A few things I liked today:

Ooh, shiny!

Ok, this first one is boring because it's just the weather. But oh, wow, today. Cool air, yellow sun, blue skies, green everything else from the rain. Days like this are a Texan's reward for putting up with August.


The next thing I liked is a little boring too. Ok, boring's not fair at all; it was slow and contemplative, as is only fitting about a documentary about a topiary gardener.

I think A Man Named Pearl is only available on DVD right now, but it was worth waiting for. A really sweet movie, with lots of greenery to enjoy if you like that kind of thing. Many thanks to Phyllis for recommending it.

Bow wow

(I don't have a picture of Phyllis at the moment, so here's a picture of her dog Bow Wow instead.)

The last thing I liked today, or at least liked enough to write about it, is this blog. It looks like it hasn't been updated in a while, but it's written by Mad Mike, a man who spends his days walking around Austin looking for, and often finding, drugs on the ground. His lengthy account of the week he spent in jail is excellent. This Vice interview gives a quick background of the guy if you're curious.

Now, sadly, I must stop looking at things I like and go to bed. I hope your day was full of things you like too.

This evening in Friday nights

It's Friday night and I'm drained from an unremarkable work week. I'll probably go to bed early so I can make the most of tomorrow, which is supposed to be cool and rainy. I'm envisioning drinking coffee and working on projects with the radio on while the dogs sleep on my feet. I'd make a big batch of something in the crock pot just to be extra fall weather-y, but I already did that this morning.

Frame start
I've been nibbling around the edges of this picture frame that I'm tiling so my friend can have a nice display for one of her wedding pictures. It's not a difficult project, but lining up all the tiles is fussy. It's the kind of thing that's a pleasure when you have plenty of time and energy to concentrate, but is almost impossible when you're tired and scattered. If I can get a big chunk of that done, eat some leftover spaghetti, and go for a walk in the drizzle I'll be happy.

About some grout

One of the first things they teach you in mosaic class is how much of a difference grout color makes.* It's almost freaky.

I mean, look at this! I used the exact same pattern and the same tiles on these two mirrors. The grout color makes a huge difference in how the tile colors appear:

Light and dark

I can't decide which one I like better.

I was finishing up the earring display I was making for my friend immediately after I was freaking out at the color differences above. I decided it would be fun do an experiment with the various shades of gray grout I had sitting around before I settled on a color.

I made a little test board:

Grout test

Even a slightly different shade of the same color can make a huge difference. I liked the darker one in the top left, but since this is supposed to be for a display I wanted the background to be a little less contrast-y. I chose the bottom right, which is actually the two colors on the left mixed together.

Open display

I need to find better lighting for these pictures.

The grout color ended up being a little lighter when it dried, but it turned out about how I wanted it to. The person it was for seemed to like it too, which is the important thing. 


I also need to slow down and take better pictures. NO TIME FOR COMPOSITION MUST BLOG NOW AAAAAHHHHH

After that, my worktable is clear. I'm on vacation now, hitting the road tomorrow to spend time with friends and family, eat a bunch of food, and see cool shit and get inspired.

*We were also advised not to use white grout unless you're going for a very specific look, say white on white. It tends to look less polished than other colors, or so they say.

Tiny troubles


I made this little pendant out of tile scraps from the mirror frame I did last week. I see some spots where I could have fit the glass together better, but I still really like it and would like to make more.

Unfortunately, the pendant blank I used is silver plated, which means after I wear it maybe twice the finish will wear off and look tacky, plus the copper or nickel or whatever crappy metal is under the silver will turn my skin green and bumpy. 

That is such a bummer, given the amount of effort and squinting it took to fit those little pieces together. Ideally it would stay nice for as long as possible. I'm going to try painting it with clear nail polish, but it would be better if I could use better materials in the first place.  

I looked all over the damn internet for square stainless steel blanks that would accommodate the tiles I use and came up empty. My intrepid coworker Sam suggested trying to find wood blanks instead, and I totally found some. I think the wood will actually look pretty killer with the glass, so I ordered some to try out. 

Also in my searches I ran across these, so if you are into embroidery I think you should get a bunch and embroider everyone some beautiful jewelry.  Ok, great, thanks so much! You can mail mine to me when you're done. 

Grout test, 1-2.

All black

Here's the firewheel mosaic I did a few months ago.

Really red

I finished the other side yesterday. I thought using red grout in the flower part would look fantastic, but I think it just washes the tiles out. 

