell their story.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts.

The summer of '97

Brandon.jpg

I graduated from the University of Texas in the spring of 2000. It doesn’t feel like 19 years has passed since then, but it has.

After walking across the stage and receiving my diploma, I gathered up all the art and drafting supplies I had acquired over the previous five years and packed them into a repurposed fishing table box. In its drawers and compartments I placed my Prismacolor pencils and Rapidiograph pens; all my French curves and adjustable triangles; all my watercolors and India ink. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but this tackle box would remain mostly unused for the next two decades as digital technologies quickly replaced the analog techniques we learned in school.

Even so, I dutifully kept the tackle box with me. It moved with me to Chicago and then to Dallas and then to San Antonio. It traveled with me up to New Jersey when I went to grad school and it came back to Texas with me when I returned to start a family. In time the tackle box was relegated the garage of my San Antonio home. It sat between Christmas decorations and boxes of outgrown children’s clothes.

Earlier this year my two daughters and I started a routine where we would all sit together at the dining table just before bedtime. With our teeth brushed and our pajamas on we would together draw scenes from books we were reading or movies we were watching. Even if my architectural work is mostly done on the computer these days, I still have the ability to draw enchanted castles and magical rainbows with some degree of skill.

At one point we decided we needed to up our game and add color to our artistic endeavors. I was sent out to the garage to retrieve my old college art supplies.

That’s where I found him.

Brandon Shaw was underneath a pile of colored pencils. Or at least that’s where I found a small cut-out photo of him. He was an inch and a half tall - about 6’-0” at 1/4” scale. He looked exactly like I remembered him: wispy blonde hair, glasses, untucked shirt, baggy jeans, and Birkenstocks.

* * *

In the fall of 1995 close to 48,000 undergraduates attended the University of Texas at Austin. Of that number only about a hundred of us were freshman architecture students. The School of Architecture was a small island of intimacy within the sprawling mass of UT. By the end of our first semester, we all knew one another. We took most of our classes together as a group. We spent many of our nights and weekends together as well. We became friends. We became family.

Our freshman design studio met for three hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Brandon and I sat just a few drafting tables away from one another. In that first semester together we struggled to learn architecture’s basic concepts. We labored to produce consistent line weights with our 2H pencils. We struggled to keep ink from smearing underneath our 30-60-90 triangles.

By our second semester, we had the fundamentals figured out and could move on to larger issues of scale and site and context. One of our professors had us photograph one another and then cut out the printed photo after it had been mounted onto cardboard. We could then use these cut-outs as scale figures in the models we built for our projects.

When my sophomore year came to a close I decided to spend the summer in Austin. And so I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment. In June I began working at my first real job in an architecture office. It wasn’t the most fulfilling work but the paycheck covered the bills and I had a little cash left over at the end of the month.

That summer the Paramount Theatre featured the films of Alfred Hitchcock and I saw a number of his movies on the big screen. One of them, Rope, featured a character named Brandon Shaw. I remember smiling when I heard the name spoken and I wondered if the Brandon Shaw I knew was aware of this coincidence. I heard he, too, was in Austin for the summer and it seemed likely we would cross paths at some point.

By the end of June I had established a routine. As near as I can remember, Monday, June 30th was like any other workday that summer: I went to the office, I worked my eight hours, and at the end of the day, I drove back to my apartment.  

* * *

Even though Brandon was from Houston, Austin seemed like his home. It wasn’t just that he was a musician who always wore Birkenstock sandals, it was that he had an easygoing manner that was a perfect fit for Austin in the late nineties.

Brandon would bring his guitar to studio when you were up late ahead of a deadline. He would jab you with his pen to keep you awake during lectures the following day. He would drag you out of studio to see concerts at Antone's. He would hang out with you for hours at his apartment.

But Brandon wasn’t just some music-loving slacker. He took his schoolwork seriously. He was in a demanding dual-degree program that combined architecture and engineering. Beyond that he was a multilayered, complex individual. He could be equal parts earnest and flippant; mellow and outgoing; sarcastic and sensitive. He could confidently walk up and joke with a stranger one moment and reveal an underlying insecurity the next. 

