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Lapham Buildementary: Outdoor Sculptures by Kids

Lapham Buildementary is a twelve-week after school club for 20 first and second grade students. It's free for the Lapham Elementary students, thanks to a ton of support from the city and the community. 

The kids are busy this spring learning the who, what, and how of public art and sculpture. They have also begun plotting their own large, 3-dimensional pieces to build. This kid-made art will be installed in the parkway along the Yahara River this summer.

The artist-in-residence is Amy Mietzel, a former elementary-school art teacher who now teaches a full range of courses for adults and kids from her funky little space on Winnebago Avenue called Bare Knuckles Arts. 

About a year ago, I approached Amy with the idea for Lapham Buildementary. I was thinking of a follow-up to Yahara Reflections, a temporary installation of five artists' work in 2014. I barely knew her then, but had a feeling she was the person who could pull it off. 

When you walk in Bare Knuckles Arts, it's obvious that the workspace is the brain-child and baby of someone who delights in creative freedom, is open to trying new things, and has an eye for detail and a skill for organization. Watching her work on an art project with my daughters, I was impressed by how respectful, encouraging, relaxed and real she is with young people. 

Luckily, the Lapham principal was incredibly excited about the idea and Amy was on board.  I wrote a grant proposal to the Madison Arts Commission for the project and additionally received generous support from the Lapham-Marquette Parent Teacher Group, the Marquette and Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Associations, and local businesses Robin Room and Underground Meats. Amy started working immediately, sketching and networking and making things happen. She connected with UW-Madison and found two students to volunteer during class. Together we worked out the details with the school and got the blessing of the parks department. 

Lapham Buildementary kicked off in February

Over dinner after the first class, my six year old daughter told us about Andy Goldworthy. "He didn't get permission," she wanted to make clear to me. He just collected a whole bunch of snow and made huge snowballs, "like, bigger than me," she emphasized, stretching her arms over her head. He stored the snowballs in a freezer. Then in the summer, she continued, he put the snowballs in a park and watched as people discovered them. "They took over a week to melt!" she told us in awe. 

This example really spoke to my daughters, who have some icicles and a few chunks of snow in our freezer. 

Goldworthy is one of my favorite artists, too. He creates ephemeral works using natural materials. I really love that this can be done by anyone with materials that cost nothing, are readily accessible, and are naturally mesmerizing. It is what kids do with creative flair all the time, like when they make piles of rocks on the beach or build a fort from sticks in the woods.   

Amy started the first two classes with slides and stories. The focus during the second week was specifically on local sculptures, many of which were familiar to students. I watched the hands go up each time a new slide came on the screen, the kids eager to share their own ways of connecting with the artwork. After class, my children and I ran errands around the east side. We were so excited to point out many pieces we'd just been talking about.

Over the coming months, three additional local artists will come to meet and work with the students. The idea is to present a range of materials and give the children the chance to try out different techniques.

Eventually, working in pairs or teams, the kids will make their own unique designs into real sculptures. Sturdy bases for the sculptures have been welded by a friend of Amy's to meet Madison Parks' specifications. An exhibition of all the sculptures will be in the parkway along the Yahara River this summer. 

You can follow along with the project on the Bare Knuckles Arts website, where Amy posts a little story and pictures after each week's class. And check out the kids' designs on view at Bare Knuckles Arts during Gallery Night on Friday, May 5th from 5-9 PM. 

Midnight Resolve

The clock reads 12:41 AM. It is now officially January 20th, 2017.

I can't sleep.

Chances are good I'll be out of a job soon. The presidential inauguration in a few hours will affect all of us. The details are unknown, but all predictions and promises are terrifying to me. Targeted attacks on the vulnerable members of society, the artists and intellectuals...we know how this story historically goes. Intentions to de-fund the National Endowment for the Humanities would end my 15 year career as I know it, but that's not what is keeping me awake.

My mind is fixating on the challenge of kindness in all this. How I can be kinder. I feel so hurt, discouraged, and disheartened. I just want to find it in myself to grow kinder.

