Lathe practice

I recently purchased a lathe.  I’ve attended a couple of classes about how to use it, but am still a complete newbie, so I’ve practiced using wood I’m pulling off my firewood pile. Here are some of my first pieces.

This is an oak bowl I made from a log we cut down last year.  It was only partly dry when I turned it so it warped into a bit of an oval shape as it dried.

Oak bowl

Oak bowl

I was really happy to find a log of spalted maple on the firewood pile.  The black lines running through the piece are actually a fungus that has started to eat the wood.  This is a highly sought after type of wood, yet I used it for lathe practice.  Hmm…  Maybe I should have saved it for when I was better at the lathe.

Spalted maple bowl

Spalted maple bowl

I also played around with a little cedar.  Here I made a goblet emerging from a cedar log.

Goblet emerging from a cedar log

This is a large bowl I was carving out of an oak log that was still pretty green.  You can see the inside is still rough and the sides are still too thick.  That’s because the mortise I had on the bottom which my lathe chuck was holding broke.  This bowl isn’t going to be finished.

Oak bowl

I also needed a mallet.  Before making a real one I practiced on a small branch.  It turns out that branch was also spalted maple.

Spalted maple mallet

Finally, I made a real mallet.  I don’t expect it to last too long, but then again, it was firewood to start with and it can be firewood when it is too beaten up to be useful as a mallet.  The two black, accent lines on the handle are small grooves cut and then burned with my skew chisel.

Oak mallet

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how to make bubble rings

On Friday I received my new GoPro camera so I spent the weekend playing around with it. I enjoyed taking videos of the kids, but I’m not going to post that here.  Instead, here’s how I make bubble rings.

Bubble ring

​Bubble rings are great fun with kids.  There is a bit of a wow factor and they enjoy swimming through them.  If they are good enough swimmers they like learning to make them.  This is simple fun in the pool without having to go buy anything new at the store.

​With a little practice you can make them anywhere the water is calm enough.  I’ve heard people say you need a deep pool, as in at least nine feet deep.  That isn’t true.  I’ve formed them within two feet of the surface.  The photo above was taken in an eight foot pool.  I have at times blown four or five while rising from the bottom with the last being right near the top.

It’s kind of like learning to whistle, you’ll need to try it a bunch of times before you get the hang of it, but it is not as hard as learning to whistle.


​You will want a mask.  You are going to be swimming upside down.  You don’t want water running up your nose and you don’t want air from your nose breaking up the rings.

Upside down

​Swim with your back facing the ground.  Try to keep your hands and feet from stirring up the water above your head.  I find keeping my hands down near my waist is ok if I’m pushing water up as long as I’m being careful about turbulence.  Holding them out to the side or above my head is only ok if I’m not pushing water up.

Tip your head back a little so your lips and chin are high up then push out a quick burst of air and slam your lips shut right away.  It’s kind of like saying the letter P, but unlike saying P you need to close your lips right away.  You do not need much air and you want it to come out quickly.  Be careful not to destroy your ring with turbulence from your hands or feet.

If you get a big dome-shaped bubble or a bunch of bubbles instead of a ring, you may have used too much air, blown out for too long, had your neck too straight or too bent (your head should be tipped back a little), or destroyed it with too much turbulence from your hands or feet.

Recently I’ve read that sticking out your tongue and then pulling it in while blowing out can help. I’ve given it a try at the end of this video and you can see that also works.  I didn’t quite clamp down my mouth tight enough after the burst of air on that try, but it worked anyway.


Just keep trying and you’ll get the hang of it.  If you are still having difficulty, try filling your cheeks and lips with a little air and just blowing that out.  Play with the shape of your mouth.  Most of all, stick with it, you’ll get it.


Matt framed by a bubble

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Miranda's newly redecorated bedroom.

Photo copyright 2014 by Egils Zarins

Last year we redid my son’s room.  This year we decided to do my daughter’s.  My wife spent quite a bit of time working with her to determine what she wanted.  That was quite a challenge but in the end they came up with a theme that is a cross between what a vampire princess might want and what a Hollywood starlet might want.  They named it Transylwood.

