Like the collage, courtesy of Miss Lavender?

Sometimes the right DIY just falls from the sky.  Or, in this case, shows up on the street.  Here in the city, people remodeling their pisos (apartments) often haul the remnants of their old life out to the street for others to claim.  An unusual practice, but one that resulted in a major find for Miss Lavender, who had been wanting for ages to create a design/idea board out of an old something-or-other.  When the Eleven O’Clock Dad found a tall, narrow, old door standing up against a tree a few blocks away, he brought it home, where it immediately acquired a new life as a Grand DIY Idea.

Fast forward a couple of months.  After undergoing a strenuous facelift, including two thorough sandings and wipe downs, the door was ready for chalkboard paint.  Two back-to-back coats, and hey!

Sanding 1_1360

Ready to paint_1392




Who knew that someone else’s throw-away could become a legit bit of happy? Total cost: about 30 euros. Nicely done, Miss Lavender. (How’s that Spanish coming?)

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With so many bloggers staging and photographing amazing DIY’s, it’s easy for a woman who’s better with words than projects to feel like maybe her blogging resume, if you will, is lacking a little something, you know? I could practically hear my detractors saying, “Yeah, nice content, but where are the DIY’s!?”–like I’m a pageant contestant who’s strong on personality but weak in the swimsuit area, if you know what I mean.

Then a rather novel idea struck me. No one’s covering the low end of the DIY market, where the projects are so easy they might otherwise be considered forgettable. And I thought, I can do that! I’ll leave the super sophisticated stuff to Design Sponge and carve out a whole new niche for myself: the REDIY, or Ridiculously Easy DIY.

Knowing I needed some Christmas tree decorations, I decided to get cracking. Ater a trip to Els Encants, our favorite local street market, I came back with 4 meters of red ribbon that looks like silk but isn’t. Check. I then made sure I had sufficient quantities of basic white printer paper and some scissors. Check, and check.

We set to work making paper snowflakes–some large, which we folded for a cool 3D effect. (Fold the four sides up. Attach with tape. Done.) Those we threaded with ribbon and tied onto the tree. And for the smaller snowflakes, the “2D-ers”: we simply slid those right onto the branches.

Snowflake design took my younger kids the better part of two whole evenings. It was brilliant. I’m rather chagrined to confess that they’ve never before been so involved in dressing our tree. (I think you can guess the reason for that.)


Oh. And the tree! It came from the Christmas market down by the cathedral. It’s a small Douglas Fir, in its own pot, with its own very nice dirt.

All done. Just like that.

You know those red buttons from Staples?–the ones that say “easy” in big, white, lower case letters, and you can thump it with the heel of your hand and feel like you just accomplished Something Big? That’s the RE-DIY. Hit the button! Tree done! Kids happy! Mom happy! Voila!

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Years ago in one of her columns for the Oprah magazine, Martha Beck talked about how to connect with your right life.  As she explained it, first, you need to know what you’re truly passionate about.  For some of us, that might seem like a big “duh.”  But she points out that some people have gotten so good at ignoring those self-sent invitations to take up doing what they love that the invitations eventually stop coming.  The result:  they completely lose touch with their sense of vocation and spend their lives doing what they feel they’re expected to–at the expense of ever doing what they love.

Her remedy for this is an exercise so powerful, I’ve used it many times with my teens to get them thinking about how to engage with their connected, impassioned selves.  So here’s the trick:  notice where your thoughts go when you’re not aware that they’re going anywhere.  In other words, when you find yourself daydreaming, what do you daydream about?  More often than not, we daydream about what we’d really love to be doing.  I suggested this to my son, who often wondered what (beyond surfing) he was meant to do with his life. When he became more aware of where his daydreaming mind went, he started attending to it, and he discovered over time that his thoughts always went to music–and not just to the kind he wanted to listen to, but the kind he wanted to make.

