Friday, December 25, 2009

More Adventures in Print

Earlier this year we published our Down Under adventures on A couple months ago we published the previous year, 2005, on the same website. If you'd like a hard copy, check it out:

Another heirloom for the Tyler family.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Bronze Age

The material for an eighth wedding anniversary gift is bronze. In keeping with my discipline of making a gift for Sara out of the material of the year (see 2008), I started 2009 thinking about a way to make a gift out of bronze.

I found the prospect quite daunting. After all, I didn't really have the time and wherewithal to do bronze forging or casting. I thought briefly about taking an object of ours and getting it bronzed--but surely that would be cheating. How on earth would I manage to craft this heavy metal without spending an arm and a leg on education and materials?

Sometime in spring it dawned on me that metal wire can be worked with a minimum of training and resources. Bronze wire it was. Now, what to make out of wire for a woman who doesn't wear much jewelry? After many weeks of letting the creative juices steep on the stove of slumber, the right answer materialized. I would make cribbage pegs out of bronze.

Maybe I should back up a bit. During our world travels in 2006, Sara and I would spend down time playing cribbage on a tiny travel board (thanks, Kerkhoffs, for that gift!). Now that we had our own home, there is no reason not to have a full-size cribbage board, with custom-made scoring pegs. Ornament and function would come together beautifully; and in the process we might be able to reclaim our lost habit of playing cribbage together.

Here's an example of the wire work for one of the pegs, to become the letter "E" on the peg:

And the set of three "E" pegs finished:

Since it's our anniversary together, of course there need to be pegs for Sara:

Every good cribbage set has three sets of pegs, so I began crafting a more iconic set:

This wire would become the first of three monkeys, the animal who has become our mascot since my fateful run-in with Sophie:

As with so many of my projects, the spurt of creativity leads to a host of consequences which require more planning and work. In this case, bronze-adorned cribbage pegs require a cribbage board. I did not have the resources to make a cribbage board out of bronze, but I had my never-ending supply of MDF scraps, which is easy to cut and drill.

Loathe to do something so mundane as a typical cribbage board, I decided to make a board that, in the course of a game, would lead the players through a cartoon rendition of our homestead. So I designed the Tylers' Cribbage Board, to reflect the property with which we have been so happy and of which my wife is so proud.

First, I planned the board with proper size, spacing, and number of holes. This involved more math than I initially appreciated:

Next, I drilled through the paper template into the MDF board:

Next, I drew the "map" of our land on the board:

A round of cribbage takes you across the stone patio, through the garden, past the fire pit, for a walk in the hay field, up the treehouse, and across the creek, a complete tour of the Tyler estate in 121 points:

All in celebration of eight years of marriage:

All of this work was done on the sly, hidden from the eyes of my lovely wife, at Bobby's studio (thanks, Bobby!):

I had with me the capable assistance of GBaby (who here is keeping in touch with her peeps on a plush pink cell phone):

I tested the ink for color-fastness under preservatives of different types (I finally decided good ol' polyurethane was the best):

Three layers of shellac to get that smooth shine:

Et voila! One custom-made cribbage board ready for play (and for hanging on the wall when not in use):

And at very last, the final goal, one pleased Better Half:

Happy Bronze Anniversary, baby!


A Long Line of Card Players

GBaby comes from a long line of card players on both sides of the family. Skip-Bo and "Hand and Foot" favorites from her mom's side and her GrammaB plays as well. It's only fitting that we get her started early:
She seems to like it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Social Networking Christmas

So this afternoon I went to the mailbox and saw this:
Hmmmm... I know I've done a lot of online shopping this month but definately didn't remember ordering this. Usually I save my "get fit" purchase for January. I turned it over and saw the return address. Instantly my mind went to a random FaceBook conversation a week or so ago when my friend in Miwas making carmel corn. We briefly discussed our love of this yummy treat and how I don't make it often because E's not a fan. Jokingly I told her to send me some.

