Snowshoe Commute

We had a mega-snowstorm here on Thursday, dumping a good 8-10 inches on our neighborhood in Saint Paul (better than the 18″ recorded just 100 miles north in Superior, WI!). In any normal year this would have produced a snow day, but after missing 4.5 days of school already, we stayed open. Many teachers and students faced multi-hour commutes. For me, it was just a matter of strapping on the snow shoes and trudging my usual mile. It was fun, and I tried not to be smug about the five stuck cars I passed on the way. Below are two phone pics I shot on the way. Alas, I couldn’t figure out a way to compose a selfie that included my snow shoes. (I need longer arms… or a fish-eye lens.)

The back yard from our stoop, including the ice fort.
The back yard from our stoop, including the ice fort.
Fresh snow is magnificent.
Fresh snow is magnificent.



Ice Castle

The Inspiration

Rainbow Igloo picture posted by Aunt Alli last year.
Rainbow igloo picture posted by Aunt Alli last year. Turns out that this was beyond our carton count and engineering ability this year. (Click for the original website about the rainbow igloo project.)

Preparations for a more modest structure

Over 100 milk cartons collected.
Over 100 milk cartons collected.
Lesson: Don't leave ice bricks in the sun on a black table no matter how cold it is.
Lesson: Don’t leave ice bricks in the sun on a black table no matter how cold it is.


Construction begins.
The walls begin to rise.
Drizzling water to help cement everything into place.
The bricks are mortared with a slurry of snow and water. Drizzling additional water helps cement everything into place.
Careful mounting of spiked merlons on the parapet.
Careful mounting of spiked merlons on the parapet.
Finishing touches.
Finishing touches. (Mostly testing the integrity of the wall and adding mortar where necessary to tighten things up.)

Ice Castle!

Tall battlements.
Tall battlements.
Ice castle!
Ice castle!


Two Plates

In the interest of science, I present the following two exhibits.

Exhibit One

February 15, 2014 photo of Maggie’s place setting after her breakfast. Rather than looking at the cute heart plate, observe the clean black tablecloth around the edge. Maggie is 21 months old.

Maggie's plate. Maggie is nearly two years old (one year, ten months).
Maggie’s plate. Maggie is nearly two years old (one year, nine months).

Exhibit Two

February 15, 2014 photo of Griffin’s place setting after his breakfast. Note the tablecloth. Griffin is 4 years, 10 months old.

Griffin's plate. Griffin is nearly five years old (4 years, 10 months).
Griffin’s plate. Griffin is nearly five years old (4 years, 10 months).

Additional Data

  • The photo of Griffin’s spot was taken after he had already attempted to clean up his area.
  • Breakfast menu was identical (strawberry shortcake with crumbly biscuits) except that Maggie declined the strawberries and requested a poached egg. (To my eye, the strawberries and egg had similar properties — slipperiness, difficulty of fork stabbing, etc. — so these data are still valid.)
  • Both ate with forks and occasional fingers.
  • Both had similar napkins.
  • Neither had substantial adult intervention.
  • This situation is not an anomaly. Maggie’s area is typically significantly cleaner than Griffin’s, although she has notably inferior control of her fork and other eating tools.


Competing explanations:

  1. Developmental stages. When Maggie is four, she will be just as messy. Was Griffin more fastidious when he was one? Memories are fuzzy and unreliable, but I don’t think so. We can test this in a few years with another set of pictures. (Strawberry shortcake for breakfast, February 15, 2017!) Update: See Two Plates, Revisited for the 2017 results.
  2. Core personalities. Griffin’s gene mix is less inclined toward maintaining a clean environment. (There is some evidence to support this from other arenas.)
  3. Parenting. Our methods of teaching Griffin and Maggie were somehow different, leading to these divergent results.
  4. Gender. I’m often skeptical of this, but perhaps there is a gender component.
  5. As a nod to my years in California, I shouldn’t omit the possibility of planetary influences… Aries vs. Taurus, anyone?
  6. Or, the Chinese lunar calendar was big in my family, so maybe it’s an Ox vs. Dragon thing!


Mississippi Whalesongs

At about 4:00 AM this morning Sarah and I awoke to the songs of a passing pod of whales. Truly, it sounded like distorted whalesongs, or  a family of giants groaning in their sleep, or some 100-foot tall shutters creaking in the wind. We lay there, bemused, wondering what it could be. We didn’t have any good guesses. Our most realistic hypotheses didn’t make much sense: the crane at Macalester creaking in the cold? Distant wolves howling in the suburbs? Turns out, we weren’t the only people awakened by it. Local news sites ran headlines like these:

Strange howling sound awakens St. Paul


Whales? Organ music? St. Paul residents try to place eerie early-morning noise


MYSTERY HOWL: What caused haunting St. Paul sounds?

Nobody is sure what the sound was, but after eliminating a number of possibilities (including checking to make sure there were no train accidents in the vicinity) the best guess of the Army Corps of Engineers is that it was shifting ice in high winds on the Mississippi.
Check it out for yourself (works best at high volume with no other background noise):


Winterupt 2014

On February 7, 2014, the 8th grade at my school completed their first two week “Winterupt” experience. We pushed hard for the opportunity to do this—basically taking two weeks off from regular classes to do school differently (and better!). It has been a ton of work over the last year, but thanks to my incredible colleagues, we pulled it off successfully. (Despite school closures throwing all our plans into disarray.)

During the first week students were immersed in their foreign language. (I don’t have any media here to illustrate that week yet because while they were doing that, I was with the design thinking team madly working out our plans for the second week. I’m hoping to dig something up from the language team.) During the second week, students engaged in a design thinking challenge where they re-imagined the playground space outside the middle school. The short movie below was thrown together by a colleague from some photos during the first few days of the project. The slide show includes a picture of each model (built from start to finish in two days!) along with the team’s mission statement.

The design process:

The final models/prototypes: