Stuff I made

I am no fine woodworker, but I like taking scraps and putting them together to make something else. Here’s a few things I made recently.

Tables for porch

I used the railing we removed from the deck when we made the screened in porch to make several pallet like things. Then I used two of those to make a dining type table, and another one to make a coffee table. Then, I whitewashed them.

New Porch stuff

Cat Ladder/Bridge

We have had this in mind since we moved in (inspired by “The Cat’s House“), but just got around to making it. We have kept it pretty temporary for now, to make sure the cats use it (they do) and they don’t fall. I used a cabinet we had, and modified a ladder I bought at a thrift store for $10. There was a slight accident the other night when the cats tried to walk from the top of the ladder on to a massive Mangelsen photo we have, knocking it to the floor. Luckily, nothing (and no cats) were broken.

Cat ladder

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(Why I hate) Bicycling in downtown Lincoln

Car Driving in 14th St bike lane, from Google Maps

(Above, a picture of a car in the 14th St. bike lane in Lincoln, NE. It’s not even turning, just driving there.)

I broke the law yesterday.

I’m usually such a good citizen. But I admit it. And I knew I was doing it, even.

I rode my bike on the sidewalk. For two blocks. Actually, I did it twice- once after work, and once on my evening ride. Both times I was not near pedestrians, but still: NOT ALLOWED.

I’ve been told how a bike should be in the street, following the (car) rules of the road. That’s the law. I have never understood this. I, on my bike, am not a car. I don’t go as fast (I usually go around 10-12mph though I can sprint short distances at 18), I am not as big, I am not as visible, even with my giant “power rangers yellow” helmet, as a friend called it.

If a bicycle is supposed to follow the same rules as cars on the road, if they essentially are the same thing, why can they ride on recreational paths along with pedestrians?  Why do the bike police rarely ride in the street, instead riding on the sidewalk? Why are the bike racks on the side walk? (I realize it’s the only place to put them, but it sends a mixed message) (PS, need more bike racks, too)

I know there are bicyclists that can pretty much keep up with the flow of 25 mph traffic – and for them, acting like a car might make more sense. But I can’t. And honesly, I don’t want to go faster. I want to ride slow and look around at the world around me. It’s my favorite part about riding my bike.

Sometimes following the laws feels dangerous. Take this scenario:

Three lanes, one way street (N between 11th and 9th). Left lane is left turn only, right lane is right turn only, and middle lane is right turn or go straight. I want to go straight. Do I ride in the middle of the middle lane, slowing the traffic behind me to 12mph? The left hand side? (then cars try to squeeze past me and people making wide left turns come close to me) Add to this: cars coming out of a parking garage crossing all lanes of traffic and busses on the right that need to make their way across to the left.

What I have been doing is cutting across the street and taking a sidewalk – always with plenty of room for me to get around pedestrians – and crossing the street when pedestrians cross. Not dismounting my bike, but only going slightly faster than those crossing the street. Or, I’ll take a different sidewalk which is always empty (it’s in front of a church) and take the sidewalk down a couple more blocks. Neither of these solutions have felt especially good either, but better than the in the street option.

Other options – ride down the busy O street (no way) or cut back 4 blocks, ride my bike on the sidewalk on campus (this is legal/allowed, as far as I can tell) and go to 8th street, take the “bike lane” (problems with that are below, also, won’t work if I want to go to shops on 8th/9th and N), or cross the street, ride down an alley, and then take another street down.

To tell the truth, none of them feel great. The simplest, most direct route – riding in the middle lane – feels scary to me during rush hour, when people are at their most impatient. I myself wouldn’t want to be behind a bicyclist going so slow, either. I’ve only taken the route a handful of times, and most times I have been honked at, or flipped off, and even when not, I generally feel like an inconvenience. It certainly takes the fun out of riding my bike home.

I’m not sure of the solution. I think that riding on the sidewalk can be OK sometimes, but I realize it’s hard to legislate a common sense approach. When riding on the sidewalk, a cyclist should: yield to pedestrians, go very slow, and look both ways at driveways, as if crossing a street with a yield sign. I do these things when riding on a sidewalk, and I also try to make my trip on the sidewalk as short as possible – a way of avoiding heavily congested streets. If there are a lot of pedestrians, I’ll walk my bike. The cyclists who don’t follow common sense – who ride fast on the sidewalk and expect the pedestrians to get out of their way, are asshats, and are the reason no one is allowed to ride on sidewalks. (also, anyone who argues that “sideWALKS are for WALKing” has obviously never parked in a driveway.)

