Thursday, May 26, 2011

Still Running

A couple of evenings ago, flashes of lightning lit the distant ocean as I headed out for my evening jog along the beach. It's an almost 2-mile stretch bounded on each side by rocks at high tide; at low tide you can go around the rocks to further beaches beyond. Our cottage is situated about two-thirds of the way to the sunset. I do a loop from end to end, usually starting with the shorter leg first, so I can watch the sunset for a longer stretch as I run back.

The sky above me was blue as I set out, and as I turned at the western bound of rocks I focused on the watching the lighthouse as I ran. Flash...flash...flash...eight flashes meant a minute, which was my current goal - one minute run, one minute walk. (As an aside, I'd met up with one of my best friends from childhood over the weekend, and discovered that she too had taken up running, and, kindred spirits still, we both loathed it - she called it "the dreadful running". Her husband had pointed me in the direction of the Couch-to-5K program, which seemed like a good framework to go by).

As I turned toward sunset and home, this is what I saw:

My pulse quickened. I was still over a mile from the cottage, I was already tired, and the panic that was setting in as I envisioned myself becoming one with a fulgurite did nothing to help my pacing. (Another aside: those clear glass statues in Sweet Home Alabama? Pure fiction).

Obviously I made it home to blog the tale, and even with enough time to run back out to the dunes with the camera and take a picture of the beach facing the lighthouse (top) and facing the storm (bottom). Then the downpour came, but I was safe inside. I do like a good storm when I'm safe indoors.

So a couple more lessons learned in the running log. Don't turn your back on a storm for too long. And panicking is the worst possible thing to do: I made my worst time ever, running back. Huh. Who knew running took mental as well as physical effort.

I'm still running. I think I'm improving, though by no stretch of the imagination am I any good at it. But I keep at it because I get to see sunsets like this,

and because I want to be healthy for this,

and once in a while, the ocean rewards me with an offering of a perfect sand dollar in my path.

I wonder what I can find to keep me motivated back home. I'll still have my family, but no vista to speak of, and the sidewalk isn't likely to offer me anything but armadillo bones.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Runs with Coyotes

Let me start by saying that I rather loath exercise for exercise's sake, alone. Which doesn't mean I'm a sedentary slug, but I don't like anything enough on TV to be able to stomach spending regular time with a treadmill or elliptical trainer while watching it (and I can't seem to read while working out). I will happily bike in the 95F Florida heat towing 100 lbs worth of children and trailer, but that isn't exercise, that's transportation and reducing my carbon footprint.

I have also never taken to running. In high school, sprints and hurdles were my thing - never distance - and I like to attribute it to an undiagnosed pulmonic stenosis rather than just being out of shape and lacking stamina. (Who am I kidding; there's a reason so many surgeons are marathon runners...and a reason that I passed out while retracting during so many surgeries). I'd like to be svelt and fit as much as the next girl, but running around when you're not trying to get anywhere, inhaling car exhaust and feeding mosquitoes, just doesn't hold enough appeal to get me out the door. Starving myself - ok, counting calories - seemed a much easier way to fit into my clothes.

On the beach for a month, though, for a whole month, and not just any beach, but two miles of flat, barren, windswept expanse, was enough to lure me into my arch-supporting shoes for an hour run (walk-run?) every day in hopes that I'll build up enough stamina to actually enjoy the running part, while I'm reveling in the wind and waves and loneliness. It's been stormy since we got here; wet, cold, I've encountered no on else during these runs on the beach.

I've managed to keep it up for 5 days so far, a combination of fortuitous timing and dogged persistence. The timing: I've had visitors at the cottage, who I lure here with cute kids and good food, and who have watched said kids while I get in a daily run. And the persistence: on days without visitors, I've gone out at night when dad is home doing the bedtime routine. And I've learned a few things:

Don't run in the dark at high tide. Even with a headlamp, you can't see clearly enough to avoid trampling dune grass and tripping over kelp.

Don't run in the dark during a rainstorm. Even with a headlamp, you can't see far enough to be able to find your way back to the right house.

Don't run in the dark when the foghorn is blowing. The boats can't see where they're going, and neither can you.

