Saturday, December 27, 2008


I fasted today. One day isn't much but after a week of gluttony I thought it would be good to glimpse the other end of the scale. I drank juice and tea. Just a day is not hard, it's not painful, but there is this nagging little voice that tries to talk you out of it. Some of it is habitual, we are used to feeding ourselves through the day, 3 meals, a snack here and there, let's see what's in the fridge. It is a pleasurable thing to do. It is not needed but it tastes good.

It is surprising how much time we spend eating. No food, no prep, no dishes to do. Saves money too. I worked pretty steadily in my shop through the day but noticed a drop in energy come late afternoon. Too much food might make one sluggish but not enough food leaves one tired, no fuel to burn.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This is my box.....

"This is my box, this is my box, I never travel without my box"
-lyrics from the opera Ahmal and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti

When I was a kid this opera was part of the family Christmas tradition. My folks had purchased the LP and I would play it repeatedly in the season. I had much of it memorized. The story is of a poor crippled boy and his mother on Christmas Eve, a brilliant star is shining that the boy has been gazing at. Who should come visiting but the three kings on their way to Bethlehem, following the star. They come in to the humble abode to rest. In one scene the nearly deaf king sings about his box and what's in it - magic stones and licorice. Not to kill the excitement for some of you eager to run out and buy your copy but the king's magic stone cures the boy so he can dance and skip and go with the kings on their journey to Bethlehem.

I tried to bring this piece of music into my house for the season but the groans and eye-rolling put an end to that. I understand.

Anyway this childhood memory has left an appeal for a personal box and I have made several. I call them "memory boxes". It's a place to keep your life mementos, your personal journal or diary, the special photographs, love letters, sea shells, hawk feather, childhood pocket knife, Mom's necklace that you just can't bear to wear, the small things you treasure.

This box started with wanting to make one with curved sides like a bombay chest, or the way you puff out your cheeks. All but the bottom were milled from a 2" x 11" x 72" plank of walnut I milled from a tree long ago. The curved sides are done as a large molding, cutting large coves on the table saw and then cut to length on a sliding miter saw.

Mitered joints seem simple, and they don't take long to do, but I find them difficult because the slightest error in the 45 degree angle or the 90 degree cut creates problems. Hard to get it perfect. And since it is not a strong joint it must be re-enforced in some way. Here was a place that method influenced design. Curved sides meant I couldn't use splines in the joint as is often done. Dowels might have been possible but difficult to locate. So I decided on trim head screws which lead to the inlaid dots of mother of pearl at the corners. I used 3 screws at each corner which also solved the problem of pulling the joint together on glue up.

The top is done in similar fashion as frame and panel construction. The curved top panel is carved/shaped from 2" stock just as you might make a shallow bowl.

Finishing used a staining technique called "ebonizing". It's one I read about long ago and have been waiting for the right time to use. Even so I waffled back and forth for a week because walnut is beautiful without any treatment and I was a little afraid I'd regret it. And there is no turning back once you start. In the end I decided to go with it to accentuate the inside/outside experience of the box. Dark and light, shown and hidden, public and private. The bottom panel of the box is blonde sycamore to further enhance that feeling.

It is definitely an "old school" technique. You put rusted steel in vinegar and let it sit for a week. This solution will darken most woods but works particularly well with walnut, turning it an ebony black. I put on two coats 24 hours apart. In the end I was happy with the result. I think it gives a feeling of antiquity to the piece, like an old sea chest, a pirate's box full of pieces of eight.

I bought fancy hardware. I ordered hinges, the lock and mother of pearl dots from 3 different places all online and had them on my doorstep in 3 days. No wonder the local hardware store has disappeared. Guitar building suppliers are a good source for shell inlay.

Robin's Box

Dylan's box

I made these boxes for Dylan and Robin in consecutive years as Christmas gifts several years ago. They are identical but for the top panels. Dylan's is nicely figured quarter sawn sycamore and Robin's a plain maple with ebony inlay.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at the State Theater

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Monday, December 8th
The State Theater, State College, PA.

