|Over the years, I've picked up little bits of handyman know-how here and there—from jobs, volunteering, personal projects, etc. And I occasionally have reason to put said skillz to use (like in building my cabin*, for example). Practical application of a skill is always a satisfying endeavor for me, so this past week, when I was invited down to Portland to help in the construction of a garden shed, I was stoked.
Working in the 95°+ heat, Andrew and I turned a pile of lumber, gravel, and used doors and windows into something that looked pretty darn neat and will serve as a great place for storing garden tools and to do some spring time potting. The clear roofing material* and sun-exposed windows may even make the space usable as a little greenhouse.
Little miscalculations and inexact cuts, while hardly noticeable in the finished structure, left us joking that if I ever started a construction company, it wouldn't be called "Quality Building" or "Grade A Construction". Instead, we came up with "Wren's Better Than What Was There Before Construction Company - The results might not be perfect, but if you wanted perfection, you would have paid somebody". Hopefully Andrew and Fam find this garden shed better than what was there before. Luckily for me, it's not hard to outshine an uneven plot of gravelly sand!
|Saturday July 4 2015||File under: Portland, work|
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|The last frisbee tournament I went to was a hat tournament on the island of Maui (posted about here). It was a great excuse to have a little vacation under the guise of competition and exercise. Two plus years later, I found myself packing up the tent, water bottle, and this time an ankle brace, and again heading out to an island for a hat-style tournament.
The Disc Divot tournament in Friday Harbor was a little closer to home, and a little less frisbee focused, but I couldn't have asked for a better weekend. We played frolf on the amazing Roche Harbor course, played pick-up with new fun people, played stick cup and other lawn games, swam in the local lake, barbecued, and watched an outdoor drive-in style movie, all set against the gorgeous backdrop of the San Juan Islands. The weather was perfect and it was a much needed excuse to re-visit a spectacular place so close to home that I often forget it is even there.
So a big thanks to Brendan and his crew for putting it together and I greatly look forward to next year's fun!
|Monday June 15 2015||File under: frisbee, games|
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|Della co-wrote and is co-starring in a circus-inspired kids show about eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle. The show goes into elementary schools for assemblies and the kids love it (and learn a little something to boot)! They are currently booking shows for the 2015-2016 school year. You should get them to come to your town! Check out the promotional video.
|Tuesday June 9 2015||File under: circus|
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The theme for this one is one of my more ambitious, and I was stoked when Patti accepted it. Constructing any [American standard]* crossword is a lot of work, but putting together a 21x21 is a real time investment. And as with any investment, it is nice to see it pay off [metaphorically, mostly. There's a pride in seeing a puzzle of one's own in print. And while there is a financial pay-off, and for UPC it is better than most, it rarely pays you enough for your time.]
I currently have a couple of puzzles into editors with the hopes of keeping on keeping on, but this is my last one scheduled for publication as of now. And with turn around times of sometimes 6 months or more (I remember working on edits of this puzzle while I was in DR bac in Dec.), it might be a while before my next ones hits the presses. Luckily this one should be enough to keep you busy for a while. If you want a copy and aren't a subscriber, let me know and I'll see what I can do.
|Sunday May 31 2015||File under: crosswords, work|
|What better activity to fill the gorgeous Sunday of Memorial Day weekend than a nice round of frisbee golf. Even more exciting is that it was my first time playing the Anacortes Frisbee Golf Course! For years I had heard talk of plans to put it in here or there, but never materializing. Finally, though, it is a real thing—9 holes complete with official innova baskets!
We were a group of 6 which was proved really helpful for spotting and searching for errant discs. The course is dense with plenty of undergrowth making for more time spent looking for discs than actually throwing. If you are planning on checking it out, I do recommend long pants and close-toed shoes. The hope is that after the frolfers have their way for a while, it will keep the undergrowth in check, esp. the super invasive ivy.
The course was fun with short-ish holes (having pro and beginner tee "boxes") that covered some beautiful forest. And being walkable/bikeable from downtown is a definite plus as well. The downside, however, is the dense underbrush in which we lost 3 discs in only 7 holes. (We had to cut the course short because we spent so much time looking for lost discs.)
