It’s been a really long time since I had an invention to post, but this week, with the return of the sun came the return of my shade problem.  We have a deck with a great view. Lovely to sit out on a sunny day. But it’s hard to get shade that moves with the sun. I’ve tried several umbrellas, tilting ones, straight ones, ones with overhanging arms, Coolaroo shade triangles, sheets with bungee cords that I adjust during the day, but nothing really did the job of shading the table and chairs without blocking the  view. The sun comes from too many different angles. What works best is just a standard umbrella in a stand that I move around. But the stand is so heavy.

Then I had the brilliant idea of putting the stand on a wheeled plant stand that was just sitting around. This way, I can wheel the umbrella around the deck to follow the sun. Continue reading “Shade”


2016-08-15 07.32.59The other day I made fig jam–one of my all time favorites.

But in trying to speed up the process, I scorched the bottom of my enamel pot. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but couldn’t get the fine layer of burnt jam off the bottom. I gave up and set the pot out in the sun to dry. When I went to take it in, all the scorch had lifted from the enamel and was easy to brush off. Who knew?

In other news, I stopped at a little mom and pop (mostly mom it seemed) diner the other morning for a quick bite and saw in action this wonderful pancake batter dispenser. If I made pancakes more often, I’d definitely get one.



Gadgets, writing, and domestic tranquility

I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets–for me the Williams Sonoma or Chef’s Catalog is a kind of kitchen porn. Many of them aren’t worth the trouble, but I have two onion gadgets that really work: the onion keeper and the onion dicer.

IMG_1495The onion keeper I picked up one day in the supermarket. It’s a plastic onion-shaped container that opens in the middle with a twist. You put an open onion in it, twist it shut, and your onion is saved without smelling up the fridge.

The dicer has three sets of blades, two of which (rough dice and fine dice) can handle onions. There’s also a slicer blade, which I sometimes use for mushrooms. But it’s the onion dicing that is the real timesaver, especially when you have multiple onions to dice.

IMG_1496Set a half or a quarter of the onion flat side down on the dicer and pushed down the lid with your palm.

The machine gives a satisfying whump and you have instant, perfectly uniform chunks of onion.

IMG_1497Kitchen magic! It does for onions what my corn stripper does for corn kernels. This is a little plastic module with teeth at one edge that you run along an ear of corn to remove the kernels. Continue reading “Gadgets, writing, and domestic tranquility”

Interrobang & octothorpe

Perhaps typography doesn’t interest you, but my associations with letter press printers, those odd creatures who print by taking the individual letters and putting them together into rows of type, running ink over them and creating art, has led me to enjoy and respect typographic oddities. Which brings me to the interrobang. You can find the detailed history of this mark–the only new punctuation mark of the 20th century–in a book called Shady Characters. You can get a taste of it here.

images-5 images-4 images-3 newsweek-interrobangintbang1

Designed to express both  incredulity and overwhelming confusion of the modern age, the interrobang is both an exclamation and a question mark. Here are a few samples:

Continue reading “Interrobang & octothorpe”

Emu egg and kitchen gadgets

ostrich egg_optI’m having a slow recovery from the holidays, though I can hardly blame the California weather.

One of the highlights of our holiday breakfasts was an Emu egg I got at the farmers’ market. It was about 7″ long, and I calculated it was about 6 eggs worth of egg. We drilled holes in either end, blew out the egg, and made a frittata.  Then I packed the shell away with the Christmas ornaments. Continue reading “Emu egg and kitchen gadgets”

Seed time

I have a weakness for seed catalogs but have discovered that most seed packages contain a nearly life-time supply of seeds–except the super-specialized ones.  So I have quite a trove of seeds, all ready to plant. I look through the catalogs anyway of course, and I recently found an add for a tool that makes potting containers out of newspaper. You can see it on Youtube.  They also show some made from the centers of toilet paper or paper towel rolls, but you’d have to save these up beforehand. I’ve used egg cartons in the past, too, and always recycle any seedling containers I have.