I was so convinced two colors of grout would look cool that I Photoshopped in a little black to see what it would look like if just the very center were red.

A little red

Not much better.

So all-black grout it is! Which is fine because it's going to be a lot easier to do. 

Now I have to measure the step I want to do the firewheel mural on, lay out the design, and start tiling on mesh. This is going to be a very long-term project, I think. 

Busy week at the work table

Lest you think all I do is go to pools--although I did that too; look for pool review number five soon--I'd like to show you a few things I'm working on.

Mosaic mirror

I made my sister a mirror like this last year. Then I made another, similar mirror. Now that's done and cleaned off, and I've sorted and cut the tiles to make another. I am trying to get a little inventory going because I'd like to try to sell a few of these at some point.

(Turns out making things is a hell of a lot easier than selling them, alas.)


But I do have a commission! This self-standing custom earring display for my friend's jewelry business is stained, hooked, and ready for tiling.


I was pretty calm about the adhesive not sticking on side two of the firewheel cinder block but was apparently bummed out enough that I stayed away from it for a few weeks. Who wants to redo something they already did? That's no fun at all. But pouting time is over, and now it's time to move forward. I've cleaned off the excess mortar and separated the tiles and plan to get glued them back on (with the correct, carefully mixed mortar) this weekend. 

All that should keep me busy through the end of the summer, at least.

All the pools in Austin! Pool three: Shipe Pool.

Shipe Pool was where I discovered my love of lap swimming. I went there every single day for a whole summer about 10 years ago. The legislature had been called into overtime, so I was working the evening shift all summer.

Shipe full

I would wake at 11 each day, ride my bike to Shipe, stay for an hour, ride to Fresh Plus for an Amy's frozen dinner, bike home, shower, and go to work until midnight or 2 am. Then I would come home, drink beer until I fell asleep, and start all over again the next day.

I started off being able to do maybe two laps at a time, then added laps every day until I could swim the whole hour without stopping. After two months of that I was in the best shape of my life, and despite--or maybe because of--the regimented days and relative isolation, it was one of the best summers I've ever had. 

The pool: It's a big rectangle full of water, with a deep end and a shallow end separated by a rope. I've been there a few times this summer, and the water is always murky for some reason. Despite being ringed by sycamore trees, it's bathwater warm right now, but most pools are these days.

It's a fine rectangle, but it's in poor repair and scheduled for a redesign. While I have a sentimental attachment to the pool as it is, I think it's due for one. 

There's a wading pool outside the gate, but I've never paid it much attention. It's next to the playground, and I'm sure it's fine. I think part of the redesign is meant to integrate the two pools. 

Lap lanes: One, along the length of the pool. Since everyone has to share, people are forgiving of slowpokes and beginners. If you want to do a super-duper timed power workout, I'd go elsewhere, but if you're looking for a friendly, casual place to move your limbs around, it's great. They have lap hours in the mornings, too, from 8-11. 

Vibe: Hyde Park all the way. Trendy teens, helicopter parents, sunbathers, and poolside yoga practitioners. 

Shipe can

Facilities: Some poolside benches, a low wall to sit on, and an outdoor shower head. The single-stall bathrooms are in a really cool log cabin but are frequently occupied for long stretches by the people who hang out in the park, and also the occasional mud dauber. It's not the nicest or most convenient place to change into your suit. 


Public art: Shipe Pool also boasts a huge, impressive community-built mosaic all along the wall of the structure that houses the pool equipment.  There's a nice KRLU-produced video about it here

Shipe tiles

I wish I had been involved in mosaics when they were piecing it together because it looks like it was a blast to work on. 

Details: Free. 4400 Avenue G. Closed Tuesdays. Open this year until August 22. 

I am a mixed bag.

It's hot, which is no surprise, given that it's August in Texas, but we've reached the part of summer where the heat seems to have mass. It presses on you and makes even the most fun activities seem burdensome. So aside from swimming and walking the dogs in the dead of night, I've been spending most of my time indoors. That means mosaic projects and dog training. 

The mosaic project is...not going very well right now. I am tiling the other half of the cinderblock to play around with different colors of grout and try to cultivate a looser style of tile laying. But I used a different kind of mortar than I usually do. I don't know if I mixed it wrong or it just sucks or what, but the tiles, set days before, started sloughing off when I taped them off for grouting.


Well, damn it.

This has happened to me before, but that time it was immediately apparent that the surface I was using was too smooth for anything to adhere. That's not at all the case here, so I don't know. I just know I'm never using that stuff again. 

