Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Starting Block

Back in college, I was given a large block of balsa wood as a birthday present. I couldn't decide what to carve out out it, so I made a little sign that said "Potential" and set it on my desk where I could see it. I think the reminder did more for getting me through my classes than anything I could have made out of it.

In a Pine Car Derby, everyone gets either a wedge or a block of pine. You have to use it in your car; you can't substitute another piece of wood. You can add to it, you can subtract from it, but you have to use the block that came in your kit.

I put a fair amount of effort and creativity into Fiona's car, so it was a real treat to get to race day. A big part of the fun is getting to see what everyone else came up with. Given that everyone starts with virtually the same block of wood, the creativity is amazing.

Moooooooo. Come to think of it, this isn't all that unusual. I've seen a local limo with this theme, complete with fiberglass cow on top...


If it looks like that front wheel is floating in the air — it is. Having only three wheels on the track is apparently a common speed trick, and this fire engine definitely was speedy. Hmmm. Three wheels. I'm envisioning a motorcycle with sidecar for next year....

This is the car that won the races. The wheels are the standard wheels that come with the kit, but they've been turned on a lathe to get the lenticular shape, and polished with a molybdenum-graphite blend, which gives it a characteristic silver color.

Did I mention this was at church? In addition to the Golden Rule here, there was an entry named, "Faith, Hope, and Praise" which somehow reminds me of the buses in Latin America with Bible verses painted all over them.

One other observation on this golden rule(r): with weight placement being so crucial, it helps to have a design that has an obvious front and rear. Several such designs got run both ways down the track by unaware officials.

Coooool. I think the "engines" here are actually bullet tips. Weight and style!

Cheese Whiz!

Fast food. This meals-on-wheels entry got one of the top honors in the "Originality" category. It was fast, too!

Next up: Let's Go Racing!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Progression in Pine (Or, What I've been doing instead of blogging for the last two weeks)

Fiona's first-ever Pine Car Derby is tomorrow. That fact sunk in rather forcefully about two weeks ago — I have to build her car! So I went and retrieved the kit I had out in the shed: 1 block of pine, 2 axles, 4 wheels, 5 hubcaps, 1 sheet of vague instructions.

I've heard about dads who go all out with their kids' cars, and so I was very conscious about this being a Fiona-directed operation. I'm not quite comfortable turning her loose with a bandsaw just yet, so the heavy cutting and shaping stayed with me this year. But I still had to make what she wanted.

A: So, Fiona, what kind of car do you want?

F: A RACE car! I want it black, with yellow and orange and red flames all along it and a big gold number 6 on the sides and a big gold 6 on the back.

Okeydokey. A race car could mean just about any number of shapes, so I pulled up a keyboard and ran a few pictures past Fiona. This one was "cool!":

A '69 Corvette convertible. Riiiight. No pressure. 2 weeks...

You have to use the block that comes in the kit. The axle slots are in fixed spots, and the wheel s sit outside the block, so we needed to add more wood to get the right look.

The center block is what comes with the kit. I took advantage of the fact that I had to add to the sides by cutting out the shape of the seats now, rather than having to dig out the wood when the sides would be in the way.

Now, we need to shape the sides...

Fiona got her first experience with spray paint by putting on the primer.

A bit more shaping, a few more details, a little less finger. Ow.

A fresh coat of white primer, some blue painter's tape, and an X-acto knife.

A tricky transfer...

I almost stopped right here, because I thought this looked so cool. But I reminded myself that it's Not My Car, and went ahead to the next step...

...a nice coat of black metalflake paint. Once again, I was SO tempted to stop right there. It had such a nice "batmobile" vibe.

The masking tape made ghost flames. Cooooooool. But, it's Not My Car, so the tape had to come off.

Ready for the final details.

I coached Fiona on painting smooth edges and blending colors.

Purple seats? Well, OK.

I snuck in a few details, and fashioned a windshield out of a Juicy Juice bottle.

Fiona did a great job with those flames.

The finished product!

Tomorrow... race day!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Because I Can't

Music is not one of my talents. Yes, this might seem odd coming from a guy who has five guitars, but it's largely true: I have very little talent for music. I've got a tin ear, can't read music to save my life, and Deborah has been so baffled by my sense of rhythm over the years that she doesn't even comment on it anymore.

So why am I doing this?

I publicly committed myself to playing an offertory with Paul. Why? Because cello and bass sound so cool together? Yes, but also, because it's the only way I'll get better.

I'm not normally one to sit down and practice every day, just for the sake of practice itself. I need a reason. I am told that mountain climbers will occasionally put themselves into positions where the only way they can go is up. "When the only way you can go is up," I read, "you jolly well go up."

Same deal: I volunteer for public performances precisely because I'm bad at it. It might take me a month, I might have to painstakingly figure out each note, and practice until my fingers bleed, but I will get it. I will play.

And, in the end, play I did.

I forgot to bring the camera to record our final performance together, which in many respects is just as well. The fact that I made it through a difficult piece (well, an easy piece I'd made difficult by trying to play two parts at once!) will have to be the reward — learning, stretching, climbing that mountain, not because it's there, not because I can — but because I can't.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cookie Love

We were still working through our stash of Halloween candy when Deborah bought candy canes for Christmas. I groaned: We're given enough sweets, and we go through them so slowly, that I figured I'd be finding dessicated, sticky canes at the bottom of the candy bowl next Halloween. I was still occasionally pointing this out around Valentine's day when Deborah told me she had plans for those candy canes.

Well. I can complain no longer.

Deborah sealed the candy canes in bags, and let the kids go at them with hammers. Then, she took her already-excellent dark chocolate cookies — the ones that burn delightfully with unexpected cayenne, and instead of decorating them in the usual way, mixed the candy cane fragments into frosting, and made sandwich cookies together with the kids.

Did I say I complained? Let me go back and strike out all mention of my complaining. Deborah can buy all the candy canes she wants at Christmas. These were good. Dangerously good.

Fiona made this one especially for me. I melted.

It got me thinking about the nature of love, as well. The more I looked at this cookie, the more I realized how much had gone into it. How many analogies for love could I find in this one cookie?

I came up with a bunch: Love is ...generous and overflowing; dark, and surprising (particularly when red pepper is mixed in!); drawn from the past, and applied to the present; giving good things despite whining... but in the end, I kept coming back to one that defined it all:

Love is inexpertly applied, with great enthusiasm.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Wait, I thought I had seven more years...

...but Fiona seems ready to be a teenager already:

OK, so the 'do was for "Crazy Hair Night" at church, but the expression wasn't prompted!

Friday, March 05, 2010