Sunday, May 31, 2009

Coulda shoulda listened to my wife

While taking my new used Virago for our first two-hour journey together (we have to do a bit of bonding before I can say it’s my favourite bike in the entire universe) the fresh breeze found its way through every article of my clothing and cooled me to the bone.

["We have to do a bit of bonding": photo GAH]

Sure, I’ll survive. And my wife has been kind enough not to remind me that she told me I should wear longjohns before I left.

“The wind is colder than you think,” she said.

“No, I’ll be fine.”

By the time I was two miles out of town I knew I wouldn’t be fine.

I thought, shoulda listened to your wife, Gordie. Coulda. You’d better steer toward a diner for coffee.

And I did. And the hot coffee and refill warmed me up. And tasted great.

And the 30 minute stop gave me time to jot down several ideas under the heading ‘what to do with 3 ft. long pieces of cedar posts that arrived last night.’

An hour later, after one more stop in Port Bruce to warm up my bones, I turned around and headed into the wind and toward home.

["Chilly day at Port Bruce": photo GAH]

Though my hands were like bricks by the time I got home they’ll be warm enough to undo the lock to my workshop in a few more minutes. [Cedar posts equal birdhouses and bowls].

Next time my wife mentions longjohns they’ll be hiding under my jeans.


Have you been in a coulda shoulda situation recently?


Saturday, May 30, 2009

It’s funny how things work out sometimes

Dear Lisa,

When I met you the first time, I thought, you look like a person with a fine sense of humor.

So you’ll find this funny, I’m sure.

After you stopped in at my recent birdhouse sale and saw my version of the Rietveld chair on the front lawn, you not only bought a birdhouse (and a couple of other things - you're so generous with your money too) but later ordered two chairs, and I’m completely happy about those transactions.

["Gord's version of the Rietveld crate chair, circa 1937": photo GAH]

Well, the lumber is here for the chairs, all my tools are prepped, your deadline for chairs is 3 weeks away - I don’t feel rushed at all - and the weather is perfect for working in my shop, and for taking the occasional break to tend my garden right outside the shop door.

But a funny thing has happened.

Two days ago, while purchasing a can of oil and a filter for my 1984 Yamaha motorcycle, I just happened to spot - out of the ever-watchful corner of my eye - a glistening newer version of my bike, a 1994 model with even fewer miles on it than mine, and the price was definitely right... and guess what?

Oh, yeah. I bought it all right. (Birdhouse season has been good to me. And add in the chairs... you get my drift.)

["The 'new' 1994 Yamaha Virago": photo GAH]

The bike runs so well, and the weather is... well, you already know about the weather.

So, I may be asking for an extension on that deadline. And it’s the first time I’ve ever felt I’ve had to do that.

Funny, eh?



PS Lisa, if you hear a bike zipping past your place in about two minutes, that will be me.


Is it any wonder there are days I don't get much done around here?


Thursday, May 28, 2009

I’m caught in the circa circa circuit

I finished my last birdhouse for the season recently (unless someone says, “I’ll buy the lot - and 20 more.” Then I’ll build 20 more).

["A J.R. knock-off": photo GAH]

The last one was a knock-off of a J.R. Davidson model, circa 1945, and while selling a few houses recently from a display on my front lawn, a client asked a question that has led to more work in the wee shed.

[I say 'client' because it makes me sound like a working professional - and I was hoping she'd buy something!]

Lisa asked, “Is your chair for sale?”

Why yes it is, I thought. I can make more. My scrap lumber pile is pretty high right now. Got a million dollars?

["My version of a crate chair, circa 1937": photo GAH]

I said, “Yes, I’d sell it.”

She asked how much and I gave a price and she said that if I was selling them in the Muskokas I’d make a fortune and, though I liked the sound of that, I don’t want to be a large scale builder.

[Really. My shop would get too dusty. My motorcycle would sit idle too often. My mind and body would rebel at the prospect of too much work. I'd whine. I’d get tired and have to sit down and if I sold my chair I’d be right out of luck. I'd whine some more.]

Lisa liked the price and design (my version of a G. Rietveld crate chair, circa 1937) and subsequently placed an order for a matching pair.

She lives in the neighbourhood, circa 1930, and believes they’ll look great on her porch.

As for me, circa 1949, I have to agree with her.

Busy times ahead in the workshop.


Click here for photos and auction prices of Rietveld chairs.

How much should I charge for mine?

Is a million bucks a bit too high?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ollie never misses when he pees in my garden

Grandson Ollie visited my workshop yesterday on one of the busiest days of the year.

In fact, when we took a break and walked to The Village for a coffee and freezie pop I told a Roaster regular I was busy busy and couldn’t stop to chat.

[After several weeks of preparing birdhouses for a local craft sale (Gathering on the Green, June 6th; US and UK visitors - 10% off; book your flights now) the shop needed a good clean out. Dust was to the ceiling but I kept at it until the place shone like new. And though my vacuum sucked two palm chisels out of a rack (note to self - don’t toss the dust until you sift the contents) I can breathe again - and I found my car keys!]

["US and UK visitors - 10% off": photo GAH]

The shop is now so tidy grandson Ollie has claimed it as his playhouse.

He enjoys sweeping the floor with a small broom, rearranging scraps of wood in my outbox and running in and out dozens of times with a supply of energy as great as my supply of scrap lumber.

My two and a half year old mate has visited so often lately I can now tell when he has to pee. And busy or not, his training is more important than finishing my screen door project.

So, out we go to the wooden walkway (neatly swept) at the edge of the garden, strike the pose, and before you can say Pepto Bismol he’s watered my Brussel sprouts.

["This way to the Brssel sprouts": photo GAH]

Sometimes he waters his running shoes at the same time - but he’s young yet.

And though I know he’ll soon get the hang of it I worry a bit about my sprouts.

Fortunately, harvest time is a long way off.


In case you’re wondering, the answer is no. I don’t pee in the garden.

Behind the blue spruce? That’s another matter.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Zoom w a View: Rustic birdhouses from Gord's wee workshop

Besides building knock-offs of the J. R. Davidson design (circa 1945; see post below, then top photo in right-hand margin) I’ve come up with a few of my own.

Anyone who has been inside my wee shop will think, I bet they'll be tiny... made from scrap lumber... and dusty.

Oh, they'd be so wrong.

Okay, my birdhouses are usually small but so are the tenants.

Made from scrap? Certainly - that's rule number one.

["Watch your fingers while making narrow cuts e.g. roof planks": photo GAH]

Dusty? I admit, I get dusty (I'm a bit crusty too sometimes - until laundry day) but dusty is such a relative term.

I'd rather say the birdhouses are bits of wood craft.

(Maybe even on their way to becoming folk art, sought after by enthusiasts willing to pay any price!! Sorry, I digress).

Definitely rustic.

I say rustic because the faces are made from century old barnboard, and I definitely grew more gray hair while cutting thin strips of roofing material on my table saw.

[Always make sure you know where your fingers are, and raise the saw blade only about 1/16 inch higher than the wood you’re cutting. Always).

Time well spent? Hopefully, a few birds will think so.


Do you have a birdhouse in your yard?

I’d like to see a photo, if you have time to send one along.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

I googled 'birdhouses' - so I'll be busy for awhile

Two weeks ago, while showing my sister-in-law a few of my brilliant birdhouse designs, she and I came to the conclusion that I should write a book about my journey through the land of scrap lumber and feathered friends.

Interesting book titles followed on the tail of our brief discussion.

Build It And They Will Nest

Birdhouses, Scrap Lumber and a Long Learning Curve

Yes, It's Me Under All The Sawdust

Then I thought, maybe I should look for a few other designs so I look like I actually know what I'm doing.

So, I googled 'birdhouses.'

My gosh. There are millions of articles, websites, designs and images. If I made one copy of all the ones I liked I'd never leave my workshop. When I said as much to my wife she appeared delighted at the news.

Below is the favourite design I've found to date. I tip my hat to J. R. Davidson, who used teak and 1/4 inch aluminum as materials, provided a bottom clean out, circa 1945. [Click here for details]

My version of his design is at the top of the right-hand margin. Cedar scrap. Top comes off for clean out. Circa last week.

'Nough said. Back to the workshop (only 'til supper time, Dear).


Some older designs of birdhouses, homes, bikes, cars, toasters etc. sure stand up to the test of time, don't they?

Do you have something from the 1940s that just looks or feels right?

Let me know.




Monday, May 11, 2009

It Strikes Me Funny: Going off the air

Due to unforeseen circumstances

(my blog brokke)

and technological problemmms that are way

way over my head

(I can't fix it... can't fix)

I'm going off the ai

4 now...

Many thanks to readers

for comments and informative, friendly and enjoyable contacts.

As far as I kno

my wekly colm will stil b @



Friday, May 8, 2009

For third day, not up to snuff

FYI to readers:

Several features attached to my blog are not working properly, and I don't think it's my fault.

Many other things are, i.e. related to content, but not the following:

I cannot post with images or links., labels, bold text etc.

Drat. And I have a great 'century birdhouse' to show you!!

I cannot use labels or bold and italic text.

Stink. How will I emphasize my BIG, IMPORTANT MESSAGES??

And, I cannot respond to your comments.

Believe me, i want to, but I can't.

E.g., I wanted to tell Jane, of Gaston Studio, that I borrowed a line from one of her comments for my latest column.

See for full details.

So, there's obviously something fishy going on in the blog world - and, as usual, I missed the memo.

To top it all off, I can't find my car keys.


Wait 'til you see the century birdhouse.

Have you seen my keys?


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons learned from our mothers have legs

Mother’s Day is approaching and may have influenced recent posts and questions.

E.g., I asked for lessons readers learned from their mother and received the following:

My mother always said, “Be happy with what you have, you don't always need bigger, better, or more.” Bert

I think that’s a fine lesson to remember and is related to ‘money won’t buy happiness.’ It’s also true that happiness won’t buy you money, but who among us would trade our happiness for cash?

Twinkelydots recalls these words of advice from her Mom:

"Learn to play bridge. It will help you get into better social circles.” And, “Cutting off your hair shows a sign of maturity."

I like the short hair idea, though my maturity lags behind a bit - at times. Only at times.

Twinkelydots still doesn’t play bridge but sounds like she's doing just fine without it.

BTW. Coming from a small town, I never saw bridge being played until I became a school teacher. I quickly thought, it isn’t for me. Too many cards to think about.

And Kathleen wrote the following (among other things):

“Make a place in your house that is just for you. A place where no one else can come unless you invite them.”

I have my workshop, but the door is always open.

For one thing, Ollie needs to learn how to use a hamma, as he calls it.


Readers, thanks for the comments. I may expand on this topic at a later date, because father’s give lots of advice too, don’t they?


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Local birdhouse maker has new work plan for his shop

In 2008 I made and sold many birdhouses, put gas in my motorcycle with the proceeds - and life was good.

This year, however, I’ve come up with a new plan based on something I’ve learned about birdhouses recently.

I’ve discovered that the more trim I attach, the more fanciful the design, the more money I can charge per unit. (Per unit is an important business term, so you may already see where my mind is going).

In other words, I could, in a business-like way, make fewer units, but make a lot more money. Or heaps.


So, the new plan?

I’m going to work toward making the smallest number possible for the highest amount of money, kind of like the way some high-end, gated subdivisions are going here in town.

Maybe I can get to one huge birdhouse per year for one million dollars.

Birds like jacuzzis, right?


Good plan?


Lessons learned from our mothers create conflict

For the sake of readers with sensitive ears, I left a harsh line out of my most recent column (‘Sometimes history - and mothers - get it right’).

[ ]

I made the point that our mothers have good advice (re living small) and used a quote (almost all of it) from Bert, a gentleman raised on a farm near Wingham.

He wrote: “My mother always said ‘be happy with what you have, you don't always need bigger, better, or more,’ and to this day I’ve always lived that way. My son lives by the same motto, and we are quite happy.”

Okay, time to fess up. I snipped out a piece thanks to the miracle of modern technology (the delete button on my keyboard).

Bert’s original email went like this: “My son lives by the same motto. According to many people we are couple of weirdoes, in my opinion they can go to hell. We are quite happy.”

I left some of that out because I think a mother’s advice to do more with less etc. is becoming more acceptable now, especially during hard times (e.g., in cities where budgets or city coffers are over-stretched), and the fair people of Wingham will soon settle down, accept a live small philosophy more fully, and live in peace and tranquility.

So, that’ll be enough of the weirdoes and go to hell business, eh?


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I bought it just to throw away but when the time came...

I laugh sometimes at my frugality (frugality being a polite way of saying I still have the first dollar I ever earned and you’re not getting it).

While preparing for the 2005 Boston Marathon I was told I’d need to buy some throw-away clothes.

Not in the habit of buying clothes just to toss out a window, I asked why.

“The buses that take you to the start line leave early, and the race doesn’t start until noon. So, you’ll be sitting around a long time. It can get cold.”

["Throw-away? What's a throw-away?": photo GAH]

I grasped the idea that I’d need warm ‘waiting around’ clothes, but why throw them away?

