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Photo from the new movie Babies. To tell you the truth, this brought tears to my eyes. The joy and trust and mirth, the light in her eyes. No translation necessary.
"Ponijao, in Africa, crawls about surrounded by a group of women, and her play mimics their daily tasks of grinding meal and preparing food."
"…Mr. Balmès and his crew set out, about three years ago, to probe a network of mysterious creatures who speak a common idiom barely comprehensible to the rest of us.…They grow, they learn, and they remind the rest of us of the astonishing power that is our common birthright. We are cast into the world as a bundle of reflexes, unable to focus our eyes, control our limbs or influence our environment in any way. Twelve months later we can walk, kiss, utter basic words and comprehend complicated utterances.…"

Orange on white

Back yard of General Store (see post of 5/02/2010)

Haunted house collage

Abandoned houses by Lisa McDonald at: http://is.gd/bORvs

Under-sink electric water heater

I've never liked electric hot water heaters, since a lot of energy is lost in transmission from the generating source. Propane or natural gas provides heat right at the source and seems a better choice. And of course, solar is king, if you've got it together. I have a solar-heated outdoor shower, but haven't got around to solar-heating all household water. I've made an exception to electric water heating with this little 2-1/2 gallon hot water heater that goes under the sink of our office kitchen. It has a switch that I turn on for maybe an hour, then turn off. The water temperature can be set with the thermostat. The tank is well insulated, so it stays hot for hours. It seems a very efficient use of electricity.
In the house, we've had a 5 gallon electric water heater under the kitchen sink for about 15 years. It's minimal in electric power usage, and doesn't waste water getting from cold to hot (in pipes coming from a more distant water heater).
And yes, I've got to get more of our water heated by the sun. It's on my list of things to do, honest.

Cabin used in movie Get Low with Robert Duvall

This is the cabin that was used in the forthcoming movie Get Low, with Robert Duvall. (See my posting of May 2, 2010, below.)
It's in the Pickett's Mill Battlefield (Civil War) Historic Site, near Marietta, Georgia. It was built nearby in the 1850s and moved to the site. It's now used for demonstrations of candle making, cooking, sewing, etc.

DIY Cargo Shipping Container Home on Stilts

"…a pair of sea-shipping containers radically converted into a single on-land dwelling. A local train yard and a few hundred dollars can buy you a few five-thousand-pound insulated metal boxes. And at that price, who would not be tempted to plan their new home around shipping container-sized units?

Paul Stankey (and family) not only bought his structural materials on the cheap, but also used simple do-it-yourself processes to construct his cargo container house step by simple step – starting with pipes to leverage the containers off of the trailer attached to his truck"

Abandoned ivy-covered house in Maryland

"…abandoned house in the small town of Sudlersville, in Queen Anne's County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, is heavily overgrown with ivy."
-from hbomb1947 the turnstile-jumper's photostream at: http://is.gd/bOR9D

The Thrashers - America's youngest rock and roll band

4th-graders (9 years old), are they cute! And they rock! Seen here at the Whiskey-a-go-go in L.A, March 20, 2010. They all met in a daycare school in Pacifica, California.

Victoria Wood Studio: Fine Gates and Passageways

Exquisite mortise and tenon joinery in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia:
"Victoria Wood Studio specializes in designing, building and installing one-of-a-kind pieces for the out-of-doors. Designer/Builder Dieuwertje von Aesch works with the people and the place to create unique gates, passageways, arbours and pergolas. She uses only clear western red cedar, a product that is native to the west coast because it works so well in its natural setting. Each piece comes with two coats of a hand rubbed finish called Naturhaus which both preserves and enhances the natural beauty of the wood."