I am often awkwardly shy. I am not good at small talk. My social skills are inexplicably bad when it comes to things like simple interactions at cash registers and ordering pizza over the phone. And it's killing me right now, knowing these are just excuses for what boils down to a lack of energy for kindness.

What I mean is that every interaction we have is an opportunity to break free of our insecurities for the sake of human kindness. I have kind intentions, and am often capable of kind gestures. I know I am a good friend and many of my friends would claim I'm kind. But considering all that is going wrong around me, all the mean and cruel and disappointingly flawed humans flaunting themselves, I can think of nothing harder, yet more important, than to learn to be kinder.

I have a friend whose kindness is so disarming it is saintly. Her kindness is genuine and intelligent and wise. Does one have to be born with such a natural disposition toward kindness, or can I learn from her? Can I push myself to bother to be kinder? What will it take, on my part? And how can we inspire it in each other?

Thanks for reading.

It's really not like me to blog in the middle of the night. I've been less prolific, and less opinionated here, than when I started this blog. I was just getting to know the neighborhood as a parent back then and was so inspired by what was going on, I found I had a lot of opinions and things to say.

As I got to know more people who are truly involved, showing up to all the meetings, and taking care of this neighborhood, I was even more inspired. And also humbled. I know so little about what is actually going on around here. And there is so, so, so much going on in this thriving Cap-East district (more development proposals and projects than I can count). My kids are getting older, and busier, and I don't have the bandwidth to keep up, let alone comment intelligently.

But I believe there will be even more going on, and much of it will be inspiring thanks to all these good people around me, so maybe it will make sense to write more about it here. More unknowns. But why not hope?

A New Playground for Tenney Park

In 2017 the playground within Tenney Park, near the lagoon and shelter house, will be re-imagined and the play equipment will be replaced. I've been anticipating this, as have others. Tenney Park is historically and geographically unique and many people feel strongly that this is an exciting opportunity.

The City of Madison Parks Department maintains 174 playgrounds (more playgrounds per capita than any other city!) and landscape architects lead the process of replacing playgrounds. For Reynolds Park, and for Tenney Park, Sarah Lerner has been the point person for neighbors and leads the city's planning.

Playgrounds are just one part of a larger conversation about PLAY that cross-cuts through a bunch of fields in addition to landscape architecture - physical education, design, public art, environmental education, childhood development, human psychology, urban planning and probably more - and I've wished I had infinite time and resources so that I could skip around and try out some new career paths. Instead I created Madison Playground Review so that I could dip my toe in the waters while exploring the city with my kids.

In an earlier post, The Potential of Play Spaces, I admitted that writing about about playgrounds does make me feel boring, in that Mommy Blogger way, partially because so many playgrounds are so darn boring. 

But if you believe in the value of public space and city parks, you feel good in nature, and you get a kick out of innovative and artful design, playgrounds are part of the solution. 

Most playgrounds provide a pretty standard set of structures. Kids expect them and aren't complaining, at least not outright. However, experts in these things explain that there are actually fewer injuries, and kids are more engaged and getting more out of the experience, when the play spaces are different. 

And there are in fact lots of examples of different. A search for 'natural,' 'innovative,' 'inspired,' or 'cool' playground' to see some great images. Or check my Examples of Play Spaces Around the World.

Play spaces around the world today are providing public experiences with innovative design and nurturing the notion that we all need more playfulness. The thing is, the U.S. has a lot of rules and regulations. 

Which is how Sarah Lerner began the public meeting with neighbors interested in Tenney Playground's remodel. She has worked for the City for many years and is very familiar with the policies in place and why they work for the greater good. However, she is also an expert in landscape architecture and knows just how special Tenney Park is, and how ripe Madison is for an innovative, inspired, cool playground. She is excited because the neighborhood is also excited and ready to work with her.

The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association created a survey to assess what neighbors want in area parks. From over 100 responses, the top priority was to "construct a natural play area or ‘living’ playground in Tenney Park." (Survey results are here).