I do think Lincoln should give a lot more thought to how cyclists can get in and out of downtown safely. The bike lanes are a joke – the one on 14th requires cars to cross it at least twice just to go straight, and the 11th street one dumps you in the middle of a two way street at the end – which is OK when it’s not busy, but during rush hour it’s nerve wracking. (I took this route today. After ending up in the middle of the street, a car went slowly behind me instead of passing on the right, while I was waiting for them to pass so I could get to the right. They waved me on, and I went, but another car was about ready to jump around them on the right by then. No one honked at me, though- +1!) Designing some easy way to get from downtown to 8th street, which is a designated on street bike route, would also help. Changing the existing 11th and 14th street bike lanes so they are not in the middle of the street would be a HUGE help. Sure, some of the solutions might cost money, but it would result in a safer way to get to and from work/school that’s not by car.

I have been told I should be more agressive. That I should flip off drivers when I’m in the right. That I shouldn’t be afraid (because I can just turn that right off).  But you know what? I don’t want my commute home to be an exercise in anger, frustration and fear. If I wanted that, I’d drive. The rest of the ride home is peaceful and fun, it’s only the two blocks on N street between 11th and 9th that are a problem. I would guess that there are other riders who just don’t ride downtown to work because frankly, it sucks if you’re not a fast, experienced rider. All the people who have told me it doesn’t suck (so far)? Fast, experienced riders.

I was in an argument with someone the other day about bicyclists – she was frustrated that recreational cyclists rode on country roads. She doesn’t think they should be allowed to ride there at all; they go too slow; there’s supposed to be minimum speeds. I can understand her frustration, just as I can understand the frustration of people stuck behind me when I am going 10 mph in the middle of rush hour. But banning cyclists everywhere isn’t the solution.

We’re actually in a pretty good time and place to address this in Lincoln – cycling seems like it is on the rise and we’re already working on traffic improvement projects due to the Arena. Let’s keep cycling in mind and stop just lumping them in with cars when everything’s already designed. That might work for some, but it doesn’t for others and I’d rather live in a city where everyone feels safe to ride.

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CSAs taught me to cook

CSA Week 3

Before about 5 years ago, I would have said, if asked, that I “can’t cook.” Of course, I could make scrambled eggs and ramen, but nothing that would compete with, say, a meal out. At some point, I started making a concentrated effort to eat at home more, which meant learning “to cook.” Learning to cook, like learning to program, turns out to be a confusing task. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about which is the “right” way to do things complete with obscure terminology (“roux” & “recursion”), tools (copper pots vs cast iron, vim vs emacs), and technique (abstraction and readability, french vs everything else).

The fun part of both cooking and programming comes when you get frustrated reading about all the “right” ways to do things and just say “f*@$ it, I’m doing it my way.” This is where the magic happens. Also where the failure happens, but it’s a necessary evil.

Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, basically subscribing to a farm’s output) speeded up the process for me because I all of a sudden had all these vegetables I had never cooked with before and I had to figure out what to do with them NOW. I learned that I can make soup with just about anything (an immersion blender is my friend) as long as I add a lot of garlic. I learned that a lot of ingredients are interchangeable (many of the tough greens – kale, turnip greens, kohlrabi leaves, collards) and some are NOT. I learned that I absolutely love bok choy and rhubarb (got lots of it in last year’s CSA) and learned to tolerate cabbage.

Most importantly, I learned that the way I learned to shop for food was completely wrong. I always read that if I wanted to make most of my meals at home I should, once a week, make up a list of recipes I was going to make that week and then adhere to those recipes religiously. I’d make up these huge shopping lists, carefully get every single ingredient, and then make all the dishes as planned. Oh, except stuff always came up – a friend would ask us out to dinner, we just wouldn’t feel like cooking one night. And even if things didn’t come up, I didn’t use everything I bought for every meal so stuff always went bad. I felt like a failure.

Now, I shop without a list. I know what staples I need, and if I run out I can improvise. I buy vegetables that are in season or on sale, or whatever sounds good. I shop the outside of the store mostly, buying comparatively little from the middle. I pick a meat a week and work it into several dishes. I had to learn to shop this way, because during the CSA I got a huge box of veggies and I just had to figure out how to deal.