Home on the homestead

Billy brought me a roadkill squirrel yesterday morning. I skinned it carefully, then stretched and salted down the hide. In about a week I'll ship it off to Bucks County Fur Products in Pennsylvania. They'll tan it, and 6 weeks later I'll get a soft and pliable skin back via UPS. And, if truth be told, I…er, ahem, skinned a skunk on Sunday. He'd been in the freezer for about a year. You see, I have this habit of utilizing roadkill for food and fur (there's a book titled Raising Rabbits for Food and Fur). Skunk skins are quite beautiful. The trick is to find one on the road that hasn't released its oil, and then to skin it very carefully. So I'll be shipping two skins off to Pennsylvania. My homesteading and hunting and fishing friends will understand.
Last night I had barbecued squirrel with roasted vegetables and some of Louie's red wine. Squirrel is good! There's a country song, "Why would anybody eat beef when they can have squirrel?" A beautiful clean little animal, delicate flavor.

The hills, which in summer are golden, are now a verdant, glowing green. There's a huge amount of sand in at the beach; you can almost walk across a channel to Stinson Beach at a minus tide. After all these years, I've got composting down. I have three bins, each 5 x 5 x 5 feet. the active one is cooking right now, with grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and shredded tree prunings. It's thick with worms, turning this melange into black, crumbly soil. The garden is spring-spectacular, with families of quail threading their way in and out of the vegetables.
I went eeling yesterday morning and got, as they say, "skunked." Appropriate, eh?

Below, a more civilized dish, Lesley's first paella.

82-year-old Lloyd Lewis looks 50

Article in the San Francisco Chronicle a few days ago: "Lloyd Lewis is retiring after a 30-year career as caretaker of Oakland's Feather River family camp in the northern Sierra." I couldn't believe how young Lloyd looks in this photo; he must be doing something right.
Photo by Michael Macor

How I got into building

When I was 12, I helped my Dad build a house on the outskirts of Colusa, Calif. It was a concrete block house on 440 acres he had bought and turned into a rice farm. Also, he was a serious duck hunter and it served the dual purpose of farm and duck club.
We'd leave San Francisco early Friday afternoons and work long hours Saturday and Sunday. My job was shoveling sand, gravel, and cement into a concrete mixer (which I still have, still working, 63 years later). We'd usally pick up a laborer early in the morning on the streets in Colusa, then drive the 8 miles out to the ranch. I found I could work harder than the guys we picked up; they'd usually been drinking heavily the night before. I liked the work. I got some rare praise from my Dad for working hard. I still like shoveling, although I always tried to hide this skill on construction jobs so I wouldn't end up on shovel detail.
As much as I liked shoveling, it was nothing compared to hammering. One of those memorable moments in my life: the concrete slab was finished, the block walls built (by travelling masons), grout poured in the blocks, and the walls and roof framed by Pinky Smith, a cigar-chomping carpenter who was also the leader of my Cub Scout troop. I was allowed up on the roof with a hammer and canvas apron to nail down the roof sheathing. I still remember that morning, sun shining, smell of the wood, the satisfaction of hammering nails (acuracy wasn't that important here), the thrill of creating a surface, and then walking on it. I was hooked.
My next carpentry experience was in college ('53-'54) when I got a job working summers for a shipwright on the docks in San Francisco (which used to be an actual working port instead of a tourist destination). When ships came in and the holds were loaded, we'd go in and shore up the cargo with wooden bracing so it wouldn't shift around out at sea. I got $2.50 an hour and double-time for overtime, a fortune in those days. Some times we'd work 24 straight hours and I'd get close to $100 for the day. In down time, when no ships we're in, we'd build pallets at the shipwright's yard at the foot of Hyde Street, right down from the Buena Vista bar. The Ghirardelli chocolate factory was a few blocks away and when they were cooking, the smell of chocolate filled the air. Most of the other carpenters were from Oklahoma and all of them were older than me, and I loved learning the basic carpentry skills and the camaraderie.
When it came to building my own house in the early '60s in Mill Valley, I had the basics of crude carpentry down. I never got any good at finish work, but I've alwyas loved working up to the time a building is framed and sheathed. To this day I love to shift gears and do something with wood. Making tables, fixing chairs, shaking a roof, the smell of wood, the satisfaction of creating something out of raw materials. You know, with all the changes going on in the world now, the art of building a home isn't that much different. Computers can't pour a foundation or frame a wall, or lay a floor. It's still human hands holding the tools and making the connections to provide the roof overhead.

