Category Archives: home

Planter box, sub-irrigated

Sub-irrigated planter box on wheels

Our yard isn’t ideal for growing. In the morning, the house casts a shadow. On a sunny day, the awning that keeps our sun porch from boiling casts a shadow. The tree casts a shadow in the afternoon. The grill stands in the way of conveniently working on one strip. So if I wanted the kids to enjoy gardening, I needed something accessible and sunny.

Enter the planter box. After plenty of reading and research, I found AlboPepper’s sub-irrigated planter, 30 minutes of clear instructions and a system that was self-contained. (Most others stood on soil, which I didn’t want, given that our lawn is so small the kids can barely play ball on it.)

I planned to modify his plan to include caster wheels to make the box movable on our patio, and the size of my box would be that of the standard European shipping pallet, 80 by 120 cm (32 by 48 inches). Getting the shipping pallet with frame was the easiest part: I got it used for 6 francs. And then it sat in our sun porch for a long time…

Finally, I sat down and did math, calculating the total length of my 10 cm corrugated drainage pipe and the total volume of soil I’d need, as well as the dimensions of the pond liner that would keep the wood from getting wet. I purchased those supplies along with the wheels (picked to support the weight I’d calculated), struts, and screws. It was hard to translate the soil components into German, so I’m still not sure my planter box wicks the moisture up as intended, but 2019 has been rainy, which means the jury’s still out.

And then, I got busy building.

JAS helping saw the bottom
JAS helps me cut a cupboard backing to size

The pallet has holes, so I repurposed cupboard backing I no longer needed (the cupboard had also seen a makeover) to spread the load and keep the pond liner from stretching.

The cupboard backing nailed to the pallet.
The girls playing with leftover cupboard backing and corrugated slotted drainage pipe.
Jam session on the pallet. Cupboard backing still holding up, although I had to bang a few nails back in.
Screwing on the caster wheels early was a life-saver and helped me move the box around much more easily. Here I have clamped a strut in place to pre-drill and then attach with screws. (After taking this picture, I undid the clamp before screwing down the strut…)
The view from above, all struts affixed.
Here’s where some luck came in: the overflow drainage hole fit nicely between strut and metal pallet frame corner.
In goes the pond liner. This process was like making a bed inside-out.
I used masking tape to hold down the liner. It was a bit larger than planned, which meant I couldn’t fold it according to AlboPepper’s instructions. You can see I tried to fold a triangle and lay it to one side of the corner, but that only works if the pond liner doesn’t rise above the edge of the planter box.
Enter origami! Squish a smaller triangle to either side and the flap folds over the edge at the corner, even keeping the triangles from coming undone.
A close-up of the origami solution, stapled down on the outside.
Inside close-up. It doesn’t lie fully flat, but close enough.
I used “Unkrautvlies” to cover the drainage pipe ends. It’s not terribly strong, but I figure it doesn’t need to be.
First pipes are in. It was hard work to get them straightened.
After some filing and plastic cutting, the overflow tube is in! It’s rubber tubing from an old shower hose.
The marking on the short tube is there so the slit in the fabric lines up with the rubber tube.
AlboPepper put the irrigation hole in a corner. I wanted it in the middle because that way it would be least likely to get in the way of the kids, who were going to get a quadrant each.
I drilled holes into a plastic IKEA kiddie table leg.
Now the hollow leg serves as a water inlet. Luck strikes again: the garden hose is just a touch smaller and will stay in there even with the water on.
In goes dirt and mulch and fertilizer and perlite.
Ta-da! Later I sawed the corner off the plastic kiddie table so the inlet got a screw top to keep airborne junk and gunk out.
No sooner had we planted the seeds that we needed to cover it up with a trash bag. Snow in May? Really?
And this is what it looks like mid-June. One advantage of being on wheels is that it’s pretty hard for snails to get in.

More videos

Here’s the last push to get 2015 settled.

November, in the new house: Jigsaw practice.  If I had realized that there was only one November video left, I might have included it yesterday.

December, obviously in the new house: The will to crawl, Forward motion, Decorating the tree part 1, part 2, part 3, Workspace 1.0, Tooth and (no) crawl, Swim fast, Piano man, Crawling baby six months, Jingle bells, High chair, Stockings, Model planes, Bean bag, Big present, Doll house, Cantons book, Christmas music, Jingle bells (reprise), Jingle bells (Bappe’s turn), Three weeks of crawling.

More videos

Happy New Year!  Here’s a bevy of videos for your day off.

