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TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a conference that happens every year in Monterey CA, bringing together 1,000 individuals who change the world to bang ideas off each other and see what’s up. The speakers are intriguing thought-movers in the world today, and they cover big ground, from science to philosophy to culture; take a look at the talk videos posted on the TED site, and have some snack food available. You’ll want to stay awhile. Really good stuff.


The problem with going to bed early (10 pm for me) is that I wake up early. Too early. Like this morning. I woke naturally from a good sleep that started at 10:15 last night. I stayed under the covers, planning the day a bit, then reached over for my laptop and a folder with some work in it that I thought I’d knock off before the kids get up. After getting into it, I noticed the clock. 2:22 am. No kidding. By this time, though, the wheels in my head are turning and there’s no going back. I was up.

It was 3:30 pm before I had a chance to put my feet up for 30 minutes. At 4 pm, my cell alarm woke me from a comatose sleep on the couch, drool on my cheek. It was a necessary sleep rather than a refreshing one, but I’m not complaining. It got me through an evening of basketball practice, voice lessons, and other Thursday night essentials. I don’t think I’ll have a problem sleeping until 5 tomorrow…ah, sweet luxury…

It’s been a hectic week between MIT and Brown, so writing time has been condensed. Still, I’m grabbing moments to read and write; in periods of intense activity I appreciate even more those small pauses that break up the activities of the day, that punctuate my thoughts, that define the edges of the non-still moments. Today I came across something from Lao Tzu in the Tao Teh Ching:

We put thirty spokes to make a wheel:
But it is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.

We make a vessel from a lump of clay:
but it is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

We make doors and windows for a room:
But it is the empty space that makes the room livable.

Thus, while existence has advantages,
It is the emptiness that makes it useful.

Sometimes I hear myself using a specific word several times in an inordinately short period of time. Once it’s spoken, it seems, it takes root and wants to be said over and over. The tongue tries it out here, and then there. The word develops a boldness, a will to exert itself that supercedes my intention for speech. The only cure is vigilant discipline so things don’t get out of hand. Let’s face it, you really don’t want to hear the word “hobnob” more than twice in a few days.

One word that has cropped up, pushed out, been spoken, several times in the last 4 days is “unfold.” But it’s not bothering me a bit. It’s not a sound my tongue is trying out, scratching its back on. It’s an idea that is forming. A thread that’s weaving. I haven’t found the end yet, but I find myself thinking about it in small moments suddenly. Like when I shut the dishwasher and take a moment to put my hands on my hips and look out the window. Unfolding.

Or when the task in front of me fades a bit and the background information comes into focus: cat pouncing, kids on the couch laughing, music playing, car passing by. And I suddenly think of the word “unfold.”

This word is pushing itself into my consciousness in some interesting ways. Thoughts of how bodies unfold. Reflections on how time unfolds, and folds again. Ideas about the physical qualities of folding mechanisms. How folding and unfolding relate to collapse and extension, the way these words seem to imply intention or pattern.

When something is unfolded, surfaces that have been inward facing are exposed. It’s an opening. There’s an upward energy. Today I had lots of those moments. Seeing the spring unfold in new england, during a wonderful walk today. In conversation, the unfolding of another person’s life as stories are shared. On the stage, the beautiful revelation of an unknown part of a son I thought I knew so well.

Unfoldings can feel gentle, less about movement than awareness. They can be a change in perspective. Today I’m thinking back to my previous post about a history of not folding laundry, and it’s made me wonder if maybe I’ve always had an attraction to the unfolded state. It feels mysterious, truthful, and grounded. I like that.

Of course, proteins must fold to achieve their biological functionality. Sometimes the dimension of the folded state is critical to perceived stability. If you’re looking for an introduction to the physical nature of unfolding, take a look at Erik Demaine’s Folding and Unfolding page.

I bet that word will be on my lips again tomorrow. I don’t think it’s done with me yet.

skateland    /     jim allen   /     memphis tennessee

I started writing something really reflective and pretty sappy about my friend Jim Allen, who is married to my other friend Laura; spent some time, even, crafting the language and getting it right. And then I realized he would hate it. That’s not right – I think he would like it, but it would be embarrassing in the public forum. So I’m keeping it short and sweet here. But I do love this man.

He’s finally going public with his talent as a photographer. I hope you’ll enjoy his beautiful images as much as I do. Take a good long look. Attorney for the USPS…photographer. Attorney for the USPS…photographer. Hmmm. Interesting…

Every book Jim has recommended to me over the last 15 years has been worth the read. Now, when he tells me to read something, I run, not walk, to the bookstore/library/amazon.

He’s one of the best storytellers I know. And very funny. Jim has deep spirit that sees truth. That’s why I love these photos. I think you can see that.

Jim Allen lives in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m going to visit at the end of April, so you’ll be hearing more about him.

I’m great at getting laundry clean, not so great at putting it away. When the kids were little, huge mountains of clean laundry would perch on the couch, eroding day after day as I pulled off small garments for daily wear. Like an archaeologist, I would dig past bath towels and denim jeans to locate that size 3 green sock.