In the spring semester of our sophomore year, Brandon and I were for the first time assigned to different studio professors. We shared the same studio space, however, and I was able to watch as Brandon began to settle in with a new group of friends. He seemed to find a balance between his classes and his outside interests. He had joined an intramural soccer league and had started taking lessons from the guitarist of a local band. He seemed to be figuring out who he was.

* * *

Back when the internet was still in its infancy news traveled much slower than it does now. There was no Facebook, then. There were no group texts. Many of us didn’t even have cell phones yet. We may have had email accounts, but few of us had access to those accounts other than at a campus computer lab or via a dial-up modem. That left the newspaper as the only real source of information.

Of course, the thing with newspapers is that by the time you read it, the information is already outdated.

Before heading back to work on the morning of Tuesday, July 1st I read about a series of carjackings that had occurred in Austin. By Wednesday morning the paper reported that one of the carjacking victims, a 25-year-old City of Austin employee, was missing. Twenty-two years later I can’t remember how I heard it, but at some point I began to hear rumors that Brandon was also missing.

On Thursday the newspaper reported that the body of the City of Austin employee had been discovered in the trunk of a car that had been pushed into Town Lake. It also reported that a second body had been recovered. The victim was described as, “A University of Texas student from Houston.”

That evening I called the City of Austin Police Department in search of more information. I spoke to a detective working the case. I identified myself as a student who was worried that a classmate of mine was the other victim. The detective asked me the name of my friend. I told him it was Brandon Shaw. There was a pause before the detective repeated that the names of the victims hadn’t been released yet.

Later that evening a group of us were still searching for answers. Someone was able to track down the phone number of one of our former studio professors who we figured he might know something. 

He did.

He told us Brandon Shaw was dead.    

* * *

I had been to memorial services before and I have been to many since. But the one held in Brandon’s honor the following Monday was something very different. I will always remember the feeling of sitting in a sanctuary full of people who were all trying to make sense of the same senseless act.

Several of us made the three-hour drive from Austin to Clear Lake City. Those of us who knew Brandon from UT made up only a small portion of those who filled the Episcopal Church. It became clear that even though Brandon had been a big part of our lives for the previous two years, he had been a bigger part of other people’s lives for much longer. 

We met Brandon’s high school friends at the memorial service. We met his family. We learned how Brandon looked up to his big brother. We learned how close he was to his sister. We learned he could talk his dad out of a bad mood and that he would dance with his mother in the kitchen. As tragic as it was to lose a classmate, his family lost far more. They lost a brother. They lost a son. They lost a part of their lives that had been there for twenty years.

The Shaw family wasn’t the only one to experience loss that summer. A few days earlier another family held their own memorial service in Austin. Juan Javier Cotera was the city of Austin employee who died with Brandon in Town Lake. Like Brandon, his life was full of promise. Like Brandon, he was denied the chance to finish his story.

* * *

In 1997 two years of college seemed to last an eternity. Now twenty-four months come and go with little to show for it except for another box of outgrown children's clothes. 

There is plenty I remember about the time I knew Brandon. Some of the details may be blurry, but back then we were blurry ourselves. As much as we struggled to figure out how to design buildings, we struggled just as much to figure out what kind of people we were going to be.

Most of us had time to figure that out. Brandon did not.

For those of us who lived past the summer of 1997 our time at UT was but one chapter of a narrative that kept getting longer as we grew older. Our stories didn’t end that summer. They continued. We went back to UT in the fall. We pulled more all-nighters. We worked more jobs. We traveled. We fell in and out of love. We graduated. We kept in touch with some friends. We lost contact with others.

As we followed our individual paths into adulthood - and, more recently, into middle-age - our memories of Brandon have stayed with us. I know Brandon’s life and death has informed my life. Now I’m closer to the age of Brandon’s parents in 1997 than to the age I was back then. I can’t help but see the events of that summer through their eyes.

I know there will come a day where my kids, like Brandon, will decide to not come home for the summer. I know there will come a time when I cannot protect them form the arbitrary evils of the world. In the meantime, though, I can hold my kids tight. I can tell them to be nicer to one another. I can tell them that I love them.

