A Halloween Mouth of Truth

We are lucky to live on a block with a lot of friendly, creative people. Last year on Halloween, two of our neighbors did an elaborate Mount Olympus/Hades themed candy giveaway, while another, a professional DJ, turned on all his professional lighting equipment and smoke machines in addition to a full laser light show. This year all of these attractions returned with the addition of a new contribution from Kelly: a candy dispensing Mouth of Truth.

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The original Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verità) is a first century fountain or manhole cover on display in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. A folk tradition holds that if you stick your hand in the mouth you have to tell the truth or else your hand will be bitten off. The Mouth of Truth had its fifteen minutes of fame back in 1953 when it was featured in the Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck movie Roman Holiday.

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Kelly’s Mouth of Truth remix featured a puppet tongue that alternately gave candy and tugged on kid’s hands. It was a big hit. We had huge crowds and gave up around 9 pm after serving approximately 300 delighted customers (and two completely terrified toddlers).

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Zeus put down his cardboard thunderbolt and took a break from handing out candy two doors down at Mount Olympus to visit the Mouth of Truth.

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Our friend John donned his cat suit and acted as Mouth of Truth interpreter, explaining the the concept to the many hundreds of costumed kids.

img_1842Kelly donned a witch’s hat, in spite of the fact that she was out of view the whole evening performing the arduous task of tongue puppetry for three hours. I dispensed cheese, crackers and cocktails to visiting adults in the adjoining garage.

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John suggested that, next year, we create a giant candy dispensing Zardoz head as a tribute to this nearly unwatchable “so bad it’s good” 1974 Sean Connery science fiction vehicle.

zardoz-21No, I will not to wear Sean Connery’s Zardoz costume.

Zardoz costume aside, the fun that Halloween provides really helps get to know neighbors. We need more festivals in our lives like this, where we take a break from day to day concerns and work together, on the neighborhood level, to create space for joy and unity.

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Shedcropolis: A Garden Shed Made From (Mostly) Salvaged Materials

sideviewKelly requested a small shed to keep our garden tools, pots and fertilizer. I was not satisfied with either the small and ugly plastic storage structures nor the large, fake barn-like sheds available at the big box stores so I vowed to build my own. In a September blog post I wrote about my eccentric design process. Today, I’m declaring the world’s most pretentious garden shed, a.k.a. “Shedcropolis,” finished.

fencinggripFor materials, I sourced salvaged 2x4s and a window from the ReUse People of America. I finished the interior wall with pegboard from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Two doors found on the street got incorporated into the project. I even managed to turn a fencing grip into a door handle. The only things I needed to purchase at the big orange store were a few 2x6s, some plywood, metal roofing material and siding. If I had been a little more patient I could have sourced the Hardie board siding when it showed up at the ReStore a week later.

frontviewHow I got the columns is a funny story. We live on a hill and I enjoy watching house remodeling projects going on in the neighborhood through a pair of binoculars that I keep next to the door. One day I was watching the transformation of a run-down bungalow into a posh pad for Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki, the cinematographer of The Revenant, Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men among other superb films. I just happened to witness the workers ripping the old columns off the porch. I immediately jumped in the car and drove over. The workers were more than happy to give me the columns as it saved them space in their dumpster. If I were one of those east coast reporters who drop into LA to write up a stereotype-heavy article I’d have to note my shed’s “celebrity columns.”

Or maybe I should call the shed “Chivocropolis.” But then we’d have to get goats.

A Cheap and Easy DIY Sewing Cutting Table

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Kelly, tired of hunching over the floor while she works on sewing her uniform, asked me to make a cutting table for her tiny sewing room, which is located in a vintage 1920s shed in our backyard. Using the Garden Fork TV ethos, “done is better than perfect,” plus a time limit of one day, I set to the task.

