What did you do in the war, Daddy?

completeOne of my dad’s favorite scenes from the movie, Patton, came during the iconic opening scene with George C. Scott as the general standing in front of the giant 48-star American flag addressing his unseen troops before some unnamed battle.

“There’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it,” Scott as Patton says. “Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you: ‘What did you do in the great World War II?’ You won’t have to say, ‘Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.'”patton_george_c_scott

My dad served under General Patton in “the great World War II.” And some of his stories from that time did mentioning taking a shovel to the mud of Fort Polk before heading overseas. And a few of them recalled some disturbing images, such as the liberation of the camps at Dachau and seeing the bodies of fallen GIs before men of the graves-registration units could take care of them. Continue reading


Move to table the policy of containment


The split-level planter’s table and the container garden.

For awhile several years ago, I kept a vegetable garden in the back yard. I had lousy luck with tomatoes, better luck with peppers and cucumbers and terrific luck with yellow squash. Later, I was told someone who had perfected the art of backyard gardening that any dope with with dirt and a shovel could grow squash.

In time, my enthusiasm for the hobby waned, probably coinciding with my aversion to the increased soreness that accompanied stooping over plants knee-high from the ground.

But even though my green thumb has a pretty wide yellow streak, I still enjoy planting stuff in soil and watching it grow, but on a smaller scale. So this spring, I decided to a modest container garden. And rather than having the containers scattered willy-nilly on the back deck and back yard. I built a little split-level planter’s table that sits neatly on the deck. Continue reading

A condo for the cardinals, doves and even the squirrels

feeder in NJ

Nearly all of the birdhouses I’ve built over the years were the basic four walls with openings representing doorways and windows, a little ledge out front and a pitched roof.

Typically, they were made from weathered cedar fence pickets that had to be replaced and hung from backyard tree limbs. After tossing in a handful of birdseed, it never took long for the birds to come. Some even built nests that would be used year after year.

The downside was that only a bird or two at a time could eat, and each spring the new leaves would obscure the house. And feeding the birds is pretty much an out-of-sight, out-of-mind deal — at least for me. Continue reading

Knickknacks, throwaways and wood doodles

Texas box

One of the byproducts of playing with lumber is that there’s always a stack of leftover boards of varying lengths, varying widths and varying grades cluttering up the workshop.

And because I consider wastefulness a sin, I’m always looking for ways to keep the leftovers out of the landfill. So here are a few examples some knickknacks that might have some value but were mostly made for my own amusement. I call it doodling with power tools. Continue reading

Setting sail for a new (kitchen) island

kitchen island

Our house has an open-concept floor plan downstairs where there’s a clear view of the television from the kitchen sink and half of the counters. But those counters are a little too far from the stove. And working from the counters adjacent to the stove puts the cook’s back to the TV.

Since I’m the cook most of the time, I needed to remedy that.

Not long after moving in, we discovered the IKEA store north of Austin off I-35. We bought a couple of chests of drawers that were easy enough to assemble, not too bad to look at and reasonably priced.  On the second or third visit, a small kitchen island caught my eye. It had a butcher-block top and a stainless steel storage rack below. The price was OK.

So I asked one of the guys in a navy-blue Polo shirt with the yellow IKEA lettering to direct me to aisle where I’d find the island. We walked over and the guy showed me the empty space where the islands were supposed to be. Continue reading

It all starts with baby steps

Steps done

This post is aptly titled because it describes project that is easily mastered by anyone with the most basic of skills and the most basic of tools. And because the product is designed to help toddlers take their first steps up to grasp hold of that which before was unreachable.

The little steps seen here were built for Ivy, the daughter of my niece Johanna and her husband, Nate. The steps are pretty much the same as the half-dozen or so I’d built before for other relatives and friends, and like the ones my dad built first his first grandchildren dating back to the 1970s. Continue reading

Pop’s log cabin: A downsized dream

cabin front

When I was a kid, we lived near the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a sparsely developed forest of old-growth pines that grew from a grayish-white soil that resembled the sand along the ocean beaches a few miles to the east.

I remember more than once driving through the pines with my dad and him saying that one day he’d claim a tract of that land and  take a chainsaw to the tallest and straightest trees and build a log cabin for the family. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if he was serious or if it was just one of the things dads say to entertain their wide-eyed adolescent sons.

Whether it was a real dream or a tall tale, the story sent my young imagination into high gear. I conjured up an image of my dad along with my brothers and I taming a section of the Pine Barrens and erecting a log house that would be the envy of South Jersey. Continue reading