I can give them colored pencils and together we can imagine a world full of enchanted castles and magical rainbows.

Inside the Rink

RRepisode3.jpg

A couple of years ago I took my daughter to a roller skating rink. It was the first time I had strapped wheels to my feet in over twenty years and it was a memorable experience. I even wrote a blog post about it.

Well, two years later, it gets the official podcast treatment.

The Rollercade is a local institution and generations of San Antonians have skated across its smooth wood floor. In this chapter of the San Antonio Storybook, we tell the story of how the Rollercade came to be built and the family responsible for keeping the Alamo City rolling.

As always, you can listen to it here or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts.

Building Magical Worlds

So my daughter recently finished reading all 4,000 pages of the Harry Potter series. In doing so I'm pretty sure she developed a lifetime love of reading.

Back in the early 2000s I read the first book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) and although I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel the need to keep reading the new volumes as they were released. I watched the movies, so I had a general idea of what was going on as my little reader became completely engrossed in reading the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh volumes.

I’m not quite sure what secret ingredient J. K. Rowling put into her stories, but it’s definitely there. Maybe it’s the characters, maybe it’s the story, but I think a lot has to do with the rich and complicated world she was able to build. Details matter - that’s what makes Hogwarts and Hogsmeade seem just as real as London.

I try and insert a little bit of magic whenever I design a building. Of course you have a little more freedom in fiction than you do with concrete and steel and wood. Still, I think it’s a good thing to aspire to do.

See the CCC

Brownwood.jpg

This past week was spring break and because I don’t have a real job I was able to take my girls up to visit my family in north Texas. We decided not to take I-35 and instead took the backroads so that we could pass by Lake Brownwood State Park.

As state parks go the landscape there wasn’t the most spectacular but the buildings are. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, Lake Brownwood has an impressive Group Recreation Hall and a grand staircase that early visitors would use when they arrived at the park by boat.

The cabins were also nice; especially cabin #9 where we stayed. I’m sure many families have made many happy memories there and I’m glad we went a little out of our way to see the CCC.

The best place to see art in San Antonio

McNayStair.jpg

Last week my daughter’s third grade class visited the McNay Art Museum this week and I volunteered to be a chaperone so that I could assist in bellowing at eight- and nine-year-olds to not touch the art. The McNay has an impressive collection of (mostly) modern works but what I’ve always enjoyed the most about the museum is the building in which it is located.

To be more precise, I’ve always enjoyed the house in which it is located.

Marion Koogler McNay was an artist who was lucky enough to inherit a large oil fortune from her father. With that money she built a beautiful Spanish Colonial mansion (props to Ayres and Ayres) that she bequeathed to the City of San Antonio when she died.

In addition to house/museum being full of amazing spaces and details, the McNay is also a great place to view art. The domestic-scaled spaces provide a unexpectedly intimate setting to take in works ranging from Picasso to Hopper.

Newer additions to the museum fall squarely into the “big-empty-box-with-a-glass-roof” category that dominates so many museums these days, but the original McNay itself remains the best place to see art in San Antonio.

Just remember, the art is for looking. Not touching.

The Subtle Sexism of "Ultimate Beastmaster"

UBM.jpg

In this golden age of TV abundance I am sometimes baffled by what my kids choose to watch. Although I try to steer them in the direction of shows of some education value, that doesn’t always work. A case in point is my daughter Sammy’s odd attraction to Ultimate Beastmaster on Netflix.

The show is in some ways an updated version of American Gladiators. In this iteration contestants compete against one another on an obstacle course known as “The Beast”. The contestants and hosts all hail from countries with large TV markets (i.e. the United States, China and India) so the show can be easily repackaged for international audiences.

The show has its quirks. Sylvester Stallone makes random appearances and some of the lighter outfits worn by the contestants become noticeably transparent when stretched. What I find to be the most troubling, however, is the subtle sexism that’s built into the program.

Don’t get me wrong, Ultimate Beastmaster is a product of a much more enlightened time than American Gladiators. But although the new show treats the female competitors with respect those same competitors face an inherent disadvantage by the fact that they are competing directly against the men. Many parts of the obstacle course require reaching or jumping large distances and so a 6’-4” male is going to have a distinct advantage over a 5’-2” female regardless of their respective athletic abilities.

