Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do I start from scratch, or what?



I don't do a lot of sewing, mostly because I'm not very good at it. In fact, my middle school home economics teacher took early retirement the year following my matriculation in her classroom, and I've always suspected it was because of her despair over my failure to achieve proper bobbin tension. I still have a lot of guilt to work through.

Every once in a great while, though, I like to slap together a quilt (that one up there in the photo is one I made last year). Nothing fancy--I'm less interested in intricate patterns than I am in the plain old practical idea of quilts. I like it that they had a simple purpose (keep the family warm) and were usually made from scraps (don't waste anything), after the chores were done (be useful even when you're sitting still). And here's the best part: all this practicality ends up in something pleasing to the eye.

Beauty plus pragmatism: watchwords for life.

The colors and patterns I like best are the ones that look like they were cobbled together on evenings by the fire when the plains winter was howling outside the door. It is in winter, in fact, that I usually make quilts, which is a holdover from grad school, when I used to piece and quilt them by hand (fear of bobbin tension drove me to machineless sewing); few things warm you better in a room heated on a student budget than spreading a quilt over your lap as you work on it.

Maybe because it's winter and the plains wind has indeed been howling outside our door lately, but I've suddenly got a hankering to make one again. But first, I needed to address a problem that's been bugging me for the past couple of years, namely that there isn't really a good place for my sewing machine in this house. (Yes, that's right, I finally mastered the machine a few years ago. That's not to say I especially like it, but it is a lot faster to make a quilt with a machine than by hand, and remember, the pragmatic nature of the exercise is a big chunk of what appeals to me about it.) The same holds true for where I place my rotary wheel cutting mat. Coffee tables are too low to be comfortable, kitchen tables are too high.

So since the winter weather was prohibiting me from working on my planned holiday project, a compost fence, I decided to start a quilt, and I decided to start it from scratch. That is to say, before I spent one more day being uncomfortable at the sewing machine (therbligs again), I was going to build a pull-out shelf in my study for the machine and cutting mat. I've worked on it for the past couple of days, and here's the finished product:



I used full extension drawer slides rated to hold one hundred pounds, scrap wood, and some left-over yellow paint (Laura Ashley Gold 3, if you care to know). The shelf is just the right height to sit in my back-friendly study chair while working, and there is still enough room to store two filing cabinets below it. I plan to use it to support my drawing board as well, since my knees aren't what they used to be (I usually draw sitting on the floor).

Now on to the next step: the actual making of the quilt. But first, you must excuse me while I go check my bobbin tension.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A simple journal for left-handers who like to keep their pencils handy. (And for other people, too.)



What I want in a journal is pretty simple, really. I want good drawing paper, I want a way to store a pencil so I don't have to go looking for one, I want it to lie completely flat so it is easy for a lefty to use*, and, if possible, I want it to have pages that I can remove for scanning and then put back.

It doesn't seem like such a terribly long accounting of needs, but not one of those journals you see up there on my bookshelf fulfills the items on that list. So a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd see if I could cobble up something that would make me happy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seed Order for a Snowy Farm


The farm under a blanket of snow, seen through my study window

I have been strangely procrastinatory-ish in ordering seeds this year, though I don't know exactly why. Perhaps it was the lingering memory of last year's disaster on the farm; perhaps it was a busy school term and the inability to turn my thoughts toward spring; perhaps it was just that my head cold was making me feel all wonky-headed and lethargic. Whatever the reason, when my seed catalog came in the mail, I just couldn't seem to make myself sit down and look at it.

But then we got the snow. And the howling winds. And the Christmas music permeating though the house. And suddenly it felt like the right thing to do.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Mr. Sun (and our front door)


Walu and I are having lunch today with neighbors--my sometime training buddy, Homicide Dick Dave*, and his lovely wife, British Liz--to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, so I'm leaving Mr. Sun in charge of The Bike Garden greeting duties for the duration.

As an aside: I have to bring a ham as part of my contribution to the lunch. But I've lived with a vegetarian for nigh on 17 years, how the heck am I supposed to know how to prepare meat? So, yes, I took the coward's path and bought a pre-cooked one at the Honey Glazed Ham Co. And another yes, I know ham is not a traditional Hanukkah meal, but Dave said it would be OK.

I'm also making green chile stew, a vegetarian version with black beans, and a meat version with beef (both yummy and hearty).

Finally, in a fit of madness, I've decided to make Fridays "Cartoon Day at The Bike Garden." I have no idea how long I can keep these up, but they amuse me for now. Fair warning, however: I am notoriously distractible and may forget by as early as next week that I am on a schedule, so don't go placing any bets on the regularity of this feature. (Unless the bet is with me, in which case I could clean up and take that early retirement of which I've been dreaming.)

