Thursday, March 21, 2013

Like A Millionaire!

Sometimes I feel like a Millionaire, rich beyond belief.  My garden always makes me feel this way, the ability to pick fresh fruits and vegetable right off the vine.  Corn in season should be picked while the water is still boiling.  Directly from the plant to the pot, locking in the sugars before they can turn to starch.  Really good sun ripened tomatoes can't be bought and not even the Kings of England enjoyed them.  There is nothing better than a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  Young lettuce sniped from young plants simply melts in your mouth offering flavors lost in packaging from the same items found in the grocery isles. It is not the same.  Young snap peas really snap and millionaires unless they have their own garden simply do not get them.  A freshly dug carrot will carry its smell ten feet away.
    Other things make me feel wealthy, my family, my wonderful daughters, even my 128 pound dog!
It takes a lot to feed him!  Material things too but pretty simply ones.  I have had a garage door automatic opener in a box on a shelf in my shop for at least 15 years.  I have never installed one and couldn't be bothered so there it sat.  I have not locked my shop for the last fifteen years (that is the kind of town I live in, also giving me a feeling of wealth).  Just a couple days ago a neighbor was getting a new garage door and I stopped the installer and asked about my opener and could he install it?
 Opener Installed!
He did this yesterday and it cost me $75 dollars. Now, with a push of a button or entering my pin number on a key-less lock, like magic the door opens!  Like having a servant!
Of course I feel a bit foolish too.  I could have done this years ago.
 A stockpile of Canvasses!

 A big supply of paint!
"Craigslist" also makes me feel wealthy.  I have told the story about finding over 200 brushes, complete rolls of canvas and other painting supplies for just 50 dollars and last night I did it again.  I got about 50 tubes of unopened oil paints and ten canvasses, stretched on their frames all for $60, and a bunch of brushes thrown in.

I have a nice warm studio between my office and my shop,
lots of steel easels and now lots of canvas, brushes and paint.  No excuses now!
    I have new tires on my little truck, also thanks to Craigslist and that Tom-Tom GPS thingy I told you about. What can be richer than that?  And, of course, the brand new roof on my house!
I am lucky but am reminded of the saying, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
A garage door opener!  Who would of thought?  My friends will never believe me.
More about my garden, my art and what I do is here: 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Clash of Retirement

I think that there are a lot of books published about retirement and some I should have read 20 years before I retired.  I get the emails about what to do with a $500,000 dollar portfolio so at least I get to laugh.  I think financial security is important, who knows what is going to happen?  There is a lot to worry about with the weakening of Medicare and increasing cost of private health insurance.  A trip to the grocery store is like buying gold and everything is priced accordingly.  You develop a travel budget
based on gasoline costing $3 dollars per gallon and it goes to $4.50!  Every time you turn around some Government agency wants more in taxes.  I suspect there are lots of financial advice books out there but for me that is only one aspect of retirement.
   There is an art to doing nothing and I am still learning it.  Being retired gives one a totally different view of time, a 24 hour clock with no work hours in it.  That is quite an adjustment.  There is the money aspect to this, if you are not working you are not making money, but there is also a loss of a sense of accomplishment.  Thirty-five years in the construction industry and at the end of every day I could stand back and say "I did that!"  A foundation or laid a floor, built some cabinets or hung some doors.  Something and mostly a lot of things.
   I still make lists of things I want to do, a left over of old habits, but looking backwards, sometimes nothing gets scratched off the lists.  I can see too many yesterdays where I accomplished nothing at all.  It takes some adjustment in retirement to realize that this is OK.  Puttering about becomes a legitimate thing to do for retired people, but it is not as easy as it seems.  We still like to be useful and have not lost our desire to be needed.
50 Roses and 100 leaves in 24 feet
   I have developed over the years the hobby of gardening.  It is fairly inexpensive and produces abundance with a little sustained effort.  I can radically alter this little third acre starting from little seeds in my greenhouse, nurtured, transplanted and growing to seven feet tall in a single season or huge masses of flowers in my various pots.  In retirement I appreciate my home more than ever and recently replaced the roof, now a no worry for the next thirty years!  This summer I will paint the house. Another worry scratched off my list.
 24' of rose railings completed yesterday!
   From time to time I do get a "job", a client wanting something from me.  It is a thrill for me to still be able to do this.  I "have work to do," a temporary change back to the old clock, the one with working hours in it.  It is a human condition I think.  We like to work.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Tomatoes are UP!