Frame for the ceiling box

No wall, ceiling, or floor in this house is flat or square. Fun.

Miranda’s room doesn’t have a light built into the ceiling and we wanted to add one without the expense of hiring an electrician and tearing apart the ceiling and walls.  We built a large box out of 1x4s and used it to create a dropped ceiling effect in the middle of the room.  That gave me room to add a mounting box for the light fixture.  The wire from there runs along the ceiling, down the wall, and plugs into a normal switched outlet that already existed.  It is covered with a plastic cover and painted the same color as the ceiling and walls so it blends right in.  The original plan used 2x4s to give more leeway for the tiles that would be attaching to them, but 2x4s are just too heavy for something like that.  In the end we used 1x4s connected with small metal brackets.

Ceiling box completed

I love how this ceiling came out

The dropped ceiling is covered with some cool plastic tiles my wife found online.  They look very much like an embossed tin ceiling.  These turned out to be easy to work.  They cut easily and have an edge that is plenty wide enough for the decorative, black nails we used to attach them.  The tiles and a couple strips of moulding makes for a dramatic, fancy ceiling that draws the eye.  Every time I walk by the room I glance at it.

Bureau after the refinish

Yup, that’s Hermione on the wall

The bureau was a CraigsList find.  It was free and you get what you pay for.  It had to be completely refinished, parts had to be rebuilt, and all the drawer pulls and several of the drawer slides had to be replaced.  Of course, it didn’t take standard sized drawer slides, so I had to heavily modify some I found at the big-box hardware store.  Once it was painted black and silver it matched the mirror, headboard, shelves, and ceiling tiles quite well.

"Ooh Shiny!" pillow

Ooh, shiny!

Miranda is easily distracted and when we see it we tease her and say, “Ooh, shiny!”  It’s become such a thing she often says it on her own.  So, my mom made a throw pillow for her new chair with those words.  That new chair gets a lot of attention too.  It is five feet in diameter and spins.  Holly saw it in the furniture store when we were buying the mirror and headboard and fell in love with it. I took a photo of her kicked back in the chair, sent it to Miranda, and called her.  She gave me a decision on her new chair in minutes.  I still find it amazing how much technology has changed our lives.  In the old days I would have had to drive 45 minutes home, pick up Miranda, and drive 45 minutes back to the store all in a rush since it was getting close to closing time.  Instead, 5 minutes on the phone and she has enough of an understanding of the chair to make her decision.


Holly always considers the little touches

Holly found some red lamp shades and dressed up both them and the shelves with some beadwork.  The beads came on a ribbon she hot glued to the shades and tacked to the front of the shelves all the way around the room with some decorative black nails.

Even open, the curtains add a mild red tint to the light in the room that isn’t visible in the photos.  When they are closed, the sun is up, and the lights are off the room is lit with an eerie red light and it has a dark, almost gothic feel to it.  I find it a challenge to photograph a room.  This one is much more dramatic in person then in these photos.  I found the ceiling especially difficult to photograph because I just couldn’t get the light right.  If I used the flash the paint looked very light grey even though it is dark.  Without the flash you couldn’t see any of the detail on the sides of the box.

New floor being installed

Trust me, I’m the Doctor!

The floor is the same sort of $0.64/sq ft. laminate we used upstairs in Matt’s room and the playroom.  Just like before, I found it very easy to install, and just like before it chewed through my saw blade.  This stuff is incredibly hard, sparks when the saw cuts it, and destroys the blade.  Make sure you consider the cost of a new blade as part of the cost of the floor if you use laminate for anything.

Miranda has been living in the room for a month or so now and she loves it.  Once again I’m amazed at Holly’s ability to design unique, dramatic rooms.  I think they come out great every time.

Miranda's newly redecorated bedroom.

Photo copyright 2014 by Egils Zarins

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the devil’s travels

I’ve always liked the song The Devil Went Down To Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band.