In honor of last week's commencement ceremonies, here is the inaugural Friday Bike Garden Cartoon, "The Graduate":

James had his own reasons to be concerned about
inappropriate graduation footwear.

I hope all y'all have a safe and happy holiday season. I'll be back in the Bike Garden tomorrow with a special report on how to make a simple nature or garden journal for left-handed people (all you lefties know why this is important). Until then ciao, bella! Enjoy the festivities and don't eat too much pumpkin pie.

*Editorial Note: Homicide Detective Dave continues to raise a strenuous objection to his nickname. However, The Bike Garden is not now nor ever has been in charge of the "Detective Nicknaming Committee" and so disavows all responsibility for any reckless literary references to Dick Tracy which may occur.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Breaking news: Book is in. Author gets vapors.

I just got a call from my publisher reporting that my book is back from the printer and a box of copies is on the way to my house. I find this news a bit surreal.

I checked Amazon, and the book's status has gone from "available for pre-order" to "in stock."

And! Ooh, ooh! And! Here's the best part: Someone is already selling a used copy for $108.12, to which I reply, "Hahahahahaha!"

$108.12. That's pretty amusing. And unrealistic.

And surreal.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Backstage: Academic frippery, explained


After the closing processional, in the bowels of the arena.

I love the ceremony associated with commencement. I love the colors, the formality, the symbolism. I love that it reaches back, deep into the tradition of the academy of learning. The hood--that draped fabric with all the color that is worn over the shoulders--evolved from the cleric's cowl, worn for warmth in the cold halls of the early universities. The hoods fold back to reveal the silk colors of the schools from which we obtained our terminal degrees, and marks our individual academic lineages.  In this way, it links us to other institutions of learning and represents a kind of academy family tree.

The width of the velvet on the hood varies according to whether it represents a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree, and the color of the velvet on the collar denotes the field of study. For example, the color blue symbolizes a Doctor of Philosophy, but you may choose to have gold velvet instead, which represents the field of science (most Ph.D.s simply choose what is call "Ph.D. blue").

That fold in the rear of the hood creates a little pocket, and I once was told by a colleague that traditionally, if the students liked a monk's teaching, they would slip coins in there. I related this story once while waiting in the faculty line for commencement to begin, and when I got home, I found a dollar bill in the pocket of my hood.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Austin trip report/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center


I drove to Galveston for a conference a few weeks ago and on the return, I stopped for a night to stay with friends in Dripping Springs, a little town just outside of Austin. It had been a long, exhausting trip, and it was a joy to sit on the back porch and catch up on news. Part of that catching up was a look at some of the projects underway on the homestead. Kambra has started beekeeping, so naturally, we had to check out the hive (sadly, I was so engrossed, I forgot to take pictures). That adventure went pretty well, but it was a rainy day and bees don't care to have the hive disturbed when the weather isn't good (who would?). So since the girls were a little agitated, we spent just a few minutes with them. It was long enough for me to get a sense of what was going on, though, and intriguing enough that I'm wondering about installing a hive in my own backyard. I'll return for another visit, I'm sure, and next time I'll be prepared to make a more thorough report.

Dave is no slacker in the project department, either. He works for a professional cyclist from Austin, and he has recently been building a rolling bike shop, which is housed in the back of a van.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A chicken interlude


Pearl just couldn't put her finger on why she wasn't fitting in
with the other med students.

In which I nervously move a favorite tree...

The weekend was relatively balmy, and so that opened a window of opportunity for transplanting a desert willow from the back yard to the front. There was just the little problem of the flare-up of my occasionally wonky disc between L4 and L5, and the pain it causes when I bend forward. Yes, perfect gardening weather and a bad back. Can there be a better description for frustration?

Nevertheless, I persisted, and even managed to get the new hole dug before finally admitting defeat and calling in reinforcements. Help arrived in the form of husband Walu and neighbor Kurt, shown here digging a root ball for the willow:



The tree is a favorite of mine, for its graceful and elegant openness, and its lovely wine-colored flowers. It was just in the wrong spot, having been planted a few years ago with the idea that it would provide shade to our back patio. But the leaves are too sparse to really do that, and the spot in which it is planted has since been overrun by an ever-expanding raised planter bed. In cutting down the overgrown juniper in the front yard earlier this year, I opened up a space for the willow, a much more suitable tree for that garden.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A promise of color to come

