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Undoing Shrooms

The mushroom, for those of you who have never studied mycology, is the flower and fruit of a fungus. The fungal organism itself is a big and hidden mass of invisibly thin tendrils living in a moist medium. But periodically, when the fungal mass gets mature enough, it sends up little above-ground shoots to spread its seed. Well, spores. We call these little buds from the organism “mushrooms.”

Today’s Object at Hand is the frightening appearance of mushrooms in a crack of my old patio table. How old? It is made of redwood, a material effectively forbidden for such uses since the early 1970’s. I grew up with this Sears patio table since the 1960’s. Every few years (since I was able to see the top of it while standing on the ground) I would partake in the process of applying a coat of wood preserver, oil stain.

Mushrooms sprouting from the patio table 😦

Now, clearly, something had gone wrong; my table was sick. Fungus is the pathogen for wood. Aside from termites, fungi are the only things that eat wood. Other critters like carpenter ants and cutter bees burrow in wood, but don’t actually eat it. By the time it fruits, when you first see a mushroom, there must be extensive damage.

After I took a few pictures, I took the top apart and found that over a board foot of the space in between the solid stained surfaces had turned to mush. Picture an oval volume two feet wide, half a foot deep, and an inch thick between fully polymerized wood veneer above and below.

So I dug out the mush, and treated the interior with copper sulfate (it preserves wood well, but eats iron fasteners). Where does one get such a toxic chemical? Zep Root Kill is found in most hardware stores. Most crafting stores have it as copper plating solution. It has many uses.

Once the blue solution had dried, I filled the hole with wood putty and reassembled the table. I replaced the rotted dowel pegs with copper pipe. Copper will not rot, and actually prevents rot almost as well as lead. And dowel assembly avoids the use of nails, screws, or other iron fasteners that will corrode faster when near copper compounds.

Once the putty had time to fully cure, I also gave the whole thing another coat of oil stain. The table lives to be eaten off of another day, decade, or generation.

Quadrennial application of oil stain to the 1960’s patio table, its lazy Susan, and the benches.

Lego my Ego

I recently recalled an event from my early childhood. One that may reveal too much about myself. But as it revolves around a very specific object, and I happen to still have this object at hand, here we go.

I was probably 4½ years old, and my mother had taken me and my baby brother on errands. I infer that she promised me a toy, as I clearly recall being in a hole-in-the-wall strip-mall toy store, and my mother impatiently goading me to go ahead and pick something out.

My brother (maybe 18 months old) got fussy. Clearly, my brother was about to melt down right there in the store. So mom handed me a dollar and told me to pick out some Lego. I felt quite grown up being given that responsibility. Not only to choose what I wanted, but also to handle the money myself. So there I was alone in the Lego aisle.

I could read numbers and quite a few words by this point, so knew that I could only afford some of the small boxes. Also I could only reach the bottom two shelves. Even with these restrictions, it was an overwhelming variety. I also had been instilled with the idea of getting as much as possible for my money. So I carefully looked at the piece counts on the boxes. Finally grabbed a box that looked like a good deal, and walked over to the counter. I reached up and placed the box and the dollar up there.

Squat Lego block
Well used six-stud
one-third height
Lego block I’ve had since 1965

The clerk (whom I remember being a young man) asked me if I was sure this was what I wanted. His tone struck me as condescending, and I didn’t like being challenged, so I confirmed.

He opened the box, and showed me the colorless, flat, odd sized pieces inside. He probably was sure that I would be happier with a box of assorted pieces that would assemble into something. He probably was right.

He said that this box only has this one kind of piece in it, was I sure?

“I know that,” I asserted. I did see the picture on the box, and the number of pieces. I wasn’t some stupid little kid, after all. Sure, I had no idea what I would use them for. But they looked like a good value, and my mother was waiting for me, and I had to finish my business.

So the clerk (who had been hoping my mother would return) went ahead and kachinged the register way up on the counter, then leaned over and counted out the change on the counter where I could see by standing on my toes. Then handed the change down to me, and then he handed me the little brown bag with my box of Lego.

I hastily made my egress (had to push hard to open the door) and found our white VW bug parked at the sidewalk with its nose toward the store. My mother was wrestling with my brother in the back seat, probably a diaper change against his will.

When I came up, she was watching for me. She asked for the change and the receipt. I handed them to her and climbed into the back seat. It was my job to keep my brother on the seat; this was before child seats or seat belts. And then (as one might surmise) she drove us home.

Back to my prize: I suspect that I realized pretty quickly that my first purchase ever was not a great choice. Who ever uses Lego with a multiple of three? Every piece I’d seen before had 1, 2, 4, or 8 studs. All were also full height. I probably secretly hoped that there was something better in the box, besides what the box claimed. But no.