It has taken several years to get comfortable making food. The next step, for me, is to get comfortable making food for other people.

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Party photo booth instructions, notes, tips

There are already a few how to’s on this, but I thought another couldn’t hurt.

I got the idea for setting up a photo booth at a party from Lucy Knisely’s flickr stream. I loved the idea, and immediately thought “I should do that!” But it took me a while to actually act on it. Recently I hosted a party that was a perfect opportunity for the photobooth- a costume party with a theme of “dress as your favorite Nicolas Cage character.”

Nic Cage Party Photobooth

Following are some brief notes on what I used to set it up.

FYI, I used a Canon 300D SLR for my photo booth with a 1.8 50mm lens. This camera is over 6 years old but still worked fine for this, you could probably pick up an old digital SLR like this pretty cheap nowadays.

Where to put it?

Photo booth set up I stuck my photobooth in my studio, which had advantages and disadvantages. It was nice because there was plenty of room to set everything up. The downside was that it was away from the party, so a few people never got photographed. I’d like to find a way to put it on my main level, but it takes up quite a bit of room so that may not be possible.


You need a camera with some kind of remote release, or someone to man the booth. The ideal way to accomplish this is to have a camera with a remote release jack. Most SLR cameras have this, and a few point and shoots. You can buy wireless remote releases for your SLR at amazon. I already had a wired release, but it only has a 3’ cord. I made this longer by buying a 25’ 3.5 mm audio cords and 2 2.5 to 3.5 converters. This ended up being cheaper for me, but your mileage may vary. Photo booth set up

If your camera does not have a remote release jack, you could have someone else take the pics (I ended up manning the release cord anyway for much of the night), or you could use the self timer. One final idea would be to use the remote capture software that came with your camera hooked up to a nearby laptop, possibly combined with a 2 second timer.

Booth Setup

To set up the “booth” you just need a tripod and some kind of backdrop + lights. Position the camera beforehand, and if you have manual settings on you camera it’s best to figure out the best focus, aperture and shutter speed settings beforehand and set them. This will make the pictures quicker, because the camera won’t have to refocus every time. I used painter’s tape to mark exactly where people should stand. At first I thought it was too small an area, but I realized that you probably don’t want it bigger than about three people wide because you end up with too much space if only one person is being photographed.


Photo booth set up For lighting, I used a couple of bright “daylight” lamps pointed at the subjects at about a 35 degree angle. I got these at Menards (local hardware store) for $20 or so each – they’re the brightest lamps in the house. Basically you just want to have some light on the left and the right. Don’t use the on camera flash if possible – it will cast a shadow on the backdrop, and will tear through the camera’s batteries. With the amount of light I had, I was able to have a 1/25th of a second exposure and a f/2.8 aperture at 400 ISO. 1/25 is a bit on the slow side, but I needed the aperture to have the depth of field I wanted. For non camera nerds, just know that you’ll need as much light as you can get and you should experiment a lot with your set up before you use the booth to make sure the amount of light is sufficient to get sharp pictures. If you are using a point and shoot, try out different camera settings to see what works best. When you are testing the booth, make sure you test it with some action shots rather than just standing there. The good news is compact florescent bulbs make it easier to get a lot of light without having to use a flash. One thing to be aware of is mixing lights – i.e. one incandescent bulb and one compact fluorescent. It’s better to stick to the same type. If you do, you should be able to use the auto white balance on your camera with good results.

If you’ like to read more about setting up lights for good portrait photography, you could start with this article on lifehacker, or pick up a basic photography book at your local library.

Saving the images

Nic Cage Party Photobooth I hooked up my camera to the laptop so the images saved directly to my hard drive and people could view them right after they were taken. While not strictly necessary, it’s neat to see the pics right away. If your camera has a video out you can probably use that to preview the images.

Improvements for the future.

I have had my eye on a Canon t2i for a while, and when/if I ever get one it will improve my photobooth process in a few ways. First and foremost, it will have a faster usb connection so pictures won’t take so long to save to the hard drive. The fact that there is an HDMI out will let me use a monitor to show people exactly what the camera sees. Also the remote capture software for the newer cameras is greatly improved from what I hear.

Other improvements I would like to make which have nothing to do with buying new equipment are:

  • displaying the photos in progress on my TV (using something like
    this process @ lifehacker, see “Set Up a Real-Time Slideshow”)
  • better lighting so I can get a faster shutter speed
  • props
  • perhaps moving the booth downstairs
  • new, fun backdrops. I have Ideas.