It's finals week, so postings may be a little sporadic. I did have a break from work over the weekend, however, since I was caught up on grading and my final exams were not until Monday. So I took advantage of the lull in action by sneaking out to the garden, where there was also a timely lull in the cold weather. One of the items on agenda was the long overdue sprucing up of the shutters on the front of the house. Virginia creeper climbs over and around them, wrecking the paint and, occasionally, actually pulling them away from the house. So I scraped and repaired and slapped on a fresh coat of paint. All of which is not all that interesting, except perhaps for the fact that I decided to change colors, going from a subdued gray to a relatively more vibrant rust/deep terra cotta. Here are some before and after shots:





There wasn't anything wrong with the gray color, but the palette of a xeric garden tends to be heavy on the gray-green anyway, and when you add in a little winter dormancy, the whole thing can start to look pretty bland and dreary. I don't mind the look of a sleeping garden too much, since I know that come spring and summer (along with the addition of some new plants in the freshly-formed arroyo planting bed you see to the right of the sidewalk), the whole thing will be calm and restful, and not dreary at all. On the matter of dormancy, though: Are we not meant to scale back on the full-tilt rocketry of life from time to time? Dampen our riotous blooms a bit? Doesn't it rest our spirits and allow us to recharge? So, too, the garden. Leave it be.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coop plans

"Well. I'm not feeling any pressure. Are you?"

I want to build a chicken coop in the spring and so have been looking into small coop designs. It seems that the needs of chickens are few: a roost, a nest box, ventilation, and light. And though I plan to let them out to roam the farm area during the day, I'd also like to have an enclosed pen for their own protection. I've found a couple of designs that I like, one of which, "The Playhouse Coop," I actually purchased plans for some time ago. I've misplaced those plans, however, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle. I'll keep looking for them over the weekend and see if they turn up.

In the meantime, I have another chicken-related project ahead of me this winter: a compost fence.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hmmm. Can anyone identify this white stuff for me?

We got a phone call yesterday around 6:30 in the morning from the university's automated emergency notification system, telling us that classes had been canceled until 10 AM. This was the reason why:



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

School is almost done for the year. It must be time to clean out the woodshop.



The weather has turned cold on us, making the thought of working outside rather unappealing, even for someone who hates to be inside for any reason. So as soon as classes have ended on Wednesday, I'm headed to my woodworking shop to work on reducing a backlog of projects. I haven't done any woodworking in a while, though, so that means that the shop is in some disarray. I'll need to get in there and clean it up before I can start the real work.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bike Garden Open House: I blame the blogroll



It all started because the blogroll had gotten out of hand. It was too long--it dangled down like a monkey tail and made the page look all wonky and out of sorts. I tried fixing it. I tried to compress the blogroll by just listing the names and not the title snippets from posts, but that didn't work because if I took away those snippets, then how would I know when something new was up?

I tried including more of my own posts on the page to balance the look of things, but that didn't work either because it made the page go on, and on, and on. Visually, blog posts are kind of like sandwiches made from leftover Christmas ham: The first three are fine. After that you start to lose interest.

I even (briefly, mind you) thought about editing out some of the blogs. But I just couldn't do it. They are on the blogroll to begin with because they are my favorites. Worse, I even added a few here and there because I couldn't help myself as I kept finding new ones worth reading. The list got longer. The blog got more unwieldy.

So finally, I decided the only thing left to do was to create a new, separate page, just for the blogs. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I could have a whole page devoted to my favorites, and I could even highlight links to posts I liked. After all, if I get some enjoyment out of reading a post, why shouldn't I point others in that direction?

And as long as I was going to do that...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday fence repair

Well, it's been an interesting week in the Bike Garden. First, there was the big make-over of the blogsite (I'll do an open house post tomorrow, but it is essentially finished).

Then there was the snow:




And then there was the person who lost control of a car and drove across our front garden...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A holiday interlude



I'm closing in on the final tweaks to the new blog design, and hope to be finished with it sometime today. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a chicken with you while I play with some HTML coding to to see if I can make an x-large image fit...

I promised you chickens, didn't I?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Welcome to the Construction Zone

Over the next few days, I'll be setting up the new pages and moving things over to them, so things will be a little chaotic for a bit. Once I am finished, though, I'll put up an "open house" post and give everyone a little tour.

In the meantime, grab a mug of coffee and a hard hat, and feel free to wander around the construction site, checking out all the exposed plumbing and wiring.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Look for the Bike Garden

Greetings, all. I've been working on a re-design for the Bike Garden blog. The one that I have now has just gotten too unwieldy and disorganized. The new template, which I hope to launch tomorrow, will have a home page and links to some sub-pages instead of several lists in a side bar. Unfortunately, there may be a few days in which things will be missing as I transfer them from the lists to the new pages, but if you'll bear with me, I think the ultimate design will be much cleaner and easier to navigate.

Hope to see you on the other side!