Sunday, December 30, 2012


Well, the end of the year has arrived and we're still in one piece. I have been working on my crochet a bit -- even managed to make a couple of quick gifts for my daughters. I made an "infinity" scarf and a small headband (which you can see on Ravelry). Oh, and I've slowed down on the granny squares -- only have 26 of them. I'll get back on them shortly.

A relative sent me a neat book about making knots called Paracord Fusion Ties. I've had a lot of fun going through and tying some of the knots with the left over paracord from when my daughters wanted to make paracord bracelets last December. This one took about 5 minutes:

I've made a HUGE list of "to do" items for 2013. Not sure we'll get through all of them, but most of them were left over from 2012 so I'm extra motivated to get them done.

Looking forward to the new  year!

Monday, November 26, 2012

November Update

Been typing furiously, zeroing in on 50k words for National Novel Writing Month. I'm right on target so things look good again this year.

I've been crocheting "granny squares" from various yarns that I've come across. This is a great way to get experience with yarns and fibers so I'll know what I like working with and what I don't when I attempt larger projects later.

My neighbor handed me a few small balls of left over yarn and they're all very different. One is a very rough fiber, but it didn't come with a label. It started to hurt my hand after a while and it wasn't very easy to work with. The resulting square was pretty scratchy, but still, I sort of enjoyed it.

The next ball was the direct opposite. It felt incredibly soft sliding through my fingers. A ring of "fuzz" formed around the yarn as I worked and I just kept pushing that ring further down the yarn toward the ball.

My neighbor also gave me a skein of some acrylic stuff she didn't want to use. I have to say, it's so great to work with! I managed to take about 5 minutes off of the time it takes me to make a square just by using that acrylic stuff. But when I make my next project, it will likely be from wool.

I haven't used cotton yet, but I figure I'll come across some of that soon.

I don't know how many squares I'll make but I'm already up to 10 of them. How many does it take for a blanket? 400? :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Crochet Update

No, I don't think this will turn into a crochet blog any time soon, but you never know... :)

Here's what I worked on recently. It was my first attempt at color changing.

Trust me,  you do not want to see the other side! My joins were TERRIBLE. I know how to do them, but for some reason, I keep doing them in the wrong stitch. I look at it and say "Yes, that's the stitch." but it's not. Alas. I have a hard time seeing the stitches, and my glasses don't help. Maybe I need one of those big magnifying glasses...

I have signed up for a beginner's crochet class, but it doesn't start until January! That's ok, I'll keep banging away at it until then.

Of course, my two lovely daughters fawned over it, and that made me feel (slightly) better. They're so positive!

Not sure what I'll do next, but I do know that I hate this yarn. It's some old craft store stuff my wife had in the closet for 10 - 20 years. I crocheted some stuff with wool and loved working with that, so I'm only using this acrylic stuff for practice.

I like making objects (bags) more than the idea of making a shirt/sweater/etc. Not sure what's next. A cowl maybe? Those seem popular these days... A scarf?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nanowrimo Checkin

Well, we're about 1/4th of the way in, and I'm about on target -- I need to write another 400 or so words tonight.

Instead I'm tying this... Hmm.

Yes, procrastination has popped up big time this year, like weeds. I don't have a very detailed plot outline (most of it is blank, with items like "awesomeness ensues" and "character building happens" and "a subplot update would be nice here").

I found the BEST way to procrastinate today. I don't mean best as in a great way to procrastinate (Hello Internet!). Rather, I mean I found a productive way to procrastinate. I started writing the first chapter of my _next_ book. Ha! Take that, Muse.

Anyway, I'm on track and wishing I had a much more comfortable writing setup here at home. This keyboard/mouse/chair are all wrong for me. Ick. And Ow.

Ok, now, back to the (word) grind!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Major Coop/Run Cleanout

We spent a whole day this weekend working on the coop/run. It felt really nice to get some of that work done, stuff I'd been eying for a year now.

When I build the combined coop/run 3 years ago, we placed it in about the only spot we could in the back yard. It sits on a patch of dirt bordered on two sides by cement, one side by a small paver patio and the back wall is up against the fence at the back of our yard. Between the fence and the coop's back wall is about a foot of space, and in the middle of that is the old 2x8 that made up the back of the planter box I built about 12 years ago in that very spot. We left the back board there on purpose when we tore out most of the rest of the box and installed the coop.

Well, one unintended consequence was that litter from within the coop/run (bits of hay, feathers, food, dirt, pebbles, poo, etc.) worked their way through the 1/2" wire mesh and began to pile up between the coop and the back board of the old planter box. After a couple of years this pile was about 8" high and it basically kept water and dirt in contact with parts of the run. I never liked that, but I also knew it would be incredibly hard to move to coop to clean it out back there.

But this weekend we planned on mucking out the run and doing a bunch of other cleanup in the area. My wife looked at the coop and wondered aloud if we could nudge it a tiny bit over for some reason. We tried and it turned out to not be too difficult to move.

So we sprang into action. Soon we had the coop out in the middle of the lawn and we cleaned up the back. The run hadn't started rotting so it looks like we managed to avoid that. Phew! We completely filled our compost bin with the debris we raked and shoveled out.

The birds were not amused.

Then, before we put it back into place we attached 2x8 boards along the bottom on the back and left side so that debris wouldn't work its way out as much (chickens will scratch, and fling stuff out regardless, but this should make a dramatic difference.

Then we ran to the store and bought some metal rain gutter and attached it along the back side of the coop. Originally, when we put the coop in place, we figured the rain would run off and then fall between the fence and the back board of the old planter box and just soak in to the ground or run off somewhere.

But what was really happening was the water was seeping into the run. So this gutter will redirect the water to the pumpkin box I built to the left of the run earlier this year. Perfect!