October, at the old apartment: Lemon juice (again), Sisters, Grabbing and licking, Bunny toy, A lotta hair, Entertaining Ellie, Raspberries, Danerjeesen Womp Womp, Bedtime babbles, Time to say goodbye part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and an Indian summer, Swingset fun, Climbing challenge part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, Slow Indian summer, Climbing challenge part 5 and some zwieback, part 6, part 7, Uncle Pastuzo, Siblings at play.

November, at the old apartment: Formula futility, Drops, Rückbildungsgymnastik, Hand and foot part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 with babbling, Decluttering achievements part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 (Dotville), Showing off the atlas, Discovery binder Vivienne part 1, part 2, part 3, Stationmaster, Discovery binder Vivienne part 4, Discovery binder Joseph part 1, part 2, Letter tracing, Duolingo Swedish part 1, part 2, Whiteboard drawing, Silly!, Mattress flop, Putting in the trees, Jumping game (again), Big jump, The jumping game disintegrates, Everyone asleep, Swedish duolingo, Picture explanation, Piano soporific, Shape families, Discovery binder Joseph part 3, part 4, part 5, Joseph’s journal, Miquon math orange, German workbook, Smiles and spit, Origami review.

More later…

Baby pool IV: the results

Eleonora Margaret Stücklin is here, and decided to come a few hours past the astronomical solstice, but still on the 21st of June, the best Father’s Day present I’ve ever received.  Combined with her dimensions and gender she also gave me a less relevant Father’s Day present: winning the baby pool IV.  Because it feels rather goofy to award myself with sweets, I’ll be sending them to the participant who scored worst in every single category.

Here’s how to read the table: Ellie’s data is in the row labeled “actual.”  The row “average” represents the average of all guesses.  All other rows are actual guesses, sorted in order of ascending points.  Every category shows the number of points with which the guess is penalized, and next to it the percentage of the total points contributed by this category.  The coloring scale of the points is relative to the other participants (how well did I do compared to X’s guess?), but the coloring of the percentages is relative to the other categories (how much damage did I do in this category?).

For example, I guessed both the gender and length right, giving me zero points.  Everything is green: I scored best relative to everyone else, and contributed the least to my point total.  However, in the weight category, I was over 200 grams off, so I scored -1.05 points.  Compared to everyone else, that was an ok score: yellow points.  But compared to my point total, this was by far the largest chunk – 85% of my score – and therefore deep red.  The color coding lets you see where you can improve your guessing, and it shows me that the formula probably gives the date too much weight.  If there is ever another pool, I’ll reduce the penalty to 1 point per two days off.

As for the category winners: Sandra and I win the length category, Noah edges out Sandra and Kathy in weight, and I win the date category.  Except for the date, Sandra did a terrific job of getting Ellie’s vital stats – but I checked, even with the reduced date penalty I’d still win the pool.

So here they are: more numbers than you can shake a stick at.

Baby Pool IV

I’m not quite as early in setting this up as last time, or the time before that, but still well ahead of the initial pool.  Little One is due June 15, but Janet’s feeling big already and despite her pick is hoping for an early arrival.  Here’s how to play: leave a comment with your prediction of Little One’s birth date, time, size, weight, and gender, and whoever gets closest on average to the truth wins a sweet prize.

Rules for determining the grand winner:
1. If you get the gender right, you receive 0 points; if you get it wrong, or don’t state it, -5 points.
2. For every day you are off, -1 point.  Not stating day or time scores -5 points.
3. For every centimeter you are off, -1 point.  Not stating anything scores -5 points.
4. For every 200 grams you are off, -1 point.  Not stating anything scores -5 points.
5. The person with the highest total wins.
6. Entering after Little One’s arrival voids the entry.
Go to digitaldutch for a useful unit conversion link, or have a look at the Google spreadsheet I made for converting weights!

I guess having three kids running around makes for fewer photographs, as I don’t have a current picture of Janet’s baby belly.  She looks a lot like the photo in the third baby pool post, except perhaps a little bigger.  We are, of course, two weeks later.

Historical data, for those who need it for their pick: First baby 6 days early, 51cm, 3590g; second baby four days late, 53cm, 3840g; third baby eight days late, 53cm, 4300g.

Good luck!

The Scandal of the Evangelical Taste

I recently stumbled across a blog post asking the question, “Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?”  I had to read that, because I’d asked myself the question before about Christian (Evangelical) arts in general, and wondered if the author, Mr. Ambrosino, had an answer.

