Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Cosmic Explorer goes for a ride and discovers progress

A few years ago, the city started building a large freeway system through town that ran right next to the campus. Named after a beloved women's basketball coach, Marsha Sharp, the freeway is massive and effectively separated the main campus from both the University Medical Center (our teaching hospital) and all of west Lubbock for any foot and bicycle traffic. Well, it cut off that part of town unless you had a death wish and tried to ride on the freeway itself.

As part of the University's Master Plan, however, a shared use path was installed to connect the campus to a satellite commuter parking lot west of the freeway. I knew about the path, but hadn't realized that they had finished it until this semester, when a student who lives west of Quaker Avenue said she's been wanting to ride her bike to campus, but didn't know how to get across the freeway. So one day at lunch, I took The Cosmic Explorer out for a look and was delighted to find that the path not only crosses the freeway:

Monday, March 28, 2011

#Episode 4879 in The War of the Squirrels

Yes, once again I am foolishly attempting to foil the fluffy-tailed darlings. This time I've put poultry wire around the raised beds, not to keep the little rats out, but to do so with the dogs, who would think nothing of "claiming" my lettuce and tomatoes with their, um...perfume. By doing this I can open the gate to the veggie garden and release the hounds on the toothy, nut-and-tomato-and-hose eating minxes.

And if I get mad enough--and lord knows I am close to that point--I am going to wire the tomato cages (after I set them up) with an electric shock to get the attention of the furry ambassadors from Order Rodentia.

Naturally, I expect that this plan will be as successful as all my other plans for dealing with this plague of pestilential Scourgels that has been visited upon me and my helpless, undeserving garden. All of which is to say, this latest attempt will probably fail like all the others.

When it comes to hopeless tasks, Sisyphus has nothing on me.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

&*^$%# Squirrels

They chewed not one, but five nine* of these holes in my hose last week:

Every time I'd repair one, they'd chew another.

I am fed. UP. 

Time to get serious.

*I found more as I was repairing today's damage.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Annette the Xtracycle goes to class

I had a lot of stuff to carry to class out at Lubbock Lake Landmark yesterday, and it briefly crossed my mind to drive the car. But it was such a pretty spring day, with only light winds of 10 mph or so, and I felt I just couldn't pass up the opportunity. After all, how many truly glorious days do we get in a lifetime?

So into Annette the Xtracycle's spacious saddlebags I packed the Power Point projector, my Apple computer, a thick file of maps, my Crazy Creek chair, a small chalkboard, a chalk eraser, a jacket in case it got cold on the way home, a hat, a bike lock, and a cup of iced tea from Sbx.

Loaded up, Annette travels the highways like a stately queen. She is slower than waiting for Christmas, but as steady as a cruise ship on a glassy sea.

Our little trip to LLL added 9 miles to the Bike Garden Challenge kitty, plus there were a couple more from errands earlier in the day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Garden gloves, a review

Fifty some odd years of active living have left me with hands that don't work as well as they used to, so I protect them as much as I can these days by wearing gloves at all times whenever I'm working in the garden. In fact, I go through about three pair every year, so this has caused me to have some opinions about what makes a good work glove for women. Here are two of my favorites, for different reasons and purposes:

This pair of Ethel gloves (shown above) was passed along to me by my good friend Cindy, of From My Corner of Katy. We were both at a Garden Writers Association meeting in Dallas last summer, and this pair was in a goody bag Cindy picked up at a reception. Sadly, my goody bag didn't have any gloves, and this made me ridiculously despondent. Cindy, being the good soul that she is, swore up and down that she couldn't wear these gloves, so she gave them over to me. The only problem was, they were a size too small. I took them anyway because I am greedy.