Cutting table dimensions
A cutting table should be just a bit lower than your palm when your elbow is bent at 90 degrees. Architectural Graphics Standards suggests that work tables be in the 36-inch to 38-inch range. My parents met in a club for tall people and Kelly’s dad played basketball in college which means that work table height around our compound needs to be higher. I ended up going with 36 inches, since that’s the size of the bathroom cabinets I scavenged for the project. I may end up raising the table, at some point, when I’m in less of a hurry to get things done.

Opinions about width and length for cutting tables vary in the sewing community. At minimum, a cutting table should be at least 3 feet by 6 feet. Slightly wider and longer would be better but there’s not enough room in Kelly’s 10 by 12-foot shed.

cheapandeasyMaking a cheap and easy work table
When I built my workshop I discovered a formula for creating work surfaces. I used a similar process to make the cutting table.

Step one: go to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore or ReUse People of America and find two or more matching kitchen or bathroom cabinets.

Step two: get a sheet of melamine at the big orange store.

Step three: cut the sheet of melamine to size. To do that I bought a plywood blade for my circular saw (I don’t own a table saw). I clamped a scrap of plywood to the board as a guide and ran piece of masking tape along where the cut to prevent chipping. You could also get the lumber yard to do this for you.

Step four: attach the melamine to the cabinets with screws.

Step five: Apply iron-on edging tape to the melamine to cover the edges.

Step six: Pop open a beverage of your choice and call it a day.

Look closely and you’ll see that Kelly’s cutting table also accommodates 20 gallons of emergency water since that’s how she rolls.

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Designing the World’s Most Pretentious Garden Shed

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The new garden shed, under construction.

At the very top of my “honey-do” list is a much needed garden shed to store tools, pots, fertilizer and chicken feed. After years of dragging my heels for years, the project went from napkin sketch to construction in under a week.

I set as my goal to build the world’s most pretentious garden shed and, as much as possible, to use salvaged materials. Yes, I’m crazy. I have to admit that when British hedge fund manager Crispen Odey tried to build a $250,000 neo-classical chicken coop at the height of the 2008 economic crisis I couldn’t help but admire the design.

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For ideas I thumbed through a coffee table book of 18th century French revolutionary architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s oddball sketches But fabricating a waterproof sphere from used headboards and pallets is beyond my carpentry abilities. Nevertheless, I came up with a few scribbles:

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Thankfully, most of my thoughtstylings stay in the sketchbook like the idea of a 20-foot tall observation chair on top of the shed. Kelly pointed out that the neighbors might not like that idea.

After dashing off a few sketches I created a Pinterest board to gather more notions, mostly from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden, Little Sparta:
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The garden shed design I settled on is a kind of mashup of Ian Hamilton Finlay and the front of an “airplane” bungalow (a common type of house in our neighborhood).

Next it was time to put the idea into Sketchup. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sketchup rocks. All DIYers should know how to use it. With Sketchup I was able to come up with a framing plan that allowed me to cut all the pieces out of the hot sun in the comfort of my garage workshop. Then I just had to carry my stack of pre-cut lumber up the hill and hammer it together.

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Another goal of mine was not to hoard materials ahead of time. I’ve been aided by two great resources, Reuse People of America and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They both hoard materials so you don’t have to. Those two resources have kept me mostly out of the big orange store. And all of the doors I needed came from the street.

I’ll post an update and maybe even a video tour when I finish construction. Rents are so high in our neighborhood that Kelly and I might just move into the shed and rent out the house!

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Sundials

Sundial Print: Umbra Solis 1975 Ian Hamilton Finlay 1925-2006 Bequeathed by David Brown in memory of Mrs Liza Brown 2003 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P11953

Sundial Print: Umbra Solis 1975 Ian Hamilton Finlay 1925-2006.

On my long bucket list is the construction of a Root Simple sundial. Towards that end I’ve begun a short Sundial Pinterest board that, as of today, is entirely made up of Ian Hamilton Finlay sundials. Finlay’s poetry, art and gardening deserves greater recognition. The print of one of his sundials, above, is a clever meditation/pun on the distinction between the map and the territory.

You can own an original Finlay print for a modest sum. The perfect gift for the gardener in your life!