A bit of shade

A weekend project, if you redefine a weekend as Friday to Wednesday.

I spend a lot of time on our deck. If the weather is at all tolerable, I set up my computer workstation and spend the day there, looking out to the Golden Gate Bridge and watching the array of birds and critters in the back yard. The deck has a pergola that creates some shade, but we’ve always had an umbrella to make it tolerable under the bright sun directly overhead. I’ve been thinking for a while that a deck-wide shade would be much nicer than the umbrella, so I decided to buy some parts and make what’s variously called a Roman or wave shade that can slide open or closed as needed.

Of course, last-minute design modifications and unforeseen constraints changed things a bit, but I’m still happy with the result. Here’s the pergola before:

The above image before I installed the shades but after I’d “cleared” both bays: the lights in the center were moved from either side of the beam, and the lights on the right beam moved on the outside. I also cleared 30 years of nails and hooks.

Here’s my parts list (sharp viewers will note I bought more materials than I used):

  • 3x Coolaroo 15′ x 8′ sun shade
  • 100′ 1/8″ 7×7 stainless cable
  • 12x lag hooks (to hold cable; better than eye lags: no threading)
  • 2x turnbuckles
  • 4x cable crimps
  • 16x 3/4″ x 1/2″ primed moulding boards (for shade ribs; 8 per shade)
  • 34x small eye screws (for shade ribs)
  • 1x plastic-covered hook screw (for shade pole)
  • 144 zip-ties (9 per rib)

First I installed the hooks in the corners and made a square of cable. The result is about 49 1/2″ wide by 20′ long. Here’s a detail:

Next I created the shades. I didn’t take a photo of the construction, but it took three of the four rolls I bought to make two 23-foot x 4-foot shades with ribs every three feet. I used zip ties to attach the ribs to the cloth, 9 on each rib — much easier than sewing.

Top is daytime, bottom is dusk. It’s not as completely protected as the umbrella provided, but I like the lack of umbrella in this space.

House remodel #1

Here are a number of CAD drawings showing the basic plans.

Front of existing house, showing upper floor from street level
The view from the back yard showing lower half-floor
Same view after 15′ extension on left and 10′ extension to deck

This is a small house from 1948 with a single bathroom and two bedrooms in the upper floor. The lower floor has a laundry room and an office.

The extension will allow us to put another bathroom upstairs and expand the master bedroom. Downstairs will have a new guest/work room. We can’t put a bathroom downstairs because it is below street level, so the plumbing would get expensive.

The deck will get a half-width 10′ extension, so we don’t lose our sunset views. It can’t be full width because of the steps and a large eucalyptus tree.

Plan view of upper floor
Plan view of lower floor
Site view

Jerome the Egg Seller

UPDATE: Nov 7, see below


This is Jerome, bought by my recently departed mother-in-law in 1968 in New York, nicknamed by my late father-in-law. Jerome is a little over two feet high, and about a foot wide at his base. He’s selling eggs, and he’s from what used to be called Yugoslavia.

Google identifies this writing as Croatian, but “a cup of raija bicanic eggs” isn’t a good translation.

Further study needed.


UPDATE: An online friend, Dominik Fabulic, provided a translation and some context:

Letters are

ODKUPLJUJE JAJA – buys (purchases) eggs. RA. BICANIC J. – RA. may be RAD or RADIO – work (by) or worked (on by), BICANIC is a last name, J is the initial.

ODKUPLJUJE is a word you’d use when someone is buying something in large quantities to resell it, so the sculpture represents an egg merchant buying eggs from farmers to resell it, not someone just buying eggs for themselves. But he is definitely buying eggs, not selling them. 

Google tells us there was a sculptor Josip Bićanića, from Cernik, born in 1927, died in 2002 (Google translate):

“Josip Bićanića was born on 19 March 1928 in a large family in the village of Sadilovac in Lika. That same year, he moved to Slavonia, near Vrbov near Nova Gradiska. He has been working with wood since an early age and has been doing sculpture since 1968. He started working life as a skilled craftsman, and evolved from craft to art. Behind him are numerous exhibitions at home and abroad. With twenty independent works, his works have taken the attention of more than 350 group exhibitions. He worked a lot in numerous art colonies. Since 1972 he has been a member of the Society of naive artists of Croatia. Among the many awards he was awarded was his sculpture opus and Croatian pleter.”

Suzuki Beane

The other night. while visiting my mother-in-law, my wife mentioned that her favorite book growing up in New York was Suzuki Beane. After a little poking around the bookcases, I found it and read the whole thing out loud!

Suzuki Beane is the story of a little beatnik girl who lives in Greenwich Village, circa 1961. Her father is a poet, her mother a sculptor, and she’s never been above 14th Street — until she meets Henry, a little rich boy from the Upper East Side, who lives in a house with a maid. Suzuki and Henry have adventures, read poetry, and learn a little from each other. And, like, it’s all written in hipster slang and man it’s a gas.

Written by Sandra Scoppettone, who also wrote “one of the earliest young-adult books to depict a lesbian relationship” as well as a number of mystery novels, and illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh, who went on to write and illustrate Harriet the Spy. 