Don't run in the dark at high tide during a rainstorm when the foghorn is blowing. Enough said. Yes, I did manage to find my way home before daybreak.

So I've given up running in the dark, and am back to my daytime schedule. With another visitor today, oh happy circumstance, I got my jog in at 3pm. The winds have changed, it wasn't raining for once, and it was actually warm enough for a tshirt (while running, at least); it was going to be the perfect day.

Then while I was running, a large coyote came out of the dunes and loped along with me for a few strides before quickly outstripping me and running down the beach, stopping and looking back once before he finally blended in with the sand and grass. He looked like he was having a good time; maybe he was after a fat seagull, or maybe he was just happy to stretch his legs after a morning of den duty with the cubs.

I was too amazed to be frightened, but then I came home and read up on the news reports of women getting chased by coyotes who can be aggressive while they have cubs in their dens... And now I am in a tiny bit of a quandary. Because those very visitors who enable all this running are coming with Kane's donuts and visits to Nichol's candy house and the North End for cannoli - not to mention the butter-and-cream-soaked meals of lobster and mussel and clam that I've been preparing for them.

So what is a girl to do?

8am update: I ran. With the foghorn blowing in a mist so enshrouding I couldn't have seen the coyote, even if he was there running with me.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Signs you are not in Florida any more


Tunnels through hills:

Cell towers disguised as trees instead of flag poles:




Oh Northeast, I have missed you.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


A couple of weeks ago my 8-year-old came home bubbling over with news about a new and exotic bird that had decided to nest on the ground in the inauspicious premises of an elementary schoolyard.  It must be very rare, he surmised, because he's never seen anything like it before.  His best friend said it had come from Africa.  Based on his description (black and white stripes in front and brown in  back), and knowing the nesting habits of certain plovers, it wasn't hard to figure out that it was a killdeer.

I've been following its progress with some trepidation, fearing that at some point during this gestation, the scales would be tipped from kindness to curiosity or cruelty; it is so very exposed, and 700+ children run around that schoolyard at different points during the day.  But there she still sits, renewing my faith in humanity a little every day... or at least my faith in elementary-school-aged boys.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Not just another chalkboard

Fiberboard Slate with Chalk Tray

Happy Mother's Day!  Thank you to the hubby for taking over my interminable Settlers of Catan card game with the 8-year-old, and giving me some time to work through the project/blog backlog.

A while ago I saw a charming chalkboard in the NY Times.  I liked everything about it except the price tag.  And it was the perfect replacement our whiteboard (go here for instructions for that), which had been great except for 2 problems:  my 2-year-old and my 4-year-old.  They would invariably leave the caps off the markers (dry erase markers are so unforgiving), and when they missed the board, it meant pulling out the magic eraser and taking yet another layer off the paint.

So, having some 1/4" fiberboard scrap (a lot easier to cut with my old jigsaw than zinc), I set out to make my own slate.

Here's how:

Materials & Tools:
  • 1/4" fiberboard
  • sandpaper (I used 100-grit)
  • blackboard paint
  • 3" paint roller
  • jigsaw
  • drill
Optional chalk tray (with hooks for hanging your rag for erasing, or, in our case, keys):
  • desired length of trim - inside corner and screen
  • cup hooks
  • 1/2" wood screws
  • wood glue
  • clamps
In the name of recycling, sketch on a piece of paper the toddler has scribbled on. 

Start with sketching out a desired shape.  I made a simple scrolled shape, but you can do anything you can manage with a jigsaw - silhouettes of family members for individual slates would be fun.  Enlarge your shape and make a stencil (I drew mine on a folded sheet of newsprint for symmetry) and trace it onto your fiberboard.

Told you it was scrap - and the 4-year-old pretended the curves were
waves and drew and sailed boats on it while I worked.

Cut it out with your jigsaw (and don't forget to drill a hole at the top to hang it by), sand the edges for a smoother, rounded finish, and paint with blackboard paint, following instructions on the can.

Now for the tray.

Here are the trims I used; check out the scrap bin at your hardware store for something similar.  If you can't find scraps, you can generally get it at a pretty reasonable price by the foot.

