The [doll] House that Crowdsourcing Built

To say “I love social media” on a WordPress blog that will be shared via Twitter and Pinterest – is stating the obvious to the point of blushing. Chances are if you’re reading this, you love social media too (though I wonder if your time would be better spent elsewhere online with much better content). In particular I love the “social” part of social media; the collective sharing, learning, working, meeting. I think it’s phenomenal and it’s what I suppose is one of the altruistic aims. When this aim is in symbiosis with a fabulous product, a fail whale gets its wings. Or at the very least, you have a game changing idea.

I really wish I could remember where I first stumbled upon this genius of an idea, but I do know it was through social media. A dollhouse with simple elegant design that didn’t just leave its walls blank for imagination to run free but comes with an online point of creative departure with crowdsourced ideas to personalize and make it your own. They even crowdsourced their funding through Kickstarter.

Alyson Beaton and her Grow Studio team have designed locally made, eco friendly modular houses using baltic birch and easily replaced recycled paperboard (I’ve already mentioned my affinity for cardboard). They pack flat which is welcome news for those of us whose square footage or patience can’t afford clutter (both apply to me).

I love every aspect of this toy, and what it can become as it’s shared within a online community and IRL. It engages kids to be inspired by the designers’ ideas, share their own ideas and see other kids’ featured work, and learn from how-to tutorials by Esty artisans crowdsourced by Grow Studio.

Having spent untold hours hunting online for a dollhouse that didn’t start its life in an injection mold or display a glaring gender bias, I can tell you that wooden dolly domiciles don’t come cheap. I was thrilled to see that Grow Studio starts their pricing at $12 for adorable mini houses and tops out at $60 for their biggest houses not to mention all sorts of fun add ins and replacement parts to prolong the life of this clever house.

Now that my Christmas list for the girls is locked, I can spend more time fiddling about with the downloads and trolling thrift shops for jazzy fabric the girls can use to make soon-enough-to-be-their Lille Houses theirs. It’s going to be a happy crowd happily crowdsourcing *wah wah* this December!

NOTE: Fab added some of these houses to its list of incredible things to buy – discount is 30%. Sale ends in just under 7 days on Oct 9th 2012. Woot!

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten


I first saw this video on Design Mom (one of my favorite blogs, and top of my life to envy/admire list). I was thrilled to watch two ladies making their names in research communities, hold their own with venture capital funders, and proving themselves as successful entrepreneurs.

Plus the idea is pretty darn clever. And the video is just slick – nod to Focus Forward Films. Riveting … it gets me each time I watch it.


Listening to Stories of 9/11

Late last week as I walked to the office from my garage, I stumbled across a tweet from StoryCorps about 9/11. I waited until I got to my desk before pulling the piece up.

Listen | StoryCorps – Shelli Wright and Graham Haggett

Digging deeper, I learned that StoryCorps – the well loved and known folks who record stories about Americans by Americans from all walks of life – is undertaking to curate at least one story for each life that was lost 11 years ago today. Their 9/11 Initiative has already logged over 1200 pieces representing over 600 sons, daughters, friends, parents, neighbors, colleagues …

I’ve wrestled over the years how to spend the eleventh of September, how to remember it. On the eleventh of September in 2001 after I watched the second plane hit and both towers crumble on as the news cameras captured it alongside my coworkers less than half a mile down the road from Langley, I went home under that plane-less sky save for the fighter jet flyovers and watched CNN for almost 12 hours straight. I was transfixed trying to grapple with what happened, what was happening and what was to come.

Today when I woke up the DC morning felt so arrestingly similar to that terrible day, clear cloudless air slightly chilled, it took my breath. Through the welcome distractions of our preschool classroom open-house, inbox task lists, and a solo bedtime routine, I’ve had little chance to consider the indelible meaning today holds. Now at the end of the day, I’ve decided I’m going to honor those who lost and those who were lost by listening to their stories. After all, telling our story is one of the most universal human traits we share.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. philipians 4:5

Kale in the Raw

Over the past year we have developed a truly lovely weekend ritual with friends we met at the playground. Every Sunday we are able to, we take turns hosting the other family for playtime and dinner. All of our children love frolicking about together, and the Mummies and Daddies love chitchatting and a night off from cooking/cleaning.

As I was prepping our turn for dinner while the girls were napping, I realized that my menu planning had been done too early that morning. In my drowsy state, I had concocted a meal with ingredients that I didn’t actually have. Kale as it turns out, though it shares its hue with baby broccoli, is most certainly not baby broccoli.