[iframe align=”center” width=”320″ height=”240″ src=”″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen artist=”The Charlie Daniels Band” piece=”The Devil Went Down To Georgia”]

What I didn’t know was Primus made a version with a great claymation video.  I still like the original better, but it was interesting to hear it done in the Primus style and I really like the video.

[iframe align=”center” width=”320″ height=”240″ src=”″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen artist=”Primus” piece=”The Devil Went Down To Georgia”]

It turns out the Muppets also told this story.  I’ve always liked the Muppets, especially the two guys in the balcony.

[iframe align=”center” width=”320″ height=”240″ src=”″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen artist=”The Muppets” piece=”The Devil Went Down To Georgia”]

Did you know the devil went back to Georgia?

[iframe align=”center” width=”320″ height=”240″ src=”″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen artist=”Mark O’Conner, Charlie Daniels, Johnny Cash” piece=”The Devil Came Back To Georgia”]

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end of the cellar garden experiment

Tomatoes on scaleToday, Oct 17th (day 348), I’m calling the cellar garden experiment complete.  It has served its purpose.  It demonstrated that a garden can produce food in small quantities with very little light, but to be abundant it needs a considerable amount.  Only the plants closest to the lights produced anything significant.  I had thought about using a spare bedroom as a hobby aquaponics room, but that room doesn’t get much light.  This experiment demonstrated that I’d need to supplement the light in that room too much for it to be worth it.

We have enjoyed the peas and tomatoes it produced as tiny little treats during the experiment.

I posted the final, detailed results on the results page.  In summary, the peas produced about three-eighths of a pound and the tomatoes produced just over one pound.

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front row at the game

Can't complain about the front row seats! I’ve never been to a Pro football game before. Watching them on TV I never got a feel for the real scale of things.  I knew these guys were big and fast, but didn’t have a gut feel of how big or how fast.  I knew the stadium could hold around 68,000 people, but didn’t really understand in a visceral sense how many people that is.  Now I know the stadium is huge, yet even from the sky-high seats the Patriots are large enough to be seen clearly. But even more dramatic, I now understand how fast these guys are!  Holy Smokes!  They fly across that field.

Tom Brady making adjustmentsI lucked out Friday night when I was surfing Ace Ticket and noticed front row seats had just been posted at a “reasonable” price (what is reasonable when you are talking about football tickets?) and I managed to snag them before anyone else gobbled them up.

Having never been to a game I didn’t know what to expect so I browsed around looking for advice.  Everyone seemed to say you should leave two to three hours earlier than you think you need to leave due to the traffic. The parking lots open four hours before the game for tailgating and the place I was getting my tickets opens their tent four hours before the game as well, so I figured getting there too early wouldn’t be a problem.  Huddle at the edge of the fieldI decided to add to the usual travel time one hour for getting into the stadium, finding our seats, and getting any snacks or drinks or whatever, one hour for getting the tickets since I had no idea how long the line might be there, and one and a half hours for traffic.   I didn’t expect any of that to take that long but figured we’d play it safe and spend any extra time tailgating.

Since it was raining in the morning and we weren’t playing a rival team attendance was pretty low.  With that and the fact that we left so early, traffic turned out not to be a problem at all.  In the end we spent a little over two hours hanging in the parking lot.  But we had brought food, drinks, books, movies, and games for that time.  It sprinkled on and off during that time so we hung out in the car and stayed dry. Front Row 4 (tiny2) The rain stopped before we left the parking lot and the weather was beautiful for the rest of the day.

Getting into the stadium was a breeze.  We approached security about an hour before kickoff and it took no time to get through and into the stadium.  The three of us hiked up the ramps to the top so we could see what it would look like from the regular seats.  It’s quite high up there, but it was still easy to see the individual players practicing on the field despite the distance.  I think those seats would be entirely acceptable.  Once we made it back down to our seats in the front row we were blown away by how close to the field we were.  It was like we were sitting on the sideline with the players.

