The Call to Create: Marguerite Knutzen 1925-2017


My mom passed peacefully in her home last week. She was a loving, kind and patient mom. To her I owe my life’s calling: the joys of making, doing and teaching.

My mom taught junior high art, crafts and ceramics before I was born. She took a break to raise me and then went back to teaching as an elementary school aide.

Teaching at the junior high level is no easy task. Schools dump students with academic and home problems into the arts classes just to keep them busy. My mom’s call to be a teacher wasn’t really about how to turn a pot on a wheel.

I’ll let my mom explain. In a stack of her papers I found this note:

As a former teacher of 30 years working with junior high (now called middle school) and elementary students I was always challenged to keep the art activities of crafts, ceramics, drawing and painting “on the move.” This age student is very active and has a spontaneous ability to create and be uninhibited. That is how God created the teenager.

In later years I had the opportunity to work with adults who tend to toss creating aside by saying, “I can’t draw a straight line.” Inhibition sets in. The truth is God created us to be creative and we all have it within us. Our lives are enriched by the activities involved in creativity around us. Not just in the art of drawing but in dance, theater, writing, reading a story to a child, entertaining in our homes, gardening, workshops, singing, playing an instrument and on and on.

People are stimulated when encouraged and often find new abilities they never thought they had.

I will miss my dear mom. But it gives me great comfort to know that she touched so many lives.

A Three Step Strategy for Curing Internet/Smart Phone Addiction


I suspect I’m not alone in finding myself checking the news on the interwebs a little too much lately. While I have a rule against discussing politics on this blog, let’s just say that I think we can all agree that things have gotten profoundly weird. Each day brings with it new kookiness and with that novelty comes the desire to stay glued to our smart phones and computers.

How to break that addictive cycle may just be one of the great questions of our time. On our deathbeds, I doubt many of us will look back fondly on those thousands hours we spent on our Facebook news feeds.

So what practical steps can be taken to climb out of the internet hole? I have a simple, three part thesis:

  1. Recognize that we fall down in the Facebook/Twitter/News Feed hole when we are feeling anxious, lonely or depressed.
  2. The only way to avoid wasting time on the smartphone/interwebs is to replace that mindless surfing with alternative activities.
  3. Engaging in those alternative activities, particularly physical ones, establishes a positive feedback loop that reduces problem 1.

At this risk of this post turning into yet another listicle, here are some suggested alternate activities to plug into point #2:

  • Take a class. Hint: if you pay for the class you are more likely to go.
  • Schedule a time to exercise. The more that exercise activity interferes with the ability to use a smart phone the better.
  • Don’t look at your phone/computer first thing in the morning. Pick up a book first.
  • Build something.
  • Garden, pull some weeds and plant some vegetables.
  • Go to concerts, plays, lectures etc.
  • Seek out a spiritual practice that involves both private time and scheduled group engagement.
  • Read and apply some of the “deep work” anti-distraction strategies found in Cal Newport’s blogs and books.

I think the common thread with these activities is redirection and physical separation from our computers and phones, though I’ve found that you can take an online class and avoid mindless surfing with some discipline. There are many other activities that I’ve left off here, and I’d love to hear suggestions from our readers in the comments.

Much has been made of the crack-headed bio-neurological addictiveness of the internet, particularly Facebook. While there’s some truth here, the philosophy nerd in me rejects the idea that this problem is entirely within the domain of the neuroscientist/psychologist (see David A. Bank’s excellent critique of positivist explainerism if big ideas float your boat). Internet addiction is not a problem that can be solved solely on the individual level. We also need collective action. We need to meet face to face, create new narratives and work together to make the world a better place. Face to face group activities go a long way in defeating the cult of the individual so favored by the Silicon Valley elite who profit from our distraction.

Still, there will be times that problem #1 gets the best of us. We won’t always succeed in avoiding the interweb hole and we might, as Newport suggests, even schedule some time to mindlessly surf just to get it out of our system. But the more we get out and just do stuff the less we’ll end up internet surfing and the better we’ll feel. In short, schedule a time to surf a real wave rather than a virtual one.

The Week in Pictures


Both Kelly and I came down with colds this week. It takes superhuman effort on my part to string words together into sentences when I’m feeling well. With a cold I run an even greater risk of committing grave grammatical and punctuation errors. So rather than write, I decided to shuffle out of the house yesterday and take a few pictures. Above is the view from our front porch.


The Malva parviflora is back which means that we’ve had some rain this year. I take this as a hopeful sign even though we’re not out of the drought in Southern California.

little library

Our neighbor Jennie Cook (a guest on episode 50 of our podcast) put up a Little Free Library in her parkway a few years ago. It’s been a huge success. I’ve gotten rid of and acquired quite a few books and sometimes I just stroll down to look at what oddball things have shown up.


One street over a neighbor has a huge stand of this common cactus that I, sadly, don’t know the name of (if you do, please leave a comment).


A relative sent Kelly a get well bouquet of succulents that now lives on our front steps.

Once I stop swigging DayQuil, Root Simple will be back with our regularly scheduled programming.

On the Vulnerabilities of Combination Locks


Back in December, just a few days after Kelly came home from the hospital, I went to the gym for a badly needed workout. I put my wallet and car keys in a small set of lockers located on the weight room floor. Those lockers (pictured above) have a built-in combo lock where you can set the combo yourself. Unfortunately something went wrong. When I went back to retrieve my belongings the combo I had set did not work. I asked a staff member to find the master key to open the locker. He informed me that the boss had it and that he wouldn’t be back until after the holidays. I panicked. How would I get by without my keys, credit card and driver’s license? Then I remembered an idle afternoon back in the summer when I attempted to learn how to crack combo locks.

The efforts of that afternoon paid off. After around five minutes of practice on the other lockers I figured out how to open the lock and I manged to retrieve my belongings.

Combo locks all work the same way. The internal mechanism has three or four wheels that must align to open the lock. More expensive combo locks have false gates to make them harder to crack. The cheap built-in locks at the gym had no false gates. Opening the lock was as easy as turning the numbers until I felt a subtle resistance. The process reminded me of playing a musical instrument. All it takes is a little finger dexterity and practice.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, you’ve got a couple of options for opening a combo lock:

  • With a shim:

  • With some math:

Both the shim and the “math” methods take practice. I have not been able to open the lock I’ve been practicing on with either of these techniques. Of course, the easiest method is just to pry open a locker with a screwdriver or crowbar. And many locks can also be defeated by drilling them.

Lastly, let’s say you have an open combo lock but have forgotten the combo. You can figure it out by peering into the opening:

In addition to adding a James Bond villain skill to your mental toolkit, consider this post as a warning. Don’t leave valuables in a gym locker. I could have easily opened the other lockers, pulled out wallets, copied down credit card numbers and put the wallets back. My fellow gym goers would not have known anything was wrong until their credit card bills arrived.

Kepler’s Snowflakes


In honor of the 12th and final day of Christmas, I offer an illustration from Johannes Kepler’s ponderings on the origins of the snowflake. Too poor to buy a Christmas gift for a friend, Kepler penned an essay instead, “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake” (Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula). The short pamphlet, written in 1611, begins with Kepler crossing the Charles Bridge in Prague and noticing a snowflake land on his jacket. He goes on to ponder the geometry via a detour into Neoplatonism. Thus was born the first work of crystallography. If only we could replace the commercialism of the season with well crafted essays!

Hope you are all staying warm or cool (hello Australia!).