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My younger daughter’s senior year of high school. She is leaving for college in a few months. As I am used to involving kids in the decision-making process, we’re discussing my next career move. The idea of providing online architectural services that support DIY home improvement enthusiasts came to mind when I was walking through a garden designed by a landscape architect I interviewed to help me with mine. I did not hire her, opting to take a chance on doing it myself. That’s what I always do. Instead of relying on others, I choose to proceed on my own, approaching any project at hand with a child-like beginner’s mind and involving kids of my own in order to learn together! It becomes our pride and joy.

In 6th grade Nastasya runs for Student Body President with a slogan: “Vote for Nastya if you want a year filled with perfect days.” Her campaign poster features a series of photographs as if taken throughout the year. The one above represents summer. Since we live in Los Angeles, it is the easiest to style — Nastya is in our backyard — designed by yours truly. Our decomposed granite hillside adorned with succulents is the backdrop. I actually remember involving kids in the planting process.

online architectural services… hmmm… I worry what Nastya would say about it. She is not that impressed, but helps me edit. I start calling myself DIY Ally aspiring to become a household name. I know. It’s very ambitious.

It’s already Nastasya’s junior year in college. She is in Prague, doing a semester abroad. I don’t mind being an empty nester. With a developing online architectural practice to nurture, I am having the time of my life! Writing. Designing. Being of service. In the effort to get the word out, I am talking a lot.

It’s so wonderful to stroll down the memory lane — fondly remembering the times when my daughters were growing up and I was teaching myself how to be a good parent. On our first visit to the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, Mia is not even two-and-a-half and I am eight-months pregnant with Nastasya. It’s a hot July Monday. Unfortunately, the gardens are closed to the public on Mondays. Before having to turn around, we are allowed to spend a few minutes under a huge oak tree. It reminds me of the parks in Pushkin, near St. Petersburg and of my own childhood.



involving kids, online architectural services, architect on demand

involving kids, online architectural services, architect on demand

mia’s drawing depicting the three of us at the Huntington Botanical Gardens

Fast-forward to a celebration of Mother’s Day at the Huntington 16 years later. Frankly, I expect it to be a purely altruistic gesture, an outing just for my benefit. And I am quite surprised to watch my daughters genuinely enjoy the Gardens. This place is truly significant in their lives. They know their way around very well with favorite spots to explore each time we visit.

involving kids, online architectural services, architect on demand

Nastasya & friend at the Cactus Garden Discovery Cart

I had been commissioned by the director of the Huntington to create three unique Discovery Carts as mobile exploration stations to be placed in the Gardens specifically for the children visiting with their families. My daughters had a chance to try them out first-hand! There’s even been a brochure printed with Nastya and her friend Eden on the cover, scrupulously studying a plant at the Cactus Garden Discovery Cart.

My kids participate in Youth Theater Project, take art classes, and play tennis. I am there to drive them to all of the extra-curricular activities. That’s taken for granted. Yet there is something else. I involve my kids in things I love. It enables me to engage in their lives completely. We are in it together — creating, exploring, and experimenting — enjoying the freedom of uninhibited expression. At the Huntington, we are initiated into the world of natural beauty; we are digging up new ways to bond as a family. Kids’ creativity and mine blossom simultaneously.

I never imagined possessing a green thumb, but can not resist the temptation of trying, no matter how reluctant and scared of doing the wrong thing I am. My daughters and I take a seminar with the Huntington’s famous Rose Garden curator on rose pruning. Mia chooses it as a topic for her assigned “informative-demonstrative” speech and teaches the techniques to her classmates.

One year, on the morning of my birthday, Nastya disappears into our rose garden — she is constructing a tiny figure out of wire, paper string, a twig, and rose petals. She calls her sculpture “Mama Wearing Her Garden Couture.” She puts so much thought, creativity, and her own personality into it.

Once they organize a spa for me — they can sense that I really need it! They list all of the services on a pretty card, create a healthy lunch menu and decorate their bathroom (the one that has a tub) with handpicked flowers.

They witness my growing fascination with propagation. Succulents are my favorite (very forgiving) medium. For a while, the trips to the Huntington become all about the Cactus Garden and collecting more and more unusual varieties. As with any new passion, I proceed to share it with them. And, as usual, they bring something of their own to the adventure and enhance it for me, making the experience much more meaningful.

My kids’ creativity lifts and reaffirms. Here is a poem they wrote as an apology for something that hurt my feelings (have no idea what it was). I reprint it here in its entirety because it illustrates beautifully how involving kids in the things you love gives them the vocabulary and the comfort level to express negative feelings instead of dismissing them.

Two Little Succulents

You planted two little succulents

Side by side

Lovely little succulents

Roots intertwined

You take care of them daily

And tend to them mainly

Those two little fellows

With arms, their turgid leaves, stretched out to you

Their mother

Gravel, like silk slippers, at their soles

You dug it and placed them here, ever so gently

You are everything to the little green plants

They blossom and grow

They thrive thanks to you

And their buds overflow


You planted two little succulents

Side by side

Lovely little succulents

Roots intertwined

To you they are perfect

But there is no such thing

Their spines, part of a succulent’s nature

Have no intention to purposely injure

Especially not you

Never, ever you

But now and again they’ll prick you

You’ll bleed


You planted two little succulents

Side by side

Lovely little succulents

Roots intertwined

The sun warms their cheeks

You make sure of that

Lovingly you watch them grow

Little by little you’re forced to let go

You do what you can

As do they, you must not forget

And when ever they prick you

The juice, which runs through their veins

Becomes full of regret

Forget the Critic, the Skeptic, and the Shame Parent. It is my priority to make them feel safe. By bringing my kids into my world, I give them permission to level with me. There is an understanding — no fear of judgment. We have so much in common!

involving kids, online architectural services, architect on demand

Mia at the Japanese Garden Discovery Cart

This post is the second in the series of ten designed to expand on the emotional background of downloadable how-toBOOK DIY Like a Hummingbird.


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