Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blanket chest update

Well, since school started, I've had less and less time to work on the blanket chest, which should hardly come as news to anyone. Even so, I've managed to nibble at it a little here, and pick at it a little there. This weekend I glued it up:

And as per usual, I seem to be incapable of hewing to the original set of plans. In addition to making it three-fourths as large as the one on which this is based, I've also beveled the edge of the lid. This is because a) I nicked a corner and needed to hide my mistake, b) I think it looks better this way and makes reference to the chamfered edges of the legs, and c) it will hurt less when I bang my knee on it in the middle of the night when I get up to go to the bathroom.

I've also added a little detail missing on the original chest. That dark spot on the front, the one that looks like it might be a mortise lock, is in fact a wooden button with copper wire for "thread":
I thought the dark button, in addition to injecting a little whimsy in the piece, would make an allusion to sewing (you know writers--they see allusion and metaphor in everything). Since this chest is supposed to house family quilts when it is finished, I thought that was appropriate. Plus, it pulls in the dark color of the spalted maple on the side panel.

Next up is applying the finish, then adding the cedar lining to the interior.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I had lunch today with Jenifer Primo Smith, of the South Plains Food Bank, at a neighborhood restaurant, Home Cafe. Jenifer and I met on FaceBook when I made some queries about the SPFB, but this was the first time we'd met face to face. We had an enjoyable conversation about a couple of courses I'm teaching--one this fall and one next spring--and ways I can introduce the students in them to the work they are doing at the SPFB farm.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is because I rode my bike to the restaurant. Now, in the olden days (last year) that wouldn't even be worth a mention, since I was pretty much commuting by bike everywhere that was within a two-mile radius of my home. But then Walu and I both got sick last fall with something very like the swine flu (and probably was), and it took awhile to feel better...

and then it took a little longer...

and then I was awfully busy...

and then there was some depressing stuff going on at work and I just couldn't seem to find the energy...

and then it was really, really hot...

An old story.

So here I am, nearly a full year later, and completely out of the habit of hopping on the old Salsa to run an errand. (I'm also out of the habit of fitness in general, but that's another old story.) Oh sure, I ride to school most days, but that hardly counts since I only live seven-tenths of a mile from the front door of my house to the front door of my office. And that includes going up to the second floor.

I read somewhere once that it takes six weeks to form a habit. Or maybe it was twelve, I can't remember. (It seems to take much less than that to lose one--at least, I suppose, if it is a good habit. Bad habits seem to stick like Double Bubble in hair.) Six or twelve, I've got my work cut out for me to get back into the swing of things, commute-by-bike-wise. So I thought I'd kick start the new/old habit by adding a mileage counter at the top of the blog page.

All you hard-core bike commuters out there needn't get too excited about this. As I said, I don't live far from work, and my favorite two grocery stores are all within a couple of miles, so I'm not going to be toting up any impressive mileage. I just want to remind myself to stop and consider whether I actually need to get in a car to go somewhere when I've got two perfectly good legs to get me there.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A pleasant afternoon. That's all. Just a pleasant afternoon.

Nothing big to report here. I just had a pleasant afternoon visiting with my old college roommate, Barbara, who was in town visiting her parents for the weekend. We went to Abuelo's for lunch (though no swirls were imbibed, it was still a tasty meal), went shopping for a purse for her, and then went to Little Red Nursery, a favorite of mine and a place that Barbara always has on her "must see" list.

Here are the two of us taking turns sitting on a beautiful bench (which she can't figure out how to pack on the plane):

I found an adorable seersucker hat there that matched both the bench and my purse. Naturally, it had to come home with me:

Locally grown organic compost

Just so's you know it's available, lots of locally produced, organic stuff can be found at Little Red Nursery:

Went over there to look for some Soil Mender products, since they allegedly had some. Didn't see any of those, but did see other local firms represented, like this one from just down the road in Ropesville.

P.S. This is not an ad for anybody. Just happened to be there and was looking at the labels...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Something's going on in Nazareth...

...and I think it's a good thing. My colleague Kurt Caswell and I were invited up to the tiny panhandle town last week to man a booth touting the Natural History and Humanities degree program. The occasion was a day-long event for regional high school students to encourage them to think about colleges and careers. It was organized and hosted by the Ogallala Commons, a non-profit community development network devoted to, among other things, the sustainability of the Southern High Plains. The Ogallala Commons is headed up by one Dr. Darryl Birkenfeld, former priest, seen here, showing off his personal organic garden:

And cistern full of rainwater:

And solar panels:

And beautiful, environmentally sensitive prairie home that he and his wife would like to donate one day to the Commons as a teaching facility:

Here's the thing about Darryl: he's related to Alan Birkenfeld, who runs PaiDom Meats up in Nazareth. Y'all remember PaiDom, right? The sustainably grown, grass-fed, pasture-raised, humanely treated farm animals? The meat that I buy, along with others once a month here in LBB, in the parking lot of Sutherland's Hardware?

In the photo at the top, Darryl is showing me some of the organic soil he uses, which is produced by a brother's company, Soil Mender.

At lunch (hamburgers, provided by PaiDom) I sat next to a very nice group of young men, and since it was "career day," I asked each of them what he intended to do when he got out of college. One of them said he was going into the family business. I asked what that was.

He said, "Soil Mender."

That's when I looked at his name tag. His last name was "Birkenfeld."