I opened up the box and a little post it sat on top of tissue paper that said "Ask and you will receive". And under the tissue paper:
and it is so good - it even has peanuts in it! I don't even have to worry about saving any for Emrys The Food Vacuum - it's all mine :). JennyMark - you made my day!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Since Gwendolyn could begin crawling around the living room, one of her favorite contraband toys has been computer cords. (We hypothesize that this is because she can get the folded cord back to her molars to chew on them.) We had constantly to divert her from outlets and the back of our laptops. Thus when Sara's old Toshiba died, we let her have its power cord, as well as an old wireless receiver that has been stored with an ancient laptop we nicknamed "The Boat Anchor." Most of the time she uses them for chew toys.

However, when our daughter discovered the route to the stairs, she began toting the cords with her across the kitchen floor. Here she is, stopping to check and see if any parents are watching her, power cord and wireless cord in hand:

I think she was going to take them upstairs and sell them on eBay. She's like her mom that way.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tabled Motion

Over the summer one year between university terms, I made a table out of maple. Aside from a full-length crack acquired during its stay in a Phoenix garage a few years ago, it has borne the years well enough that we still have it. However, when I created it I made an error in measurement. I made the height of the tabletop from the floor thirty inches. Standard height is between twenty-eight and twenty-eight and a half inches. Mine was one and a half inches too high.

Insignificant, you might say. And I would reply, Au contraire! One and a half inches felt too high when you sat at this table: to eat, play cards, work on projects, and do homework. So uniform are the tables I've used throughout my life that every time I sat at it, I felt the difference in my elbows, shoulders, and hands. And when we put it together with another table for large dinner parties, the salt shaker would fall over the edge onto the lower table. Very embarrassing. And very annoying on the whole.

(This is, in fact, not its only design flaw. Well, to be honest, a master carpenter could probably point out hundreds of design flaws. But the second flaw that jumps to mind is my choice to cut so much off the corners of an otherwise rectangular table. I should have clipped just a little off those corners; instead I produced an almost regular octagon. Poor choice.)

Until now, I've been too lazy to do anything about the height problem. But a certain convergence of the planets, rearranging of furniture for Christmas, and coincident need to go to the wood shop conspired to allow the remedy to come at last.

Here's the underbelly of my college break experiment, with legs removed and pegs visible in the sleeves:

Here are the legs, newly cut, sanded, and about to receive a dose of oil--because I didn't want to wait for urethane to dry before reassembling the table:

Here's the table serving as a staging area for all the tools I used in the most recent doorknob project:
And here it is in its latest destination, serving as sewing table for Sara in her candle room:

Looks like we've taught this old dog a new trick. We'll let it stick around a while longer.


Thursday, December 17, 2009


At least half of the household projects we do result from the fact that our house is a patchwork quilt of reclaimed and salvaged parts. For example, all of the doors--thicker and heavier than your average residential portals--appear as if they came from some industrial setting. They are broad and stout, and the handles and tongues have the look and complexity of hospital or factory furnishings.

And for good measure, some doors don't have strike plates.

It hasn't mattered much to us that the door to Sara's candle workshop didn't latch. But now, with a Little One who pushes her way into all sorts of potential trouble, we need to be able to close off that room. So I set to work on replacing the door handle and adding a strike plate.

Not pictured below is the process of extracting the behemoth inner lock mechanism of the former handle, which was better suited to sealing off the engine room of a submarine than a living room. After I removed the guts, I had to fill the empty chasm in the door with wooden block and putty. After that dried and I sanded it, I could cut new holes for a new handle.

To do so, they have handy jigs that take all the uncertainty out of the process:

This nifty unit comes with jig, two hole saws (one for the handle, the other for the tongue) and can be set for either of the standard distances from jamb to handle (called a "setback," for you Tool Time Tim folks). Here's lunch on the stove, visible through the new hole:

And my thumb through the tunnel that the lock mechanism will soon occupy:

All's A-OK here:
Another jig and a routing bit (included in the same tool kit) allow me to accurately cut out the depression for the tongue plate:

Et voila! A new "satin nickel" door handle for the candle shop:

Somewhere down the line I need to refinish the door (as you can see from the puttied hole above); but for now it's enough to keep Gwendolyn from getting in and eating all the wax.