Inner corner trim

Beaded screen trim
Glue them together and clamp.  When that has dried, shape the ends as desired (I liked a bit of a bevel, which I did with a coping saw), sand, and stain & seal (not necessary, but I had the polyurethane on hand and figured it'd make it easier to keep clean).  Or you can paint it whatever color you want.  Screw your cup hooks into the inner corner trim (don't go right into the seam as this may split your 2 pieces along the glue line).  When you're done, it should look something like this:

Glue onto your painted board, and clamp.

Condition your board by rubbing it all over with the side of a piece of chalk and then wipe it off (instructions will be on your paint can) .  Once the glue has dried, drill in a couple of wood screws on the reverse side of the board to more firmly anchor it in place.

Then hang it up and let your kids go to town on it.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

A New Song to Sing

The latest project - a planter bench (minus its trellis) for Passionfruit, Take II.  The last one froze to death inground.

It was not my intention to turn this into a crafty blog, but it does feel like the course that I've taken so far. It was an easy path to follow: I am a homemaker, and much of my creative outlet will involve home decor. Besides, the how-tos of certain projects are what people want to see, and what got me started here in the first place.

But this blog is ultimately narcissistic, and I am interested in much more than home improvement. So be forewarned, some posts may be utterly useless to you, but are visual and verbal reminders to myself of some of my ideas and plans.

In my thirty-something years, I have generally made the practical decisions, chosen the safer alternatives, taken the road more traveled.  I am of Asian descent; we are a pragmatic bunch of survivors moulded by history and experience to calculate odds and weigh risks carefully. All of which sounds like a mid-life crisis waiting to happen, you say? No, I am nowhere near crisis. Those choices have led me to good places.

But (oh, the inevitable "but"!) now that I have a little more time on my hands, I am finding myself inclined not towards returning to the career for which years of formal training have prepared me, but back to those earlier years when grades and prerequisites and careers didn't matter, and when I could guiltlessly dabble with clay and stone, paint and pencil.  My sewing machine and jigsaw projects I can easily justify with their utility... But how to rationalize where this latest search for a new medium has led me?

For years I've wanted to try my hand at glass as a medium. To my untrained eye, it seemed to offer everything I wanted: color, texture, and even luster, with the added dimension of dangerously sharp edges and high temperatures. But most things I've seen made of stained glass actually don't do much for me, visually.  So I remained undecided until, of all unlikely things, I found myself leading a cub scout den through a local museum which happens to house the world's largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany art glass. It was like comparing a Winslow Homer with an oil painting in a cheap hotel (the sort my father-in-law calls "Sunrise Over Stream Draining into Toxic Waste Dump".)  I was enchanted, inspired; I signed up for a stained glass class within a week.

And made this:

Which, while not quite "Apocalyptic Dawn" quality, still falls in the realm of art-glass-pieces-I-don't-particularly-like.  To be fair, the teacher was knowledgeable, skilled and patient, and I went into the class knowing I'd be working on a preprinted pattern for the sake of learning technique.  I knew I wouldn't become Tiffany in a day (or ever), but in the shop I didn't find one piece that I even wanted to mimic, just for practice's sake.  Inspiration is a funny thing; you may see the calla lily above and envision growing from it gorgeously intricate panels of flora and fauna.  All I could see were endless rows of knick knacks and suncatchers in obligatory display.  And the work of gathering tools and making a workshop suddenly felt daunting.  I should mention that I loved the physical process of cutting and foiling and soldering... but the end result discouraged me, and I couldn't find my vision.

But I am blessed to be married to a man who specializes in Vision, no less, and while in casual conversation I hit upon what it is I am going to do with this new found skill.  And how to hone it in a way that I would enjoy the process, and perhaps achieve some exciting results.  It is so novel it's breathtaking (I've googled it, and wonder of wonders it doesn't look like it's been done yet, at least not in appreciable quantities), and I am breathlessly speaking in riddles for the ridiculous fear of being scooped (who will read this, anyway?)  So, re-energized, I've gone back to craigslisting for tools and sheds, and perhaps something wonderful will come of this.   Or perhaps not.  In any case, it feels good to be creating again.

Seeking more creativity in your own life?  Don't know how or where to start?  Check out this post here.