I'll definitely play it again. A course is always more fun after the first time, because you start to get to know the pitfalls and shortcuts of the course. Plus, you're more apt to find one of your old lost discs! So if you're ever passing through town and looking for a fun little adventure, check out the Anacortes Disc Golf Course.
|Monday May 25 2015||File under: Anacortes, games|
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|File under "My Life Is Awesome": I recently had the great opportunity to attend the e.g. Conference in Monterey, California. It was 3 days full of inspiration, ideas, schmoozing, high class living, and, of course, a little juggling.
The best way I can describe e.g. is that it is a lot like TED. In fact, it is held at the same place TED was started, and there is much overlap between the organizers, attendees, and concept: get really interesting people and have them talk about what they are doing. The presenters ranged from photographers and film makers to adventurers to scientists to artists to even YouTube stars. The presentations were well prepared (with slide shows and hitting time points uncannily) and always interesting.
On top of just being interesting, I was familiar with a lot of the presenters' work, which made it so much more engaging. There was the artist who makes snow art with just his footprints, the youTube science guy whose demonstration on spools kept us debating for a good hour on the drive home, the adventurer and photographer whose journey across Australia I had just seen a movie about, an author whose books I've read many of, and Adam Savage of TV's Mythbusters. Adam did a fun talk on juggling(!) which was totally awesome. A bunch of us jugglers found him in the lobby to talk juggling with him afterwards. I even got to show him a trick!
The conference was relatively small with only maybe 400 attendees and presenters, which gave it a great intimate feeling. And besides the presenters being super interesting, all the attendees seemed to be top of their field or have something super interesting to add. It was lots of fun striking up comversations with whomever and realizing that they were an exec, inventor, or previous e.g. presenter.
Another interesting aspect of the conference for me was the aura of money. Tickets to the event were $4000, so most of the attendees weren't likely to be found behind me in line at the local taco truck. Many of the adventures or pursuits presented about were not something I could head off on tomorrow (the guy that drove one Mercedes-Benz SUV 500,000 miles around the world, the guy that replicated a float plane his father took to Brazil and retraced that journey, the guy that flew drones around volcanoes to get spectacular footage). It was a bit of a glimpse into how life can be with lots of money, which triggered as many thoughts and ideas as the presentations themselves.
The e.g. is something I am still processing and will probably for some time to come. The inspiration and ideas, the rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and the great community time with Chautauqua* made the event something that I won't soon forget. Now it's time to start scheming how to find an invite to next year's e.g.!
|Tuesday May 19 2015||File under: misc|
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|I've recently returned from a work trip up near Mt. Rainier National Park. It's my third time on the much fabled excusion (previously posted about here). When people ask about it, I have a hard time explaining it. There's the work side of it: lots of hours landscaping, manicuring, building, maintaining, and restoring the grounds of a nice mountain escape property. That's straight forward enough. But it doesn't even come close to capturing the feel. For that, I came up with the term Dude Camp.
Though not exclusively (Della was there for a few days last year), it is mostly dudes that make the trek to work the long hours in often inclement conditions*. As such, there is a very dude-y feel. Free time activities include playing poker, watching action movies, snoring, throwing horseshoes, and eating a lot. The dude food is a topic unto itself: steaks, beer, hamburgers, tequila, bacon, bourbon, brats, and more snacks than you could shake a Slim Jim® Meat Stick at. And I don't mean to imply that it's not awesome, because it is. Aside from the fact that I gain 7+ lbs in the 10 or so days, I'm in hog heaven.
This year's work projects included replacing an aging water feature with a very nice oriental inspired one. It was quite a bit less work than installing last year's basalt pentagon fountain. My project was extending the trail system that I worked on 3 years ago. The new sections complete a loop around the property that I mapped using GPS on my not-a-phone. I'll clean up the readings into a fancy trail map that we'll give to them. Good times.