Of course the argument could be made that having separate categories for men and women is itself sexist. But the most noticeable artifact of the current system is that the female contestants are always eliminated early. In the three seasons of the show no woman has ever made it to the finals (read here for a more data-driven analysis). This has resulted in some cringe-worthy lines from the hosts like, “This is the furthest we’ve seen a female go!”

Although accurate and meant to be encouraging I can’t help but wonder how my nine-year-old daughter is processing it all.

Ultimately I see this as a design problem. Plenty of sports by design favor a particular body type / physical ability / gender. Basketball, for example, favors tall men who can jump and have a high degree of physical coordination. This is why I am an architect and not a professional basketball player. That said, if you’re designing a “sport” from scratch and you’re going to have men and women competing against one another, why not design it for both? Why not design elements of the obstacle course that are more challenging to men and some that are more challenging to women? Why not design it so that a nine-year old girl sitting at home sees that while everyone has different abilities, she still has a chance to win?

Space for Joy

month106aquarium01.jpg

I had a hard time trying to decide what to post this week.

There was plenty on my mind. I thought about writing about the subtle sexism of the Netflix series, Ultimate Beastmaster. I started to write about the anger and the privilege of middle-aged white men. Having just turned 42 I could have written something about my own privileged anger at becoming a middle-aged white man.

I might eventually write about all those things but instead today I’m just going to talk about taking Darcy to the Texas State Aquarium. There’s a underwater observation area at the “Dolphin Bay” exhibit that’s essentially just a long, dark room with a single window. It’s a large window, though, and it looks out not at Corpus Christi Bay but into a 400,000 gallon saltwater pool. Inside the pool are Kai, Shadow, Liko, and Schooner, four Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

On this particular visit we arrived just as the aquarium was opening and we had the space all to ourselves. Darcy spent a good fifteen minutes running alongside and dancing with the dolphins. It was a moment of pure joy for my daughter. Of course I can’t tell how the dolphins were feeling but it sure looked like they were smiling.

Darcy started kindergarten this year. As her world expands beyond what we created for her as a family I worry I’ll be less and less able to protect her from a world that seems increasingly angry and mean. I hope she is able to keep herself safe. I also hope she is able to continue to find space for joy.

Vacation Space

vacation space.jpg

We recently returned from our family vacation to Colorado. It was a great opportunity to spend some time with the family in the mountains where temperatures were significantly less than they would have been had we stayed in Texas. My girls came home with fond memories of the hikes we went on and the animals we saw. I came home with fond memories of the architecture we inhabited. 

Maybe I'm biassed because of my profession but I do believe we remember where things occurred just as much as we remember what it was that happened there. Even on vacations that are spent mostly outside, the spaces that accommodated those outdoor adventures provide a framework for those memories. I'll always remember the first time I went to Disneyland with my girls but I'll remember just as much the hotel room where we stayed and the eagerness I saw on their their faces when they woke up in their bed ready to conquer the Happiest Place on Earth.

The cabin where we stayed in Colorado was for the most part unremarkable. It had a couple of bedrooms, a very small bathroom and a single living space with a small kitchenette along one wall. Of course I'll remember the views through the windows out to the mountains but I'll also remember the views inward. I'll remember looking through the open door of my girls' bedroom and seeing Darcy wide awake in the bottom bunk, ready for her next adventure.

Chances are we'll never step foot in that cabin again. Even if we did it wouldn't be the same. My girls would be older. I would be older. But my memory of the week we spent there will live forever in my mind.

They will live in an unremarkable little cabin where the views looking in were just as good as those looking out. 

 

Making Space

When my youngest daughter doesn't get what she wants she likes to pout by rolling herself up into a little ball. As a parent I can be frustrated by this behavior but as an architect I cannot help but be impressed. When Darcy tucks her head into her knees and tightly hugs her legs she is making a space that blocks out the outside world.

In a very fundamental way she is creating architecture.