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Geoff and I have been slowly but surely working on the backyard. I have a hard time with this stuff, battling my apathy to do something I really want to do. My apathy steers me right a lot of the time- I wanted to make a climate controlled room for the computer towers (we had three at one time) but put it off and put it off, and now we both have laptops and don’t need such a thing. But I usually know when I really want something, like the screened in porch, which I have absolutely love.

I’ve wanted to grow my own vegetables for a while, and liked the idea of raised beds because it helps me keep clear on what’s a weed and what isn’t. Also, since we have heavy clay soil, it’s easier to get soil amendments in.

Anyway, we ordered 5 cubic yards of soil and 2″ x 12″ x 8′ boards, and  made the boxes today and filled three of them

Raised Beds

Boards cut. I’d built one bed last year, which I used to plant rhubarb in this year. I can’t harvest it till next year- hope it survives, it was looking a little iffy there for a while.

Raised Beds

I lined the bottom with newspaper and then layered mulch, dried leaves and grass, and potting soil

Raised Beds

left: 6 pepper plants from Geoff’s dad and 4 basil plants, right: 4 tomato plants. Last year we got tiny tomato cages and they were no where near big enough. This year we want to build something stronger.

Raised Beds

All the pretty flowers are from the yard across the alley. We really want to put a privacy fence up there, hopefully this year. Problem is, we’d like a gate big enough to continue to get bulk yard material deliveries in back. Have not quite figured that out yet. I’m thinking of painting the outside of the boxes some bright color, but am unsure.

Container Garden

I also revamped my container garden area. I need to expand this and build something nice for them to sit on. I got a new rosemary plant and put it in a pot this year. Last year’s died, even though I tried to keep it warm. :(

Other plans for this year are to replace a lot of grass with planting beds and to build an arbor for some trumpet vine or clematis. We’ll see how that goes. I would also like to build a freestanding trellis to block the view of our screened in porch.

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Potatoes and Bok Choy with Balsamic and Garlic

Driven by a desire to try a dish with bok choy that could be topped with blue cheese, I made up a new recipe. Most of the recipes I found were decidedly asian, so I decided to make my own version of this – I didn’t exactly follow the recipe, but I used it as an inspiration. It turned out really well, so I am breaking tradition and writing down what I did so I can hopefully repeat it. I’m not great with cooking terms so I’m just gonna describe what I did.

This recipe serves 1, double as necessary. Since I didn’t measure anything, all measurements are approximate. When I make it again, I will come back and put in the exact measurements.

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter (optional, would probably be fine with just the olive oil)
1/2-1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 medium potato
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stalk bok choy (kinda wish I had used 2) or one head baby bok choy. Separate leaves from stalk(s).
salt and pepper to taste
blue cheese

Potatoes and Bok Choy with Balsamic and Garlic

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the potatoes (chopped into roughly french fry size) and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.

Potatoes and Bok Choy with Balsamic and Garlic

While potatoes are cooking, chop the bok choy stalks into approx 1/2 inch pieces. Salt and pepper to taste. Add to the potatoes and cook for about 12 more minutes. Every three minutes, add about a tablespoon of water, stir (scraping the bottom), and cover with a cookie sheet.

Potatoes and Bok Choy with Balsamic and Garlic

When the smallest piece of potato is done (taste to make sure) add the bok choy leaves, chopped fine, and stir constantly for 2-3 more minutes.

Finally, add blue cheese and serve.

Potatoes and Bok Choy with Balsamic and Garlic

Note, I was sure I had burnt the garlic and this would turn out horrible. It was sticking to the pan and looking charred. But after the third time I added water and covered with a cookie sheet, what had looked like a charred mess was sticking to the potatoes and becoming a crusty yumminess. I also used a pan slightly larger than I would normally – I don’t know if that made a difference.

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Yogurt Cake with Rosemary and Orange


This recipe was based on Quick and Easy Recipe: Yogurt Cake at the Kitchn, and a Google search for “rosemary yogurt cake,” which inspired the addition of orange zest. Also I added ground almonds in place of part of the flour, and almond extract.