When I left for work our giant compost pile was up close to 120F and I'm sure it'll be hotter by the time I get home tonight.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Preparing for Nanowrimo

It's nearly November and that means that for the eighth(!) consecutive year I'll be spending the month writing a 50,000 word novel. I always have a blast doing this, even though I do ge a bit apprehensive in late October. I wonder if I'll really have enough time this year. If I can justify the extra couple of hours it takes to maintain the word count. Maybe I'll run out of ideas or finally realize just how crappy the writing is. Etc.

But I do it anyway. I think it's good for me. I've managed to get my daughters to try it before, and maybe this will be the year they really follow through (a teacher at their school is promoting it, too). In order to help spur my young writers along, I've shamelessly offered all manner of bribes: a nanowrimo t-shirt? You bet. Stickers? Done. Extra computer time? Check. Crocheted one-ear-flap beanies in the yarn of your choice? Check and check.

I've refined my own strategy over the years. The basic idea is to keep up with the word count daily, rather than doing the "binge" method of waiting until the weekend and trying to bang out 10k words. That's not a supportable model in my life (though it certainly works for other writers!). But not me. I'm a slow and steady guy -- I try to keep up with the 1,667 words per day that I need to get 50k by 11/30/12. I write a bit before work, then through lunch time, and then finish up what I don't get done that evening. I can easily type 40 words per minute (I can type much more quickly, but then I do tend to go back and do editing which slows things down tremendously) so if I have the scene/plot all set in my mind, I can usually get the 1,667 words typed before heading home after work. Then there's the matter of catching up with the weekend words. I try to get a little ahead during the week, to build up a kind of word buffer for the weekends when I can't guarantee I'll have time.

I've finally finished the three books I wrote for my daughters in 2008, 2009, and 2010. They're finished, edited, and just waiting around for me to decide what to do with them.

Now, time to go try to plan out some plot points for this year's novel.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Now It's a Planter Box...

Yeah, we realized that unless it was going to be an actual spiral, the project wouldn't work, so we went for more of a planter bed/box instead. Here it is ready for me to figure out the plumbing and then add the dirt and plants.

That's next weekend, as I'm beat! Now, in the photo the blocks appear to be unlevel but that's not the case at all! I'm surprised at how well the "strings and stakes" method we used actually worked.

And while we were digging around for this project, I unearthed this old sprinkler head.

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but the elbow is actually clear plastic! How odd.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Spiral Progress

Today we went to a local farm and bought some extra pumpkins to augment our crop. Yes, I'm calling it a crop of pumpkins because we got 4 or 5 actual pumpkins this year. A miracle, I tell ya.

While we were there we picked and shucked 150 ears of "indian" corn -- 1/2 of which we left for the farm and the rest came home with us for grinding and what not. The kids LOVE the corn picking/husking, maybe because of the jillions of lady bugs/corn worms/etc. they find.

When we got home we jumped right into laying out the spiral and then got to work on digging the base trench. We're going to make this thing very level/etc. and so we dug a 4" trench which we filled 1/2 way with baserock. The idea is that the first course of leftover cement blocks will be 1/2 buried and very level, then we'll just build up from there. Fingers crossed. It's not easy to level a spiral, so we ended up just putting a bunch of stakes in the ground with twine wrapping around each of them, then we just leveled the string and filled up the trench with baserock.

That's where we ran out of juice and we'll pick it up in the morning (if I can still move my hands). The rest should go fairly quickly... Knock on wood.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


A small garden update. We've just about finished off the summer. There are a few more tomatillos that look like they might make it, but the tomato plant is done. We harvested some nice pumpkins (our first ones ever).
We tried some late season radishes, but while the greens grew like crazy, the roots just got longer and longer and never really started to form radishes. We pulled them up and the chiekens had a nice snack.
Planting some fall/winter stuff now.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Herb Spiral Research

The one big thing in the front yard project we're doing ourselves is building an herb spiral using the old cement blocks that we pulled out.

Our idea for including an herb spiral came from two inspirations. First, a post on this blog: (, (which is a terrific blog, btw) and second, a huge pile of ugly cement blocks we wanted to recycle or re-use.

I did a little research online and doing an image search for "herb spiral" returned so many fantastic pictures that I got even more eager to start the project. Even the lead guy from the crew doing our patio told me he was looking forward to seeing it finished. He said it was a great idea and a good way to use up those ugly blocks.

The place we're putting this gets partial to full sun for several hours a day, enough to grow grass and flowers like daisies, but not really enough for vegetables. The original idea I had was to create a very basic spiral. But my wife wanted something that was taller on one side, so it would have a kind of "back wall" that would sit on the property line.

We went through several iterations, from a traditional spiral to a tall-backed set of tiers/terraces. The plan we landed on was a combination of the two, a kind of double spiral coming down to the right and left sides from a central high spot, sort of an inside out double spiral. My chief worry is that it won't provide a variety of zones, but I think it will be pleasing to look at. Something like this:

I confess that I like the idea but I'm wondering if it will work in practice with the number of blocks we have (slightly more than 80, and they're 12 inches long on the widest part, 9 inches on the back), but we'll give it a shot.

While researching for this I came across keyhole gardens.

Those look really interesting, but wouldn't really fit into this space.

Here's a list of concerns and things to keep in mind while we're designing and building this:

 - Irrigation. We'll have built in irrigation available should we decide to use it.
 - There's a drain cleanout near the "front" of the spiral and so we'll have to be sure to not cover it.
 - There are quite a few animals that will be walking past this thing every day (or night/etc.), including raccoons, possums, squirrels, and house cats. I'm sure there are other creatures (including tons of birds and maybe even some reptiles). That's going to mean that some will come by to have a snack, others to dig up dirt to plant seeds, and still others looking for a latrine. I'm hoping we can find a way to co-exist.
 - This will be in our front yard, so it has to look "clean" enough that it's not an eyesore. Were we to build this in the back yard, I think we'd concentrate much more on yield and less on curb appeal.
 - The area around the spiral will need to be "walkable" -- maybe a gravel or woodchip path of some kind.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My First Crochet Project: The Asymetrical Beanie

Well, it's certainly not perfect, but I've managed to complete my first crochet project (well, first other than the bookmarks I made while learning the various stitches)!

I wanted to make something my younger daughter (11) would think was cool. She love strange stuff, so I had this idea of making a beanie with just one ear flap. I looked around on the web for patterns (and for how to read patterns!) and found a fairly simple beanie but nothing with one ear flap. So used that pattern and I made up the ear flap myself.

Here it is, finished (click for the larger version):

The kid loved it, and even though it's slightly too big for her, I think she might steal it.

I used a K hook and some (very) old yarn (the yarn has a $2 price tag from Wolworth's, and so that makes it over 20 years old!) we had lying around. I'm not a fan of the color (or the yarn, really), but we had plenty of it and really, this is just a practice project. I missed a few "joins" (I really should learn how to do them) and of course the stitches aren't very consistent, but I had fun making this over the last three nights. I used some double crochet, half double, single, and "weird ones I kind of made up" on the ear flap where it was a cross between a double and a triple spread across two stitches... Uh, yeah. The good news is that I think I know/understand all of the mistakes and so I could/should do much better on the next project.

If/when I make another of these, I'll use a better yarn, and make the single flap more pronounced.

AH! I just searched around a bit on the web and found another beanie/hat with one ear flap. For that one, the flap becomes a built in scarf (something I toyed with doing but gave up on). So obviously I wasn't the first to think of this (that doesn't surprise me), but I bet there aren't any other kids at school wearing something this silly!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Front Yard Project, Part 1

We live in the suburbs and you know how much people love their lawns. Well, I hate our lawn -- it's a waste of water and time. I've wanted to pull it out and redo the yard with something less "lawny" for years, but several factors conspired to make us keep the weed-ridden mess.


There's pressure to keep a well-groomed front yard in order to "not hurt the property values" of the neighborhood. If we lived on some acreage, you can bet we wouldn't spend a dime on the front yard!

99% of the houses in our neighborhood have lawns and so it's just a kind of momentum (or lack of inertia) and expectation surrounding "house in the suburbs = front lawn." Plus, we have kids and they love to play on the lawn. Add in the fact that our very good next-door neighbors' lawn actually runs together with ours (literally no separation between the two) and their kids and ours have twice the space for playing. We don't really want to end all of that, but I'm tired of wasting so much water and having to mow so much.

So as a compromise, we're yanking out 2/3rds of the lawn and replacing it with some flagstone and an herb spiral and some other neat stuff. We'll leave the lawn down by the sidewalk so lawn still runs together with the neighbor's and the rest of the neighborhood doesn't get too shocked... :) PLUS, because we will still have some nice lawn, it will hopefully be easier to get moving on the plan to replace some/most/all of the back yard with a garden. And we're replacing our existing irrigation with something that will save even more water.

Of course, we originally entertained thoughts of doing all the work ourselves. The process went like this:

7 years ago: "We'll dig out the lawn and drainage trenches by hand, and do all the rest of the work ourselves!"

5 years ago: "We'll rent a sod cutter, and maybe a trencher, but do the rest ourselves."

3 years ago: "We'll hire out the drainage work but definitely do the rest ourselves."

Today: We're hiring out everything except for the herb spiral.

Yes, apparently that's our line in the sand: we'll build our own herb spiral using the ugly cement blocks that used to make up some of the "features" in our ugly front yard. They were here when we moved in, and whatever we don't use we'll give away on Freecycle.

The people we hired are experts. They'll know how to make the drainage work (rather than our just guessing) so the house foundation will be safe. They'll use the right tools and do a good job.

I won't kill my back hauling tons of rock, sand, flagstone, dirt, and sod around.

It's a win-win!

Of course, there is the issue of the contractor. We have a terrible track record of picking contractors. But we really like this one, and it's been several years since our last experience/debacle, so we're going to try it again.

The issue we've had is that when we look for a contractor, it's usually the owner/etc. that comes out to the house to take a look. They're usually good at that part of the job. They make lots of promises about how good their team is, how they're clean and respectful, and what a great job they'll do. But then the project manager/foreman comes out and immediately starts looking for ways to cut costs. "My notes don't say anything about that closet!" they argue, even if their boss told us it would be included. Etc. That, and we've had a contractor send out his "B" team, rather than his best guys.

Anyway, we're back on the merry-go-round again, willing to give it another shot.

Fingers crossed!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Self-Sufficiency? Self-Reliance?

I've been reading homesteading/farmsteading/gardening blogs for a couple of years now. I'm far from an expert at any facet of the vast range of subjects involved. We still live in a house in the suburbs. Our garden is laughably small (though we do have three chickens) and we still have to spend 40+ hours a week at our jobs.

Anyway, I've been thinking about how the goal of many homesteaders -- and something I've been enamored with the thought of -- is becoming self sufficient. I think some folks mean it literally: "We grown/make everything we'll ever need here on our property." And others tend to strive to get closer to self-sufficiency: "The more we can do ourselves, sustainably, the better."

I think I fall more into the second camp. But there's more to it than that. Self-suffiency might be a misnomer. And there are too many shades of gray.

One thing I do feel strongly about is that we need community. Even if we're able to make or grow or raise everything our family needs, we still need community. We need neighbors and friends. We need teachers and mentors.

Of course, it's much easier to say this than to make it happen, especially for an introvert like me.

Whenever I read a blog post about someone with a large project they're working on, I wish I lived nearby so I could help. I love helping out with projects, even (especially?) the manual labor aspect, where just trying hard and spending calories can really make a difference in someone else's success or happiness or well being. I love that. I don't have many (any?) specialized skills and the ones I do have are really not that well suited to farmstead life. But I can carry stuff. I can move stuff. I can dig, pull, push, chop, swing, pound. I'm reminded of "crop mobs."

When my next door neighbor was working on his chicken coop I was over helping whenever he'd let me, but it took me literally TEN years of living next door before I was comfortable enough to approach him. Did I mention I'm shy?

I read about clubs that meet and people who offer classes for homesteaders and the various skills/trades that are associated with it. That's what we need more of. As people learn to grow more of their own food -- for whatever reason -- and live a more basic and sustainable life, they'll need help getting there. We'll need teachers and mentors. Luckily there are so many great people out there on the Internet willing to share and to teach. It's a community of its own.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Garden Expansion Ideas

(Our back yard, from several years ago, prior to new lawn/etc.)

If we were to remove some (the right half, or about 13x21 ft.) of the lawn in the back yard (still hoping I can convince the dear wife and make this happen), we'd finally be able to expand the garden. We rebuilt/expanded the boxes (extreme right in the picture) two seasons ago, but we still don't have enough garden space for what I'd like to see us accomplish. Here are some of my thoughts about the project...

 - Chicken moat running around it, connecting to their existing run/area (currently it's everything to the right of their coop/run, and above the lawn). Possible pro: would increase sqfts of roaming space, they'd get more weeds/bugs, we could take back the upper right corner of the yard to use for whatever (move the compost back there?), since they'd have roaming space around the moat. Cons: messy? Need more/taller fencing? One small breach could lead to chickens eating an entire planter box of garden. THAT SAID, we will probably cage most of the stuff anyway (darned squirrels!)... More cons, can't make it a true moat unless we either always wear chicken shoes in the garden, move some planter boxes, or deal with larger hassles wrt access.

 - Maybe make a diagonal path from corner by the lime tree (lower right, not pictured) to coop (top middle), "cutting through" the planter boxes/raised beds so they have diagonal ends. Would we want a more meandering path? or just go with the more simple right angles?

 - QUESTION: What will the paths be? If not chicken moat, should they be: Grass (leave grass in place for the paths, that would look really cool, but might require watering...)? Spoiled hay? Cardboard? Pavers? Gravel? Need to keep the weeds down, but it should look nice, too. Also, should be mud free in the winter. I'm not usually a fan of gravel, but I can get it fairly cheaply... Spacing? Need a three foot gap between boxes, usually, right?

 - Series of "skinny" raised beds with "horizontal" gaps (from left to right across long part of lawn)? Or maybe smaller (4x4? 3x3?) "pods"? Or how about a "corral" type garden with a single entrance on the bottom center, leading in to central aisle... Turns out there are so many interesting variations, I sketched up about 10 that I liked (none have a chicken moat, though). I think we'll need to compare several factors: aesthetics, capacity/throughput, sun/shade, rotation, winter crops, etc.

 - Pomegranate... Remove? Severely prune? Get consultation from fruit tree expert? Three fruits in 10 years is not a ringing endorsement. It's using up valuable space and although it's my favorite fruit, and the blooms are an amazing color, I think I'd rather plant something there that will produce.

 - RESEARCH: Pomegranate fruiting on new or old wood?

 - Replace pomegranate with our existing lime, mandarin orange, or lemon tree?

 - Build window box planter utilizing the freecycled windows. Honestly, though, how much would we use this? In our zone, we get frost maybe two or three times a winter, if that...

 - Need a corn zone, we know we want to grow it, we just need to find the best place.

 - Find plants to grow inside chicken zone (very top, above the lawn -- in the picture above you can see day lilies and even our old bird of paradise before the chickens dug it up and killed it) for shade/flowers, would have to protect them well, so it's hard for something to look good when it's wrapped in chicken wire or whatnot.

 - Grow sunflowers: 1] in a huge wire cage, 2] as a distraction/sacrificial crop, 3] not at all (darned squirrels!)

 - Espalier? Could remove boxes from "window box planter location" and instead plant an apple/etc. to be espaliered against the fence on the right-most side...

 - Could remove existing lawn section one strip at a time over the winter, letting the chickens eat it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


We've been alternating between ignoring the garden while on vacation and doting over every bloom. It's been an interesting year, garden-wise.

I'm not at all happy with the pomegranate. It is taking up prime garden real estate and if I'm going to give up that spot to a fruit tree, it may as well be something that will produce.

The new bed where we put pumpkins is working quite well. The sunflowers in that bed grew like mad, only to be tackled and devoured by squirrels. Grrr.

The pumpkins are doing well. We have 4 pumpkins growing. Two are full grown (one small sugar pie, and one much larger carving pumpkin) and two that are lagging -- but we're hopeful.

The volunteer tomato turned out to be the star of the show, generating way too much for us to keep up with:

We harvested 4 small but very yummy cantaloupes that sprung up out of the cucumber seeds. Oh, and plenty of cucumbers too. The tomatillos are coming along slowly, and something has nibbled on a few of them. I don't have high hopes for getting many. Bell peppers did well, too.

We're growing a third run of radishes. We grew onions that came out perfect and so we'll be doing that again. A volunteer potato shot up so we'll let it grow and see what happens. It's almost time to throttle back the automatic irrigation. We're going to plant lettuce/etc. very soon to squeeze one last crop out this year.

Of course, there were setbacks. The potted corn was a bust (you can see some of the "ears" in the picture above).

The shorter days and slight cooling has brought an autumnal mood -- thinking of halloween and corn harvest, falling leaves and pumpkin pie. Our favorite time of year by far! We're also starting to make plans for next year's garden already.