So my ego was clearly very defensive already back then, when I had only a fuzzy idea of the relationship between value and price. But I still look for best value, and still am unable to admit that I had acquired something that I didn’t really want. And returning things just feels wrong.

Spicy Pumpkin

This is not a recipe; well, not for food. We have an ornamental pepper plant in our garden, and we have a problem with squirrels noshing on Halloween pumpkins sitting decoratively on our porch. The object at hand today is the little ornamental pepper.

We decided to taste the cute little thing recently, The tempting red flesh had almost no flavor, and no spice. But then I chewed a seed. You know that kind of heat that lets you hear colors? That’s what it was like. And so (once I was breathing normally) I was inspired to make a squirrel repellent pumpkin preserver.

I cut open two peppers, and dried them for a few days. Then I muddled them with some canola oil in a mortar and pestle. Finally the mixture was stored in a jar with more oil for a few days. Then carefully applied to the pumpkin with a silicone brush, and the pumpkin then set out for neighbors to admire. Carefully not for the sake of the pumpkin, but so as not to get the truly hot (in the Scoville sense) oil on my hands.

So now our pumpkin can sit safely on the porch, defended from squirrels and from mold and rot (capsaicin acutually evolved as an anti-fungal agent in peppers).

Pumpkin so shiny because we brushed it with hot pepper oil to deter the squirrels, after noting them having already partaken.

Not a peeling

I made a little kitchen mistake the other day. Mein Frau and I were making a salad. My “job” was just to make carrot shavings with my new, fancy vegetable peeler. That is today’s Object at Hand.

I tried it on the top and the side of the carrot. But what worked best was using it below the carrot, so the peels dropped neatly into the bowl. But then I looked away for a second, probably to say something. I don’t really remember.

Sudden, sharp pain on the tip of my thumb! I pulled it away, and watched the newly corrugated corner of my thumb gloss over in red. I grabbed a tissue to staunch, and quickly left the room. You see, spousal is squeamish. I got a band-aid and applied it, and then returned to look for the missing piece of thumb. Just a chip of skin, mind you, shy of a centimeter across, and maybe 3mm thick at the center.

I found said remainder, and noted with my usual childish wonder, how the straight furrows on one side contrasted with the swirls on the other.

 

But my band-aid floweth over. And I considered that I had a reasonably well fitted patch for my now bare and exposed inner dermis. So I peeled off the soggy bandage, and slapped the chip over the divot. I tried to align the grooves, but I was hurrying, and reasonably confident that I would not get the orphaned structure to reunite. So quick trumped accurate.

Oddly, it started hurting less as soon as the skin covered the raw area. A fingertip band-aid (our last on hand) covered it and held it in place.

The next day, I had to consider how to bathe. We had no large finger-cots, nor convenient disposable gloves on had. So what did I find to put on my had? One of the 2×4″ bags that I use to hold some of the small items that MrTitanium sells.

After bathing, I took an “after” picture to show the crudely stuck-on bit of skin now protecting the sensitive area. I figure that it will probably come off in a few days, as new skin comes in from below.

 

Paper Springs

Napkin Trash

Today’s object is one I compulsively make and leave behind in restaurants. I fold those paper napkin wrappers into these square paper springs out of old habit.

I learned how to fold these from construction paper in third or fourth grade, as a device to make greeting cards more dimensional, to elevate a cut-out shape above the field.

Tractor FeedBut it became a fidget-habit when I started working in the real world. We had dot matrix computer printers back then. They were noisy, and the folded continuous paper had to be fed from a box using perforations designed to fit tractor cogs on the printer, usually on micro-perforated separable strips. So after printing what had to be printed, we would remove that side strip with the holes.

I am a fidgetor. My hands are rarely at rest when my mind is moving. So given this bounty of paper strips, I would fold them into long paper springs and leave them everywhere.

I remember one meeting in the start-up robotics company for which I was working in the 1980’s. One of the members brought in her little girl. The wean picked up one of my foot-long springs and was happily playing with it. This was memorable to me as the first time I’d seen anyone but myself derive pleasure from my little compulsion. The mother told her that she should put “that man’s” paper down. I assured them that I was happy to let her have that one.

Three decades later, when these tractor feed strips are rare, I find myself folding napkin wrappers into these springs, and now admitting my bad habit. I secretly hope that some server or bus-person notices the odd nature of this minimalist origami as art, rather than just another piece of trash. But I am not holding my breath.

Hello Whirled

The Object at Hand is a new blog that began with the idea of writing stories or observations inspired by some object that I have readily to hand. For this silly intro, I submit a spin on the initial page banner.

A Spin on a new page

One may argue that a digital image is not an object. However, it is clearly an artifact. A future post will explain the scissors. Meanwhile, I hope that someone will find my musings amusing, thought provoking, and/or of interest.