When I asked my kids what they wanted to see at a new Tenney Park playground, they gave me these suggestions:

-A little bowling alley
-A Merry-go-round
-A Teeter-Totter
-A May Pole (Why didn't I think of this!!!?! We could really use it!)

In reality, the sky is not the limit. The City has contracts with vendors and, based on the budget allowed for each project, a couple of options are sketched out after neighbors have been asked for general preferences. In the case of Tenney Park, several designs will be presented for public input in the next couple months before construction begins in 2017. These designs will respond to the concerns and ideas brought to the initial meeting (it was on November 16th at Whitehorse Middle School) and present a spectrum of options.

So stay tuned for more information so you can voice your opinion! And spread the word. This opportunity will not come up again soon so let's make Tenney Playground all we want it to be, for the kids and for the neighborhood and for the love of play.

Back to School: A History Lesson and a Song

My daughter just started first grade at Lapham Elementary School. I am usually the one to walk her down the street for the 7:45 morning bell. We descend on the classic brick school building as part of a gentle flutter of activity, a scene involving bicyclists, pedestrians, dogs, strollers, and curb-side drop-offs. The buses empty kids into the playground. 

Often, after my daughter is inside and her day has begun, I am still standing outside on the sidewalk deep in conversation with neighbors and other parents. This morning meeting is a nice way to start the day. I've found my cohort to be impressively engaged in the community, particularly the school community, and I learn a lot from them. 

The collective consciousness remembers that Lapham Elementary was once closed down due to lack of attendance. For me, this somewhat recent history has felt vague. 

My internet searches to sleuth out these dates led me repeatedly into the well-organized and easily accessible TLNA Newsletter archives. Volume 1, Number 1 of "Tenney/Lapham News" was published in September 1976. Exactly forty years later, I am humbled by the history in those pages, and by the neighborly care, concern, and commitment expressed by the writers over the years. 

Lapham Elementary School was closed for a decade, from 1979 to 1989. Today Lapham is part-one of the elementary school experience for neighborhood kids. After 2nd grade, kids attend Marquette Elementary on Jenifer Street, which is conveniently where they continue for 6-8 grades at the attached O'Keefe Middle School. In 2007, there was a highly controversial consolidation plan that would have closed Marquette (and moved all those kids into the Lapham building), but the plan was not passed.

Last week, on my way to a potluck, I stopped in to Cork and Bottle on East Johnson Street for a wine recommendation. Jim Wright, the owner, was behind the counter with his brother, as I expected he would be. I was glad for the chance to thank him for a generous gift Cork and Bottle recently made to Lapham Elementary. 

The local liquor shop consistently supports the school. Two years ago, I got to know Jim and former C&B owner Teena Browder as we worked together to migrate the annual neighborhood party to nearby Reynolds Park. For years, the Block Party was organized and hosted by Cork and Bottle. Any donations made by those enjoying free beer and home-made potato salad were given directly to Lapham. I don't know when that Block Party started....I'll have to ask Jim next time I see him.

The Block Party at Reynolds Park took place in June 2016, following up from the first one in 2015. We have been explicit about raising money for the school with this new version of the block party, along with funding special projects in our neighborhood parks (Reynolds, Tenney, and James Madison Parks and the Yahara River Parkway).

If you don't have kids in school, you may think that Cork and Bottle is the heart of the neighborhood. Jim remembers the years when Lapham Elementary School was closed, and he remembers how the neighborhood felt during those years. He says it was depressing. He feels strongly that the school is the heart of this neighborhood. Now that my daughter is a student, I now know what he means. 

Located in a highly urban neighborhood with around 30% home-owner-occupancy, the school feels to me like a space where students and parents feel a connection to place. When I was a new parent, I was told by other parents that Lapham was 'a good school.' A year in, I understand that to mean, at least in this case, that it is an active and highly-engaged school community.  A 'good' elementary school in the United States in 2016 is probably, generally speaking, a school where parents get to know each other and the school culture is one where parents' ideas are heard and respected. That is what I've found at Lapham. 