As it turned out, these have become my favorite gloves for nearly every task, precisely because they are a size smaller than I would have bought. In fact, I have another pair of Ethels that are the "right" size, and I put these on instead. The reason is that the snug fit, which has grown slightly stretched and more comfortable over time, has made them like wearing a pair of surgical gloves. I have terrific "feel" for delicate work while wearing them. They are almost like a second skin, only less likely than my real skin to suffer the slings and arrows of gardening--which in turn means that once I put them on, I seldom have to take them off until my work is done.

This pair, by Womanswork, was also a freebie, though I can't remember from where. They are a little thicker and chunkier, so not as useful for sensitive tasks, but that also means that they will stand up better to abrasive work, like one might do when moving stones. In spite of being more substantial than the Ethels, they are very comfortable and breathable, more so than the gloves I'd previously used for heavy work. They fit better than my former favorites, too. In fact, I like these so much, I have completely switched my allegiance and vow never to return. Probably.

An additional benefit is that the Womanswork also have a weird suede-like, rubber-like palm and fingers, which seems to be relatively impervious to fluids. As a consequence I like to wear them while painting, instead of latex gloves, which always get hot and sticky.

Between the two brands, I figure I've got things covered. I don't like the color on either pair, but I figure, what-the-hey, they were free. Besides, I'll wear these out about mid-summer and need to buy new pairs, so I'll have a little more control over the important stuff.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A practical primer on prepping and painting

Though woodworkers like to get all poeticky and say the wood is alive, it is NOT, in fact, a living organism. Wood belonged to a tree at one time that was indeed alive, but that tree got cut down, and so wood is by definition dead. However, what woodworkers actually mean is that wood is organic, and as such, it can take on moisture or lose it. When it fluctuates in its moisture content, its fibers swell and shrink accordingly. So it moves around a bit, which may be why some more, shall we say, fanciful and highly imaginative woodworkers think it is still living.

That moving around a bit is a problem, however. Swelling and shrinking eventually lead to cracking and splitting, which is why if you have a wooden structure that will be exposed to the elements, it needs to have some sort of protection. Some woods, like teak, redwood, and cedar have this protection naturally. They'll weather nicely, turning gray, but otherwise showing little wear for years and years.

Other woods do not fair as well. The mighty oak, for example, that majestic tree that we all like to compare ourselves to when we are pretending to be tougher than we actually are, is a real wimp when water comes creeping around.

And pine? Forget it. It folds faster than an origami chair.

So if you are faced with using a wood that is not cedar, redwood, or teak for an outdoor project, you need to offer it some protection from the elements. In most cases, this means painting. Since restoring a previously painted structure is harder than painting a new one, I'm going to focus on that. Here is what I have learned from many, many, many years of a) not listening to my dad, b) deciding finally to listen to my dad because doing a) turned out not to work so well, and c) experience as a poeticky woodworker who is also a realist.


1) Don't take short cuts. Prepping is boring, it's hard, it's time-consuming, and it has zero instant gratification. Nevertheless, if you think, "Oh for goodness sake, how serious could it be to leave a little loose paint or dirt on the surface?" or "I'll just fill in that little crack with some extra paint," put down your tools, walk away, and go buy a new gate, because the paint job you are putting on this one is going to fall apart as soon as you turn your back. In fact, the moment you start to say, "How necessary is..." this paint job is going to start looking around for a place to die.

2) Remove ALL loose paint. Then sand the edges.

3) Fill ALL cracks and holes with good, fresh, flexible, paintable wood putty. Don't be seduced into thinking that you can just put more paint in that crack and have it hold together. Modern paints are fabulous, but they can't work miracles.

Here is why you are filling all the cracks: most paints have some flex in them, which is what you want because the fibers of the wood are squirming around slightly as the moisture content of the air is changing, remember? However, they have limits on how far they can stretch, so if you don't fill the cracks, eventually the surface of the paint will fail. Once the surface of the paint is breached and a hole appears, water will seep in and the wood will swell even more. It is over at that point. You have lost the battle. Let the paint peeling begin.