Advice for authors from E.M. Forster

"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted. And human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect.…"
                                                                                                 -E.M. Forster, Howard's End

San Francisco with Jack on a sunny Friday afternoon

My good friend Jack Fulton is a photographer who paints with a camera. We've taken a lot of road trips together, including a 2-week sojourn to New Mexico in 1972 shooting a lot of the photos that appeared in Shelter. Wherever we go, we're both out shooting photos. Jack is constantly scanning the world. It's inspiring for me.
Friday we went into San Francisco early and wandered around in the late-afternoon sun-drenched beach neighborhood around the 4000 block of Judah. This small village includes Mollusk Surf Shop at 4500 Irving, Outerlands restaurant (fresh-baked bread, hip-beach-driftwood atmosphere, open for lunch and dinner), a block over on Irving, and Trouble Coffee a few doors down, my dream coffee shop, small, cozy, healthy vibes.
Photo by Jack Fulton of Julia and me in Trouble Coffee

Next door, the newly-opened General Store, where, in the back yard, was this perfect little greenhouse (below).  I fall in love with a building now and then, and this was one of those. Proportion, placement, used materials, it all comes together. Built by Jesse Schlesinger.

Get Low with Robert Duvall — Fantastic new film

My roommate and best friend for a couple of years at Stanford was Dick Zanuck, now the über-successful film producer (Driving Miss Daisy, Butch Cassidy, and more recently the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborative mega-filns. We've kept in touch over the years and he knows I like the film work of his son Dean (who produced Road to Perdition in 2002), so last week he sent me two tickets to an advance screening of Dean's latest movie, Get Low with Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek. (I mean, how could you go wrong?) My friend Jack Fulton and I went. It was at the grand old Castro Theater in San Francisco. Before the screening, Duvall answered questions for maybe 45 minutes. His favorite role of all time was in the TV series Lonesome Dove; he said he walked into the makeup room on the Lonesome Dove set and said, "Boys, we're making the Godfather of westerns," He considers the first two Godfathers masterpieces. Asked how do you get into all these different roles, he said, you have to know yourself.
Photo: Director Aaron Schneider, producer Dean Zanuck and actor/producer Robert Duvall
He must know himself pretty well, because he gives a brilliant performance in this wonderful movie. It opens July 30 and you can see a trailer at: http://is.gd/bRlaz
It's a great script, wonderful acting, set in 1930s Tennessee. Duvall's log cabin is a beauty, with a stone fireplace; inside wide horizontal planks, orange glow from kerosene lanterns and flickering fireplace flames. Just lovely throughout. Bill and Sissy are perfect. Duvall' is a 100% Academy Award performance, powerful, nuanced, and I hope the fact that this is a low-budget film without big-bucks backing doesn't stop him from being nominated.

Here's to guys who make movies from the heart.

Great blog from British Columbia

"In the US these houses are sometimes referred to as “Big Sur vernacular,” but usually here on the west coast of Canada we just call them handmade or handbuilt houses, vernacular architecture, or hippie houses. They’re pretty common in British Columbia, most famously on the Gulf Islands between mainland Vancouver and Vancouver Island, but they exist everywhere. This particular house was built by hand in sections beginning in the late 60s, on a dry granite hill just above a lake. The piece of land was cheap at the time, and the house was built for almost nothing. The owners were artists at the time and had virtually no budget, so most of the materials were salvaged or bartered, and since the place was built with the help of friends there were almost no labour costs.…
One of the best things about the house is its smell. The milled cedar boards that clad almost all of the walls give off a kind of perfume. I’ve never been in a city house that smells that way, though I guess it’s possible.…"
Blogger Lindsay asks that no one re-posts this photo or any from her blog, due to the privacy desires of the owner/builders. (She gave us special permission.)