The year my daughter started school, the kindergarten classes were just at capacity. This year, enrollment has increased enough that there is an additional - a fourth - kindergarten class. With 1,000 new dwellings expected in the area in the next year, the "good' school will probably be part of the draw for these new residents.  

Happily there are still lots of neighbors, like Jim Wright and Teena Browder, who know the history of the area and feel a connection with the school. The principal, Tammy Thompson Kapp, recently told me a story: She was out for dinner at Pasquals. When the waiter learned she was the principal at Lapham, he burst into song:

Three cheers for Lapham 
Three cheers for Lapham 
Three cheers for Lapham 
The school for me
Our school is really cool
It even has a pool
Now here’s our pledge of loyalty
About school spirit
You’ll see and hear it
Shout it til the rafters ring
Ding Ding Ding
Three cheers for Lapham Lapham Lapham School
Oh Lapham
To thee I sing

My four-year-old already knows the words. 

Keep reading...

"When they go low, we go high" - My Thoughts on Trees & Politics

"When they go low, we go high"

Michelle Obama's DNC speech worked on me.

I've been reminded of the importance of scripting a positive story. I've been reminded of how important we are as role models for our children. I've been reminded that the stories we tell, about ourselves as individuals, families, and communities, matter.

This article in The Atlantic explains the field of Narrative Psychology by saying people use stories to make meaning. To biologists, we are storytelling animals. To humanists, things like language, literature, philosophy, and ethics, are disciplines of memory and imagination that tell us where we have been and help us imagine where we might go.

For example, here are two stories we might tell our kids:

The Emerald Ash Borer blight destroyed the tree canopy of Madison's historic downtown neighborhoods and was a huge loss for the environment, property owners, and general morale of the city.


The Emerald Ash Borer blight gave city planners the opportunity to replace ash trees that had been trimmed to the point of ill-health since the increase of electric voltage in power lines and to diversify the canopy while moving power lines underground.

Ash Trees in Wisconsin

National politics are buzzing, but on a local level I'm following along with the Madison Canopy Street Trees Facebook page

Some local news coverage tells part of the story. Neighbors have been meeting regularly and are gaining attention. A petition asks city planners to change the policy to plant only short trees under power lines (sign it here). 

Two years ago, before the Emerald Ash Borer was spotted right downtown, Ash trees in city parks could be 'saved' from removal plans if private funds were raised to pay for treatment.

The story goes like this: with organized effort and local fundraising, the TLNA neighborhood came together to take care of the trees in Tenney and Reynolds Parks.

Unfortunately this adoption option is not available for trees in street terraces.

Efforts now are focused on changing the strict policy against tall trees in terraces with above ground power-lines, as well as localized fundraising to put lines underground in certain instances.

'Keep the Canopy. Bury the Lines' T-shirts are for sale for $25 from the Street Tree Committee.
Leave a comment if you would like to order one.

A friend who has been keeping me abreast of this developing story said in an email recently, "Best news in months! The Sustainable Madison Committee voted to create a sub-committee on Street Trees. It's still going to be a long, long, long haul, but this is a great step."

I love that hopefulness in her story. In a phone conversation, she told me that public momentum is building and it will force a policy change. I believe it, and I believe we all need to get behind this story until it is true.

Why Trees Now? Because...

-Trees produce oxygen and absorb carbon

-Trees reduce energy costs and create shade

-Tress absorb rainfall during storms

-Trees make us happy

-Trees make our city charming and livable

-We want to be part of a city that demonstrates wise leadership and creates forward-thinking policy

The new Street Tree Committee it meeting later this month. They are looking for neighborhood liaisons and people willing to write a story for the city where trees and people win. 

Right now, if you feel compelled, contact your Alder. Let him or her know you support changing policies and funding partial utility under-grounding in order to facilitate preserving and replanting canopy trees in our street terraces. And it always helps to go to your neighborhood council meetings. There you can also get ideas and learn more about what's happening in your neighborhood.

I understand that when we are faced with challenges, all we can control is our reaction and the way we shape the narrative as we go forward. So as it applies to both the remarkable 2016 presidential election and our remarkable urban forest, "When they go low, we go high." 