4) Remove all dry rot. There is a reason it is called "rot." It will not stop once it has started, no matter how many layers of paint you slap on there. Cut it out until you see fresh wood. If this makes a hole in your sill, or removes part of a panel, replace that with fresh wood. If the piece is small enough, you can even use bondo--that putty used for repairing dents in cars.

5) If you need to glue something, as I did with the joints in the gate (but not the slats, since you actually want them to be able to move around as they shrink and swell; if they are unable to do this, the wood will split), use a quality waterproof glue. I use Titebond III (not Titebond II, which is only water resistent). This is the glue I use on my canoe paddles, and it holds up to water wonderfully.

This is the take-home message for prepping: While some moisture will always be in the wood, the purpose of the paint is to create a protective skin to keep as much water as possible out, all in order to limit how much movement occurs. You have to do everything you can to keep that protective layer intact. Hence the scraping, the cleaning of dirt, the filling of holes.


1) Prime all surfaces, even if you've got the fancy paint that claims to be paint and primer all in one. Trust me on this. Remember, you are trying to seal the wood, and this is what a dedicated primer does best.

2) Use two coats of paints, even if you've spent the big bucks (which I recommend on paint) and gotten the high end, so-called "one coat" paint. The advertisers lie. You will need two coats.

3) Between coats of paint, you can wrap your paint brush tightly in a plastic bag. The sky will not fall down if you don't clean it between coats, and this saves you some labor. You worked hard on the prepping, so you are due for some labor-saving.

4) Use a paint key to open your cans of paint, not a screw driver. The store where you buy you paint should give you these for free. If they do not, go someplace else. Screw drivers ruin the edges of the lid, making it hard to close it tightly.

5) Keep the rims of your paint can clean to ensure proper closure of the lid. There are a variety of ways to do this. If I have to pour the paint into another container, I use a special plastic lid with a hole in the top that keeps the rim clean. You could also simply wipe it with a paper towel.

6) Use a large rubber mallet to GENTLY tap the lid back down on the can. Don't use a regular hammer (SEE ABOVE, in re damage to the lid).

6) When you are finished, clean your brushes until you see no more paint coming out of them.

Now you are finished and you have done a fabulous job. Your gate looks adorable. Even so, it is still an organic thing, so don't expect that this happiness will last forever. Eventually, you will have to go through the process again. The good news is that if you have done it right this time, that moment will be a long time coming.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wine cups

I went to San Angelo for a couple of days this week and while out walking along some railroad tracks near the art museum, I found wine cups blooming. Much is made of the Texas bluebonnet, but to my thinking, nothing holds a candle to the first appearance of Callirhoe in the spring.

I bought some wine cups last fall at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's annual sale and brought them back to LBB, where I planted them in my front garden. We get other members of the wild mallow family growing around here, but I can't recall seeing wine cups, so I have no idea whether my transplants will survive or bloom. But you know what? If they don't, that will be okay. There need to be some things in life that do not bend to our will, but remain steadfast to their own. It makes them that much more extraordinary.

UPDATE: Just went out to check, and the plants themselves have made it through our rather cold winter, so it remains to be seen whether they'll bloom this year or next.

From the Department of Other News: I'm doing a few local book-signings and in the immediate and near future, so if you're around, come on out and see me:

  • Later today I will be at Lubbock Lake Landmark hosting a nature journaling workshop as part of their 75th Anniversary Extravaganza. I'll also be signing my book, How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook. 
  • I'll also be part of a public reading and book-signing on campus this week for an anthology I co-edited with Kurt Caswell and Diane Hueter Warner, To Everything on Earth. Kurt, Diane, Joy Kennedy and I will all be reading from our essays. The event will take place March 24th at 7:30, in the Formby Room on campus. 
  • I also have a book-signing scheduled April 9th at 1PM at the Barnes and Noble on Slide Rd. More details as that develops.