Friday, August 24, 2012

And Back

We're back from vacation! We had a great time on the southern Oregon coast. Here's a picture I took from the beach house where we stayed:

Don't get me started! I took about 500 pictures during the week and probably 400 of them were sunsets/sunrises/beach scenery. I put a few up on Flickr, but have tried to not go too crazy with the vacation slide tedium...

While we were gone we had many tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and even cantaloupes ripen in our garden. The squirrels (which I HATE) tore down and ate all of the sunflowers. The tomatillos are moving along, slowly but surely. We have several pumpkins that look like they'll survive (we lost a few, too). Oh, and we got a double yolk egg the day we returned.

The potted corn is, to be frank, looking terrible. I think the key is that we didn't use really good soil this time. We will end up with a few ears, but they're not looking great. We may try using better dirt next year and only planting one or two plants per container. I think I'd rather dig up half the lawn and plant it in rows, but we'll give pots one more chance. It's feed corn/maize/indian corn/whatever you call it so it's not like we were counting on it for food anyway. It was just for the chickens.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Setting Goals

"Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men’s blood."

I used to work for a guy who loved to use the term BHAG -- Big Hair Audacious Goal. He's an incredibly charismatic person and you couldn't help but want to succeed when you worked with him. He would talk about setting BHAGs in large company meetings and you could feel the buzz when you left those gatherings. You could feel the optimism.

Well, I set a BHAG back in January. It's silly, I know, but I wanted to be able to do 20 pull ups. Yes, twenty pull ups. How many could I do in January when I started? Answer: 2.

I took a measured, researched approach, which got me nearly to the finish line, but it was a comment by a well-informed and well-intentioned stranger that put me over the top.

Let me start at the beginning...

I started feeling my age in the last 2 years or so, getting "older" and feeling like I was slowing down a bit really snuck up on me gradually, but there it was one day. I got up and I just felt "old."

Around this time I had many coworkers my age who were running marathons and working out at the gym 5+ days a week. I read about fitness and asked all of my friends. The surprising fact was that I was not technically too late to do something to better my health. There was hope. Of course, I'd need to do some work in order to get out of the pit I had dug for myself.

I weighed about 15 pounds more than I wanted to, and indeed my doctor informed me that I had gained some weight and that I should lose it.

So I started trying to eat better and trying to get more exercise. I gave up free food at the office, and I started taking the train to work, adding two miles of walking to my day. It started paying off and then the snowball effect kicked in. As I felt better, I was more motivated -- it was a perpetual motion machine.

After a year I had lost 10 lbs and was feeling much better. Then I heard about Fitocracy ( and joined the site (free) and started logging my workouts for points. Three of my friends joined with me (two have since quit) and we enjoyed some friendly competition.

In January I set my own BHAG -- I would do twenty pull ups in one set.

Of course, it's not "I will run a marathon!" or "I do a triathlon!" but for me, for my fitness level and mindset, it was a perfect BHAG. Technically possible if not slightly beyond reach.

I got a pull up bar and someone pointed me to a web site that had a set of steps that claimed to take you from 0 pull ups to 20 in just 6 weeks. Yes, just six short weeks!

Well, the website helped immensely! I got up to 15 pull ups after several months. I did take some time off for vacations/trips, and a few minor injuries along the way. But I was certainly stalled at 15.

Then someone on Fitocracy posted a message to me, saying that I could make it the rest of the way if I would start doing "weighted" pull ups -- attaching additional weight to my body and performing pull ups. I don't know this person, and hadn't really had much contact with him, but he was nice enough to make the suggestion and it made all the difference.

I took 15 pounds of my wife's hand weights and threw them into a backpack and tried to do pull ups. Ugh! That 15 pounds felt more like 50! I could barely do 8 pull ups! But I kept at it until I could do 10 and then when I couldn't do more at 15 pounds, I would take out 5 pounds and do a few more pull ups. Finally, after a couple of weeks of weighted pull ups I felt like I was ready to give 20 a shot.

This morning I got up and walked down the hallway to the pull up bar. I reached up and before I even realized what I had done, I was breezing past 15. I got to 20! Yes, 20. And, yes, around 19 I had to kick my legs a bit to get my chin up over the bar, but I did it. I accomplished my own form of BHAG. Nearly 8 months after deciding to try it, I made it.

So, now it's time to set another BHAG!

Monday, August 6, 2012


We finally got around to working on the gourd bird houses. If  you'll recall, our younger daughter came home from school early two springs ago with a "birdhouse gourd" plant she had started in class.

Well, they were done drying out a while ago, but we finally got around to cutting the holes and cleaning them out. Or rather, I cut the holes and the girls cleaned them out.

In the end, the girls decided not to paint them -- they liked the natural look best. Now we'll wait and see if anyone moves in once we've found good places to hang them...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pictures and Questions

Finally took some pictures out in the yard, some may invite discussion...

First, this is supposed to be a cucumber. That's what the seed packet said anyway. I don't think it's a cucumber though...

Next is the egg spiral. Many of our hens' eggs look like this now. It used to happen very rarely, now it's about 90% of the time. Everything we've read says it's no big deal. I like the spiral pattern (though the picture doesn't show the spiral too well):

But the rest of the garden is proceeding slowly/surely:



Oh, and the potted corn is doing its best to make something happen:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Taking Tests

Took a Meyers Briggs test the other day, free/online, just because one of our founders, Laura, was saying how much stock they put in those tests.

I'm: INFJ (which translates to "Idealist Counselor":

I have to say that while taking the test I had some questions that really stumped me. I don't like "Yes/No" answers to complicated questions. And for simpler questions there's typically a single word that takes the question from an easy answer to an internal debate. What do you mean "easily understands others' feelings?" Easily? How easy does it have to be before it counts as easily? What if it's usually really really easy, but every once in a whie it's incredibly hard?

