Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Whitehorse has a new single out, "Boys Like You," which is simultaneously polished and raw. I'm really impressed with how this duo is constantly pushing their sound into new directions, yet it always sounds like a natural extension of what they've done before. That's not an easy trick.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... J. Geils Band.

Now Playing: Martin Denny Exotic Percussion
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

J. Geils, founder and guitarist for the eponymous J. Geils Band, died this week. Everyone thought of the band as Peter Wolf and the other guys, but Geils was always a guiding force. I loved the fact that the band had a sense of humor that came through in its music. I initially wanted to feature the older "Musta Got Lost," but every video I could find focused on Peter Wolf yammering for five minutes before getting to the song. So instead, I'm going with "Love Stinks", which may very well be the most realistic take on romance ever put to music.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ìxtahuele.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads
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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Office build-along, pt. 12

Here's where my taking six months to router, sand, stain and varnish the lumber for my bookshelves comes back to bite me in the ass. The 2"x12" boards I'm using for the uprights were stored outside that entire time as I worked on them. Now, they were stored under cover out of rain and direct sunlight, and on 2"x4"s to keep them off the concrete, but the changes in humidity and temperature still had an impact. Two of the boards, in particular, showed significant bowing (significant being 3/4" for one and almost 2" for the other). For most of them, this wouldn't be an issue, since shelves on either side of them would force them straight. But these two... one is on the side of the corner cabinet, abutting the house support column with makes that wall irregular, and the other is the end piece closest to my office door. This is problematic, since there's not any shelving on the other side to force it straight. Because of the bowing, the carefully measured and cut shelves don't sit securely in their dado slots. See?

Not pretty. Since I don't want to mar the smooth face of the wood closest to the door, I instead drill holes through the upright paired with the bowed wood. I drill two holes in the two dado slots opposite the greatest extent of the other board's bow.

Then, I drill 1.75" wood screws through the holes into the shelves. This solidly anchors the shelves to the strong upright that is behaving itself. This is important for the next step.

The next step involved slathering an impressive amount of Titebond III wood glue into the dado slot. My choices to secure the shelf to the bowing board consist of screw, nail or glue. Either screwing or nailing from the opposite side would look damn ugly, and I'd be compelled to come up with a matching veneer to cover that with. That would be a major undertaking with disproportionate expense, not to mention taking a long time. So instead I decided on glue, crossing my fingers that the bow in the wood isn't stronger than the glue. To tilt the scales in my favor, I used Titebond III, which is a bit more expensive than the workhorse Titebond II, but is (I've been assured) a significantly more durable bonding agent. Note that I wiped all the oozing, dripping glue away with a damp cloth after this photo was taken.

The Titebond III instructions recommend clamping the glued joint together for 24 hours to allow sufficient drying time. I left them clamped for the better part of a week. Almost a month later, the join is holding steady. So, yay! First problem solved!

The next problem is more annoying. See that gap where the upright doesn't meet the corner cabinet? That's not an illusion created by the upright not being fully in position--the bow really is that bad. You could lose a small child down that gap. Yikes!

Compounding my problems is the structural column for the house protruding about 3" from the wall, creating a kind of vertical step, which isn't pretty, but it's the space I have to work with. I installed the next upright, and there's a 2.25" gap between them. Tiny, weird space. Fortunately, the top of the boards are pretty close to accurately spaced, so I measure the dado grooves and figure I need six narrow shelves not quite 3" wide to fit the gap. Since there are going to be horizontal load-bearing shelves, in this case the narrow width is a plus. I'm going to force the board straight via brute force. I also cut the outside corner so that the mini-shelves would match the geometric design aesthetic of my other protruding shelves.

My problem then became how to fit a 3" shelf into a 1.5" slot? Again, brute force is my friend. I used a crowbar to leverage the bowed board into position so I could insert the shelf. I'm not a total moron, however, so I used two wooden shims to protect the uprights' pretty stain/varnish finish from marring by the cold, cruel metal of the crowbar.

Here's a better view of my utilization of the classic simple machine.

And here's the shelf slotted into position. I was dreading dealing with the mini-shelves from the start of this project, and while the whole asymmetrical layout is still wonky, I think they look much better than I anticipated. Each shelf has enough space for a couple of books, plus a 4.5" "flying" ledge for action figures or other items to display. Not too shabby. Stay tuned. More to come.

Now Playing: Esquivel! Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, April 07, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

The weather's warming up, so that's stirring my interest in all things tiki. Naturally, that extends to music, and the music of tiki is exotica. Now, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Gene Rains and the like have their place, but I've discovered there are contemporary groups doing interesting things with that venerable sound. Take, for example, Ìxtahuele, quite possibly the only Swedish exotica band to exist, ever. The lack of a big tiki culture in Scandinavia hasn't stopped these guys from making cool music, however, as their "Curitiba Train" can attest. Fix yourself a mai tai, sit back and enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Genesis.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Buffett Live: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays
Chicken Ranch Central

Chicken Ranch does College Station!