I did realize that the energy I put into rediscovering the clothes I had cleaned was greater than the energy it would take to simply put them back into the drawers, but for some reason it was a tough chore for me to complete. Sometimes the children would actually scale the side of the mountain and sit on top to watch Sesame Street from a higher altitude. More than once I found a small sleeping body burrowed into a fabric-softener-scented cave, sticky toddler fingers and face making a re-wash inevitable.

When the kids reached middle school age, I had a bright idea. No more would clothing from the dryer come upstairs to become landscape. Since nothing was getting folded anyway, I would just throw the clothes out of the dryer into personalized laundry baskets. The kids could fold and put away from there. This solution was fast and easy. It was like dealing cards at a casino, each garment whipped from the mouth of the dryer to the right basket. Interestingly, the kids started migrating to the basement to get dressed each morning. Maybe I hadn’t shown them where the drawers in their dressers were. Maybe they just got my aversion-to-folding gene.

When the three of them hit high school, I decided to retire from laundry. Now we all take care of our own clothing, and I’ve mended my ways. Laundry obediently stays in the basket and I reward it by folding and putting it in my drawers promptly. Towels move quickly into the bathroom cabinet, and my socks are rarely lost. When I feel the need to tackle mountains now, I just walk up the stairs and open the door to a teenager’s bedroom. Several unexplored mountain ranges are always available up there.

Label from a juice jar:


flavored blend with
two other juices
with added ingredients

from concentrate

I’ve had some of that lately. Arriving and leaving. In and out. Crossing the threshold on multiple levels, and in both directions, creates a sort of rhythm to periods of my life. In my mind, in my physical space, at work, in my relationships.

Coming and going reflects synthesis and divergence in so many scenarios. The question for me is always “which way am I going? And why?” It’s easy to get sucked by life in both directions, and to feel confused about how I got to where I am. Sometimes it’s the same thing: coming towards something implies a moving away from other things. Seeing clearly where that energy is moving is a pretty good trick in our busy world.

There’s the question of what happens in between the two movements. Is it a quick pivot? Is there respite? An extended stay? A purposeful mission? What do these tempos mean?

Then there’s what happens between me and the rest of the world: the welcome or send-off. Someone said “Peace” to me today and it’s stuck around for hours. That’s a good one. If I’m moving into a hostile environment, my defenses kick in. If I’m going home, or seeing the face of someone I love, everything opens up.

Today, when things get hectic (and they often do) I’m going to think about being conscious about my own ebb and flow, and I’ll try to be intentional in directing that personal tide. Just as important is letting go of outcome to see where the present moment takes me. If I’m lucky (and I often am), it could be a place I’ve never been before.


Pi. It’s an infinite number. But you can see the first million digits here.

Today is Pi Day. And Albert Einstein’s birthday. We generally celebrate it by eating pies. Cooking isn’t my best talent, but I’ve gotten good at pies. When I was growing up, I requested birthday pie instead of cake, complete with candles. It’s a beautiful thing.

My son Henry loves pi, and pie too. Once, I overheard him tell his friends “I could eat a whole table of pies!” So I said I would do it. And we had 36 pies covering the dining table. Apple, pecan, pumpkin, chocolate rum, banana cream, key lime, cherry, and more. All made by yours truly. Twelve Henry friends AND their parents came to the pie party to eat the goods. It was magically fun. It was unbelievable. And it was very nearly never-ending. It was pretty close to pi, in fact.

Yesterday I found great pleasure in making soup with a friend, and by the time it was over I found a bit of wisdom as well.

Carrots, onions, celery, finely chopped and sauteed. Add broth and herbs. Blend in a food processor. Add sharp cheddar and steamed broccoli. Wow.

Well, it should have been wow. Except we had no food processor. We were, in fact, process-less. There would be no puree after all. After a brief strategy session, we decided to forge ahead, leaving the ingredients in their original solid forms. And were very pleased to discover that despite the shortcut, we had made a beautiful soup, with more texture and color than the original recipe.

So here’s my insight: sometimes, maybe it’s a great idea to forget all the processing, unplug your brain, and let life happen without making a smooth, uniform, rational puree of it all. Just let all the pieces be there, and experience them, and quit all the thinking. It might be that things get more real. (OK, I know it’s not my deepest thought, but that’s because my processor has a short circuit today. It was either the incredible soup or that dessert.)

Bon appetit!

John’s Sister’s Wow Broccoli Cheddar Soup:

6 T butter
3/4 C carrot, chopped
1 C celery and onion, chopped

Saute chopped veggies in butter until tender.
Sprinkle top with 2 T flour.
Saute 3-4 minutes while stirring.

4 C vegetable stock

Bring to a boil, then turn down to low simmer for 45 minutes.
Remove from heat and puree in a food processor. **OPTIONAL!
Pour mixture back into pan.

1 C half & half ***DO NOT BOIL!!!
16 oz sharp cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste.
1 t dry mustard
dash Red Hot chili sauce

Cut into pieces and steam 1 large head of broccoli crowns (3 minutes max).

Add them to the soup and heat (WITHOUT BOILING) until the broccoli is slightly mushy.


"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?" -Hillel
all the entries are found early in the march 2007 archive...