I’ve already written about my affinity for kale, but I’ll be honest – I’m a one trick pony with this leafy green having honed my kale chip skills quite sharply. They’re pretty tasty. But since we were serving linguini alla carbonara (it’s not just for winter anymore) it made more sense to have a fresh veggie or salad rather than a salty, slightly warm chip … even if they are pretty tasty.

As I was patting dry the curlicue, verdant leaves riddled with purple veins, I tapped away on Google hoping to save the dinner by finding a raw application of kale. My plan b included serving personal ramekins of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies.

Success! Tom Philpott wrote a fantastic and engaging piece about using raw kale in a salad – explaining among other things, possible origins and why it needs to be chopped as fine as “confetti” as he so vividly puts it. I LOVE getting the back-story and understanding mechanics … center that around food and I’m done *swoon*. He also included a truly delicious Ceaser-salad-style recipe. Since I was lacking every critical ingredient other than kale, I employed his suggested technique and threw together a hearty yet surprisingly light salad. And no, it wasn’t bitter it was bright!

Raw Kale Salad

Wash and pat dry small bundle of kale (we used purple kale), cutting out ribs. Roll leaves tightly and chop chiffonade style, place in large bowl. Pour over the kale a simple vinaigrette (I used what was left in the bottle of my red wine vinegar, and threw in a little less olive oil, whisked in a dash of sugar and a bit more than that dried basil). Probably about 1 cup worth of dressing. Toss and let sit for a good long while to macerate (ours sat for 2 hours covered in fridge). Add chopped celery (for crunch and color) and halved grape tomatoes (for sweetness and color), toss and serve.

Tom was right, it keeps well … behold leftovers the next day:

H&M fashions itself greener

After my hurried walk down four blocks from my office into the evening sun, I dash out of the parking garage to head home. With high hopes to make in time for dinner I punch my radio dial to share my drives home with my local broadcast of NPR. This evening’s marketplace had a really intriguing story about H&M and I wanted to share with you.

H&M moves away from some water-proofing chemicals |

They make a great point about “disposable fashion” nevertheless I still think it’s super hopeful that companies like H&M are making these strides.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the same symbols we have on food to know if our clothes were fair trade or organic or if they had a little bit less of an impact on our environment?! What do you think?

Note: please forgive any grammatical errors I put this post together while sitting in traffic using the WordPress app and the speaker function on my iPhone. I love technology.

What’s Pinterest’s Zipcode?

Pinterest makes me nervous. At first, to be honest, I was annoyed by Pinterest. A dear friend of mine had sent me an invitation to join in the early days before its meteoric rise. At the time it was just one too many social media platforms for me to digest. I’ll admit jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon after learning that my husband’s boards were gaining followers (being a twin, my bent towards parity borders on competitiveness). As I grew enamored with pinning and repinning, anxiety started to interrupt my enjoyment.

What worried me is that I realized I want to LIVE inside Pinterest. Specifically the gorgeous well-appointed world of Merche Grosso and her series of boards. Any of these delightful domiciles would do. I’d traipse around stunning vistas, nibble on snacks that are as delicious as they are beautiful, and perhaps learn about how to dress or why packaging sometimes trumps what it contains.

If she wasn’t so talented, if her eye wasn’t so attuned to fabulous innovative and winsome design, I might just be put off by it all. Instead I’m planning my move to her Pinterest boards where I’m sure I won’t need any of my own things but definitely need to forward my mail so I can keep in touch with my family.

In praise of eBay

Earlier this summer dear friends of ours invited us to enjoy time at their mountain home not too far from where we live. It was tricky navigating our two young girls through a house full of things that weren’t theirs until we discovered the snake. The seventy inch, fluffy plush, neon tie dye snake. For our eldest daughter it was love at first sight.

Following severe thunderstorms that night we were packing up the car before lunchtime and explaining that the snake was, in fact, not joining us for berry picking and the drive home.

If you’ve ever seen footage from the 60’s of girls descending into hysteria over the Beatles then you would have a good image in your mind of what our older daughter, who’s just shy of 4 mind you, was like when we broke the news about leaving her reptilian buddy.

I rarely get things for the girls out of guilt if ever, and since we have a toy-in-toy-out to Goodwill rule in our house the girls don’t hound us for new things. However. The degree of sincere heartbreak we were witnessing compelled me to look for some solution.

It turned out this wee beastie was created and sold several years ago by Ikea – the Djungelorm – and was no longer for sale (of course it wouldn’t be). It came in two ‘colors’ – solid green and insane, the latter of which was particularly rare (of course it would be). So off to eBay I trotted.