But when I read the description of my results I said "Wow, that's me."

And then this week my boss had everyone on his team take a "Colors" test where you allot points to things and then total the points (well, there's more to it than that...) and I came up tied Gold and Green. And the tiebreaker I used pushed me into the Green category. I agree with a lot of the things this particular test has to say about "Greens" -- most of it even. But there are a couple where I completely disagree.

It says that Greens are perfectionists. Ha! That's not me by a long shot. My wife says I'm more of a "proficientist." It also claims that Greens are non-conformists. That's not really me, either.

Anyway, the rest of the stuff is fairly spot and on and when I read about the other colors and how best to get along with them, I felt I really did learn something valuable. I'm sure it will help me when interacting with my team and my boss here at the office.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Tale of Three Cabinets

This is one of those times where odd circumstances in life all align in some novel way.


The other day the girls were out riding their bikes when they noticed someone had put a kitchen base cabinet out on the sidewalk with a FREE sign taped to it. The girls promptly came home and asked if they could have it. We said yes and they went over to the house with their little red wagon, loaded it up and brought it home.

The cabinet itself was sturdy, probably original to the kitchen in the house and built in the late 40's or early 50's. It had a drawer up top and a cupboard below. The drawer and cupboard both work fine. There were some issues, of course. For starters, there was no top! It used to be part of the lower cabinets in a kitchen and so it didn't need a top since the counter top covered it. Also, it had an opening in the back and some odd trim on the sides.

The girls wanted to use it as a "potions" stand in the yard. I like that that wanted to re-use something that might have gone into the landfill, so I said I'd help. This then, was the plan:

  - Attach a top and then tile the top (we have left over tile and grout from other home projects)
  - Cover/close the hole in the back
  - Clean out the drawer (old shelf paper and 60+ years of "crud")
  - Attach wheels to the base (this was my idea, and we're all glad we did this one)
  - Cut/remove/trim the trim on the sides
  - Paint the exterior

I got to work on the casters right away, which made the cabinet easily portable and I ended up using it as a kind of garage helper/cart for other projects. My older daughter and I attached the wheels, and she did a good job with the screw gun.

The girls primered the outside after my wife removed/shaved/hacked away the trim on the sides.

The next step was the top. I cut two layers of 1/2 plywood to fit and attached them with glue and finishing nails to the top of the cart. I did two layers because I wanted it to be sturdy and so that I'd have something to screw into. Then I cut and attached some cement board to that, using some screws.

I cut a piece of cement board (we had a LOT left over) to fill in the hole on the back (15" x 8") and attached that.

Next up is tiling. Not sure when we'll get to that, though, as we'll need a tile saw.


While all of this was going on, my wife noticed a cabinet on freecycle. The person posting "chest/dresser/cabinet" thingy said it had three really nice drawers that were salvaged from a liberty ship and then a cabinet was fashioned around them. My wife replied to the freecycle ad, but was sad to hear that she was too late -- the piece had been taken. Then the next day, the lady contacted my wife saying that the person who claimed the cabinet said it "wasn't what she was looking for."

That should have been our first clue.

Anyway, my wife went to pick it up and I went about working on the first cabinet.

My wife drove up and showed me the cabinet. It was in terrible shape. It had started falling apart during the 10 minute drive home! The middle drawer was so stuck we couldn't get it open and other pieces had split or had fallen off completely.

But my wife is a dedicated person and she decided she could fix it. So she took it all apart, finally removing the stuck middle drawer and then shored it all up with finish nails (we do love our cordless nailer) mostly hidden so that the original look wouldn't be lost. We had to add some extra bracing on the inside, but in the process we managed to fix the rails for the drawers.

She put the thing back together and now it looks good and works great. Turns out it's far too big for the spot we have, so we'll have to give it away. I bet she could sell it, as it's sturdy and has nice drawers, but we're really big fans of giving away stuff you don't want/need.


During all of this work on the other two cabinets, we got a phone call. A cabinet we had ordered a few months ago had arrived. This one is built by professionals in the US, from actual wood. The thing looks amazing, but it's unfinished. So we took off the doors, removed the shelves and got to work filling the nail holes and sanding it down. Then we applied a couple coats of clear finish. It's still a bit bumpy so we still need to sand it one last time and give it a final coat of clear.


Three cabinets in one week!

I hope to have some pictures to post later, and I'll try to remember to take some shots of the kids tiling the top of the cart.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Making a Magnet Board

The kids were away at camp all week, and so we took some time today to make a surprise for them. They've mentioned wanting a magnet board for their bedroom several times, and this was the perfect opportunity.

The plan was to get a single large sheet of sheet metal, about 2ft x 3ft. But I couldn't find anything like that at Home Depot. What we found were 1ft x 2ft sheets, so we got three of them and some plywood to serve as a backing (more on why that did not work out quite as well as we hoped, later).

The first step was to router the back of the trim in order to make a groove (slot? channel? lip?) the sheet metal would sit in. Here I've clamped it to the table in the back yard (backwards).
An Action Shot of the router as my wife had the honor of using the first power tool of the day.

The routing finished.

Next I cut some 45 degree angles on the trim pieces and began dry fitting the metal and the trim on the plywood. We got a 4x4 sheet of plywood so we had to figure out the final size.

Of course, you get what you pay for when you shop at a giant store like that, and our plywood was slightly bowed. Here we've glued the metal down with Liquid Nails and we're using some water bottles to act as weights to make sure the bond was tight.
And here it is with the trim installed, almost ready for hanging. Er... Almost. We still needed to add the horizontal vertical trim to cover the gaps between the metal sheets.
Then we decided to attach some extra molding along the bottom to act as a pen tray. Once the paint was dry, we attached it to the wall in their room. Hope they're surprised when they get home tomorrow!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Does dill bolt? Our dill exploded in flowers seemingly over night. Must have been that brief heat wave we had.