Darryl is the uncle second cousin of a former student of mine*, Erin Hoelting. Erin is currently in Zambia,  working for the Peace Corps. Apparently, there are a lot of Hoeltings up in Nazareth, too.

Here's what I want to know: what are they putting in the water up there to produce such a fine community of people?

*Editorial correction

Monday, September 20, 2010


There are a few things that I started in the garden last year--some successful, some not--for which I think an epilogue would be appropriate. So in no particular order, here they are. (Oh, and I apologize in advance for some of the lousy photos. My regular camera is on the fritz and some of the updates were taken with my iPhone.)

Milky spore
Guess what, Virginia? It works.

This bare spot is evidence of the June beetle larvae at work on my prairie lawn, and that white spot is a dab of milky spore before it is watered in:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hot Rod Band Saw

Sounds like a good name for a rock and roll band, doesn't it? Well, no worries, in spite of the fact that I've been looking into taking guitar lessons, I'm a long way away from setting up amplifiers in the garage.

Instead, in the spirit of my strangely ever-popular "how to cut corrugated sheet metal" post, I thought I'd share a little band saw mystery I recently solved. Maybe somebody somewhere will find it as useful someday.

I was having trouble re-sawing while working on the blanket chest. (Re-sawing means you split a board into two or more thinner pieces. I could do it on the table saw, but it is safer on the band saw.) A single 4' length of cherry was taking me up to 20 minutes to cut, which surely didn't seem right. If I tried to go any faster the motor would bog down and the blade would stop altogether.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Taste is the evidence of things not seen

That's right. They tour gardens at garden writers' conferences. It doesn't matter that it's Dallas in the dog days, and 98 degrees in the shade if they have it, and you are asking the bartender at the Dallas Arboretum for a cup of ice water instead of the complimentary wine just so that you can pour it over your sweltering head. Dad-gummit, you are going to tour that garden because you are a garden writer, and you like gardens even when they are hotter than the devil's griddle with the burners turned on high, and you are made of grit.

And it turns out to be worth it. The Dallas Arboretum is worth it. Go there. See it. 

But you might want to wait until it's a bit cooler.

I don't want to talk about the Arboretum a whole lot, however, even though it was shockingly nice. I mean, there were the requisite spectacular blooming flowers, tasteful container plantings, seasonal pumpkins floating in the fountain, and impressive, twisty crape myrtle allees that looked like something Ichabod Crane would ride through on his horse on a dark and stormy night, and etc., and etc. I was completely charmed (charmed!) by it all when I wasn't stuffing ice cubes under my fancy hat. It's just that of all the ones I saw over the weekend at the Garden Writers Association annual conference, it isn't the garden that I liked the most. That honor goes to one called "The Pump House."

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Labor Day weekend before the mast

I'll admit to it now: I was in a bit of a brown study there at the end of summer break. But then the students came back and classes started, and things got a little better. Not great, mind you, but better.

But I had a project under way, building a blanket chest to store some quilts, and there's usually nothing like a good bout of construction to snap me out of a funk. I knew that if I could just hold on until the Labor Day weekend, I could work on it more or less without distraction. I was counting on it.

I was also reading a good book, Wooden Boats: In pursuit of the perfect craft at an American boatyard, by Michael Ruhlman, who had written another book I'd read and enjoyed many years ago, The Making of a Chef. I'd just finished another boat-building yarn, Sloop, by Daniel Robb, and found it a fine and satisfying read, so between the two books, I've been in a salty mood lately. I've also been craving seafood.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Progress on the blanket chest and a mini-shop tour

I'm building a blanket chest for some quilts based on a design by John McAlevey. I don't have a lot of experience building furniture, so I thought that to learn some skills, it would be good to follow closely hew to other people's tried and true designs for the first few projects until I have a good understanding of the principles. And I fully intended to do that. Really. I did.

As is it is my wont to do, however, I'm about halfway through the project and already "tweaking" it to fit my needs and taste. In this case, it is that the chest as McAlevey has designed is BIG. As in battleship BIG. I didn't realize this until I'd already cut out the legs and mortised them, and then took them into the bedroom and set them up approximately where they'd go as part of a finished piece.


Walu was definitely going to be bumping some toes in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Some semi-serious thoughts on blog evolution

At an informal round-table at the garden bloggers' meet-up in Buffa10 this summer, Pam Penick (Digging) asked everyone what his/her most popular post was. Most of the responses, as you might surmise, were about  particular plants or garden design.

My response was, "Cutting corrugated sheet metal."

And it's true. My counter service regularly reports one or two hits a day (sometimes more if it is a weekend) on my posts about cutting and attaching the corrugated sheet metal for my shed roof.

Now, I am nothing if not quick on the draw, and from the evidence of these data, it occurs to me--not for the first time--that though there is an almost unlimited font of general information on "how-to-ness" on the interwebs, there is something of a dirth of info on the particulars, particularly if the particulars involve some stickiness of doing.

To wit, you might have run across this eHow-to-DIY article: "Build a shed! Attach a corrugated sheet metal roof! Move on to your next project!"

And so what happens? Some poor chump like me builds a shed, gets to the part where she/he is about to attach the corrugated sheet metal to the roof and thinks, "Whuuuuuh? How do I cut this crazy stuff?"

Here is something that might surprise you, though, as it did me: I very nearly didn't publish those posts. I mean after all, this is a gardening/cycling blog, not a how-to blog, and my regular readers might be put off by such nonsense.