Margy and I have missed some good shows at the State but couldn't pass on this one. Bryan Dondero, who once worked at Friends School and was a favorite of all the kids including Robin, is the bass player for this up and coming band from Burlington, Vt.

For some reason I was expecting a bluegrass flavored sound but this is a kick-ass serious rock and roll band with a powerful lead vocalist and virtuoso lead guitar player playing mostly original tunes. Besides playing solid bass Bryan made like a wizard conjuring ethereal sounds from a theremin, an electronic instrument I'd never seen before. I also loved their cover of the Stones Paint It Black.
It was a really fun evening and great to see Bryan after the show.

All the best to you, Bryan.

Though I liked the loud stuff this old guy liked the soulful gospel-like ballads the best. Check it out....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Penn State Crows

Walking across campus on the way to work an ominous sign, a bad omen, a dead crow hanging high up in a tree. A little further I see another and then another and realize it is part of the solution to Penn State's crow problem. They are crow effigies intentionally hung to scare the birds away. Trained professionals have been firing off canon like devices to scare them off and then hang effigies to discourage their return.

For several years now about this time of year migrating crows have roosted by the thousands in the trees near Old Main. They flap, and squawk and create a "sanitation" problem spattering the sidewalks with Rorschach tests.

And I must say it is a problem for now as I watch my step along the walkways I am hounded by incessant questions: What is that? What does that mean? What is that supposed to be? What's that one doing to that one? Oh God mother always told me not to think those thoughts .....

Crows Lookout for Sunrise

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lucy's in the Doghouse

Well she is a sweet dog. Everyone who has met her seems to agree. Maybe she was trying to get even sweeter.

Margy went to town for the morning and left her inside as we have done before. She is definitely not a cold weather dog, as Bonnie was, so we don't want to put her outside in her pen. We know she sleeps on our bed when we're gone but otherwise it's been OK.

But this time was different. Margy returned to find shredded cardboard and bits of foil, the remnants of two dark chocolate "oranges" purchased for Robin and Dylan's Christmas stockings, about 13 ounces of the good stuff, left in a bag with other gifts.

This is not good. Chocolate is toxic to dogs (check the web for how much is bad for your size dog) and Lucy was in the danger zone. So off to the vet she goes where they make her vomit for a few hours and then give her charcoal to absorb the toxin. Her body temp was rising and her heart was racing. Four hours and $180 later I pick her up after work to bring her home.

Now she is really hungry and hyper but we're just supposed to give her a little rice and water so she doesn't get sick again.

Next day Margy leaves home just a little before I get home. I find debris on the living room rug - all that's left of a whole loaf of bread lifted from the kitchen counter. So much for limiting her intake.

Sigh. They say this is common with Labs - they will eat anything and with no limit on quantity. So now it looks like we will have to crate her when we leave the house - at least when it's cold.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Please Sit Down

"Please Sit Down"

Another vessel. Where do these come from? I'm not sure which might be why I keep making them. Most of the ideas arrive fairly complete and simple drawings and templates are all I do to use as guides. The size is sometimes determined by the wood I have. I'm not sure what wood this is though I think it's hickory. Years ago it was sitting in a pile of other rounds of a tree by the side of the road with a sign that said FREE.

Not always, but often stories about the piece come as the work nears completion just as they might for someone else. This one seems to me to be a combination of elegance and organic funkiness. Maybe it's the filagree or lace-like webbing of the handle and the squat stance. An upper class lady with a lower class past. High tea at the country manor but something sinister is going down.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


A happy Thanksgiving. Margy's family, less oldest brother Bill, all came for the occasion. Dan, the family patriarch now in his 94th year, no longer wishes to make the long trip to Virginia as we have done the past few years so all came to see him. Nephews Brian from NC and Daniel from LA. came the farthest.