potsIn any case, the wooden tool cost $20, so rather than order one, I took two cans (one slightly smaller diameter than the other) and basically did the same thing.   Continue reading “Seed time”

More gadgets

I probably could do four or five posts on kitchen gadgets. I have several on eggs alone. For example, here’s Henrietta hen, who makes perfect softboiled eggs:





A little slicer that snips off the top of said egg:
egg topper1_optegg topper2_opt-1





egg separator An egg separator (great for baking with children who want to separate eggs, but can’t quite manage it).  Continue reading “More gadgets”

Larry’s bat, plus kitchen gadgets

Larry's bat_optLarry’s birthday is coming up and luckily he has bought himself a present, a new Miken Ultra II bat, made of the same composite as the stealth bomber. He doesn’t usually bat left-handed but needed to here, because of the light.

This bat is so powerful that it comes with a warning label that says it is “capable of producing batted ball speeds that present a risk of serious injury or death to players, coaches and spectators.”  Not to mention nagging wives.

In any case, he’s breaking it in for the spring season. Apparently composite bats start out stiff and need to be broken in for resilience and flexibility.  Watch out Creakers!! Continue reading “Larry’s bat, plus kitchen gadgets”

Automation in the chicken coop

I love my chickens, but I also love to travel.  I have already set up automated feed and watering systems and thanks to a friend who came to visit, I now have an automated chicken door that opens at dawn and closes at dusk.  This amazing invention is from Wells Poultry in the UK, and came to me airmail.  I couldn’t quite believe it would work, but it does.  I set it up at the back of the covered area where the chickens are closed in at night as opposed to on their house itself.  It’s very shady by the house, and I was afraid “dusk” there would be too early.  We had to make a little ramp going down from the door, as the chicken yard is steep, and they were a little reluctant at first.  Several hens went out, then the rooster.

The rooster and about four of the hens went down to the area where I feed them.  But three of the hens weren’t eager to try the new door. The rooster came back up and encouraged them, and soon all were out. Continue reading “Automation in the chicken coop”

The hive has a hat

When we set up the Haengekorb, I didn’t realize it needed to be protected from rain. We hung it in a tree in the back of the yard, and it really wasn’t practical to take it down to put on a roof once the bees were in. The unseasonal rain we had prompted me to put up a very makeshift roof; but clearly, I needed to solve this problem in a more permanent way. I originally thought of 1/4″ plywood and 2×2’s, but I didn’t see how I could cobble this together around the ropes. Also, there was the problem of weight.

Then I thought of clear plastic corrugated roofing. I got an 8′ piece, some v-shaped metal flashing, a couple of pieces of lath, some marine glue, some foam pipe insulation and hose clamps, and metal duct tape (the kind they use for heat ducts).  I had the lumber yard cut the roof panel in half, and cut a 4′ piece of the flashing for me. Then over several days I glued the lath to the short sides of the roofing, glued the flashing across the top, and taped everything up. I drilled holes for the ropes and made saw cuts from the edge up to the rope holes. I covered the holes with tape so they wouldn’t fray the ropes.

The installation had to be at dusk, when the bees were all quiet and in the hive. The first evening, I waited put up two ladders. I climbed up on either side of the hive, and set 18″ pieces of the  foam pipe insulation around each rope, with a clamp at the top for the roof to rest on. I taped around each piece of foam for reinforcement. The next evening, I set the finished roof on the foam and taped up the saw cuts with duct tape and metal tape. Then I covered all the metal tape with blue painters’ tape to deflect the heat and please the bees, who allegedly like blue.

Now we’ll have to see if it holds up and keeps the bees dry when the rain comes. But in any case, this is certainly the most advanced engineering project I have ever tried. I am amazed that my measurements were right, the saw cuts were relatively straight, and the whole thing worked as I envisioned it.

For the full story of the arrival of the bees, and setting up the hive, click here. Or click to see the makeshift roof.