He does, and I think he’s right, and recommend reading the entire post – but for my time-starved friends I’ll boil it down to this: We Evangelicals care about the factual content above everything else.  Tell (don’t show) me the old, old story, and then follow it up with a group discussion guide.

Mr. Ambrosino’s contention: Evangelicals love the Word over any “packaging”, and thus art takes a back seat to the message.  Wooden dialogue, endless exposition, predictable chord changes / modulations / rhymes: it’s okay for art to suffer as long as God is glorified and the gospel preached.  Except that only the choir is listening.  To quote Mr. Ambrosino:

Old Fashioned, like many Christian films of late (see: God’s Not Dead, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real), doesn’t understand this marriage of content and form. As a result, the lessons at the heart of the story — i.e., the whole reason the film exists in the eyes of its core audience — are easily dismissed by the secular masses the film is ostensibly meant to reach. This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.

This approach to art also explains the reactive nature of Christian art and writing, why it sometimes feels like there’s so little originality in the Christian bookstores.  Da Vinci Code?  Write rebuttals.  Fifty Shades of Grey?  Shoot a not-Fifty-Shades-of-Grey movie.  Harry Potter?  Promote Narnia.  I love Narnia, but it should be promoted in its own right and not with the nervous intent on keeping up with the Joneses.  The children of a creator God, who calls us to excellence (Php 4:8), should be leading the way with fresh, creative art – but as long as the obvious presence of a gospel message trumps quality artwork, we’re creating a self-sustaining market for lazy art, and if the world mocks us for our bad taste (if it even notices), well, Jesus promised us persecution, right?

But “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  True, they can’t, but can they hear any better with someone preaching to them poorly?  We ignore at their peril the basic principle that communication is more than just the factual content of phrases, and depends significantly on its packaging.  Articles like Mr. Ambrosino’s give me hope that some people may be catching on and taking more care to marry content and form, which I contend will not only give us art we can take pride in, but better and more effective preaching as well.

Pumpkins – big and small

Last year, my chemist’s brother set a European record for the largest pumpkin.  This year – well, his pumpkin shattered the metric ton mark, but it won’t count because it has a thumb-sized hole on the bottom.

So what do you do with a disqualified one-ton-berry?  Carve the sucker!  I’d mentioned Ray Villafane before: here’s what he does with a giant pumpkin:

World’s heaviest pumpkin (unofficially) in Ludwigsburg

As for my pumpkins: the largest butternut weighed in at 976 grams, and the lone pumpkin is probably around 7-8 kilograms, too heavy for the kitchen scale to tell.  So I’ve beaten my own record – and would beat Beni Meier’s giant in an official contest, too!

Der talentierte Schüler und seine Feinde

Der talentierte Schüler und seine Feinde(This is a review of the book by Austrian author Andreas Salcher, Der talentierte Schüler und seine Feinde.  Because the book is written in German, so is this review.  In short, Salcher says schools pay too little attention to discovering and nurturing the talents of their students.  His three-sentence summary can be roughly translated as this: It’s all about the teachers, only about the teachers.  We all are the talented pupil’s worst enemy.  We bear the responsibility for our children’s talents.)

Andreas Salcher fasst sein Buch gleich selber in drei Sätzen zusammen: Es geht um die Lehrer – und nur um die Lehrer.  Der grösste Feind des talentierten Schülers sind wir alle.  Die Verantwortung für die Talente unserer Kinder liegt bei uns selbst.  Die Zusammenfassung ist insofern interessant, als dass sie die Systemkritik, die einen Grossteil des Buches ausmacht, nicht aufgreift.  Ebenso Salchers Lösung: Wir sollen als Lehrer nur die besten nehmen, sie anständig bezahlen, und dazu schauen, dass sie hoch geachtet werden.  Diese Schlussfolgerungen überraschen um so mehr, als er mit seinen Kritiken durchaus ins Schwarze trifft.  Vom Leben isoliert seien die Schulen, ein überholtes Produkt des Industriezeitalters nach Fliessbandmodell, sie verbissen sich in Schwächen und förderten die Stärken zuwenig, sie gewichteten nicht alle Arten der Intelligenz (nach Howard Gardner) gleich, sie schafften eine Atmosphäre, wo alle auffallenden Kinder zurückgestutzt würden.  An den Lehrergewerkschaften lässt er kein gutes Haar: sie würden die nötigen Veränderungen stur blockieren, den Lehrern zwar den einen oder andern Ferientag zuschanzen, aber dafür ihren Ruf ruinieren.  Politikern fehle der Mut; den Linken der Mut zur Förderung begabter Kinder, den Rechten der Mut zur Förderung des Gesamtniveaus.  Und all diese Probleme würden mit einer besseren Lehrerauswahl hinfällig?