“Once you’re called to the start line you might not have time to take your extra clothes back to the bus. And thousands of people choke every street. Just throw them away.”

(What, the people? No, the clothes).

It made sense, to a degree, and it was nice to hear that a charitable organization cleaned up the route afterwards and donated all the throw-away clothes to a worthy cause.

So, I bought a lovely, warm, hooded, throw-away sweatshirt, got to the start line at 8 a.m., waited, waited, took several pee breaks, warmed-up, tried to snooze, was interviewed for the Jay Leno Tonight Show by Bobby from The Sopranos (my clip ended up on the editing room floor), and... because I had a marathoner’s speed, strength and stamina and knew exactly where my bus was parked, I took a little side trip before I was called to the start line.

The hooded sweatshirt is now an important part of my tasteful workshop ensemble.

It’s always dusty, but there ain’t no dust on me.


Favourite used purchases have legs... and save money

I love my new used Levis ($15) because they fit me right off the rack and had the appropriate number of legs.

I won’t ask for more from the folks who stock the racks at Value Village.

["Another fav 'used' LP. Bob was more expensive."]

Recently, however, I did ask others what their favourite used purchase is, and got the following replies:

“My favorite used purchase is a barberry raincoat I picked up at a thrift store for $5! It's in excellent shape, fits perfectly and I didn't have to spend tons of money to replace my old one.” Jane at Gaston Studio

“Last winter I bought a NEW LL Bean wool cardigan for $8, in the catalog it's $79!” Joycee at granny mountain

“I am a big thrift store shopper. It's how I stock half of my store.” twinkelydots at 2009: A Year of Cleansing

“Everything I own is from a thrift store--Value-Village of ARC of Hennepin County. It would be pretty hard to to come up with one thing.” Kathleen, Easy For Me To Say

I sense some real enthusiasm here!

Funny, I've never felt the same about a new pair of jeans or TV.

Why is that?


Check out their sites; you might like hanging out with people of like mind as much as I do.


Monday, May 4, 2009

How does that song go again?

Was it called 'The Name Game?

I tried to get Ollie to laugh while I was pushing his swing and singing:

"Ollie, Ollie, good golly,
Banana-fanna O-Follie,
I like your Nanna,

Nothing. He just looked away.

["What's that over there?": photo GAH]

I tried again when Ollie was on a slide.

He said, "Give it up, Pappa."

How does it go again?


Top Ten Favourite Things I bought 'used'

Can you beat this top ten list for total excitement and overall value?

I think you’d have to work awful darn hard.

You’d also have to be willing to wear other people’s clothing (after they’re done), own a car that stops at yard sales, have a nose that smells ‘true value’ and be born with the reduce - reuse - recycle gene.

(Not everybody has that gene, you know).

So, stop and compare.

[As far as memory serves, the first three are my most recent bargains].

Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America - $4 - flea market

Levis - $15 - Village of Values

Montreal Canadiens jersey - $5 - Village of Values

Model VW van - $2 - Ingersoll flea market

LP album (Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited) - The Village Idiot - $10

Three-quarter size Norman guitar - from my mother-in-law - $100

Beatles CD (Abbey Road) - Dr. Disc - $4

1984 Yamaha Virago 1000cc motorcycle - Lightning Sports - $2,995

Denim jacket - Village of Values - $7 (for motorcycle rides)

Brown leather jacket - Value of Villages - $10 (for more motorcycle rides)


Can you beat my list? Top ten favourites for under $3,152?

If you don’t include a motorcycle you should have a chance!


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Prose: Childhood Memories - Thin times in a small town

thin times in a small town

where did she find
the money, that young mother
of mine, for the brand new
red CCM bicycle for
my birthday?

my brother and three sisters
never thought or felt
our family was poor.
but we knew -
if we wanted something -
we had better be prepared
to work for it.

God, what a good lesson
to learn as a young boy.

My dad had me try
one or two used bikes.
Tim Body’s didn’t fit me well
and it was hard to pedal.
I would have worked hard
for something better.

But, on my birthday,
after opening a few presents,
my mother told me
I wasn’t done yet
and said I should look
behind a tall bookcase
that hid the front door
from where I stood.

I looked and,
quite unexpectedly,
fell in love with
a new red bike.



I lovingly tip my hat

to the wee girl whose father died young,
and who never had her own new red bike.


Zoom w a View: From a front porch on Cathcart St.

Since the first day of spring there have only been a few mornings warm enough for me to sit on the front porch in pajamas, coffee in one hand, camera in the other.