Yes, I'd say Dude Camp was a success: jobs completed, fun had, and some money earned. If only all jobs included a once-a-day horseshoes break...
|Wednesday May 6 2015||File under: work|
|Last weekend, I co-taught a puzzle making workshop at the Foundry in Bellingham. My part focused on making crosswords. The workshop attendance was low but enthusiastic and everyone had a great time.
I've been hearing about the Foundry for quite some time. It is one of those makerspaces with 3D printers, sewing machines, and all sorts of creative people. Even though our workshop didn't really take advantage of any of the machines, instead just using the ample open space to meet and collaborate, the environment was perfect for the workshop. If you have an interest in making, stop on by for a tour.
As for my crossword lesson, I crafted this rough outline of how I go about constructing crosswords. Being that I've never had any formal instruction on the subject, who knows if I led the students astray. But we had a good time and they seemed interested, so I guess it was worth at least that. I ended my crossword talk with the firm threat that if any of them gets a puzzle published in the New York Times before me, they will be sorry. So come on Will, accept one of my puzzle and it won't have to come to that.
The workshop was so fun that we might just do it again. If you're interested, hit me up and I'll keep you in the loop. And if you get a puzzle in the NYT using my guidelines before me, I might just have to hit you up.
|Thursday April 16 2015||File under: crosswords|
|Della and I just finished our first week teaching afterschool Circus Club up at Mt. Erie Elementary here in Anacortes, and so far, it's been a blast! Each group meets for an hour, 2 days a week and has 18 or so 4th-6th graders. We teach juggling, unicycling, diablo, devil sticks, spinning plates, cigar boxes, poi, and so much more. The kids are awesome: self-motivated, focused(-ish), so interested, and quick learners. And between the staff facilitator, Della, me, the number of kids is very easy to manage.
Circus club runs for 4 weeks. Hopefully by the end of the time, all the kids will have many new skills and lots of appreciation for the circus arts. Della and I, I know, will have a little more teaching experience under our belts, the joy of having shared our skills with the next generation of circus folk, and little money in our pocket. Talk about win-win!
(Forgive the lack of pictures, but the politics of picture of kids in schools is more than I was wanting to deal with. Going through the school's application, hiring, and fingerprinting process was annoying enough.)
|Friday April 10 2015||File under: circus, juggling|
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|The large room was full of people, more than 600, but it was so quiet, you could hear each cough and sneeze of the winter* weary locals. The large countdown clock in the front of the room was ticking down, only 3 minutes into the allotted 15 minutes when the first paper shot up. A silent murmur of disbelief went through the crowd; how can someone possibly do a crossword that quickly? But this is how it goes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Well, that's how it goes for some people, not so much for me.
I recently attended my second ACPT, which this year moved back to Stamford, CT after a couple years in Brooklyn. I go for the culture, to surround myself with others like myself that have an unhealthy affinity for the black and white beauties. I also go to rub elbows with the celebrities of the crossword world, almost like it is a professional mixer for my burgeoning career in constructing. There are lots of reasons I go, but competing isn't really one of them.
Sure, I try. I love doing puzzles, and while I don't normally try and solve them for speed, it is a neat test of this "skill" that I spend so much time "honing". And I do alright. This year, I finished 349th out of 567, putting me in the 61 percentile, a 3 percentage point rise from last year. And just like last year, I had a couple of stupid mistakes that cost me about 25 places in the ranking. My puzzle breakdown was like this: 2 perfects, 2 puzzles with 1 error, 2 with 3 errors, and then the notorious puzzle 5 where I barely filled in half the squares. Overall, I'm pleased enough but have left plenty of room for improvement for next year. (Here are the numbers, for posterity.)
Sometimes, when I think about it, it is a little excessive to travel all the way across the country just to sit in a room with other people silently solving puzzles. But the way I come away from the weekend with a huge smile and inspired in all things crossword—upping my solving game, upping my constructing games, and more—I know that while it maybe excessive, it is totally worth it. I can't wait until next year to come back again!
|Monday March 30 2015||File under: games, crosswords|
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