It was a veritable online marketplace miracle that I found not one, but TWO crazy snakes for sale. In England!!! Several emails later and an extended time through the US customs processing department, these two indescribably silly creatures arrived to our door.

I paid three times the price of the snakes themselves to ship them to the US – though all told it was under thirty bucks. The girls were elated and gladly parted with two of their old toys to donate. Thank you, thank you eBay you glorious magic maker!

What are some of the oddest things you’ve found on eBay? Let’s start a list!! Ooh, maybe we’ll start a new board on Pintrest.

P.S. In hunting for images for this post, I came across a YouTube video where a Djungelorm is teaching beginners Italian. It. Is. Priceless. #mustsee

General Store

Our annual pilgrimage to Maine has to include two specific outings to complete my northern vacation trifecta: visit and enjoy time with my family, enjoy the best local ice cream, and peruse the dizzying aisles at the local Renys, “Your Maine Department Store”.

Smack dab in the middle of the town, Renys is the Walmart of yesteryear but with more panache. It’s a must-go for all your farm gear, foreign foodie delicacies, and everything in between. All mixed together. Like an curious scavenger hunt with no clue list. Note the pool toys next to the sheet sets, and the rugs near the toys and women’s clothing …

You can spend a good afternoon getting lost among the cramped shelves in sheer consumer paralysis, or in my case complete joy-filled fascination. It’s oddly centering to hunt through the seeming chaos and it satisfies my urge to find a good bargain. Even if it is nabbig a well priced lobster-shaped maple syrup sugar confection to thank my colleague for filling in for me while away on our trip to Maine.

Aiming for (Frozen) Perfection

Right before you arrive in town-center of Farmington nestled in central Maine, you’ll drive past a house with an enormous billboard on its roof touting inexplicable yet intriguing phrases (e.g. “Tomorrow a man will walk in the park wearing nothing but a diaper. Is that legal?”), cross over a bridge spanning a narrow river, and as you pass the little league field on your right you’ll see this sign across the street:

As you pull into your parking space, you are welcomed by this letter and you begin to surmise that you have arrived at a place that aims for perfection. In the form of ice cream. Hello bliss.

There are dozens of different flavors but there are a select few that are worth serious consideration.

I always cheer internally when presented with a few choices – a point we’ll have to discuss later – and I picked my current fave, Moose Tracks with a sugar cone. A perfect blend of award-winning vanilla ice cream with adequate numbers of peanut butter cups hidden among ribbons of rich and slight gritty (in a decadent, sugary way) fudge.

Wikipedia’s entry on perfection begins with a broad definition, “a state of completeness and flawlessness”, and I hazard to say that most of us would add the caveat, that perfection is not attainable here and now. But oh how I enjoy seeing when people strive for it. All the more so when we get to experience it.

We decided to bring back enough for everyone. Because, of course, when you find something that flirts with perfection it has to be shared.

What have you found this summer that was so good, so spectacular that you felt compelled to share it?

Omega-3 Cookies

Saturday mornings we herd the two little ones post-pancake breakfast into the stroller and we hit the road to visit our neighborhood Farmer’s Market. After I ogle the heirloom tomatoes to see if one is worthy for my lunch, we hit the mini doughnut stand (that’s a vegetable, right?), loop around the road wishing I had bought less at the grocers and then head for the nearby park rife with mulch and giggling children.

Today however there was a stand toppling with peaches at a reduced price. Cobbler I thought … and it was pretty much downhill from there. This is what our kitchen looked like this evening after one round of cleaning:

So it turned out to be a peach crumble – thanks Ina! – and what’s left of it is hiding under two bowls and spoons. Yup, we ate all of it.

Because the oven was already at temperature and the crumble needed a while to bake, I decided to make walnut biscuits (aka cookies in our multicultural household). Walnuts are perfect for our girls to bulk up on, and while they are crazy about eating almonds as a snack they look at me like I’ve played a dirty trick on them when I try to get them to eat walnuts.

I adapted a recipe for Vanilla Crescents (in Philippa Vanstone’s 500 Cookies) – replacing almonds with walnuts, doubling the quantity of nuts and halving the sugar. The girls adore these just sweet enough biscuits that crumble with omega-3 goodness.

Cut 1 stick softened butter into 1 cup of flour making. Grind 2 cups walnuts, using fork to incorporate walnut meal into butter/flour mix. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, using fork to incorporate. Form large ball (should be slightly sticky), divide evenly into 16 mini balls, shape as desired making each biscuit 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Bake at 350 for 20 mins or until light golden color. Can spend a week in the fridge if they survive that long!