Now I have to scrape all that white crap off and start over again. Luckily this is just a test block, so I was able to tell myself I gained some valuable insight instead of restraining myself from flinging a half-tiled cinder block through the window.

My irritation was also tempered by a big success on the dog-training front. 


Right? Right? This was a tricky one to teach. Although eager for treats and praise, √úter is not the brightest star in the galaxy, and I had to sort of reverse engineer the command by anticipating when he was going to actually bark, telling him to bark, and then treating the hell out of him when he did actually bark.

We've been working on this since May and it was just this weekend that I got him to think barking is my idea, not his. Now I need to figure out how to use the command to modulate his barking, which should be a lot easier. 

Will this help us control the crazy, scary, pit-of-hell barking that he uses to discomfit visitors and strange dogs alike? Oh, man, I hope so. I really like my dog, but his manners kind of stink.  I want everyone else to know how great he is too. 

Present me is thwarted again!

Have you ever signed yourself up for something far in advance because you knew it would be a good thing to do, then pretty much forgot about it until the day of? When it's too late to back out, even though there are a good many things you'd rather be doing? Specifically, sitting in front of your laptop all morning with a glass of iced coffee and no pants on?

Back in April or maybe May I signed up to work on a mosaic project for a two-hour block this weekend thinking it would be fun and good practice. Ok, great, but I woke up Saturday morning wanting to smack my past self; I was tired and feeling more than a touch of that old ruiner of enthusiasm, social anxiety. Still, I felt it would have been rude to cancel on such short notice just because I felt like slumping around in my underwear, so I went.


The project was assisting with the University Presbyterian Church's extremely ambitious mosaic project, a multi-panel modern interpretation of the story of the loaves and fishes. It's a huge production that has involved dozens of volunteers and two years' time. It even has its own blog if you want to read more about its background and logistics. Scope aside, it's beautiful and vibrant, a with a lot of care put into composition and depth.

I worked on the fifth panel along with six or seven other people. Everyone was pleasant and interesting to talk to. Working on something is a pretty good way to meet people. There's always the task at hand in common, and you have something to focus on if conversation falters.


I didn't get much tile down this weekend--I spent a lot of time fiddling with some problem areas--but I did finish outlining this girl and glued down some pieces that the previous shift had laid out.


I was assured that this hand does not look like a bear paw or a crab pincer, or at least it won't from the distance it is meant to be viewed from. I'm skeptical, but since I was getting to the point where trying to fix something was just making it worse with each pass, I chose to believe it.

Now that I look at it a day later, it would have helped a lot to have narrowed her wrist just a tiny bit. Ah, well. Maybe someone on the next shift was able to fix it.

I've already signed up for another stint in two weeks. I'm really curious to see this take shape, and if I can be a small part of that, even better.

Firewheel weekend

Not a lot going on this weekend, which was nice. I decided to finish a project I'd set aside when I got busy with work in the spring: tiling a firewheel, my favorite wildflower, on the side of a crappy old cinder block.

We'd been using this block to light our charcoal chimney, but I think I will promote it to a plant stand now that it's all fancy.


Mosaic projects always look a little shitty before you grout them. It's hard to visualize what will happen. Depending on the color you use, grouting can unify and gloss over imperfections or fragment the image and magnify your mistakes.


I was afraid using dark grout ran the risk of the latter, but hey, this is just a cinder block. The stakes are low. Still, looking at it covered with dull black goop made me nervous.


I like it, though! It highlights some things I'll do differently next time, but I think it gives it a nice, cartoony crispness.

I'm going to tile the other side with more or less the same image. Maybe I'll use red grout in the center up to the end of the orange part of the petals, just to see what happens.

This is all a test run for a much bigger project I have in mind.


I plan to tile that dull, slanting concrete step with a firewheel explosion this fall. But that's going to take a lot of planning--and kneeling--so I want to get most of my mistakes out of the way now.

(I have no plans to tile √úter, although he often stays still enough for me to do it if I wanted.)


Here are some firewheels from real life. We have a strip of them in the front yard that reseeds itself every year, and I think it looks really hot. I worried that it might be boring to do a flower mosaic, but no way; firewheels are rad. They couldn't be boring if they tried.


Since I had firewheels on the brain, I pulled up the spent plants from this year's bloom and plucked the dried seed heads to separate out later. Sometimes I give seed packets to friends, but this year Eric and I plan to do some guerrilla wildflower planting. So if you see a random patch of firewheels next probably wasn't us; those things are everywhere in Austin.