Seeking shelter is an innate human desire. At its core architecture is about creating that shelter: keeping the bad things out and the good things in. That shelter can be created with wood and steel or arms and legs. That shelter can protect you from the elements or from a bossy big sister.

Thanks Again, Mr. Rogers

MrRogers.jpg

A few months ago I mentioned a documentary about Mr. Rogers that aired on PBS earlier this year. Recently I had the opportunity to see a second documentary about Mr. Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor, and I highly recommend seeing it.

To be more precise, I highly recommend seeing it in a theater.

It's not that it has digital effects that are better experienced on the big screen. On the contrary, much of the film makes use of decidedly lo-fi TV clips from from fifty years ago. But what is rewarding about watching the documentary in a theater is sharing the experience with a group of people. That is to say the ideas of Mr. Rogers are best explored within the context of a neighborhood.

I'm not going to lie: my eyes were not dry when I left the theater and I've often teared up as I've thought about what I heard and saw. I wept not out of nostalgia for my childhood. I wept not because the mean-spirited world we live in today seems so antithetical to the one Mr. Rogers tried to cultivate. I wept because it was so beautiful to reminded that a person could exist who was so thoroughly good and kind. Even though we never met in person I felt I knew him. The world is a less kind place without him.

Over the movie's 94-minute runtime reference was made to a series of programs Mr. Rogers produced for parents as opposed to kids. Some of these specials are available online and I recently watched one of them, a 1982 program entitled Mr. Rogers Talks With Parents about Discipline. 

On the one hand, the program is a time capsule. The appearances of the assembled parents who talk about the challenges of disciplining their children are is a word, "distracting". But what these parents said back in the late 1980s sounded remarkably similar to ones I've had with fellow parents today. It was reassuring to hear that the challenges and self-doubt parents face in 2018 are the same as the ones parents faced 36 years ago. Children were no better behaved then than they are now. Parents were no less frazzled then than they are today.

Of course the most consistent presence in Mr. Rogers Talks With Parents About Discipline is Mr. Rogers himself. He made no grand pronouncements. He never judged the parents just as he never judged the children. He listened. In his soft voice he asked questions and offered thoughts about love and kindness.

Just as it was so reassuring to hear his voice talking to me as a child it was it was just as reassuring to hear his voice talking to me as a parent. "Children have very deep feelings," he said. "Just the way everybody does."

I firmly believe spending time watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood made me a happier, kinder child. I have always been thankful for that. Now I'm finding spending more time watching him will make me a happier, kinder parent.

Thanks again, Mr. Rogers.

 

 

Seven Years Ago

sts134.jpg

Seven years ago I took advantage of a free flight I had on Southwest Airlines and took an evening flight to Orlando, Florida. I checked into a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town, slept for a few hours and then got up at 3am to drive to Titusville. Once there I walked about midway across a bridge where I then sat and waited for five hours.

I did this because ever since I was a boy I had wanted to experience the launch of a Space Shuttle. At 8:46 on May 16 of 2011 I was finally able to do that.

It takes about eight and a half minutes for a Space Shuttle to get into space. Unfortunately due to a low cloud bank I was only able to see about the first six seconds of that. To be sure a lot of time, effort and money went into those six seconds, but It was worth totally worth it.

I will never forget the intense brightness of the exhaust plume. I will never forget the overwhelming sense of excitement and patriotism. I will never forget how I, along with the several hundred other people on the bridge couldn't help but cheer as this amazing piece of human engineering made its way towards the heavens.

I will never forget that I am, and always will be, a complete and total nerd.

 

HiWorks at Five

HiWorks5.jpg

Data from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that about half of new businesses don't survive past their fifth year. HiWorks is now officially five years old so, well, I guess that means we're awesome.

Of course one interesting (and telling) thing about this particular anniversary is that I totally forgot about it. Legal documents say HiWorks was established on November 1st of 2012. November 1st, for the record falls right smack in between Halloween and one of my daughter's birthdays. This year it was particularly busy in that we were preparing for a birthday party and had a dance performance to attend. All that is to say the anniversary came and went and I didn't even realize it until a week later.