(Weight in parenthesis)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together in a bowl:

1 1/2 cups (12.4 oz) greek yogurt
2/3 cup (4.2 oz) olive oil
1 1/4 (9.6 oz) cup sugar
3 eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp almond extract
1 tb (ish) orange or clementine zest
1 tb finely chopped rosemary (ish) – about 10 inches

Then add and mix until combined:

1/2 cup (2.1 oz) ground almonds
2  cups (9.4 oz) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons (.4 oz) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (.2 oz) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves

Put batter in a greased 9 inch springform pan, cook for 30 minutes, cover with foil, and cook for 20-30 minutes more, until tester stick comes out clean.

I used glaze made of melted butter, sugar, and clementine juice.

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drying rack and sketchbook

Since I would like to work in oils more, I decided I need a drying rack so all the horizontal surfaces in my studio aren’t covered in paintings. And since I don’t really care what it looks like, I made it out of cardboard:

November Studio Time #5

November Studio Time #5

This took a surprisingly long time – 2 days. I used aluminum tape, which is stronger and less goopy than duct tape in my experience.

I have also been spending time working on my sketchbook for the sketchbook project. The theme I picked is “…you’d be home by now;” so far I’m doing a lot of drawings around the house.

November Studio Time #5

November Studio Time #5

And some doodles:

November Studio Time #5

The sketchbook project will be on tour throughout 2011, and I’ll be able to see the tour at SWSW because I am going this year!

I’m getting pictures added to the flickr collection faster than I am adding them here.

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Nothing much

I’ve had a few non photogenic days in the studio. I worked in my sketchbooks, cleaned up a bit, and organized my oil paints.

I had a plan, to keep working on the small paintings I started, but they’re still wet. Like, not dry AT ALL. The thing I forgot about oils is that if you use linseed oil as a medium (which I did) they take forever to dry, where forever = up to a week. I used to have some quick dry medium (liquin), but I believe it’s all gone/dried up. Quick dry, in the context of oils, means hours or a day, but that’s certainly better than a week. I really love the look of paint thinned with linseed oil, though, especially when working with glazes. So I may need to change my process of working – basically, to have a lot of small paintings going at the same time. I’d also need a lot more space to dry these small paintings – I figure I can probably construct a drying rack that will hold 40-50 paintings pretty easily.

November Studio Time #4

Another thing I need to think about is my choice of substrate. I’ve been working on primed illustration board, which is nice because it is cheap, sturdy, and easy to handle. But the downside is that it’s harder to frame/display. What I want to do is to make some cradled wooden boards. These can be hung by themselves. I suppose it depends on whether I think I’ll be giving the artwork away or selling it – and I’m still not much in the mood to sell stuff. Cradled boards would be too expensive to ship for giveaways.

November Studio Time #4

I spent two entire evenings going through my oil paints. I’ve been given a lot of oils by people who don’t use them anymore, plus I had a lot from getting an art degree and working in an art store.

November Studio Time #4

This is what I ended up with. I painted a bit of the paint on the tubes, which will be nice for choosing colors, but this’ll take another few days to dry. sigh.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my sketchbook for the sketchbook project, and I’ll post some selections soon.

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Oil! (Day 3)

(I wrote this post yesterday but then forgot to post it. oops.)

November Studio Time #3

Today Wednesday I worked with oil paint for the first time in a long time. I wanted to switch back to oil for a few reasons. I’ve never worked with oil on a small scale, only on pretty large paintings. Another reason is that oil is actually a bit easier to work with when one doesn’t have easy access to water. On a more practical level, I am out of some of the acrylic paint and acrylic ink I need, while I have tons of oils in every color.

There are several qualities I love about oil paint. One is that what you paint will look much the same when wet as when dry. This isn’t true with acrylics – paint becomes darker, more level, and sometime duller when dry (the cheaper the acrylic, the more this is true). Another is that long drying times mean more time to blend and correct mistakes.

November Studio Time #3

November Studio Time #3

Mostly, I just love the absolutely brilliant colors.

November Studio Time #3

I am not really sure where I am going with this. It’s definitely not done, but I’m not quite sure of the next steps. I’m thinking maybe a lot of glazes on the purple – alizarin crimson, thalo green, ultramarine blue, indian yellow – which should combine to give a lovely dark muddy deep look. After that? not sure.

November Studio Time #3

My process with these small paintings has been to just start working and then to see where I end up. This isn’t always working out so well. I need to have a bit more of a plan, especially if I am going to move to working with oils. Since oils take so much longer to dry, I can’t just try something and then paint over it immediately if it does not work.

As before, you can follow my process on flickr on the collection page.

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