The usual feast with a turkey and all the fixin's. Stuffed portabellas for the vegetarians. Nice pies for dessert. Everyone ate too much and staggered to the living room to be inert for a while.
Some nice walks and time with Dan sorting papers and conversation and an entertaining game of Trivial Pursuit last night with the Frysinger Sibs snatching a come from behind victory from The Kids while Team Spouses shot out of the gate but limped woefully to the finish.

Fun to have Jake and Lizzy pouring their energy on the group. We shake our heads in wonder at the parent's stamina.

All but Daniel left after lunch today. A quiet settles upon the house.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Camera Repair

Robin wants a camera that uses film to take portraits of people at Botten Vilage. With access to a darkroom she wants to do some B & W work the old fashioned way. The camera she was using was not working correctly. Could I fix it and send it?

I fixed cameras for a living for 25 years working out of a small room in the basement, going to town twice a week to pick up and deliver the work. It was good work that paid a decent hourly wage with the flexibility to allow for raising children and building our house.

But I haven't fixed a camera in several years and skills fade. I'd never worked on Robin's camera so decided to give her my old Canon AE-1 Program. This camera, introduced in 1981, was the follow up to the AE-1, which was possibly the most popular camera ever. And it was one of my favorite cameras to fix.

I check out my camera, which hadn't been used in years, and what do you know, "The Canon Squeal". This little problem was a boon to my industry. A little train of gears(see pic) which slowed the rising of the mirror would make this annoying squealing sound. I never saw it get so bad as to cause the camera to be inoperative but customers didn't like it and the fix was to take the camera apart and put a drop of oil on the gears. Nice job.

So I did this once again after a long hiatus and it was fun. Had to use a little drawing for which wires go where but the fingers still remember how to do the tools.

Now does anyone know where I can get a Canon FD 28-80mm Macro Zoom for cheap?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A perfectly dreary day

Lucy needs a walk. It's been raining all morning but let up a bit so off we go, our usual route to the church and up around Dad's field. Earlier this week a deer was hit along Marengo Road and the vultures have been workin' on it, trying to get their share before the game warden hauls it away. When we come by they move to the trees to wait. I just saw 7 but Margy saws dozens yesterday.

I turn Lucy loose in the field and off she goes this way and that boppin' and weavin' nose to the ground. The nose knows. She is posessed.

I leash her again and we head further down Marengo to the end of Hank's field then left down the farm road to the creek and she's off again.

It's starts to rain again but it's warm so it's nice. Wet grass, wet shoes,wet feet, wet dog. A subdued pallet of colors and earthy smells. We walk home.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hornet Nest

This hornet nest is made by bald faced hornets. It's not something you'd want to mess with as they will attack en masse but in general a good critter to have around as they eat other insects. They begin building the nest in the spring and leave it after the first heavy frost. Queen hornets start the nest and then workers expand the nest by chewing up wood that mixes with a starch in their saliva, which they spread to dry into paper. Nests have been found over three feet in length. Bald faced hornets are found throughout North America.

This nest is in a Purple River Beech that Margy gave me for a birthday gift some fifteen years ago. This tree is deep maroon through out the summer turning a gorgeous bronze in the fall. A very slow growing tree.

Now that the hornet's nest is empty I think I'll take it down and hang it in my shop porch as an object d'art.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear Robin

Dear Robin,

Yes, it was an historic day. Margy stayed up for the finish, to hear his victory speech, and cried tears of joy. I read the speech today and got a lump in my throat. We want so much to believe in honesty, and integrity and truth and the power of love and the ability of people to help one another and we are so often disappointed. But this night we were not disappointed. Barack Obama speaks words we are longing to hear from our leaders. I do not envy him his seemingly insurmountable task but I am grateful he is being given the chance.
We had the 60's where we made a little difference, I think, in ending a war and in women's rights and civil rights and we questioned the value of material wealth. And then the easy money of the 70's was so alluring and too hard to resist and we turned to raising children and the movements lost their drive. Barack is giving new hope to your generation that it is your turn and that you can make a difference.
It will seem too slow. It will seem that not enough people are helping. But all you can do is the task before you. The work you are doing now is making a difference in someone's life. Every interaction that you have with others is an opportunity to make a contribution to a more loving, peaceful world.