CheerFor much of the game there were kickers (punt or field goal) practicing in front of us, cheerleaders performing to the left or walking straight in front of us, the mascot coming by and fist bumping us, the offense or defence on the sidelines just to the right of us, and the camera truck passing back and forth.  We even ended up on the big TV screens for a minute or so near the end of the third quarter. It felt like we were part of the game.

The Pats aren’t doing that well at the moment since they have so many new players in the starting lineup, so I picked the Tampa Bay game because I thought the Pats had a good chance of winning against them anyway and I wanted my kids to see a winning game.  Sure enough, we won 23-3.  It was a great game for the kids to see.  We had an excellent day.  My kids haven’t stopped talking about it and I’m sure it is something they are going to remember for years to come.  I still remember when my uncle took me to see a Bruins game when I was a kid.

Plays happening right in front of us

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driving an indy car

Ready to race

Ready to race!

There’s nothing like a little speed in your life.  I recently had an opportunity to drive an Indy car on a race track.

It was a lot easier than I expected. Everything I had heard or seen leading up to it suggested that it would be difficult.  People talked about how hard it was to move the steering wheel, press the brake, or press the clutch.  I heard that staying on the line would be difficult since the steering wheel requires such a small movement to make a significant turn.  I kept thinking about shifting since I don’t drive a manual transmission all that often any more. Listening to the training beforehand there seemed a million details to keep in mind.  It turns out none of that was a concern.  It was very easy and just about anyone can do it, even if you’ve never driven a manual, if you are just doing a simple “racing experience” as a tourist and not trying to be a pro race driver.

The experience begins with an hour long class.  During this class they make it clear exactly what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do.  Basically it boils down to, “Do whatever your instructor tells you to do over the radio, when he says to do it, and how he says to do it.”  They make it abundantly clear they will ask you to leave if you don’t listen and follow the rules.  They can enforce that if needed by remotely killing your engine.

Racing suitWhile driving you will be wearing a race suit, a helmet, and a pair of ear phones.  You will be wired to the car and will have a two way radio link with an instructor the whole time.  The instructor will let you know what you need to do each step of the way as you get there.

Getting into the car is a bit tight.  The walls touched my shoulders the whole time.  They strap you into a five point harness until it is “comfortably uncomfortable”, as they call it.  Getting back out requires a little thought, but is fairly easy.

When you first get into the car it is in gear and the engine isn’t running.  You push in the clutch and they push you with an ATV to get you rolling, then you pop the clutch and the engine starts. That’s the last time you need to touch the clutch.  The whole race is done in first gear. Without having to shift at all, there goes that concern.

As I mentioned before, this car is very easy to drive.  It does exactly what you tell it to do. It goes exactly where you tell it to go.  There isn’t any ambiguity.  The steering wheel is directly connected to the front tires and there is zero play.  Each little twitch of the wheel sends the car in a new direction, but it feels very intuitive and smooth and is not difficult at all.

It feels like the car is riding on very smooth rails.  Hitting a tight corner at 100 MPH isn’t a problem at all, other than the G’s pushing your body into the cockpit wall.  This car wasn’t even breathing hard.  Although it felt very fast to me, I wasn’t anywhere near this car’s maximum potential.

Your first lap has to be a slow one so you get used to the car and track.  Then on each lap they’ll let you go faster than the previous lap as you prove you can handle the car and follow instruction.

At one point I caught up with another car and matched his speed about two car lengths behind him as we entered a turn.  Two thirds of the way through the turn I heard my instructor say, “Pass him.”  I pressed the gas and accelerated so fast that as I blew by him it looked like he was standing still.

The car is very low to the ground and you are practically laying down.  This means your eyes are only a couple feet off the road, about the height of a typical desk.  Travelling down the road at 117 MPH with your eyes so close to the ground and the turn approaching fast, it seems like you are rocketing along.  It was an excellent experience and I thank my wife for that Christmas present.