I suppose it's a good thing that the survival of my business enterprise is no longer a noteworthy event. HiWorks today is a lot different than I would have expected five years ago. It'll be interesting to see where we are five years from now.

Leaving Home

ryder.jpg

I found a box of old photos recently.

Now these were real photos - 4x6 prints from back when photographs were physical things that you held in your hand. I found this one picture of a rather goofy looking boy standing in front of a yellow rental truck. Although it was not timestamped I knew the photograph was taken in early July of 2000. If the picture had been taken five years later it would have been captured digitally and would have been saved on a hard drive but never printed. It would never have become a physical artifact that you could find in a box.

It is early in the morning and what you can't see is that the boy has loaded all of his worldly possessions into the rental truck behind him. In a minute he will leave his childhood home and spend two days driving a thousand miles to the north. He will get a job in a city where he knows next to no one. He will make friends. He will build a career. He will eventually move back to Texas, but he will never move back home.

He will eventually marry and have kids of his own and they will grow up in a different home in a different city. On occasion the boy will visit his old home - the one he grew up in - but he will always be a guest there.

Even when his kids are young the boy will squint and be able to imagine a time when they, too, will pack up all of their worldly possessions into a truck. Like their father before them they will leave home to create a life and a family and a home of their own. But before they do that - before they leave their home one last time - he will take their photo. He'll print out a copy of that photo and he'll send it to wherever it is his kids are going. 

His kids might not think much about the photo at first. They might think it strange to receive a photo of what they were leaving behind. They might put that photo in a box and forget about it for many years.

But one day they'll find the box. They'll look at the photo and remember the day they left home.

The Screened Porch

At the beginning of this year we finished work on a screened porch for our house. It is something we had been thinking about for as long as we've owned the house (which for the record has been about a decade). The house had an existing back porch but after we demolished it we made the counterintuitive decision to make the new porch smaller in order to make it more functional. By pulling one side away from the house, prevailing breezes could more effectively flow through and cool the space. The addition of a built-in concrete bench and a hammock ensured that the space could be used throughout the year. The lines of the original house were maintained so that the addition felt like an integral part of the original structure.

We've been using the screened porch quite a bit for outdoor meals, birthday parties and simple relaxation. We've also used it in ways we could have never imagined.

Bear Buildings

On the advice of a colleague and friend Dan Wigodsky my family and I traveled to the YMCA of the Rockies located on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park just outside of Estes Park, Colorado. It was a great little vacation for us to go on as a family: there are tons of things to do there and the girls had never experienced mountains outside of those in west Texas. As beautiful as those may be, they have nothing on the Rockies.

One of the more memorable moments occurred when we took an aerial tramway from Estes Park up to Prospect Mountain. At the top of the mountain you can buy bags of peanuts to feed the chipmunks who have grown quite chubby on the daily handouts they receive. I suppose one could take issue with encouraging tourists actively interacting with wild animals, but man those little guys are cute and the girls had a blast watching them fill their little cheeks with nuts.

We were so engaged with the chipmunks that we didn’t notice a black bear had wandered into the area. While the humans retreated to the safety of an elevated walkway, the bear nonchalantly ambled from one trash can to another and stand on its hind legs to knock it over so it could rummage around inside for food.

We always think about architecture as a thing that is all about people: we design primarily for their needs and their comfort. But the built environment invariably exists within the natural environment and so it makes sense that animals other than people will interact with it. These interactions can be good (I’m thinking of the bat habitat that was accidentally created under the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin) or they can be bad (I’m thinking of how skyscrapers that are brightly illuminated at night can confuse and ultimately kill migrating birds).

There are black bears in the San Antonio Zoo that I’ve seen with my children on countless occasions. But watching that same kind of bear inhabit an environment created for humans was a thought-provoking experience. I haven’t reached any conclusions about what this means or what as an architect I’m supposed to do but it did make me think about things in a way I hadn’t done before.

And that is pretty much the best thing a vacation can do.

Location, Location, Location

So the Cardinal family that we watched raise a family a few months ago has returned: they built a new nest, and they laid a clutch of new eggs. Sammy found the nest - a little lower to the ground this time - and we all were looking forward to watching another set of baby chick hatching. Unfortunately tragedy struck when something - probably our neighbor's cat - decided to have some eggs for breakfast early one morning.