The blossoms on the apricot tree are gone, buds are opening, and I predict a bumper crop.

Our fir tree, at 15 years old, always catches my eye on a sunny morning.


Do you have views from your porch? Priceless at times, eh?


If Gary Thorne sat on a hot stove, would you?

Right off the top, my apologies to Gary, one of my childhood friends from the village of Norwich, Ontario.

He came to mind when I added a few of the lessons I learned from my mother to my next column).

Many years ago, when she spotted me following some new trend, or I asked to buy a new toy because somebody else just got one, or I wanted to do something other than what she wanted, she used to say, “If Gary Thorne sat on a hot stove, would you?”

Geez, one time, all I wanted to do was wear my shirt with the top two buttons undone.

How did we get stuck on a hot stove?

(Trust me. I had some confused feelings at times. 1959 was a particularly whacky year, but that’s another story).

["My secret's out. I love used jeans.": photo GAH]

Now that I’m older I get what she was saying.

And, no, I wouldn’t sit on a hot stove if Gary did.

I’d say, “Get off the stove, eh. You’ll ruin your jeans, and a new pair of Levis aren’t cheap.”

Then I’d go on to say, if his pants were ruined, that he could buy good used jeans for $10 - 15 at Valu-Village.

“You buy used jeans?” he’d say.

“Sure. No more of this keeping up with the Thornes for me.”


Tell me about a lesson you learned from your mother.

And what is your favourite "used" purchase?

My Levis are in the top five right now.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Carbon Shift sounds like another heavy read

While working on a few birdhouses in the shed last week I listened to an interview between a CBC Radio host and Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of The Upside of Down.

Mr. Homer-Dixon was promoting his latest work, Carbon Shift.

I looked it up online @ Random House. The following two quotes and short blurbs were featured:

“We are now so abusing the Earth that it may rise and move back to the hot state it was in fifty-five million years ago, and if it does, most of us, and our descendants, will die.”

—James Lovelock, leading climate expert and author of The Revenge of Gaia

“I don’t see why people are so worried about global warming destroying the planet — peak oil will take care of that.”

Matthew Simmons, energy investment banker and author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy

The blurb - 
The twin crises of climate change and peaking oil production are converging on us. If they are not to cook the planet and topple our civilization, we will need informed and decisive policies, clear-sighted innovation, and a lucid understanding of what is at stake. We will need to know where we stand, and which direction we should start out in. These are the questions Carbon Shift addresses.

Another heavy read, eh? I think if I finish a few pages per night while riding my exercise bike I should be done by August.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Latest poll reveals a shift toward smaller lifestyles

I’ll make this snappy - you heard it here first.

Unless you were listening to CBC Radio Canada yesterday and heard the short clip about people adopting new spending attitudes and dialing back their lifestyles - with a positive view to the future.

Since the recession is adjusting our materialistic attitudes faster than, David Suzuki, Al Gore, the Green movement, Elizabeth May and our last credit card statements rolled into one - with very good results for people and the planet - I think it’s time for a name change for the era in which we live.

Recession (even deep fried) is so yesterday.

[Age of reason?"]

I’m looking for examples or suggestions.

The Age of Austerity? Too austere.

Era of Frugality? Lousy sound bite. The media would revolt.

Age of Reason? Very good... but taken.

Period of Practicality? Practical... but too many syllables.

So, grab your dictionary and thesaurus (warning - this is not another example - I’ve moved on) and send me your ideas. Something upbeat.

And snappy. We all like snappy.


Saving up big bucks for my next new book

It has taken me more than two months to finish reading The Upside of Down, by Thomas Homer-Dixon.

Am I slow reader?

Ummm, maybe. But... I'm also easily distracted.

I read a lot while riding my exercise bike and occasionally flip on the TV or pick up something lighter and take a mental break (Upside is heavy going, especially the Down part).

Once in awhile I pick up a motorcycle magazine or travelogue to make me feel like I’m actually traveling somewhere while pedaling a stationary bike. Hey, a guy must have his dreams. And I bet I’m not alone in this practice.

I finished just in time too.

["Finished reading. I can now sing for dessert!" GAH]

Homer-Dixon is now promoting his latest effort, Carbon Shift: How the Twin Crises of Oil Depletion and Climate Change Will Define the Future.

Sounds like another heavy one.

Just reading the title took 30 seconds.

See you in two months!


You now have the answer to yesterday’s pop quiz.