Tag Archives: woodworking

lighting up a room

first lamp

It started with me saying we need a small lamp for our guest-room nightstand. It ended, two months later, with A.’s first lamp.

One evening in October, after C. was in bed, we sat together on our black leather lounger and scrolled through a New York company’s website for wood.

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We were looking for 4×4 blocks, and for wood that doesn’t irritate skin. We were looking for wood that would polish well, and that A. could shape on his three-inch metal lathe. We went with ebony and zapote.

A. bought miniature wood-turning tools. He practiced on small pieces of oak — and then made the base.

He turned and threaded ebony to hold the bulb socket and the shade that he bought from World Market.

And voila! Here it is. A. just got a bigger lathe for his next project. He’s hooked.

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our first fall in the desert

The leaves are turning — golden hues that light up our backyard. It feels like fall in the desert with a few cloudy days, and I’ve been bursting with happiness.

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Our days are still quiet, but I’ve finally, finally — after nearly a year of living in the California desert — invited a few friends over for playdates. The kids are kind, and the moms are cool. C., our almost two-year-old, who is saying things like, “We’re having a conversation, mama,” and, “It’s cloudy outside, mama,” and “You’re my angel, mama,” is ready to be social and gets giddy when I tell him N. or K. are coming over. We sit on our backyard patio in the morning in slippers and sweaters, eating vanilla chai scones and chatting, while the kids chase each other under the pomegranate trees.

Last week, I realized that it would be nice for the little ones to have a table to sit at on the patio. So, in three days, A. made a kiddie picnic table out of cedar, which I love. A. often designs his own furniture, but he “stole” (his word) this idea from a woman in Alaska, who provides drawings and dimensions on her beautiful blog, though he added his own touches.

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C and his picnic table

The cooler weather makes me want to read in the evenings, snuggled up under blankets, feeling the baby kick me gently (I’m 25 weeks already, where is the time going?). I’m crocheting like a madwoman: my latest challenge is to teach myself how to cable. I made mittens (using a pattern provided by this woman, who is also from Alaska) and I’m in the midst of making a hat that is more complex. Next, I’ll  turn to Christmas stockings to hang on our fireplace, since family is coming to us this year.

cabled mittens and hat

During C.’s naps, I warm hot chocolate or malted milk with vanilla, bake muffins or bread and listen to author interviews on NPR. I’ve been experimenting with cooking: carrot soup with lemon tahini sauce, sweet potato and kale frittata, roasted spaghetti squash with parmesan. I’m putting pomegranate seeds on everything: my morning oatmeal, spinach salads with feta, apple muffins.

The days are still warm — in the 60s — so I can enjoy walks along the bike path and marvel at the mountains.

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I love fall, and I love that though we’re in the desert, we still get a taste of it before the high winds blow, the leaves fall off of the trees, and the ground freezes over.

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tea for me

The past few nights, I’ve dreaded going to sleep because my body is fighting off a head cold. It’s deep in my throat and I know that when I lie down, the cold will settle and pulse to make my head throb. Several hundred tissues later, I feel like a zombie, my head swimming.

A. and C. have luckily been spared it. So Friday was my first official sick day as a stay-at-home mom, and A. whisked C. away to the museum’s children hour to learn about desert critters while I tried to sleep (orders from my concerned husband).

I’ve been downing hot tea rich with honey to sooth my sore throat and reading Charles Baxter and ordering yarn to crochet another blanket.

A. asked me last Thursday, before I felt really bad, “What can I make you? I need a project.” We decided on a small lamp for our guest room to sit on the nightstand he made. We spent two hours looking online at rare wood so he could experiment and make something spectacular.

Then, Friday, I said, my nose red and chapped and my hair scraggly, “How about a tea-bag holder? It would be so nice to be able to grab a tea without digging into the cupboard and through those bulky boxes.”

So, A. designed one out of scraps of oak he had lying around, and he carefully put on ebony feet. He finished it, stain and all, in two days.

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It’s Sunday morning, the boys ran off to the park, and I’m drinking rooibos chai tea from my favorite homemade mug, reading the Sunday Times and noticing only slight pain when I swallow. And I can’t help but sit and marvel at just how talented A. is. I think he should take this show on the road.

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funky tabletop and handle-heavy mugs

A. finished his latest piece of furniture — from decades-old wood we found in the Indian Wells Valley. This time, he experimented with shapes, and he made a hexagonal top with three legs to support it. I was skeptical of the design at first, but it turned out fantastic and it replaces the last table he made, which has been relegated from our living room to our guest room.

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And I finally (finally!) am getting the hang of making mugs, though my handles are a bit too thick, which I’ll work on next class at Lois Hinman’s studio. It starts in a few weeks, and I can’t wait to practice more: I have found that pottery, as with any creative endeavor, takes hours upon hours of practice to improve. I’m seeing progress. And it’s a great reminder that it takes time — so much time — to be a master at anything.

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quiet moments and creative inspiration

On Friday after a Mexican dinner out — once C. was asleep in his crib — A. and I migrated to our bright yellow kitchen. A. stood and painted lettering on hand-held signs for our friends’ wedding in Soho in NYC in two weeks. I sat cross-legged on a chair and crocheted a hat for my niece. The table was full of paints and paper and water and yarn and we worked in the quiet, enjoying each others’ company and the warm night breeze through the window screens.

I find I work best in quiet, whether I’m writing or photographing or throwing pots. It’s in the quiet that I can really focus. It’s true for A., too, who never wants me to interrupt him while he’s wood-working.

Here are a few things we’ve made out of our recent quiet — plus a cool sewing project from my MIL. All of these things make me smile.

Purple flowers in our backyard. I love photographing flowers (and I need a better macro lens). On Friday, the after-sunset splash of color — like a painting — surprised me.

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A hat I crocheted a few weeks ago with yarn I bought in L.A. It gives me the urge to throw on a thick wool sweater and go to Nova Scotia and look out at fishing boats while sipping steaming hot cocoa. (I must be ready for a cold-weather vacation.)

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Wedding signs A. made for friends on request — he bought and cut the wood, painted the pieces pink, put on the dark gray border, sanded off spots to make it “shabby chic” and then wrote the script. I can’t wait to see the stunning bride (who’s marrying this guy) holding them. (Also, maybe A. can have a side business?)

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This photo that I took about a month or two ago of C. wearing a robe that his nonna sewed for him. It fits him so perfectly that it makes me consider pulling our sewing machine down off of a shelf in our closet. With zero shopping in our quiet desert town, maybe I should make myself a skirt or two. (Hmmmmm….)

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What has inspired you lately?

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a rustic table from old 2x4s

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A few weeks ago, A. and I stumbled across a pile of wood while on a hike. A. examined the boards, and decided two of them were worth heaving down the mountain. Our guess is this wood is old — very old — maybe even nearly a century old. Luckily, we didn’t have C. with us, so we could arrange the boards in our Ford Fiesta.

One of them was rotting, so A. had to cut off the end to be sure it didn’t have any termites. And when he did, we saw a beautiful red color under the blackened surface — cedar! The wood was so weathered, it gave off a trillion little splinters like a cactus. So after working in his shop for a few hours, A. would lean against the bathroom counter with tweezers and steadily pull splinters out of his hand.

A. designed and assembled this table for our living room — to sit next to our plush red chair — and it’s our favorite piece yet. I tasked myself with crocheting a few coasters for it (you can tell I’m a beginner — more are in the works).

Now A. is excited about working with salvaged wood. Soon, instead of going on a bear hunt, we’re going to go on another wood hunt.

coasters

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a homemade easel and a ghost town

I’ve decided to take up painting. Hey, why not? I love new projects and my next pottery class doesn’t start until May. And it would be nice to work in the garage or on the back patio where C. can entertain himself. (Earlier this week he said “cat” 400 times and chased a calico cat around our backyard while I sat with my mom in the shade.)

Painting requires an easel. Or so, A. and I thought, silly us.

So A. made me an easel (one friend in D.C. said in loving jest, “Oh my god, I just barfed in my hands.”)

“What do you want your easel to look like?” A. asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I haven’t even figured out where to start. Oil? Acrylic? Watercolor?”

A. didn’t care how I use it — he wanted to make an easel. So off he went to his sketchpad and then into the garage where he assembled it in a few days and painted it white. He’s proud because the joints are made out of oak instead of metal. (What a nerd.)

Two weekends ago, we took a trip to Randsburg, Calif., a living ghost town that boomed during the gold rush in the late 1800s. It’s straight out of a movie set — a main drag with a saloon, a shuttered post office and a general store with excellent milk shakes.

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And among these Old West storefronts is an art gallery. That’s where we met Cheryl McDonald. She was cleaning up her studio filled with photographs and watercolor paintings while her tiny white dog ran around and wagged her tail. We found out Cheryl lives in Ridgecrest and teaches watercolor. And she’s giving free sessions at the Desert Wildflower Festival in mid-April.

Perfect! I thought. Watercolor is cheaper, you do it on paper, and so I can practice and not spend a bundle. I’ll take some lessons, figure out what I need, and then I can start using the easel.

Then I talked with S., who went to art school back in the day. And she said, “Yeah, watercolor is a good medium to start in, but you don’t use an easel for that. The color would run.”

Right. Of course. I love having a new easel, but it may have to sit in the garage or display other art while I figure out how to watercolor first. I’ll be sure to wipe the cobwebs from it regularly till I’m ready to put my mastery on canvas.

easel

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a hand-crafted oak nightstand

Over the past six weeks, A. has been a little obsessed. He’s been making a narrow nightstand for our guest room — one that will fit perfectly next to the bed. C. will often point to the door leading to the garage and say, “Papa?” even if A. is at work because A. spends so much time at his work bench. (He spends a lot of time with us, too, so this is OK.) 

First, A. sketched out how to put it together. He designed the top with a square of end grain in the middle so that it would have personality. He bought the oak from Home Depot. He bought a table saw and a plane. And then he put this together, complete with a perfect little drawer and knob.

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I’ll say it again: He amazes me. And I love that he’s creating family heirlooms. Last night, after he was finished rubbing on the oil and we were snuggling on the couch, he said to me, “OK, what’s next?” We’re thinking another table for the guest room, and then an easel so I can take up painting on our back patio when the evenings are a bit warmer.

nightstand4

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stepping up his (furniture) game

A. made his first piece of furniture with his new table saw, and I might be biased, but I think it’s beautiful. We calculated how much time it took him — and the cost of the wood — and figured he could quit his job is someone is willing to pay $400 for it. Anyone want a step stool? (Just kidding, this one is for C.!)

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a homemade bookcase

For more than two years, I’ve had a stack of books under my windowsill that just kept on growing. After deciding that I didn’t want to live like a college student anymore, I started to look online for a bookshelf that would fit in a narrow space next to my closet. But I couldn’t find anything that I liked that fit the specifications and was affordable. And then one night, A. suggested we build one.

Excited to work on a project, I sent him photos of four bookcases I found online — and he noted they all had a “panel” theme. I also liked the idea of reclaimed wood, so I looked for a place in the area to buy it, but was having trouble (it seems that reclaimed wood is expensive).

So in May, we took a trip to Home Depot. We calculated the size of the bookcase (17.5 inches wide) and bought enough slabs of poplar to make it. We bought screws, a power sander and stain. And then we went at it. We measured and cut the wood with A.’s circular saw on the balcony of his Virginia apartment. (A. made me wear safety glasses whenever I used a power tool.) We sanded the wood and tested the stain on scraps. Then we stained the slabs — I slathered it on, and A. wiped it off. And on Labor Day, we drilled holes in the right spots, screwed and nailed it all together — to make this! A beauty, if I do say so myself. And now completely full of books.

homemade bookcase

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