In both cases, it seems we are scripting the story for generations to come.

Neighborhood Block Party in Reynolds Park 2016: A Photo Summary

This year's Party in the Park was from 1-5 on a Very Hot day in June. Hundreds of people relaxed under the shade of the old trees and enjoyed some good company. 

 Party in the Park is our neighborhood block party. But in the tradition of east side festivals, it is also a fundraiser for the elementary school and local park efforts. And, like the early Marquette Waterfront Festivals, it is an effort to revitalize a park that has maybe been overlooked at times, but that now sits in the heart of a vibrant and growing neighborhood.

The goals of the event, for the organizing committee and 
the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association, are simple: 
Draw neighbors together for an afternoon to chill out on the 'village green.' 

So here are a bunch of pictures that give a sense of the day. 

CLICK on a bundle of images to see it
ENLARGED on your screen.

Setting up started early and took a full team effort.

Richard Linster greeted people and renewed Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association memberships. Ken Vogel displayed his incredible puppets, Alicia Hamilton gave luxurious chair massages, the principal of Lapham Elementary hugged past and current students, and an array of items donated generously from local businesses enticed people to give money to benefit the neighborhood parks and school.

 By 1PM it was really hot. The first scheduled event was a cool one: a tour of Well #24 with Tom Heikkinen, General Manager of the Madison Water Utility.

The Doggie Parade, sponsored by Dog Haus University, thrilled both the dogs and the spectators. 

 The Cork and Bottle String band entertained us with their home-grown sound and Underground Food Cart supplied the homemade meal. A game of Red Light, Green Light drew both kids and adults into the field for a few rounds, but not for too long: It was hot in the sun!

Bernies Rock Shop brought out the much loved fossil and gem dig, children aimed tennis balls at the clothes-line of dangling stuffed animals to win whatever they hit, and thanks to extremely dedicated volunteers Teena and Sonali, hot and thirsty people enjoyed Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, root beer floats, Robin Room phosphates and JPH lemonade all afternoon.

Alder Zellers and TLNA President Patty Prime chatted with everyone while Nick served a variety of delicious homemade drinks and kids hid out in the Tenney Nursery & Parent Center cardboard maze (with zero chance an adult-sized-person would be able to follow them through the small tunnels and turns).    

...boxes for building, balls for bopping around, a fire truck to climb in and a performance of familiar hits by Francie and Josh.  

There was more, too, of course. Games and prizes. Delicious donated food by Sophia's, Macha Tea House and Festival Foods. And Rihanna, who brought her salon chair and mirror to spend the entire afternoon streaking party-goes' hair with bright waves of color. The pink streak was a literal highlight of the day for my daughter, who has refused to wash her hair all week. Somehow I missed taking a picture of Rihanna. It is probably because Rihanna was putting a gold streak in my own hair.

THANK YOU to the following contributing area businesses and organizations:


Alicia Hamilton Massage, Breeze Stevens, Burnies Rock Shop, Cargo Coffee, Chocolate Shoppe, Christ Presbyterian, Cork N Bottle Liquor Store, Dog Haus, University, Engine #3/ Willy St. Firehouse, EVP Coffee, Festival Foods, Food Fight, Gebhardt Development, Johnson Public House, Juneberry Studio & Marketplace, Ken Vogel, Lapham Outdoor Classroom & Community Garden (Terri Belz), Macha Teahouse, MadCat, Madison Metropolitan Sewer District / Saltwise, Madison Parks Department, Madison Water Utility & Tom Heikkinen, Morningwood Nursery & Greenhouse, Nick Balazs, Pasqual’s, Patrick Heck, Reanna’s Salona, Robin Room, RP’s Pasta, Salatore’s Tomato Pies, Shirley Haidinger (League of Women Voters), ShopBop, Sophia's Bakery, Studio 924, Tenney Nursery & Parent Center, U-Frame It, Underground Food Cart, UpShift, Yoga Co-op.

 Happy Summer!

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