Take care. Be well. We miss you.

Love, Dad

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Storm Tree Damage

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled around the house. Hundreds of pine cones fell as the pines swayed. We sat safe and warm in the living room. Then an ominous sound, not much of a snap or crack, but a heavy thump, something big ... hitting the roof? I took a flashlight outside and looked about the house a bit but nothing to be seen.

Not until the next day did Margy find the source. The top 30 feet of the big pine right next to the garage/shop had snapped off. It didn't hit the shop roof, or the porch roof, or the lamp post. It didn't take out the power line or the young pine I've been encouraging. It took down one branch from another tree and kicked a bunch of dirt on the steps. It couldn't have fallen any other place and done less damage.

Now I have to see if I can drop the remaining thirty feet in the same place. But first I'm going to do something really sweet for someone to replenish my good karma.

Today I was thinkin' I might leave 10' of this tree standing and make a totem pole. That'd be cool wouldnit?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mama Bear

Mama Bear is almost thirty years old.
We could have chosen Papa Bear or Baby Bear but Mama Bear was just right.
1979, new homeowners were we, and the first thing we did was install a wood stove, this Fisher Mama Bear, big enough to fit a 20" log and hold a fire through the night. 300 and some pounds of 5/16 plate steel lined with fire brick, a massive thing to radiate for hours. No reason it won't last for generations.
It was the hey-day of wood stoves, driven by a rise in heating costs (little did we know), and folks were looking for some cheap heat. Vermont Castings and Jotul were the high end. We bought ours from a neighbor 1/2 mile away who had turned his garage into a Fisher franchise.
Of course you had to get some wood for this thing but back then it was almost fun and you could get your friends to go out in the woods and bust it hauling chunks of wood out of the woods just for the companionship and a few beers.
I had a 1955 Chevy pickup painted primer grey with an '87 V-8 engine 4 on the floor that we got for $600. I upholstered the seat with denim and made a walnut sun visor. We were Ma and Pa Kettle 'cept the sucker could haul ass.
My chainsaw was a lime green Poulan that would start nice the first time but never again. So I'd fire it up and work like a banshee trying to cut enough for a truck load before it ran out of gas. If it quit I'd hafta yank and yank and yank and maybe I'd be lucky and maybe I wouldn't. Somebody probably could have fixed it but not this kid from the suburbs.
So now I have a Stihl that starts nice and a different truck from Japan and a wood lot that is not far away and each spring I do this ritual, albeit solo, of bringing in the winter's warmth.
New Fisher stoves are no longer available. They didn't pass the EPA emission standards set for newer stoves and the romance of wood heat faded a bit. It turns out to be a lot of cuttin', haulin', stackin' and ashes and cleaning the flu so folks switched to coal or pellets or back to oil or gas. But they say the stove business is picking up again recently .....

A poem by my friend Jack Troy.

Acorn Dreaming
(for Don and Sarah Braxton)

Last week the crew showed up early,
took stock of three dead pin oaks
up the hill from me, jerked starter-cords,
and had them topped, limbed, and felled by ten,
the first thwacking frozen lawn
like a tossed caber, the biggest ka-rumping
sod like a mortar round. By noon
they lay splayed on the slope,
buzz-sawed into puzzles of themselves.
On his way to the next job,
one of the guys poses with his saw
on a stump's concentric circles,
-Wanna tree-kit, mister?-

I'd offered to barter young white pines
for a half a pickup of thighsized billets.
Around midnight I fed six to the furnace.
Stuffing the last two in before the door
clamped tight I caught an aromatic whiff,
bark roasting on evening's embers,
then slept in the comfort of the undoing.