Pretty yellow lacy flowers. Not sure if that's just dill being dill, or if that's bolting, but it's joined its pals in the bolting club: arugula, basil, thyme, lettuce, etc.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Ok, finally! We finally finished the trim project. Of course, there was no real reason for it take three years. Laziness is the ultimate conclusion. But after we gave up on finding the perfect matching stain, what we ended up with was really, really close. Plus, we got to use the nifty brad nailer we bought when we did the baseboards in the office and kids' room. Or, rather, I should say _she_ got to use it. I don't think I've fired off more than a single nail with that gun. She always gets the honors... :)

Some pictures...

Yeah, we wanted the trim to cover up this gap in the original mantle.

And here it is installed. Not bad.

And now, here's a sneak peek at what I'll be working on this weekend:

Sunday, June 17, 2012


We've had this trim project on the list for about 3 years. It's incredibly simple: stain a 14 foot long piece of oak trim. Sheesh!

Well, FINALLY, today we bought some stain (the problem we had was trying to match the stain of the rest of the wood the trim will be near, but we finally gave up on aiming for perfection there) and applied the first coat:

Oh, and the corn is doing much better today. Lots more water and some fertilizer (thanks, Leigh!).

Friday, June 15, 2012


We couldn't wait any longer.

Nope. We broke down yesterday and picked this onion (and one snowpea):

We have three more onions in the ground, we'll try to let them continue to grow. The corn got really dried out/burned by a sudden pair of 95 degree days. We've kept them watered, but they look pretty ragged at this point. We'll have to see how/if they bounce back over the next couple of days. Tomorrow (Saturday) should also see some 90+ degree weather.

And, the pumpkin patch. I keep saying watermelon when I mean pumpkin... Anyway, according to the math I did, we planted them plenty early, but I'm worried they'll never make it. Turns out this spot doesn't quite get as much sun as I expected.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Blooming and Bolting

Wow, that was fast. The arugula started bolting. Seems like it happened over night. I had no idea they had such beautiful flowers!

And here's an onion starting to bloom. It's large enough to dig up now, but I think we're supposed to wait for the stalks to start dying off, right?

And the corn...

Growing well and we've started watering them with compost tea. But I'm concerned. The older/larger plants are starting to get some yellow and I think it's the dirt. We're not over watering. But the first year we tried this, we had some really nice soil. This time, we just used whatever we had around the yard (old bags of potting soil, used soil from other pots, even some garden soil... all mixed with some of the compost we made). The roots are already coming out the bottom of the containers. Anyway, I'll keep up the compost tea and hope that helps.

Oh, and in the background there behind the corn you can see the pumpkin bed with a row of young sunflowers.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making Stuff

I feel like building/making/fixing something. I have that kind of energy buzzing through me. I have this sudden and driving urge to learn things, to do things with my hands.

Alas, writing isn't one of them. (That's not entirely true. I don't "program" for a living, but I do like to dabble in writing code and I could easily lose a whole day writing programs to do silly things, if I had any silly things that sounded fun to program.)

No, I'm thinking more about projects around the house or the yard. I'm thinking about creating stuff... "Useful" stuff.

This desire, I know where part of it comes from. I look at the negative stuff around, the stuff I can't control, the things that seem to be too large to fix or change. And then I want to create something. I want to have a modicum of control in all the chaos.

Of course, that's not the only driving force. I also feel like I've spent a lot of my life learning skills that only really exist to help in very limited circumstances. I can use all sorts of different software. I can survive in the corporate system. I can write user guides. I can build and manage geographically dispersed/disparate teams.

Try using those skills when the zombie apocalypse comes!

Monday, May 21, 2012


Sunday was the big eclipse and while we weren't in a "100% coverage" area, we would still get to see about "84%" coverage as the moon passed by. That's pretty good for not having to leave the house!

But we did, leave the house. We went over to the coast to watch the eclipse and eat dinner. Of course, not everything went according to plan...

First, we waited until the last minute to get together some eclipse viewing materials. We had hoped to pick up something to use to view the eclipse at the Maker Faire the day before, but by the time we ventured into the "stuff buying" zones, the crowds were so bad we couldn't get around to view the various offerings. The aisles were just too crowded. It was impossible.

So we settled on a long cardboard tube and a pinhole. Something the Internet assured us would work. For my part, I brought my camera, but only because I was hoping to get some good pictures of the kids. I knew I wouldn't be able to take photos of the eclipse directly -- I don't have the right gear for that.

According to the Internet and the local news, the weather would be nice at the coast, and the fog would not be a factor. The eclipse would start around 5:30pm-ish and reach its peak an hour or so later.

Flash forward to us piling in the car and zooming over to the coast. It's a 20-ish minute ride and there was no traffic. The wind was coming in off the ocean making me very glad I brought an extra sweatshirt. And the fog was out there, hovering over the ocean.

We tried so hard to make the cardboard tube/pinhole thing work. Here's the best image we got, projected onto the back of one of the kids.

Can you see it there in the middle? Yeah, me either. But it's there, really.

Then the fog came in and... and it was great! The fog acted like a filter and so I was able to take this photo with my camera:

Definitely click on the image for a better view.

All in all, the kids had a great time, and a great weekend if you include the Maker Faire. Basically it was a very educational weekend disguised as fun.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Maker Faire

We took the kids to the Maker Faire today. I had never been before and honestly, while I knew what to expect as far as the things we'd see, I didn't know how the girls would react.