 this is from last year
Three years ago when I had Cancer and was under going chemo-therapy (chemo-torture!) I still planted tomatoes.  I planted them last weekend and they are up already, a beginning of their life and a milestone in mine.  I have planted a garden every single year since I was about twelve years old and saved tomato seeds from previous seasons for about the last 20 years.  I use Heritage seeds and prefer the darker varieties, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim and other varieties that you can't get at the store.
Store bought tomatoes have the taste and texture of apples compared to the home grown varieties.
They are picked green and colored in a room full of gas and never allowed to naturally ripen.  A real tomato is juicy on the inside and can be smelled from across the room.  They are packed in flavor.
   One year I went a little crazy and planted 135 plants, devoted my entire garden to them.  Now I limit them to 20 to 25 plants and give the rest away to neighbors and friends.  I start about 50 to 75 in my greenhouse every year.  Mostly I dry them in a dehydrator I built about 25 years ago.  I dry  them to the consistency of potato chips and give lots of those away when I have a good season.  I like them best as a chip of tomato and a slice of cheese on a cracker offering an explosion of flavor to the pallet, but they can be used in salads and soups also, or reconstituted with balsam vinegar  and a little olive oil.
Commercial dried tomatoes are made from commercial tomatoes and are not the same thing at all.
   If you don't have a garden a tomato plant will do well in a five gallon bucket as long as you tend it and it has good composted soil.  My plants get about seven feet tall so staking them is important.  Put it in a sunny location and make holes for drainage.
   Saving seeds is easy.  Just squish them out on a paper towel and put them on a shelf to dry.  In the Spring I just tear off a seed with a piece of the towel and plant it.
I put slate over plywood where there are no windows.
   I have a great greenhouse I built about 40 years ago.  It has a concrete floor and concrete walls (concrete block would work) about three feet up.   This great foundation is why my greenhouse has lasted so long but it also acts as a heat sink and store the heat built up during the day.  I can heat my greenhouse when necessary using only a little 100 watt heater, set on low at that.  It has a big fan in the eave that turns on automatically when the temperature rises over 100 degrees which happens all the time when the sun is out, even in the winter!

I love Spring, another season, another year.  I am always after that "perfect tomato"!

You can see more of my garden HERE
Real Tomatoes!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Steel and Stone

 Stone Post, bridge, my house
 Gate to compost area
 Mixed Lettuce in Slate Planter
 My Back Yard Shop
 Fence in back yard
 Railing from the back stairs
 Not rectangular gate to firewood area
 The Bridge to my shop
 Another gate to ditch
 Gate to back yard, circles
 Curved gate beside my shop
 Another garden entry, copper and marble
Gate to ditch near studio
 Little curved gate protecting the blueberry patch.
This is my Main Garden Gate with a Trumpet vine over it. I originally made this for the Opera "Tosca" 
 A Gate with Slate in a display area
There is really a lot more to see.  I haven't even showed you the garden or greenhouse, inside my shop or my studio but this gives you some idea.  It is not a flat green back yard.  Come visit me sometime!  and here is the LINK to other jobs I have done,
I went around my little third acre yesterday taking pictures of metal work and thought I would share them with you. When I finish the projects that I am working on I will continue with my Spring clean up.  It is a process of dump runs, power washing, getting the pots planted and a major clean up.  It is beautiful all summer long well into the Fall.  The white, red and blue pots you see were once light fixtures that I re purposed from the dump.  I have about 22 of these and they make great flower pots!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Garden Gates

I wonder if "The Secret Garden" had a door?  I have three garden gates entering my garden area.  One has an arch over it with a Trumpet Vine creating the main entry.  The other is near my compost pile and the third is beside my shop next to the garden and leads to a walkway beside the garden and behind my shop.  My garden needs to be "Dog Proof" because I have a 128 pound doggy who loves to dig!
I counted the gates on my property yesterday as a client was coming by to look at them for ideas for his own gate.  I have a total of 14 and that surprised me.  There are no two the same and although they all lead somewhere their main function being to limit my dog's freedom and as samples for potential customers.  I have three dimensional gates, gate with stone incorporated into them, classical gates, modern art gates and gates made from just plain junk.  Custom garden gates can range from $200 to $800 to create and I suppose even more if I were to add some gold.
A fun gate with a lady picking roses!
   Gates could be less expensive if I could make them in advance and keep them available for purchase but it doesn't work that way.  Most people set the posts first and then go shopping for a gate.  They never fit requiring custom work.  If they were to buy a gate first and then set the posts to match the gate it would be a lot easier!
     Maybe tomorrow I will post photos of all my gates?
Here is a link to my WebSite for more gates and garden ideas

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Selling your work

I am sometimes asked how I go about selling my work so I thought I would write it down.
I make different kinds of art for different circumstances and differing clients.  A lot of it is useful art, art in a gate or trellis or railings that involves client interaction.  I need to see where these projects will end up in order to design them appropriately and the clients should visit my studio and gardens to see what kind of projects I create.  On a big job this can mean several visits, a lot of back and forth with the client.
   Sometimes I make Art things with no client in mind or I will make gallery pieces and find a home for them through retail stores or Art Galleries.  It is like the old days, a miniature version of a "spec home"!
I build it and hope it will sell.
   I usually visit a retail store or gallery first in order to see what they are "missing" and they are always missing something.  I just have to discover it.  There is always an empty wall or something should be taller, something "heavy" here or "light" there, a color or shape.  Sometimes what they are "missing" is a method to display something else and I can fill that niche.  Gallery pricing is always interesting.  They have bills to pay and make their money off of commissions, normally 30 to 50 percent and allowing for this needs to be included in the price.  In order not to compete with the gallery, if I put an item in a gallery I never reduce the price.  Galleries are not interested in 50% commission on a $40 item so I make nice things and charge a lot more.  The low end is about $250-$400 and I have had pieces in the $3,000 range also.  Galleries like big show stopping pieces.

