Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

Ev can't view e-mail attachments at work, so she asked me to post pictures of a little problem I was trying to describe by e-mail. So, this is how Kwachie spent her Saturday. We finished framing up the Duck Dome this morning (no, it's not a big wooden tipi) and then went and bought the plywood sheathing for the panels. My job was to stain and seal them before it starts raining again tomorrow. (I should mention that I've never used stain before in my life ... I'll explain the importance of that confession momentarily.)

The first problem I encountered was that we had the nice lumberyard man cut the 4x8' sheets diagonally for us, and it didn't occur to any of us that we should have had him cut five of the sheets in one direction and five in the other. Since every other panel has to be turned backward, and since they were all cut the same, there are 10 panels with the "good" sanded side facing out and 10 panels with the "bad" knotty, rough side facing out.

This isn't a huge deal, except that a) stain doesn't cover the lovely "Weyerhouser" stamp on the "wrong" side of every other panel, and b) the rough side soaks up stain like crazy and looks blotchy.

No biggie. What did strike me as a biggie was that I picked out a stain that was, quite specifically, brown. As I was applying the stain (and yes, I stirred the crap out of it) it looked sort of light to me. When I went in the house and looked out the kitchen window at it, it looked really orange. Specifically, it put me in mind of a gigantic version of one of those chocolate oranges that break into slices ... the kind we always put in the kids' Christmas stockings. I asked Katie if she thought it looked like that and she said, "No, I don't think so. It looks more like cheese."

After I got below the halfway point in the can, and I was able to stir it with the brush instead of the stupid pain stick, I realized there was a lot of brown pigment still in the bottom of the can. So I put a second coat on one of the panels (the darker one in the photo) and I was much happier with that answer. Ev, in an effort to make me feel better about the oranginess, said, "Don't worry about it. Next year, when we have to re-do it, we'll get a darker stain."

Next year ... when we have to WHAT !?

And here is an updated picture of the ducks, especially for Pat. : )
This is actually a picture from last week, so it doesn't show the bright blue wing stripe the rouens have all developed this week.

I wish I could get a really good picture of the color on the cayugas. They look jet-black in photos, but their faces and wings are actually bright iridescent green in the sunlight.

They're free-range ducks now, and they only have to go into their pen at night. They've got a very specific routine every day. First thing in the morning they charge out of the pen and take off at a run for the back yard. While I'm filling their waterer they pick bugs and worms out of the resulting mud around the water faucet. During the day they alternately roam around the yard (always together, of course) eating weeds and bugs or following us around at a safe distance while we do stuff. They've become completely oblivious to the mower ... except to chase it. They take a little swim, they take a little nap under a tree, they hang out under the back deck for awhile and then they start the whole process again. At 8:30 sharp they let me know it's time for bed. While I refill the waterer and get their evening duck chow and cracked corn they head for their pen and wait for me to bring them their dinner. They eat like they haven't been eating constantly all day and then fall into a deep sleep until morning, when they wake up and stand by the gate waiting to be let out again. It's a tough life.

From Macro to Micro

While Ev has been building large-scale structures and garden accessories, I've been working away on my miniature house and garden. I realized, after the fact, that I should have taken pictures of the step-by-step process, but I didn't, so I took a few the other night of the progress so far on the dollhouse I started in January.

The staircase was a bitch. It was a special ordered fancier one than the one that came in the kit, and it arrived after I'd already glued up the house. That's when I realized it was too big to fit. So I chopped off some of the lower steps and part of the banister, reattached the bottom baluster and had to cut a big hole in the second story floor in situ, which was very tricky,since my fancy Dremel Stylus didn't fit in there very well.

I covered the gaping hole in the floor with homemade flooring (which has since been varnished and looks better than this. I'll be kit-bashing a second-floor railing to cover the ends of the floor boards.

Here's another view of the staircase and the downstairs. The wall is covered in fabric I had lying around that looked like wallpaper to me. The living room floor is covered in paper flooring we got at the Miniature Museum in St. Louis.

But here's the part I'm really proud of. I had Ev cut me a piece of plywood to mount the whole house on so I could create a yard, and I've had a ton of fun with the landscaping.

The pond came out of our burn pile. It looks like it was probably mud that's been burned at such a high temperature it turned into rock. The stepping stones came out of our driveway gravel and the trees were dead twigs out of a bush at the office. I used florist's moss and a landscaping kit for a train set to create the lawn, the walkways and the shrubs, and a product called "Realistic Water" with landscaping crap floated in it to create the duck pond (complete with duckweed).

Now all I need to do is figure out what to do with the rest of the interior ...
Ev asked me to post the pictures of the project in progress, so here ya go!