If you try this, get the longest time you can afford.  I spent eight minutes driving and it was over in a flash.  I would have loved to have had more.  Also, the more laps you do the faster they let you drive…


My wife said at first she could catch the car with the camera, but by the third lap I was going too fast.

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day 253: green tomatoes

Green TomatoesBack in April when I lost the peas, I figured the experiment was over.  However, once I pulled out the pea plants, the tomato plants started growing far better.  I let them continue on even though I didn’t have much hope for them.   I got lots of flowers on them, but no fruit.  I assume I wasn’t doing a good job pollinating them.  A couple of weeks ago I decided it was time to end the experiment and move them outside, but I was too busy with other stuff and didn’t get around to moving them.

Today for the first time I saw green tomatoes growing!  I counted four of them.  There are other flowers so I gave the vines a good shaking.  Maybe more will grow.

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rest in peas

In late April we went on vacation.  When we returned the pots in the cellar garden experiment were bone dry despite being flooded when we left.  Although the tomato plants were ok, the peas were dead.  I pulled them all out on May 12th.  This means the tomatoes will have more light now.  The experiment is nearing the end anyway.  Given the production level, I think I have gone far enough.

We had a friend taking care of the chickens, but I didn’t care enough about these plants, especially this late in the experiment, to impose on her to also take on watching over the cellar garden.

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discovery cove

Miranda posing under water


This spring we had an opportunity to visit Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida.  Before this, I had no idea places like this existed. This park is by reservation only and they only take 1,300 reservations per day.  The crowds are small, the service is awesome, and the attractions are amazing.

After checking in we had a quick snack before meeting Kaylee, the dolphin.  The food was ok.  The nightmare was all the wild birds trying to take your food from you.  Although they were beautiful and I enjoyed looking at them, they were extremely aggressive and would pull food right off your plate while you were sitting right there.  Everyone thought they were annoying.


Kaylee is an atlantic bottlenose dolphin.  We spent a while playing with her and learning about her.  She even gave us each a ride through the water.

Miranda, Matthew, and Kaylee

Miranda, Matthew, and Kaylee

After the trip Matt was telling me about wanting to let his class at school know all about the dolphin facts he learned.  He now knows the patterns at the back of the dorsal fin and the patterns at the end of the tail are unique to each dolphin.  He knows they are light on the bottom so they blend in with the sky better when viewed by predators from below.

We all enjoyed our time with Kaylee.


A huge southern ray sneaking up on Miranda

A huge southern ray sneaking up on Miranda

Discovery Cove has an awesome attraction named The Grand Reef.  It’s a large salt water area done up like an ocean reef and stocked with lots of tropical fish and rays.  As you snorkel you can find yourself surrounded by beautiful fish or petting a ray.

Miranda petting a cownose ray

Miranda petting a cownose ray

They have dozens of cownose rays, southern rays, spotted eagle rays, and bluntnose rays. The rays tend to be very friendly and will brush right up against you.  Many of them seem to enjoy being stroked.

There are thousands of tropical fish, including angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasses and tangs as well as larger, unusual looking hogfish and filefish.

At one point I dove to the bottom passing through a dense school of fish.  When I looked around I noticed they were swimming in a tight circle around me.  It was quite the view.

Holly and Matt looking into the shark tank

Holly and Matt looking into the shark tank

The Grand Reef also includes tanks of more dangerous fish such as sharks and eels separated from the swimming area by glass. You can see them while snorkeling as though they were swimming with you.

While The Grand Reef water is heated, it’s not terribly warm.  They need to keep it at a temperature good for the fish.  However, with the provided wet suit vest I found it quite comfortable.

A spotted eagle ray and a southern ray swimming under Miranda

A spotted eagle ray (background) and a southern ray (foreground) swimming under Miranda

The aviary at Discovery Cove has many beautiful tropical birds you can feed right from your hands.  Miranda was very good at getting them to sit on her hands while eating, but Matthew also had a chance to feed some of them.  I saw one woman feeding a bird that had landed on her head.

