Reading out loud

In my life with Kaylin we’ve had very rare occasion to read anything of importance aloud to each other. We read books, but not out loud, not to each other. We listen to podcasts or music we enjoy when on road trips or relaxing around the house.

Kaylin and I are having a baby in January. In the last few months, I’ve tried to make a point of reading aloud in the evenings. All the blogs and parenting guides say it’s a great thing for soon-to-be dads to do; I’m unsure of the science, but the ritual is nice.

I started as you might expect, reading through the baby books we’ve been collecting. Several weeks ago we were traveling and failed to bring any of these books along—so I improvised.

I decided to read Shakespeare. Kaylin and I both love the Bard, having studied his works in school, read and watched many of his plays, and even visiting the Globe Theater several years ago. His work is widely published online. So, as we laid there that evening, I began reading the Sonnets out loud.

From that evening until now I’ve been reading a mix of poetry from various books; collections of early American poetry, British poets, and more Shakespeare. This weekend we started Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, an instant favorite of mine from childhood.

There will be plenty of time for Green Eggs and Ham. But, even after our newborn arrives, we’ll keep the classics in rotation. Reading out loud is a new practice in our home, one that has brought more joy than I anticipated.

I am made of bread.

Not literally, of course—unless you count my love of a good sandwich against me.

For the past year, I’ve dabbled with making sourdough bread. I’ve had very limited success until this month. My mom and I both love cooking and baking and have partnered up in this pursuit over the course of the year, fostering a new obsession.

We’ve had endless conversations about starter, bake schedules and flour—but the specifics of our bread making exploits are best suited for another post.

While baking my first successful sourdough loaf, I was reflecting on bread and its place in my life.

The successful sourdough loaf!

Some of my earliest sense memories are in a kitchen—and of bread. I can hear the distinct sound of dough being kneaded in the plastic bowl of a countertop mixer, a strange thwapping of dough synchronized with the groaning of an electric motor. The smell of dough, yeasty and rich, being baked and then cooled on the counter; that was the smell of my childhood.

This isn’t the reflection of a digital professional seeking analog creative outlets in the kitchen or the workshop (although admittedly I do both). This is a realization of why bread, and the process of making bread, define who I am today.

My sister and I are both creative souls. My mom has a constant refrain that she’s “not creative” and that she doesn’t understand how she fostered our creative traits. However, as I think about her tireless pursuit of bread baking through my entire life, it becomes clear.

There’s been much written about the intersection of obsession and creativity. In the areas where I feel most creative I know that it is often fueled by obsession. And to me it’s clear—my mom is obsessed with bread.

When I was young she got involved in a small business designed to educate public school students about bread making. She would literally box up flour, yeast, water, honey, salt, mixing bowls, stir sticks, and metal baking tins, load the minivan and head out and teach a hundred kids in a cafeteria how to mix and knead dough—and send them all home with a loaf to bake at the end of the day.

This business meant that sometimes family time was spent refilling the flour mill as it ran in the garage, converting a five gallon bucket of wheat berries into flour one scoop at a time. Other times it was spent clipping apart 3-packs of Fleischmann’s yeast and sorting them into bread making kits.

Through this bread focused business, through raising two kids, through all other things that mom, dad, and my sister and I did, the smell of fresh bread was an ever-present refrain.

Wheat bread. “Healthy” whole grain bread. Soft, fluffy oatmeal bread. Dinner rolls. Sticky buns. The occasional pizza dough or breadstick. We were never lacking for the fresh crusty stuff at home.

My mom’s obsession with bread, and its expression of love and service to our family, friends and community, have shaped me in important ways.

Being creative is a tiring, sometimes thankless job. Other times it’s delicious, fulfilling and beautiful. Creativity can be finicky, the ingredients may not always come together into something viable. Sometimes, it’s more of a dark art (sourdough) rather than a refined science (yeast). But in the end, it’s something that is deeply fulfilling to those that understand.

So yes, I am made of bread. And I learned it all from my mom.

Built-in Basement Shelves

We’ve constantly been working on our house since we moved in. Kitchen, bathrooms, paint, full basement remodel—it’s been busy.

We decided it was time to tackle a smaller project in our basement. We’ve wanted to transform an awkward space between two doors in the basement and make it useful with some built-in shelving! We’re incredibly happy with the results.

The Build

This was a pretty straight forward project. I purchased primed pine boards from Home Depot as our base material and put everything together with screws. Each screw was countersunk so it could be hidden under wood putty.

First, I mounted some rails into the studs to establish the shelf spacing.

Rails mounted into the studs. I had to avoid the outlet and the thermostat.

I worked my way up from the bottom, measuring each shelf board and front piece. Nothing is square or plumb, so each shelf is a different width.

Bottom shelf in place for a test fit.

After cut to length, the shelves and front piece were glued and pin nailed together to hold them in place while drying. Then, finished with some wood putty and sanded.

Once the shelves were all in place and secured with some screws into the back rails, all the countersunk holes were covered in wood putty and the edge and front joints were caulked to give it that really nice built-in appearance.

This is what happens when I’m left alone to style a photo.

Finishing

Years ago I built a set of shelves in a closet and finished them with a trick that I found on a carpentry forum. It’s now my go-to trick for finishing surfaces that will take some abuse, like shelves.

It’s really simple:

  1. Prime and paint your shelf boards in flat latex paint
  2. After a good painted finish is achieved, add several coats of water based polyurethane, sanding lightly with high grit sandpaper between coats.

I’ve used this for shelves, a small section wood floor in a closet and a few other small projects over the years and I love how it turns out. It’s a nice smooth finish to the touch, it’s durable and stands up to wear. And you can make the shelves match anything by using the appropriate paint color!

And that’s it! Great project, lots of room to store books… and room for toy bins below for the future.

Is this thing on?

Each new year my goal is always to “start blogging”.

I’ve had accounts with all the usual suspects—Blogger, Tumblr, Posterous, Medium and other random blogs on forgotten or defunct platforms, each with a post or two that linger in the corners of the web.

I’ve also long owned my own domain and paid for my own hosting. I’ve installed WordPress half a dozen times, tweaked themes, poked around and never committed to going live.

As the digital landscape has shifted over the years, as platforms have come and gone, as the firehose of my Twitter feed has shifted from a public conversation with friends to a way to keep tabs on everyone’s public persona interleaved between the terrifying state of US and geopolitics, I’ve found myself gravitating back to reading longer form content on blogs.

I’m remembering that I’ve long loved the content that lives in these simple, quiet corners of the internet. Crafted with thought, longer than a tweet-from-the-hip, and far less frustrating than reading through ever growing threads, blogs have found a special place in my routine once again.

So, why is the end of 2019 a time for me to contribute, to “start blogging”? It’s a strange mix personal and nerdy reasons.

On the personal side, Kaylin and I are having a baby in January. I’m anxious for a steady platform to document this crazy change to our life. I want to capture this adventure on a platform that I own and control.

On the nerdy side, I’ve simply enjoyed writing a bit more since getting my iPad Pro. The size of the device, the keyboard, and incredible writing apps like Ulysses have just made the experience of writing one that is deeply enjoyable.

I fully expect two, maybe three people to read anything I publish here. It’s mostly for me and that’s fine. But, here it is—my blog.

We’ll see what I end up sharing. I’m aways creating something, cooking something, building something. I hope that the best and most interesting things will show up here.

So, here’s to a new start, a fresh page, at the end of year. Blogging is dead, long live blogging.