Oak is Cheaper

than clear pine. So I found out from the kind folks at a nearby lumber and kitchen design store. Clear pine is recommended for making children's play blocks, but I learned that red oak (used for fine cabinetry and furniture everywhere) is cheaper by about fifty cents per board foot. So Gwendolyn's gift of a set of blocks turned out to be more hoity-toity than I thought it would be. Here's the raw material: "eight-quarters" red oak, which is really seven-quarters of an inch thick:

And here's the "How Stuff Works" website image, consulted for moral support:

Here's the first round, cut, sanded (thanks to Bobby and Mike again for generous access to the wood shop!), and lined up for oiling:

Before I could get any further, however, the Total Quality Manager had to check them out:

TQM department says that red oak is good for teething. Check.

When I was little, I had a set of blocks painted all sorts of bright colors. (They were probably knotty pine. I don't know if people cared about clarity in the '70s.) So when I thought I'd be making Gwendolyn's out of clear pine, I also thought I'd be painting them. But no one in his right mind paints red oak. The grain is too gorgeous and the color is too beautiful. So I decided to oil them to delay moisture damage. The first round I did with linseed oil:

Here's the first set, golden after its first coat:

Then a couple of friends who have been at this much longer than I have recommended I use mineral oil instead. Apparently one is not supposed to use linseed oil for wood that will be in frequent contact with food--or, in my case, that which consumes the food. So I switched to mineral oil for the next rounds of blocks.

To make a set of blocks complete, you have to have triangles, columns, and of course archways:

And no project would be complete without some sort of battle scar. After sanding umpteen blocks on a worn-out sanding belt, I decided to replace the belt. I discovered the virtues of fresh sandpaper moving at high speed, and in the process gave myself a wood-shop-manicure--ouch!

In pursuit of the finest product for my daughter, I had the blocks subjected to another round of testing:

Amber showed us that under skillful hands, these blocks are destined for great things:

Thanks, Amber!

It's not fair, though, to keep the cook's spoon out of the chocolate mousse. So the laborer got a chance to play:

I'm not sure my skills have improved since elementary school. It's been a while since I've played with blocks:

That's not how I expect it to look under Gwendolyn's hand for a while yet. Every time I build a tower, she tries to knock it down:

But that's all right. After all, now they're her blocks, to build up, knock down, chew on, probably throw a little bit. And perhaps, if we're all blessed this way, to give to her kids when the time comes for them to have blocks.

Happy building, Gwendolyn Hope! Unleash your creativity.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crooning at Bath Time

Bath time with your baby is made all the more enjoyable when you croon a modified rendition of Dean Martin's You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You (written originally by Morgan, Stock, and Cavanaugh):

You're nobody 'til somebody bathes you
You're nobody 'til somebody scrubs
Behind your ears, and down your back, and under your nose
And works the dirt out from those crannies between your toes
The world still is the same, you'll never change it
As long as the ducks float in the tub
You're nobody 'til somebody loves you
So find yourself somebody to scrub!

It's even better with a big band, but even our bathroom doesn't really have room for that. Maybe in the next house.


Monday, December 07, 2009

GBaby Meets Snow

One of the great joys of parenthood is introducing new things to a little one exploring the world around them. This week brought one of those moments. We got snow on Saturday and Emrys was gone for the day so I threw G's jacket on her and ran outside. She kind of looked at the flakes landing against her red cape, and looked at me like "what on earth are we doing out here?". So we went back inside and let the snow fall. She enjoyed watching it fall outside the kitchen window right next to her high chair and fortunately enough fell that we were able to go explore it a bit more closely on Sunday.

and for the live action shot: