Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Wordy Shipmates

I hated this book. Hated.  I rarely hate a book.  Often I don't like them, or they bore me, or I just don't care.  I hated this.

The book is billed as a history of the Puritans -- the group that led by John Winthrop who settled Charleston and Boston (not the Pilgrims, who landed on Plymouth Rock).  What it is, actually, is a snarky, patronizing, self-righteous diatribe lambasting the Puritans (and pretty much every other white person from the 17th century) for not being born in the 20th.  We are presented with "Jesus freaks," "religious fanatics," fools who actually believe in God, patronizing English who believe they need to help the Indians, and, generally, a bunch of stooges running around New England.

Yes, Sarah Vowell has discovered that religious Christians from the 17th Century did not live up to the morals and ethics of the early 21st Century.  Thank you.  They believed that the were superior to other races.  They preached Christian charity and kindness, yet punished transgressions severely, with beatings, banishment, and cutting off ears.  Vowell notes with disdain the motto on the Massachusetts Bay Colony's official seal, which pictures an Indian in a loincloth saying the words "Come over and help us."  Imagine that. The Puritans actually believed that they would be helping the Indians by bring them Christianity.  I'm shocked to read this.

Did I mention that I hated it?  I don't mind criticizing people, even those who lived four hundred years ago.  Although I do think it's unfair not to realize that we are all, to some extent, a function on the time we live in.  But what I don't like is the arrogant, flippant tone throughout the entire book.  This isn't so much a history as it is some kind of sophomoric rant by someone who apparently just realized that people had different moral compasses back then.*

*And I can't help but notice how much of the book seems to be an indictment of "white men."  Surely, in the 1600s, peace and love reigned over the rest of the planet, unspoiled by male Christianity.  Vowell notes at length Roger Williams's description of civility among the indians:  "If any stranger com in, they presently give him to eat of what they have;"  "fewer scandalous sins than Europe, [one] never hear[s] of robberies, rapes, murders;" and "their wars are far less bloody, and devouring than the cruel wars of Europe; and seldom twenty slain in the pitch field."  A few pages later, she glosses over an incident wherein "[t]he Dutch in Connecticut, meanwhile, have been trading with the Pequot, but with other Indians, too.  How do the Pequot feel about this?  They murder a handful of Indians, probably Narragansett, on their way home from trading with the Dutch."  No doubt the Pequot were spoiled by their contact with the Dutch.

In short, if you're looking for a history of the Puritans, I'd suggest looking elsewhere.  Although I don't know what else might be out there.  If you want to feel very good about yourself by reading about those backwards stooges who settled Massachusetts, this is a good book for you.

The Kitchen Project Part II

The new sink and countertop arrived a few weeks back.  For the countertop, at first I had to cut it to size, cut out the hole for the sink, and glue on a piece for the "turn".

Then I sprayed it with Enduro-Var, which was recommended by Jeff Jewitt of Homestead Finishing.  I added 5 drops of Jewitt's Medium Brown Transtint dye to each pint of finish.  I think I put two coats on the bottom and 5 on the top.  I really like the color:

Here is it installed with the sink:

It took me three tries to make the smaller base cabinet to the right of the stove.  18" minus 1.5" is not 17.5"  But it all worked out ok.

And here is a little shelf I threw together for the spot next to the window.  I thought that this would open up the kitchen more than if I put a cabinet back up.

I really did a terrible job on the shelf.  But hopefully it will have enough stuff on it that no one will notice.

Now, I'm building drawers!  The fun never ends.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Kitchen Project -- Part 1

Back in February or so, the girlfriend suggested that I replace the doors in the kitchen.  The wall cabinets were cheap (but surprisingly sturdy) frame cabinets with overlay doors and somewhat old-fashioned, visible hinges.  I thought to remove the face frames and put in nice frame and panel doors.  Of course, the frames were glued on to the cabinets, so I decided to build myself a new kitchen.

This was something I've been considering for a while.  The kitchen is small (not that I can change that) and the countertop is a hideous white speckled laminate.  However, I have a goal of relocating the kitchen to a different part of the house, so I didn't want to put much money into the current one.  And, I want a 36" range, so I don't want to replace the 30" I've got, no matter how rusty the stove top gets.  (Kenmore no longer sells a replacement top for this stove.

Our inspiration was from A Country Farmhouse blog.  (A blog well-worth perusing.  Lovely.)  White with a wood countertop.

I figured it would take me a few months to build and install the new cabinets.  Well, it's now mid-July.  Life, family, and weather have gotten in the way.

I've got the wall cabinets up -- although I still need to cut the shelves.  And we haven't bought the hardware yet.  More of the base cabinets are installed -- although I screwed up one of them and will have to re-build it.

Here is the original kitchen:

I chose the green paint.  I like it.

A few weeks back my friend Paul was in town and we ripped out old wall cabinets and hung the new ones:

I was shocked when everything fit. I will have to remake a door or two.  Oops.

The doors are poplar frames with 1/4 birch plywood panels.  I bought about 260 bf of rough poplar from a guy up here and milled and cut the boards myself.  The hardware is Blum soft-close.

Ripping out the base cabinets, especially the plumbing, was harder than expected.  It always is.  But most of the cabinets are in place.  I just need to shim the one on the left and screw it to the wall:

Again, a huge sigh of relief when that corner unit fit perfectly between the range and the dishwasher.  The floor slopes quite a bit down to the left, so there was a lot of shimming going on.  But it's all level and square.

We decided on an apron front sink purchased from  It's about twice as expensive as I wanted, but I do like the look of it.
The sink is about 100 pounds, so I had to re-work the cabinet to put in that shelf and some supporting pieces underneath.  I hope it holds.  And, I decided to call a plumber for when we're ready -- I don't think I can handle learning how to plumb.  That will be for the future.

The counter top will be alder, from Perfect Plank.  The whole top cost about $450, delivered, which is about 1/4 the price of anything else I looked into.  I will have to finish it myself, but that shouldn't be too hard.

I had taken off work last Thursday and Friday (after July 4th) to finish the sink and the counter top.  Of course, the sink was damaged.  As was the counter top.  That will be work for next weekend.

And then, I need to build drawers.

So far, with all of the hardware, I'm about $2,500 into the project.  Most of the cost is hardware -- the hinges and drawer slides (Blum Tandem undermounts -- with the cool soft close feature).  Still, I should be able to get everything done for the price of a decent Corian  counter top.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Nightstand

Another early project.  My bedroom in the house had no furniture.  I downloaded the plans from the Internets (I can't recall which site).

The stand is a basic frame of oak hardwood.  The stiles and apron are mortise and tenon joints.  The through tenons were tricky.  I used an FMT jig, but I didn't have a router bit that went all the way through the legs.  Not a big deal -- just rout from one side, flip the piece and route again.  Clean out with a chisel.

As you can see, the drawer face is cherry, not oak.  I ran out of oak, and had the cherry lying around.  Yes, I've been meaning to put on a new face.  The finish is Boiled Linseed Oil ("BLO") and Arm-R-Seal polyurethane.

The Rocking Horse

My niece had a baby.  Adorable little boy.  I built this for his first birthday.  

The idea came from The Wood Whisperer, aka Mark Spagnulo.  He's a woodworker in Arizona, and his site is a treasure trove of instructional videos.  He ran a little charitable program in which folks built this rocking chair and sent in pics.  Mark and other sponsors donated money to a children's charity.

The plans were downloaded off The Wood Whisperer website.  I bought a panel of laminated pine from Lowes.  (FYI -- I much prefer Lowes to Home Depot, but, unfortunately, Lowes is about 15 minutes further away.) I cut out the patterns for the pieces and transferred them to the panel.  The pattern for the body was glued on with spray adhesive.

The parts were cut out with a jig saw. I have a Bosch.

Gellstain and sprayed with some Zinser amber shellac.

I had a devil of a time finding the googly eyes.  I ended up going to Michaels, the massive craft store.  Happy place.

The Wine Rack

This is one of the first non-shop furniture projects I did, back in 2005.  I saw the piece on Woodnet and figured I could do it.  It's made from cherry plywood, with real cherry edge-banding, molding and top.  Not much else to tell, but I'm pretty happy with it.  I don't really have a place for it -- it sits on the floor in the dining room.

A Small Table

A few years back, my Dad asked for a table.  He needed a table for his printer that fit perfectly in the space between his desk and the wall.  He couldn't find anything, so he asked me.  I'd never built anything without plans, but was able to put together something pretty basic that looked nice.  I used poplar, an inexpensive wood, that I had lying around.  Generally, poplar is used only for "secondary" wood -- drawer runners, back frames, supports and other items that either wont be seen or will be painted.  It can have an unpleasant greenish tinge, and doesn't take stain well without splotching.  This is what I ended up with:

The Coffee Trader

I don't remember why I have this book.  I don't recall buying it; it might have been a gift.  I haven't read the author's earlier book (A Conspiracy of Paper) or his subsequent ones.  Apparently, he has a knack for historical fiction.  I didn't really see it here.  But I do love historical fiction.  And while this book wasn't great, it was a good, middle of the road read.

It's the story of Miguel Lienzo, a Portuguese Jew living in Amsterdam in the 17th Century.  America seems to have forgotten that Amsterdam was one of the first truly cosmopolitan cities, where the modern ideas of the Enlightenment, libertarianism, and freedom of religion flourished.  One of the first states to throw off the yoke of colonial masters (the Dutch kicked out the Spanish well before the Americans kicked out the British -- though it was a very different relationship), I believe the Dutch were the first to truly accept religious freedom.  Therefore, may Jews fleeing the wrath of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal ended up here.  Amsterdam also compensated for its lack of natural resources and its proximity to the water to develop a substantial trading culture, and a market.

 The Coffee Trader attempts to deal with all of these.  Lienzo, a refugee who fled from Portugal, is a trader.  He speculates in the market for goods from all over the world.  The book tries to explain the trades -- futures, calls, puts -- in a way that makes it exciting.  Which it can be.  But in the end it falls flat.  (For a better historical novel dealing with similar issues, I'd suggest Clavell's Noble House, or his earlier Tai Pan.)  And it gives some life to the insular Jewish community, living separately but in plan sight with the Dutch.  They are portrayed as overly pious, suspicious and ruled by powerful Ma'amad, a council that is charged with "protecting" the community by keeping it in line.  It does this through a network of spies and informants, turning in Jews for transgressions such as trading with non-Jews, eating unclean foods, etc.

But the center of the story is coffee.  At the, the drink is barely known and used mostly for medicinal purposes.  A dutch widow and bar owner brings coffee to her friend, Lienzo, and tells him that this is the time for coffee to burst onto the European scene.  Lienzo, and pretty much anyone else who tries the coffee, is instantly hooked and fairly addicted, as if their coffee had heroin.  But Lienzo then goes about trying to devise his "trade," to monopolize coffee and bring it to Europe, becoming magnificently wealthy in the process.  Standing in his way are his cruel, jealous brother, Daniel; a dishonest vengeful member of the Ma'amad, Solomon Parido, and, unbeknownst to him, an excommunicated Jewish money-lender and ne'er-do-well, Alonzo Alferonda.

The plots and conspiracies grow, and they're interesting, but far short of Dan Brown or a Grisham novel.  I will say that the ending twists were quite surprising -- not for the twists themselves but where the chips ultimately fall.

It's worth a read, but don't get too excited.

Three Men in a Boat

I'm skipping here.  I read The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, but I need to give their post a little more thought.  The next book up was Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat:

And I didn't finish it.

I think I bought this after reading a list of the ten funniest books of all time.  Well, I don't think this was all that funny.  It's a narrative of three fellows, J. (the narrator), George and Harris, and their dog, Montmorency, who rent a boat and go for a sail up the Thames.  It's cute, with many funny observations about life.  The narrative is slow, however, with frequent cutaway side stories, as in Family Guy.  I found the cutaways distracting.  You figure out that these are three bumbling guys who will bumble their way through pretty much everything, and then it's not all that interesting.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tom Sawyer

No surprises here, but some good memories.  Actually, there were a few surprises, such as how much of the story I'd forgotten. And, I think, how the movie with that little red-headed kid differed from the book.  Worth a read, even for adults.  

The next bunch of books on the shelf I've read:

Ok, I didn't finish it.  I liked the movie quite a bit.  The book was good, and I should get back to it.

I first read this in 8th grade, I think, and I've been in love with Japan ever since.  It's a terrific book, loosely based on a Dutch sailor who landed in Japan just before Iyesu Tokugawa consolidated power as Shogun.  I've probably read it five times.  I've also read the rest of the Asian Saga:  Tai Pan, King Rat & Noble House.  (I didn't get to Whirlwind, which was about the Iranian revolution, I think).  King Rat stands out as the most serious of the bunch, but they're all very good.

Another terrific book that I read back in high school (or whenever it came out) and re-read recently. The story of a young homo sapien girl "at the dawn of time" being raised by an earlier humanoid species.  (Apologies for getting the terms wrong.)  It's very interesting if you like some insight into how the early hominids lived, communicated, hunted, made tools, etc.  I understand that Auel did quite a bit of research for accuracy, but who knows how much our understanding of these people has changed in the time since.  I read the next two in the series, Valley of the Horses and The Mammoth Hunters, but they weren't quite as interesting.  There was a big hiatus, I believe because Auel was ill for a number of years, and then the series picked up again.  I haven't read the latter books.  (And, yes, the movie was awful.)

I've read very few science fiction books.  I believe this is the total list:  Ender's Game, it's first sequel, Hive Queen and the Hegemon, Battlefield Earth, Neuromancer (or maybe Mona Lisa Overdrive?).  Ender's Game and Battlefield Earth were each terrific, although I didn't enjoy Ender's Game as much on the re-read.    When it was first given to me, I was warned that I would skip work in order to finish it.  I do think I stayed up all night.  I hear they're finally making a movie.

(Skipping a few travel guides.)

A Dance to the Music of Time is a 12 volume series by Anthony Powell inspired, as I understand it, by the painting by Nichola Poussin:

I read the first book (free on Kindle) and enjoyed it, but, I'm embarrassed to say, I don't really remember it.  Oops.  I'll get to the rest by the end of this project. 

Next up on the shelf:

This will be difficult.  I'm just glad Proust is on a different bookshelf.