First order of business, stocking the beer fridge. Here you can see that Ev has chosen Sierra Nevada IPA as the beverage of choice for building a Duck Dome. Now, it's off to power up the miter saw and cut some wood!

When I got home, Ev had built two sawhorses, assembled the base of the dome and cut most of the remaining 8 foot 2X4's. They still needed to be measured and drilled for the carriage bolts, and then we started to assemble the walls.


What odd angles. What counter-intuitive configurations. What peculiar contortions we had to get into to attach things. After getting the first two "walls" attached, we stood back to take a look. Okay, we can totally see where it's going ...

The additional of three more 2x4's made it substantially sturdier, and added to it's whimsical appearance.

With the sun sinking quickly in the west, we got a couple more walls and top rails attached before it got too dark to work, then stood back and said, "It's good! It's big!" We aren't at all sure how we're going to put the roof struts on, since we're very short, but now we know how to build the next structure ... the screened gazebo!

The ducks will have room to put in a second floor entertainment loft, and that'll be nice for them, don't you think?

Friday, May 30, 2008

More Project Fun

To those of you, friends and family, who have requested that I make a planter for you: No! I've moved on. We've got now projects in the works. Today is my day off, and we all know what that means...Yard Projects!

We ordered something called the Starplate Building System to make a more secure four season duck enclosure than the pen we're using now. The Starplate people send you a box of metal plates with predrilled holes that you bolt 2x4s to to frame out a five sided building. Depending on how you cover the walls, it can be a greenhouse, a storage shed, a duck enclosure or a cabin. Below is the cabin:

Obviously, we're not going to make it this fancy for the ducks, but we are going to make that basic size and shape. I will, of course, post pictures when it's done. In fact, if I can remember, I'll post pictures as I go.

In other news, Katie won a regional poetry writing contest at school, best out of all the high schools in Southern Illinois, for a poem she wrote about an egg salad sandwich. I'd like to say she gets her literary talents from me, but I suspect she gets them from her father's side of the family. I'm afraid she just gets her weirdness from me.

Anyway...we're proud of her!

I'm headed to town to buy all the necessary materials...lumber, bolts and beer. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


And with flowers:


This is what I did with my day off yesterday. The planters are the legs of the bench I was planning to make, but along the way I decided I like them better as free-standing planters. That way we can scatter them around. What do you think?
Oh...and if I didn't want to put plants in them, they'd also make handy yard toilets. :-)

Me too! Me too!

It's hot and muggy, and I can't sleep for the night sweats, so I guess I'll check in briefly, too.

I've taken some pictures and videos of the ducks in the past few days, but I can't seem to find the misplaced cable to upload them off my camera, so just have to believe me when I tell you the ducks are funny, charming, entertaining and HUGE. We bought them a bigger pool yesterday, the 8-foot wader that holds about 400 gallons of water, so they're only getting it dumped and refilled once a week, no matter HOW disgusting it gets! (Do you hear me, ducks? I mean it. Crap on the grass ... and shower before you get in!)

We think we've got their genders figured out, but we're using the "best guess" method at this point. By our best guess, there seem to be an even number of boys and girls, and the girls seem to be bigger and louder than the boys. The loudest and bossiest of them all seems to be a female. She bosses all the others around; always has to be in charge of whether they should all eat or run or swim or sleep; and she's the one who quacks and squawks like she's being killed, so I'll run outside in a panic ... and find her standing under the water spigot demanding that someone turn on the sprinkler so they can shower and then play in the resulting mud puddle. She is one loudmouthed, demanding, controlling bitch! I named her Hillary. : )

The Oduckas (Michelle and Barack ... the black ducks, you know) are getting very pretty since their iridescent feathers are coming in. I haven't named the rest, but I'm considering calling one of the boys Gregory Peck. (And yes, Cedar, I remember that one of them is supposed to be named after you ... I'm waiting to see which one seems the most like a Joisey duck.)

While Ev was out in the shed working on her project today I finally went out and got myself the hobby table I've been needing and spent most of the day working on my dollhouse. One of these days I'll take it's picture. I'll even upload it, if I ever find that damn USB cable.

Other than that, I've been pretty much hyper-focused on the presidential campaign. This is my first experience with being a news and politics junkie and I'm finding that it's like any other addiction ... the highs are euphoric, the lows are crushing, it takes up too much of my time and energy, it forces me to get on other people's nerves and it returns my devotion with stress and anxiety. At least it's not an expensive habit. Honest, I've only sent Obama small donations!


Monday, May 26, 2008

Where I've Been

I woke up this morning to this comment:

Hey - are you guys still alive? I miss your crazy real-life stories. What's happening with the ducks? What's happening with you all? Hello? Hello?