Unfortunately, we didn’t think to buy one of the waterproof, disposable cameras available in the gift shop until late in the day, so I don’t have any photos I took of anything other than The Grand Reef.  Here are some stock photos from Discovery Cove.  You can scroll through them by clicking the tiny arrow on the right side of the image.

Stock photo - Marmosets

Stock photo – Marmosets

There are a couple of lazy rivers at Discovery Cove.  One is the laziest lazy river I’ve ever seen.  You could barely tell the water was moving at all.  However, it had the advantage of flowing by the marmoset island and otter tank.  The otters were curled up in a ball sleeping when we swam by.  I like that the separate tanks, such as the otter tank, shark tank, etc. are designed to appear to be an extension of the area you are in.  Yes, you can tell there is a big glass wall there, but there is continuity.  For example, the water level is the same inside and out. The eel tank is entirely below the water line and just looks like a cave.  At the otter tank there is a downed tree that starts in the river and extends into the tank.  If you look at it, you’ll see that it is clearly cut through by the glass, but if you don’t choose to look for that it adds to the feeling that you are with the animals.

The other river flowed through the aviary and a large cave and under a waterfall. We had our masks on while travelling down this river and we discovered all sorts of treasures on the bottom.  For example, we found a large dinosaur “fossil”, a vase, a cannon, etc.

Stock photo - Wind-away River

Stock photo – Wind-away River

There are beaches with sun bathing chairs.  There is a lagoon with chairs in the shallow water.  We didn’t really use either of those for any length of time since we were much more interested in the other attractions.

There is an extra attraction you can pay for separately called SeaVenture which involves walking for 25 minutes under the water on the floor of The Grand Reef wearing a breathing helmet.  Matt was much too young and we had spent enough money already so we skipped that.

Stock photo - tortoise

Stock photo – tortoise

In addition to awesome attractions, there was something else that set this park apart. It is an all-inclusive, first-class park.  When we approached the entrance a man greeted us and took us to the woman who was going to check us in.  We didn’t wait in a line.  After checking us in she pointed us to a man who would guide us into the park.  Once in the park we were approached by a woman who explained the various attractions and the layout of the park.  She guided us to the people who would pick out our wet suits for us.  Those people had a good eye and knew what size we needed just by looking at us.  They guided us to the changing rooms and lockers. The whole day was like that.  There was always someone handy to point us to the next thing we wanted to do.  They all had a smile.  Even the people sweeping the sand off the pathways or cleaning the bathrooms were friendly and helpful and always looking for a way to improve our visit.

Cownose ray

Cownose ray

Everything we needed was included. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks, adult beverages, masks, snorkels, wet suits, towels, sunscreen, showers, shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. were all free for the taking as we needed and without limit.  They even had prescription masks for people like me.  And that’s another thing.  The masks are magic.  I don’t know how else to describe them.  They have two sizes, adult and child. My six year old son and eleven year old daughter used the same size mask and it worked great on both.  My mask didn’t leak even though I have a mustache.  I watched huge hulking men and tiny women wearing the same “adult” sized mask.  I never once saw anyone fighting with their mask or dumping out water that had leaked in.

Stock photo – Discovery Cove sign

When we were leaving we passed the dive shop and I noticed that they were only charging $70 for the full wet suits.  That surprised me so I mentioned it to Holly and she ran in to check the price of the masks. They were only $16 each so she grabbed four. I would have expected them to gouge us on the price.  I’m used to spending $3.50 for a bottle of water at an amusement park.

This was a great day and I recommend it to anyone willing to pay the price.  They do have a way to mitigate the price.  For an extra $20 per person you can get unlimited tickets to SeaWorld, Bush Gardens, and Aquatica for use during a 14-day window.  Your Discovery Cove reservation must be within that 14-day window and the window starts the first time you use one of the tickets.  During that window, I believe, you can visit SeaWorld, Bush Gardens, and Aquatica as many times as you wish. Dividing the price across four parks brings it down from insanely expensive to just expensive.

Stock photo - Dolphins jumping

Stock photo – Dolphins jumping

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