Books will be available for purchase at all these events, but if you already have a copy and want to bring it out, I'll be happy to sign it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A parade of hats

As I was working outside today, it occurred to me, not for the first time, how much I cherish the opportunity to wear hats. I was diagnosed with two forms of skin cancer by the age of 36, and thus my fondness for the chapeau began.

Believe it or not, these are just a few of the hats I own, but they represent the pile that I choose from most often. I've found most of them in my travels, so they also represent memories. I find that if I'm having a happy time on a trip, I tend to buy a hat to commemorate it:

And here is a line-up of the ones that I usually wear out in the garden or on the river when I go canoeing:

This is my all-time favorite, found in a little shop in Santa Fe. That's a "stampede string" you see on the back of the brim; I found it at a neighborhood boot repair shop and added it later. Stampede strings are usually made of woven horse hair and tie under your chin to keep your hat on your head during, well, a stampede. I don't get a lot of stampedes in my garden, so I use it for windy days:

This is a very comfortable hat that I found at a nursery at the Garden Bloggers Fling in Buffalo last year. I really like it, but it lacks a stampede string for windy days:

I got this one from a nature store in Albuquerque a few years ago; it is also comfy, without a proper means of attaching it sur la tĂȘte:

This is also my all-time favorite (I am allowed to have two). I bought this hat on Martha's Vineyard during a vacation. It is lightweight, with a linen crown and woven brim, making it the most comfortable and stylish of all my hats. In fact, all hats should be made this way from this time forward; I've never found another like it, though, so I suppose that is unlikely to happen. (What makes it so comfortable also makes it more fragile, so perhaps this is the reason.) I made a stampede string for it out of leather (not shown in the photo) since it didn't come with one. I guess they don't get a lot of stampedes in Martha's Vineyard, either. I love this hat, and use it sparingly these days for fear of wearing it out.

My fully-immersible and quick-drying river hat, with the logo for the Natural History and Humanities degree program on the front:

And a description on the back:

If I start out the day wearing a hat, I won't take it off in public, because I simply don't have the kind of hair that responds well to mashing. This has given me the opportunity to try to spread the cheer of hat-wearing as I've worn them into hardware and grocery stores. Strangely, in a part of the country where cowboy toppers are common on the heads of men, people seem oddly resistant to the idea of women wearing hats. That is to say, I get the looks.

To which I'd like to say, "What? You've never seen a woman wearing a proper hat?"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The big reveal

By popular demand: a blue fence:

I didn't stain the stringers. They are cedar and will weather to a gray that will "disappear" next to the blue. By not staining them, if I replace the pickets in the future, I can keep the stringers as is, since they will then go with whatever new pickets I put up:

Our Scottie, Archie, is a bit of a digger, so I put flagstones at the base of the back of the fence to discourage him from this practice. We'll see if it works:

It's hard to show in the photos the cooling, soothing effect this small stretch of fence has on the rest of the yard, but here is what greets me as I go through the gate to the shop space (try to ignore the construction mess):

This is such a marked improvement over the ugliness of the hurricane fence that I don't want to wait until I get the opportunity to finish the other half of it. I'm out of time this week, though, so a wait it will have to be.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Please help me decide!

I've finished painting the restored gate (more on the "how to" in a later post), and here is what it looks like:

The problem is that now it makes the fence in which it hangs look pretty awful by comparison. This is a hurricane fence that Walu and I put up when we first moved into the house, and its main purpose is to keep the dogs out of what is functionally an outdoor extension of my shop work area:

The space usually looks like what it is, which is a construction zone, and in the summer that's not so terrible, since there are trumpet and honeysuckle vines that shield the eyesore from view. However, starting last year, I've been trying to take out the trumpet vine on the right, as it has turned out to be an invasive monster from heck-and-beyond. And so I'm thinking it's finally time to replace the ugly, strictly utilitarian structure with a picket fence. My friend Nancy gave me some fence panels last year that she wasn't going to use, but the pickets are fir, which doesn't really make a good outdoor wood. Plus, all my current wooden fencing is cedar, so I'm concerned that over time, the fir will weather differently and look out of place. I could solve both these problems by staining the wood, but I can't decide on the color. This is where you can help me. Should I go with a natural, sienna-colored stain, which in itself will look different from the weathered cedar that is already there (these pickets are just leaning up there temporarily; when it is finished, the hurricane fencing will be completely gone):