Natürlich hat der Autor seine Gründe, und seine Aussage, es liege nur an den Lehrern, fusst auf Studien, allen voran der McKinsey-Studie von Michael Barber und Mona Mourshed.  (Es gibt seitdem eine weitere Studie dieser Autoren.)  Selbstverständlich kann ein guter Lehrer einem Kind den nötigen Anschub geben, um Erfolge zu erreichen – so selbstverständlich, dass man sich fragt, weshalb es eine Studie dazu brauchte.  Aber wenn das System krankt, kann es denn reichen, die Lehrer auszutauschen?  Wenn ich in einem Döschwo alle rostigen Schrauben durch neue ersetze, verhindere ich vielleicht gewisse Schäden, aber letzlich stehe ich immer noch mit einem Döschwo da – fahrtüchtig zwar, aber nicht Stand der Technik.  Implizit fordert Herr Salcher auch einen Systemwechsel, wenn er uns ermutigt, die Dienstleistungen des Schulsystems mit jenen des Gesundheitswesens zu vergleichen – fehlt ihm zum expliziten Aufruf der Mut, den er fordert, unterlässt er den Aufruf aus Kalkül (lieber das Machbare fordern), oder kann er sich schlicht kein anderes System vorstellen?  Diese Frage kann ich nicht beantworten, vermute aber, dass es eine Kombination der letzten zwei Gründe ist, unter anderem, weil er den Heimunterricht mit keinem Wort erwähnt.

Dabei wäre der Heimunterricht eine kreative Möglichkeit, viele seiner Forderungen nach Begabungsentdeckung und -Förderung zu erfüllen.  Er sieht diese Möglichkeit aber nur so weit, dass “Eltern […] Volksschullehrern […] sehr dabei helfen [könnten], wenn sich ein bestimmtes Lernfenster bei ihrem Kind gerade geöffnet hat.  Diese individuelle Förderung, die im Interesse des Kindes wäre, ist aber heute fast nie im System der öffentlichen Regelschule vorgesehen – und auch nicht im Zeitbudget der Eltern.”  Wenn die Eltern keine Zeit haben, ihre Kinder neben des Schulunterrichts begleitend zu unterstützen, so wird es sehr wenige geben, die ihre Kinder gänzlich selbständig unterrichten wollen – wahrscheinlich so wenige, dass Herr Salcher, wenn er an den Heimunterricht gedacht haben sollte, diesen als ein Minderheitenprogramm ausgeklammert hat.

Ganz generell stösst Andreas Salcher aber ins richtige Horn.  Er hat mit scharfem Blick einige Missstände erkannt und analysiert, und sagt klipp und klar: “Jeder Mensch und daher jeder Schüler ist total verschieden.  Eigentlich brauchten wir für 28 Schüler daher 28 Klassen mit eigenen Lehrern.”  Vor dem Hintergrund, dass die Individualität unserer Kinder so viele Formen annimmt, sollten den Eltern auch so viele Unterrichtsformen wie nur sinnvoll möglich zur Verfügung stehen – von Volksschulen mit exzellenten Lehrern bis zum Heimunterricht mit jenen zwei Lehrern, welche die grösste Verantwortung fürs Talent ihrer Kinder tragen.

Ich empfehle das Buch zur Lektüre und leihe es auch gerne aus, wenn unterstrichene Stellen und Gekritzel nicht stören.  Wer lieber aktueller sein will (das Buch ist 2008 erschienen), kann auf Herrn Salchers Blog weiterlesen, wo es auch zum talentierten Schüler und seinen Feinden Einträge gibt.

Good Bye, Beer Butt Chicken

I’ve had some success with beer butt chicken in the past, but having color transfer from can to chicken and reading the experiments reported on Naked Whiz and genuineideas made me rethink.  About that time, we had a surplus of wire hangers, and an idea was born:

Wire Hanger Chicken Stand

Wire hanger chicken (or domestic chicken, as Janet calls it) is every bit as tasty as beer butt chicken, but it’s cheaper (unless you drink a can anyway) and safer (no spilling hot beer when you try to get the chicken off the hanger onto a carving plate).  And if you still feel the need to stuff the inside of the chicken, use fresh herbs instead.