I have often noted that being an adult is hard. It is, but being a cardinal in the wild is apparently much, much harder.

The Architecture of the Rink

To be perfectly honest, roller skating is something that I have thought very little about in the past several decades. The only reason I mention it now is that my daughter recently read a graphic novel about roller derby that piqued her interest and she wanted to give roller skating a try. It turns out "The Rollercade" is just a little over two miles from our house and so last Saturday I took her there so we could tie rental skates to our feet and have a go of it.

I honestly can't remember the last time I had done this but my best guess is that it was around 1989 and that it was at the "Skate Connection" in Arlington. My general impression of "The Rollercade" in the late 2010s is that it is basically identical to the "The Skate Connection" in the late 1980s. The dim lighting, the disco balls and the polished parquet floor (with a rough patch in the corner where a roof leak had warped the wood) was all eerily familiar. Some of the music was new of course - songs from Taylor Swift's 1989 were not available in 1989 - but "The Hokey Pokey" and "Thriller" seemed to be played directly from the playlist of my youth.

Although modern four-wheeled roller skates and the rinks where they were deployed date back to the mid-1800s they became a staple of the American suburb in the 1950s. The wellspring of post-war American suburbs, Levittown, naturally had its own mid-century skating rink. Roller skating underwent a renaissance in the late 1970s and early 1980s when polyurethane wheels improved the skating experience and disco music gave skaters something to do

Although the inline skating boom of the 1990s saw a renewed interest in skating as a sport, part of their appeal was that this type of skating could occur on any paved surface and so did not require a trip to the local rink. As a result the skating rink itself remained in a state of arrested development: the lights may be updated to LED and Tab may no longer be offered at the soda fountain but otherwise the roller skating rink of the 2010s is basically the same as the one of the 1980s. 

A roller skating rink is a singular architectural experience. Like a bowling alley or a baseball stadium it is a place whose sights, sounds and smells are instantly familiar even if you haven't been inside one for a quarter of a century. I hope the memories my daughter made last weekend survive as long as mine have.

I hope "The Rollercade" survives that long as well.

The Armadillo

If you lived in a world where armadillos did not exist and suddenly had one thrust upon you, it would be natural to assume this bizarre thing was some sort of alien creature from another world. Indeed, it is an animal like no other.

Of course growing up in Texas the armadillo is merely a part of the normal landscape like bluebonnets and an overabundance of firearms. They are the butt of jokes (re: the Texas speed bump), an important part of the music scene (re: Armadillo World Headquarters) and can even be used as a musical instrument themselves (re: the incredibly disturbing charango).

At any rate, a fez of armadillos recently started hanging out in in the front yard of my in-laws home and like honey badgers, armadillos don't care. When I arrive to pick up my girls in the afternoon they are out and about rummaging around in the dirt for bugs to eat (the armadillos are the ones eating bugs - not my daughters). Unlike other animals, they don't seem to mind that that we are watching and taking pictures of them while squealing with joy (my daughters are the ones that are squealing - not the armadillos). They go about their business, protected as they are by their thick skin. And if they get into trouble, they merely roll up into a ball until the problem goes away.

We could learn a lot form the armadillo, regardless of what planet they come from.

C: None Of The Above

Life often presents us with what appear to be opposite, binary choices. Something is good or bad, black or white, left or right. As I grow older I am constantly reminded of how things are in reality located on a spectrum. Something can be both good and bad. Almost everything exists as a shade of grey.

Being a father reminds of this fact every day.

Take my youngest daughter, Darcy, for example. At four-years-old she can be an absolute terror. And she can be an absolute joy. She wakes up ungodly early in the morning and yet I can't wait to see her and give her little body a big hug. She is stubborn and illogical and yet she can be incredibly sweet and see things in a way I never could as an adult. She doesn't see the world in terms of "A" or "B" but instead she sees all the possibilities that exist in between. Rather than choose to run up the ramp or take the stairs she chooses to climb the wall that separates the two.

This is but one of the many reasons why I love her and her big sister.