Or, since it's already going to look different from the existing fencing, should I really make a statement and go with this mossy blue stain:

I think both complement the turquoise of the gate, but I'm really, um, on the fence about the choice. I need to make up my mind toot sweet, though, since I'd like to take advantage of this pretty weather that we are having and get it stained tomorrow or the next day.

Please take a moment to cast your vote, either on the poll widget at the top of the right sidebar, The Bike Garden Facebook page, or on my Twitter feed. Thanks, and I'll let you know which way it goes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The jerseys are coming! The jerseys are coming!

I had a call from Canari yesterday to tell me that the jerseys were finished and being shipped out. I am muy excited by this. Plus, it coincides nicely with my slow but steady improvement in the health department. I haven't been able to do much more for the Bike Garden Challenge than add small nibbles of commuting mileage since recovering from the flu, mainly because I am still battling some residual fatigue. This was starting to frustrate me until this weekend, when I decided to just relax and give myself permission to rest and recover. Every day I feel a tiny bit better, so eventually I'm going to feel up to the long rides again. That's a given.

Spring break is next week. I'm going to have a snappy new jersey to show off. Can a Canyon Lakes ride be far behind?

For all you who have ordered a jersey, I will ship yours out to you the day I receive them, so expect it soon!

UPDATE: Apparently I am not the only one trying to recover form on the bike after a bout with the flu: The Peloton.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Restoring a favorite garden gate

This gate, which has seen better days, is the re-purposed bottom half of an old screen door. It's probably at least 20 years old, and while I've re-glued and re-painted it from time to time, I haven't ever really done more than a slap-dash job, and I think it's starting to show:

So I took it down on Saturday, broke the dowels joints completely apart and re-glued them. I haven't got a photo of that because I was working pretty quickly to get all the slats back in place before the glue dried, and didn't have a third hand to hold the camera. These days I use Titebond III as my go-to glue of choice for outdoor projects. It's waterproof and tough as nails, and a lot easier to work with than Gorilla Glue, which is what I used to use. I've used both on my canoe paddles, and haven't noticed glue failure on either.

On Sunday, I addressed the issue of dry rot on the bottom of the gate by simply cutting it off (using a circular saw and a straight edge with clamps) until I got to good wood. If I didn't remove the dry rot, any new paint I put on would come off almost immediately.

Luckily, I only had to remove about two inches--more than that and I think the proportions of the gate might have looked odd. If that had been the case, I might have considered replacing part of the bottom with new wood.

On the other hand, if I had had to go to that much trouble, I might have considered ditching the project and simply building a new gate. There comes a point where it isn't going to be worth the labor to re-purpose something...

After I removed any dry rot I could find, I filled cracks and holes with wood putty, and scraped and sanded all loose paint down to bare wood:

I managed to get the primer on, but because I'm going to have a very busy week at work, re-painting it may have to wait until this weekend. I'm kind of glad of that, however, since I'm jiggling around the idea of changing the color, and that should give me time to make up my mind...

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Every year, without fail, I begin to despair that spring will follow winter. And yet, there are signs:

Snow peas

Ipheion uniflorum (Star flower)

Still, the wise gardener will wait to plant most things, because winter usually likes to get in one last word. For us here in LBB, the rule of thumb is to hold off planting until the first week of April. It's hard to wait, though, with all the gorgeous, warm weather we've been having. To help me resist the siren call of spring planting, I'm planning to scratch my itch to get out in the garden with some hardscaping projects this weekend. First on the list: a fabulous idea for some raised beds in the Homesteader's kitchen garden.

Stay tuned!