My older daughter’s thoughts inevitably go to fashion and design, more specifically to things she can make right now in an attempt to beautify her little room here in Spain.  Recently, my husband found an old door sitting out in front of an apartment building nearby, a signal that someone was ready to abandon it to a new owner.  The piece is tall and narrow, as are so many doors here, with the hinges still on it and panels carved into it, which she plans to cover with chalkboard paint as a prelude to standing it up against a wall in her bedroom, where it will serve as an art board.  How to give old things with good bones a new life–this occupies her daydreams.  Currently, my younger daughter has been daydreaming about growing a little garden.  Her nice dad helped her find some antique pots to serve as homes for her herbs, and she’s one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a plant whisperer.

The second piece to this is the more complex one.  As we grow up, we realize that the price of doing what we dream about means acquiring the discipline to accept the drudgery that always goes along with it.  It was easy, for example, for all of us to watch my amazing niece, Breeja, who just swam in the Olympics, and forget the day-in, day-out, unremitting, muscle-straining work that got her to London.  Yes, she dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer.  And oh yes, she absolutely did the work.

What do your kids daydream about?  Where do their thoughts go when they’re untethered?    Ask them.  The answers are illuminating.  Moreover, sometimes it falls to us to help move them along in their march toward a dream.  My son’s brilliant piano teacher interviews and auditions every prospective student.  She also wants a detailed bibliography of the family’s music libary.  When he first met with her, who do you think put that bibliography together??  Um-hmm.  That little task took many, many hours out of my life, but it helped land him a spot on her docket.

How do you help your teens identify and move toward the things they daydream about?  Over the years, I’ve missed the boat a couple of times, not for lack of good intentions but simply for lack of know-how. So let’s grow each other’s tool kits, shall we? What a great resource we are for each other!

(Photo from June, 2012. The Eleven O’Clock Kids are dead serious about Budapest.)

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My younger daughter wants to grow things.  Imagining that perhaps she’ll become a landscape architect one day, she draws elaborate blueprints of gardens.  Once, just after Christmas, we wandered down to the Sherman Library and Gardens, a horticultural retreat in Corona del Mar, California.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  If there’s a more charming place, I can’t think where it might be.  We had crepes and herbal tea on one of the patios, and we wandered the gardens, stopping to read about the native plants and shrubs and flowers and what not.  (Such a great little pair of words, “what not.”)  Predictably enchanted, my girl stored up all she was seeing, and I, likewise, stored up the memory of our little outing.  She is such easy company.


We don’t have even a square inch of dirt here in Barcelona, but I found an Italian parsley plant the other day at the market and brought it home, thinking that if anyone could stop it from wilting, it would be Miss Zinnia.  Sure enough, she has babied it along, insisting that her father take her out to find potting soil and a proper pot for a home.  The pot he found at Els Encants, our favorite market.  Mr. Parsley (why the plant seems like a boy, I don’t know) lives out on our terrace now, in his new digs, where he soaks up the morning sun, with Miss Z. watering him carefully (“moisture, but not too much,” she reminds us) and monitoring his progress.

Funny, how I can’t grow a thing.  My thumb is so black you’d think it was stone cold dead. People give me plants, and without fail–and of course without meaning to!–I kill them.  So discouraging.  But so delightful to see one of my children inherit my mother’s fitness for making things grow.


I can’t wait to see the gardens that unfurl under the gentle and deft hands of Miss Zinnia.  In the meantime, inspired by something she saw in the Plaza Real down in the Gotic district of Barcelona, my girl is on the lookout for antique kitchen pots, soup cans, and anything else that could be a cozy home for a kitchen herb.  She plans to arrange her menagerie of plants just so, either out on the terrace or in our kitchen, so that we’ll have fresh herbs for our soups and sauces.  (I am better in the kitchen than I am with plants.)

Hooray for DIY-ing.  And hooray for my little nature girl. Do you have one?–a nature child, that is?

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