The weather was great, though after lunch time it began to get a bit warm and shady spots were at a premium.

We arrived right at 10AM when it opened. I only had two items on my list of things I wanted to be sure saw. The Tesla Coils playing music and, as pictured above, the "Diet Coke and Mentos" show.

The Tesla coils were first and I was very excited to be able to see these massive things in person, finally. My younger daughter (10) lasted just a few minutes before asking if we could go. She was very excited at first, even asking me to hold her up so she could see the robot on stage, but then got scared at the "lightning" shooting out. "It's real lightning, dad. It's freaking me out." (That's really how she talks...)

This is the same girl who would later climb aboard a 40 foot fire breathing dragon sculpture, so go figure.

The Mentos show was fun, even though I had seen the videos on the internet. The kids loved it.

And then it was 1:30pm and everyone else on the planet showed up. It got so crowded that we could not go into any of the buildings to look at displays because of the constant jostling and sheer mass of humanity. The lines for lessons and tutorials were incredibly long (the kids managed to surprise me, though, by finding spots in the lock-picking class all on their own). Taking one step every couple of seconds is no way to travel. I was gritting my teeth and trying not to get too upset as I was constantly run into by people. But luckily I was saved by my kids who announced that they were ready to head home.

I hope that they're inspired by what they saw and heard and read today. The people that run the Maker Faire and the people who do displays and lectures and lessons (our kids learned how to solder today!) are incredibly nice and focused on the kids having fun. And I have to say that as crowded as it was, everyone there seemed to be intent on having fun and learning.

Oh, and later on after we'd been home for a while, I'm pretty sure I saw my kids looking in the garage, checking out all of my tools with a different look in their eyes...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Some Garden Stuff

Well, the corn sure is taking off:

We've rearranged them a bit, but we'll put them together in pods once they're starting to form tassels/etc. I think it's about time to fertilize them. We'll make some compost tea this weekend.

We have a couple of volunteers over in the old box. Looks like some kind of squash/cucumber type plant and a tomato. We're letting them go for now:

We started some sunflower seeds a while ago and two of them grew up quickly. I transplanted them into what we're calling the pumpkin bed (starting those this weekend) and in the time it took me to plant them and then go fill a watering can, a neighbor's cat had jumped the fence and landed on the bed, knocking one of the sunflowers down. I propped it up with a stick:

Let's just say that I can't stand the constant parade of cats, squirrels, and raccoons that use our fence as a highway.

Finally, here's the mint garden that we started years and years ago. It just keeps growing whether we water it or not. We pulled out most of it recently and this is how much it's grown back already. We made some mint flavored simple syrup for cocktails... Oh, and if you look closely you can see some asian lillies (at least, that's what our neighbor tells me they are) sprouting up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lime Time (Thyme)

Our little potted lime tree is going nuts. Just look at these clumps of fruit/blooms. The whole thing is covered like this (click the image for a larger version):

I'm wondering if we need to thin these ourselves or if the tree will do so itself. The other citrus around the place (potted key lime, tangelo, Meyer lemon) are having similarly good showings.

Not shown in this picture is the pot this lime tree lives in. At some point, some thyme started growing in the pot and we didn't bother pulling it out. Now, the entire pot is overflowing with thyme, which we've ignored and so it's flowering. That, combined with the lime blossoms and the citrus smell, makes it one of our favorite places in the yard.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learning New Skills - A Determined Approach

Ok, so that wasn't so bad.

I finally learned how to juggle. I'm far from an expert, and this is hardly noteworthy, but I can juggle three balls for an indefinite amount of time. I've wanted to learn to juggle for years, but I just never really applied myself. In fact, I have a (mental) list of all kinds of skills/etc. that I want to learn to do but haven't yet conquered. More on that below. But why juggling? Why now?

My wife can juggle, and I admit that I'm a bit jealous at the way the kids loved to watch when they were younger. At my new (ish) job, the co-founder likes to juggle. We have piles of bean bags and balls all over the place. He seems to think it's a worthwhile activity and has even gone so far as to offer to teach his fellow employees.

So that's what got me going.

This isn't the first item on my mental list I've crossed off. A couple of years ago I sat down and decided it was time to learn how to do crossword puzzles. Before that, it was overcoming my fear of powertools. I also learned to make english toffee and brownies from scratch. How to use an SLR and a DSLR camera. (And I'm sure there are some items I'm forgetting... goals around fitness/etc.)

My method is simple brute force. I research a bit first, and then I dive in and just keep trying. I know this isn't revolutionary, and that's probably how everyone does it.

The best part is that I've learned that for me, I can learn things by applying myself. Well, that and setting (for me) realistic goals. I didn't set out to learn to juggle nine flaming chainsaws. I didn't set out to finish the NYT Sunday crossword in pen in < 30 mins. But I set goals, applied myself and then was rewarded with some measurable amount of success.

I want to be sure that my kids enjoy success via a similar approach.

And next? What's next on my list of skills/accomplishments?

Believe it or not, I'm thinking it will be knitting or crochet. No really!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Potted Corn

The potted corn is still growing like mad. Take a look:

You can see the different batches we planted, all about a week apart (furthest from the camera/tallest group of three pots were planted a month ago). Three batches of three pots and then a solo pot we found hidden away in the shed. When I planted the corn, I added a shovel full of compost from our bin into each pot. I'm hoping that will last for a while. Last time we fertilized with weekly applications of compost tea once the plants got a couple of feet tall. We'll probably use that strategy this time, too.

(Oh, the pallets in the background are ones my daughters scavenged [with permission] from a house down the street. The want to build some kind of "fort" out of them, but haven't gotten around to it yet.)

The radishes are about ready to harvest:

This weekend we're hoping to transplant some of the stuff we planted in small containers (sunflowers, cucumbers, etc.).