   It is really important to visit the gallery or retail establishment first.  I never talk to anyone then, just go as a tourist and look around.  See what type of stuff they like and where my pieces might fit and look at the prices.
   I have often been to places where I wouldn't want my art pieces.  The trick is to find a place where you really want to be and then create something they have to have.  That is part of the fun.
   Selling out of my backyard is pretty easy although it is not always easy to get people to visit me.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Daylight Saving Time

Can you believe it?  Congress has done it again, more Daylight Saving Time in the midst of Global Warming, more sunshine just when the Earth is at its warmest in over 4,000 years!  Duh! Wouldn't an extra hour of evening make more sense?  Or maybe an extra hour of sun during the Winter would be better?  Who pays these bills anyway?  It must be expensive to keep the Sun alight for an extra hour every day!  Wasting energy.  We should be conserving Sunlight for a time when we really need it.
Using up our children's inheritance, there we go again.  Maybe next year they will get some sense and declare two hours of darkness in the middle of the day.  That would help, I know.  Congress just doesn't have any sense.
I am in my shop today with the lights on so the sunshine and nice day will be wasted on me.  I am working on a series of railings (a Job, oh Boy!). Each railing has an arch and a center "art" section of vines and roses and lots of leaves. I will do these areas next week.  This weekend I am taking advantage of my help and churning out the frames with the bars every 4", mass production.  It will  be a nice day today, about 60 degrees and clear blue skies.  Tomorrow it is supposed to rain.  This is Oregon and we will get a few nice days but it could rain until the end of June.  The weather is getting harder and harder to predict.  Last year we had an early Spring, into the 80's in May and then the rains came, every day through June.  Crazy and hard on my tomatoes.  I got a new roof, let it rain.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


My table wasn't big enough; I had to use the floor!
It is still a couple weeks away before I can begin the tomato seeds in my greenhouse. Planted too soon they will get too big.  I am playing with my big roll of canvas.  Having a metal shop I have stretched the canvas on metal frames but now, thanks to Craigslist, I have some wooden ones.  I got a dozen wooden frames, from 16" x 20" to 36" x 48" for sixty dollars and I have enough canvas for a lifetime.
   This is so easy that I can't believe that I ever paid for a stretched canvas!  The trick is in the canvass.
Here it is, on one of my steel easels in the process of being gessoed!
Now it is ready, but I am not!

It can't be the pre primed already gessoed type. I have a five foot wide roll of plain white canvas, a little thicker than store bought canvas panels and just the raw canvas.  Basically you just fold the canvas over and from the center of each edge begin stapling.  It doesn't really have to be stretched at all, just hand tight and securely anchored with the staples.  Once you apply a coat of gesso, like any good cotton canvas it will shrink and become tight as a drum.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Mundane

Barbra is right.  I can be excited about the mundane things in life.  No one thinks much about a roof on a house but as a builder I can sense when the gutters are full of leaves and need cleaning.  I can see the moss expanding and their roots filling the spillways in the roofing, beginning to curl the shingles.  I know another season and my house will be leaking and there will be buckets everywhere.  That is a real problem, replacing Sheetrock, bagging up soggy insulation.  Replacing a worn out roof is protecting an investment but it was so much more to me.  I literally grew up in this house and admit an emotional attachment.
   Jane and I bought this house, a falling down 900 square foot structure on a large city lot in 1970 for $8,375 dollars.  I was twenty two years old, working at the cannery and going to the University of Oregon at the time. We had been renting a little 2 bedroom house behind a tavern for $85 dollars a month and they were going to tear it down to expand their parking lot so we had to move.  Average rents had gone up to a hundred dollars a month and the idea of paying someone else that much money for a place to sleep was appalling to me!  I would rather live in a shack of my own making than pay that much rent!
   Over the years the house changed.  A foundation was added, half was torn down, 2,000 square feet was added, an apartment, a little studio for my mother was built onto the back.  I have put a new roof on this house three different times.  I dug a water well by hand and the garden has changed as much as the house.  I built the world's Best greenhouse, the steel and stone bridge that crosses the ditch, then added my shop, then created my studio and office.  I built the little pool with my children and watched them being born, growing up and finally leaving this nest.
   I was a cannery worker or school teacher when I built most of this house and did it all from books.
I knew nothing about construction but lost a fear while reading about it and bought one tool at a time as the projects required.  The experience lead me into construction and that became my living for 35 years.  My house lead me to become what I was.  I have everything that I need right here and built it myself, step by step, in stages, changing as I was changing.
   To see that it needed a new roof that I was not capable of installing was painful.  Oh, the money, sure, but something done to the house that I didn't personally do?  That was the painful part.  House and me growing old!  It takes adjustment.