Sunday, August 19, 2012

summer project #4: instant diy stadium cushion

How many projects are borne from a combination of procrastination and cheapness? In my case, many, if not most.

The procrastination: while shifting in my rock hard seat at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, I swore I would not return without a stadium cushion. And we are scheduled to leave...tomorrow.

The cheapness: I zipped out to the local sports store, only to find stadium cushions priced anywhere from $15-25. Multiplying that times 3 of us, I was simply unable to pull out my wallet. They've got to be cheaper somewhere, I thought, perhaps at Target.

The inspiration: at Target, the first thing I saw were these 99¢ polypropylene shopping bags:
Foam seat pads were $6 each (with coupon) at the fabric store:
They had to be trimmed; thus, the serrated knife in the picture. The secret to cutting foam is to pull the blade across in one direction—don't saw back and forth. I took 3" off the length, and 1" off the width for a finished size of 14"X14"X1". Wrapped back in its plastic wrapper, the foam slipped easily into the shopping bag:
That was it. $7, and 5 minutes: my favorite kind of project. By leaving the top open, we can add a light blanket or a program, and the pocket on the side is perfect for holding tickets, snacks or handwarmers.
Now to finish packing and then Ashland, here we come!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

happy birthday, julia child

This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!
~ Julia Child
She may have gone to Smith, but Julia Child had the heart of a born unschooler. Today would have been her 100th birthday and if there were ever a reason to eat a good meal and appreciate every bite, this is it.

I don't own Mastering the Art of French Cooking, nor any other books by Julia Child. I love her mainly because I have memories of coming home from school and watching her show. She fascinated me because she was both extremely knowledgeable and kind of silly. She was sloppy and playful and skilled all at once—a reassuring model for any child.

During this same time my neighbor was going to college in Cambridge, where Julia lived and worked. She remembers occasionally catching glimpses of the green VW Beetle with a spoon or a spatula (she doesn't remember which) wired to the antenna; everyone in town knew it was Julia's car. She and her friends gathered every week to watch The French Chef as it was broadcast, then again on the weekend to cook the dish Julia had made on tv. Apparently Julia's favorite corner butcher shop always ran out of the cut that was featured in the recipe, so savvy Cambridge residents would get there as soon as possible after the show.
Remember, 'No one's more important than people'! In other words, friendship is the most important thing—not career or housework, or one's fatigue—and it needs to be tended and nurtured.
                                                                                                      ~Julia Child

I suspect that cooking was merely a medium for Julia's particular joie de vivre. She loved food because she loved living. She loved to cook because she loved eating with people. And likewise, we love her not for her beef bourguignon, but for her huge and inquisitive spirit.

Last night some friends and I paid our own kind of tribute. The movie Julie and Julia played in the background while we assembled salade ni├žoise, warmed up quiche and mixed upside-down martinis.
Dessert? There were two: chocolate mousse, and reine de saba cake, complete with birthday candle and singing.
Whether or not you are inclined to make a special meal, I hope today that you eat well, try something new, tend to friendship, and above all, have some fun.

And if you do any one of these things, give a little nod to Julia Child.

Monday, August 13, 2012

summer project #3: fixing the bookulele

It's mid-August, and we're only on project #3? Drat, I had such big plans, too.

I guess it was yet another summer where the calendar looks so promisingly empty in May but gets filled up day-by-day with friends, movies, house and yard work, and a certain amount of heat-induced laziness. And the one project I did manage to do lately is really just a refinement:

Although the bookulele played fine initially, over time the cardboard body began to bow from the tension of the strings. I also felt dissatisfied with the neck, which was not even with the fretboard but stuck out just enough to feel wrong.
So this weekend I took it apart and put in some very rough bracing cut from scrap wood.
Then I filed down the neck so it was more even with the fretboard, sanded it smooth, and started the stain/finishing process all over again.
This was the 5-minute rig for spraying lacquer on: a wire clothes hanger, a paint stick, a bike stand, a plastic dropcloth. Not very professional, but it worked for this purpose!
Here's the reshaped and refinished neck:
And here's the bookulele, not looking a whole lot different than it did back in April but feeling better in my hands:
I didn't trim the strings because, frankly, I'm not sure how much I'll be playing this. The action is unpleasantly high, even after taking the saddle down a little (not a lot, as I was afraid to go too far). And it just doesn't have the sound that makes me want to pick it up. It's a cardboard body, after all. I imagine that within a year I'll be reusing the strings, bridge and neck for something else.

But as crude as this little uke is, I learned a lot from doing it—not just about the build process, but also in some way about music, as well. It's always that way, isn't it? Making things is an approach from a different direction.

With that in mind, I want to give a grateful shout-out to the friend who passed her old bass body to the boys. C talked with Keith about it, bid on a used neck on eBay, and helped his brother clean up and make the bass playable again. They've had their hands all over this instrument and now have a better understanding of how it plays than if they had purchased new. That, to me, is the perfect outcome of a good project.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

keith's workshop

Lisa recently wrote a post about the value of networking, and I can tell you that she lives this. Last fall when I was visiting and noticed her ukuleles, I asked if she'd ever thought about learning to play—the idea had just recently begun to take shape in my own head.

Lisa instantly said yes, mentioned her musician/luthier friend Keith, and picked up the phone to call him right then and there. After Keith had patched up the Gaspar uke, he gave us a couple of introductory lessons.

Fast forward 9 months and now I'm happy to call Keith a friend of my own (thank you, Lisa). He has taught us many more things since that day, met my music-obsessed son C and invited him to play trumpet—an instrument C was not at all comfortable on but willing to do with Keith's encouragement—in his Friends of the Library band, and has of late taken time out of his always-busy schedule to guide C in building a lap steel guitar.

C and I went to visit this week when I asked Keith to set up the new concert ukulele DH gave me for my birthday. His barn workshop is a fun place, because you never know what you will see upon entering.

cases & necks
tools, bundles of horsehair, vintage radio equipment
banjos, bandsaw, molds
chair seat made from a drum head
baritone ukulele parts
an assortment hanging from the stairs
3-string MJB coffee "canjo"
Next to it, an 8-string ??? made from...
...a Dutch oven lid
custom guitar stenciled with a design by Keith's friend, Bob Armstrong

And these pictures barely scratch the surface. There are rows of violins, a sousaphone modified with parts from the hardware store, a gigantic harmonica, and lots of wood. There was a pot of beeswax left over after Keith had spun off his honey; he also keeps bees.

Outside, he had rigged up a solar wax warmer to melt this down into candle wax.

I've loaded this post with photos even though they're not the best, because it's the only way to convey how rich and amazing Keith's workshop is. Maybe you can understand why C and I love to visit. It looks like somewhere you could discover anything at all, doesn't it?

Be sure to visit Keith's website, particularly his instructions for making instruments with kids:

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