I put up the first nine pages here, plus a two-page spread in which Suzuki shows Henry’s dance class her own form of dancing. You will dig it the most.


I read a lot, and things always remind me of other things, so here are some recent readings and the memories of other things they triggered.

Jean Lafitte, LaIn the New York Times, John Schwartz and Kevin Sack provide an in-depth look at how Jean Lafitte, a small fishing village in Louisiana, is threatened by the rising, shifting tides of the Mississippi Delta, as politics, engineering, commerce, and conservation intermingle to create both problems and solutions. This article was given its own separate section in the Sunday paper, with large double-page layouts, but it is even better online. Pair this with an article from 1987: “The Mississippi River, with its sand and silt, has created most of Louisiana, and it could not have done so by remaining in one channel.” That sentence is from John McPhee’s classic New Yorker article about that other channel, “Atchafalaya,” which is also collected in his excellent book, “The Control of Nature.” The Atchafalaya is Cajun country, where my uncle and cousins lived, so I know how it’s pronounced, uh-CHAFF-uh-Lie-uh.

This recent article by Joshua Rothman goes deep into copiers: “Why Paper Jams Persist” looks at the journey of the sheets of paper in modern copiers, as they are rolled, flown, blown, sucked, charged, heated, and stacked at speeds up to 150 pages per minute. Pair this with another classic, David Owen’s 2004 book “Copies in Seconds,” the story of Chester Carlson and the birth of Xerox. But why do we copy so much? Weren’t computers going to provide us with the paperless office? Consider reading Edward Tenner’s great book, “Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences.”

Minizaitunya Ibyatullina, 102As we approach the centennial of the Russian Revolution, another recent NY Times article sent Karl Ove Knausgaard on “A Literary Road Trip Into the Heart of Russia,” in which he explores a rural area almost untouched for the last century. This amazing photo is by Lynsey Addario, showing a 102-year-old woman holding a photo of her husband, who died in the war in 1943. Pair this with the always wonderful Ian Frazier, who has visited Russia many times and wonders “What Ever Happened to the Russian Revolution?” in the Smithsonian. Frazier wrote a book about his earlier journeys exploring the Eastern wilds in a van, “Travels in Siberia,” which reminds me of my two other posts on this subject: the most exciting nonfiction book I’ve ever read, John Vaillant’s “The Tiger,” and another about the story of the Siberian woodsman Dersu Uzala.

Kuwait images #4: KFAS workshop & dinner

Here are the folks I worked with, which I post to give a sense of the variety of styles of dress. Women wore hijabs, or they wore stylish Western clothes. Men wore dishdashas with and without headgear, or they wore business casual. The two groups hold name cards are the teams I coach.

The bottom picture is our gala dinner at the JW Marriott, in which all the men wore traditional clothing — some of them uncomfortably — because it was a fancy event. (At the center table is the US ambassador and other distinguished guests.)

Kuwait images #3: Around Kuwait City

With apologies to my wonderful hosts, Kuwait does not bowl you over with its attractiveness. The skyline is a careless mix of modern, mismatched skyscrapers and blocky, undistinguished buildings. I was told that some building still show damage from the war with Iraq, but I couldn’t tell those from ones that were under construction or were perhaps just deteriorating.

At bottom is the only graffiti I saw — an Arabic phrase followed by @FarFeeling, which leads to an anime character image! So, perhaps not a political or social statement.

Kuwait images #2: Souq Al-Mubarakiya

We visited the 200-year-old Souq Al-Mubarakiya, a must-see item for any tourist and an popular destination for locals. Souks are the original malls, a series of stalls and stores in a maze of passageways selling everything from clothes to groceries. the long halls are covered passageways that make the area feel more indoors than outside. There are specific sections for gold, perfumes and incense, meats, fish, vegetables, and even beads.

At the bottom is the “cane man,” who is holding a cane with a snake-eye head to the light, so I can see it light up. (The photo is a clumsy panorama of two images.) Note the beads and the brocade-covered goods that cover the walls and counters.




Kuwait images #1: Kuwait Towers, Fish market, and The Avenues mall

I’m doing a workshop in Kuwait, and we’ve had a chance to visit some sights, souks, and markets.

Kuwait Towers. The men are Omani (note the headgear, the man on the right is taking a selfie).

Fish market.

Nuts and more in a stall.

Fishing supplies.

The Avenues, a big big mall. That’s a Cheesecake Factory on the left.

Another view.

We are here on Earth to fart around

I was reminded of this quote by Kurt Vonnegut from this interview, so I share it here:

I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I’d never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterward I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, “Are you still doing typing?” Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, “Okay, I’ll send you the pages.”

Then I go down the steps and my wife calls, “Where are you going?” “Well,” I say, “I’m going to buy an envelope.” And she says, “You’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in the closet.” And I say, “Hush.” So I go to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it’s my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of Forty-seventh Street and Second Avenue, where I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I’ve had a hell of a good time. I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We’re dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go do something. [Gets up and dances a jig.]