Releasing ring by annular ring
the heat of seventy summers.
fire unscrolled from bark and canbium.
the repertoire of seasons.
one decade an hour, freeze by thaw
and drought by freshet til by dawn
remembrance radiates
from heartwood's inmost core:
the limber sprout yearning itself vertical.
leafing and heeding light and season.
shedding over seventy years
a cubic acre of veined paper.

Waking. I've dreamed the acorn's dreaming

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gingko Tree in the Fall

October 19th, about 9:30 on a Sunday morning, the morning after a hard frost, the beautiful golden leaves on the Gingko start to fall, a steady quiet stream as the sun's rays warm the air, a constant rustling sound that does not stop until the last leaf is down just an hour later. A little natural wonder we see each Fall.

The Gingko Biloba is a really interesting tree, "a unique species of tree with no close living relatives". Fossils of its leaves have been found dated from millions of years ago. Once thought to be extinct in the wild but now found in two small areas in eastern China. A tall tree from 70-115-' in height. A very unique leaf shape. There are also males and females, the females producing seeds that look nice but smell like shit. It can grow a long time, some specimens claimed to be more than 2,500 years old. Wikipedia -Gingko.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Walnut Bowl

Walnut Bowl 7 x 6 x 13

Nice to get out in my shop and make something again - it had been a while. Worked on this one and the cherry turning one after the other in a two week span. This one feels a bit chunky to handle, not a sensuous piece, but I think it works in some sculptural ways. Intersecting volumes, planes, and lines. The bowl extending from the block of wood from which it was carved...

Cherry Burl Vase

A simple piece - all about the wood - 8" x 4 1/2". I don't do much turning, resorting to scrapers and sandpaper to cover up poor skills. But I wanted to do this one because I was pretty sure the wood would be interesting. I found it while gathering firewood, a gnarly thing on the side of a big log. It had some voids that I filled with an epoxy product called Inlace, an interesting product that has many inlay possibilities.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Making Bread

Made bread today, my usual recipe, James Beard's Oatmeal Bread with Cooked Oatmeal.
I'm not sure when I first made this recipe, many years ago for sure, but it is really the only recipe I have used ever since. I only make bread once or twice a year and since this one has always been so well received I wasn't motivated to experiment.

Its unique characteristic is a wonderful chewy texture. It's a touch sweet with some brown sugar in the mix so is best with butter and jam. A lovely breakfast bread.

I usually have made it along side some homemade soup and the family of four will wolf down a loaf or more fresh from the oven. The recipe (download doc) as written makes two small loaves, only 2/3 the height of a normal loaf. But today I made 1 1/2 times but still used 2 tins. This made a taller loaf that will do nicely for sandwiches.

James Beard's book Beard on Bread was published in 1973 and was his best selling book. Beard (1903-85) was quite a character it seems and has been called the father of American style cooking by some.

If you've never made bread it's worth a shot just for the way it makes the house smell.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Lucy: We the pets stand united in filing this grievance against the ticks of the world who have infested our fair land, latching onto us and sucking our blood. As spokespet for this group I ...

Simon: Hey, hey just a minute, what's this spokespet stuff. I never agreed to that.. that's ridiculous..

Ginger [thinks silently to self]: riffraff, peasants, cretins

Lucy: Well, I just thought ...

Simon: You thought.... that would be a first wouldn't it. C'mon face it Stumpy, if ticks liked brains instead of blood you wouldn't have a problem would you?

Ginger: [vassals, dross, flotsam, lackeys]

Lucy: Gee Simon that's not very nice of you. And please don't call me Stumpy just because my tail...

Simon: Oh here we go again, the big sad eyes, the poor victim. Stumps, give it a rest. It gets old don't it Ginge?

Ginger [wiggles nose, silent to self] I AM RABBIT! HEAR ME ROAR!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mom's 90th Birthday

So Mom turned 90 on the 10th. All her children and their spouses gathered for the weekend to help celebrate the occasion. On a beautiful day we set up outside with gifts and a chocolate cake. Mom was in fine form and thoroughly enjoyed opening her gifts and cards.