I had actually told Lori yesterday that I'd been away from the blog for the last six weeks or so - since Cory's death - because I couldn't think of anything to say except, "I'm still sad." I checked in to see if I'd be ready to go bad to the blog, and it was pretty much the same.


"Still sad."

"Yup. Still sad."

So I did what I do when I feel emotionally unbalanced: I took some time to get back into balance. I spent more time alone...working in the yard, watching the ducks...and listened to my head. I gave myself time to feel sad and bitch about the unfairness of it all and consider how it would be if it were me or Lori that dropped over dead with no warning. I gave myself time to wallow privately, and then I returned to my life. I'm still sad for Cory and I find myself absurdly concerned for how he's faring in the ground (he liked the sunshine), but I'm back to thinking about other things now.

So here's what we've got going on:

We had a bunch of family over yesterday for food and beer and conversation. When the crowd got a little overwhelming I slipped away for an hour's worth of yard work. If you're ever at a family shindig here and you see me trimming trees and pulling weeds, don't be alarmed. I'm just full up on people for a while.

I bought the wood for a new project. I was planning on working on it today, but it's been pouring rain since last night. Even the ducks are a little overwhelmed by it. Here's a picture of the project, though.

I'll post a picture of it when it's done. See you all soon!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Duck Blogging

I've been trying to get a good picture of the duckling's new plumage, but it's harder than you think to get ducks to pose for pictures!

The kids have grown by leaps and bounds over the past week. They're very feather-y in the tail area and the tops of their wings, most of them have their breast and belly plumage, and a couple of them have major flight feathers coming in. It's harder to see the cayuga's feathers, since they're replacing black down with black feathers, but the rouens are getting more pretty brown and black feathers every day.

They're also much friendlier and some are downright playful. They'll eat anything out of my hands, and then peck and play with my fingers and my jewelry. They other day they were taking turns getting me to gently hold their bills and pull them around the pool.

This week they figured out how to hop down out of the shed in the morning and let us herd them into the daytime pen instead of having to be ferried there by hand, one at a time. They have no idea about hopping back up into the shed, so going to bed at night was still a matter of carrying them --quacking and peeping and bitching all the way -- until last night. Last night they realized they could hop over the low block walls we put up in the shed to keep them contained, and as fast as I could carry one to the shed another one would hop back out and run out into the yard. I finally chased them all down and pitched them over the fence into the pool again so I could consider my options. I made the executive decision to herd them into their fully-enclosed hutch, which we weren't planning to do yet, and even though it was a little crowded they seemed to fare just fine overnight. Ev did have to get up earlier than she wanted this morning, because they started quacking as soon as they could see the pool in the dawn's early light instead of sleeping in like they were doing in the shed.

Now that they're staying outside all the time I'm a lot more worried about predators. We have just about everything here that likes a nice duck meal, and I'm not going to be any good at all at dealing with what predators leave behind, so I'm trying to figure out how to more fully enclose their pen with some type of screen over the top ( against hawks and owls) and make sure there are no small openings (weasels), latches that can be pried open (raccoons) or screen that can be torn open (foxes and coyotes).

Motherhood is hard and worrisome!


Friday, May 02, 2008

There Are No Coincidences

At 11 o'clock this morning a nice young man stood in my front yard with me. He gave me $500 and I gave him the title to the Jeep, a set of keys, and the repair manual. May the Lord be with you, my son.

At 3 o'clock this afternoon, I stepped out the back door of the lab and turned left, headed for the bathroom. I passed a young man in the hallway, and it took me a moment to realize that he was the same young man I'd seen in my front yard 3 hours earlier.

"I know you!" I said. "You were in my front yard a few hours ago!"

He blushed cutely, looked at the floor, and said, "Yeah. My sister's having a baby."

I'll admit, I briefly considered that this may be a brush with Fate, and this poor flustered boy could possibly be my son-in-law one day. In some countries, driving a girl's Jeep is considered a marriage proposal, you know. And then I remembered that if he had to drive that crap-ass Jeep, he was clearly too impoverished to marry my daughter, the National Merit Scholar.

Oh! Did I forget to mention that Katie is a National Merit Scholar? Not only is she poised to become the first member of our family to graduate high school (But not, oddly, the first to get a college degree. We all do that, eventually.), but she's actually going to do it with her head held high. Huh. The ability to see a task through to the end? She must get that from her father's side of the family. Dogged bullheaded stubbornness? That comes from my side.

Do you know why I'm a Biologist? Because it was the only class I ever got a C in in high school. Imagine, if I'd sucked at English I might be a famous writer today.

We have a funny relationship with education here in Nowhere.