Hey, College Station! I haven't had a public signing in the B/CS area since the A&M-Tennessee football game last fall, and I know some folks have asked when I'm heading back down that way. Well, tomorrow's your lucky day! I'll be signing copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch at Barnes & Noble College Station 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 8. As far as I know, this is the last remaining non-used bookstore in town that's not on the Texas A&M campus.

I've done two signings at the MSC Bookstore on campus and another couple at the Theatre Center in Bryan back when they were staging The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I also did a radio interview with Chip Howard back in December. There's a significant interest in the Chicken Ranch's history in B/CS, and I'm looking forward to having a bunch of interesting conversations tomorrow. If you're in the neighborhood please stop in and chat for a while. I always love to share Chicken Ranch stories!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Before the Beach
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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Sailing Venus: Riding the wave

Which way is up? That's a question I've struggled with a lot lately in relation to Venus. Here's the thing: Sailing Venus is, at its heart, an adventure story, but it's also a hard science fiction story as well. It's not hard SF in the sense that characters have rivets sticking out of their heads and speak in equations, but one where I try to get facts and details as correct as possible. I'm not writing about Venus' dinosaur-infested swamps, after all.

But you know what? As I get deeper into the story, something started going wonky. Venus is a weird world. It's a terrestrial planet like Earth, almost exactly the same size, but it has almost no water, is hotter than a pizza oven on the surface and its upper atmosphere whips around it in a superrotation that circumnavigates the planet every four Earth days (that's really, really fast). Venus has a day (243 Earth days) that is longer than it's year (225 Earth days), and also has a retrograde rotation, meaning the sun rises in the West and sets in the East. One would think that's pretty cut and dried, but it's not. Some Venus researchers don't view Venus as having a retrograde rotation, instead, consider it as flipped, with its north pole pointing "down" when viewed from the plane of the solar system, and a south pole pointing up. This nomenclature doesn't matter to me one iota, except that some websites and books present maps of Venus with one orientation, and others flip it. Clearly these are different schools of thought on which is the proper way to present Venus "right side up," but the trouble is, in most cases, they don't clearly identify which school of thought they subscribe to. So this is my dilemma--if I erroneously choose a "north is down" map, which has been flipped "right side up" so that Venus rotates in a counter-clockwise direction like all the other planets, the westward-blowing superrotation would be going backwards. Not only would that make me look stupid, it completely alters which locations are accessible to my protagonist--indeed, it profoundly affects the plot and even location of the various outposts on the planet. That's not something I can really fudge--which direction a continuous, 200 mph wind blows. To make matters even worse, several online science sites that claimed to set the record straight on this bit of befuddlement contradicted each other. Yeah, I could've emailed some NASA researchers, but I don't like to bother them unless absolutely necessary. And certainly not with a question as mind-numbingly stupid as this one. Fortunately, I stumbled across this graphic:

Is that not a thing of beauty? This is data from the Japanese space probe Akatsuki, super-imposed over a flattened map of the planet's entire surface. The colored elements of the image are infrared and ultraviolet renderings of a huge standing wave over the western portion of Aphrodite Terra. Not only does it clearly show the direction of the superrotation, it also specifically locates, geographically speaking, a significant atmospheric phenomenon that I'm going to put to good use in the narrative. So, yay!

But the hassle with "Which way is up?" got me to more closely examine other numbers floating around in my story. Most books and fact sheets about Venus list the extremes of the planet--highest pressure, fastest wind speed, highest temperature, etc. And it dawned on me that while I was using these numbers in my novel--accurate though they may be--they're not constant across the planet. Each changes with altitude, sometimes significantly. Venus' much-discussed superrotation? The top wind speed is roughly 223 mph around 45 miles up, but a little further down, around 33 miles up, it slows to about 150 mph. That's a big difference. Temperature's another biggie. The surface of Venus is hot enough to melt lead, and 29 miles up, it's still a blistering 197 degrees Fahrenheit. But jump to 35 miles up, and the temperature dips to 46F--enough to start worrying about hypothermia at those wind speeds. That is, were someone to be exposed to those conditions. Which nobody ever would be, certainly not in my book, right? From there I made the leap to realizing terminal velocity would be different on Venus as well. How different? Well, Venus' gravity is very close to that of Earth's, but the atmosphere, made up mostly of CO2, is very different. I thought the atmospheric pressure would have a big impact on terminal velocity, but it turns out that's not true. Pressure has no bearing, but density does. Those are distinct things. Researching density led me to individual gas constants, and from there back to drag coefficients. The irony is that I'm terrible at math, while my main character, Erica, is a whiz. I'm having to make my way very slowly and cautiously through these equations, which she could solve in her head.

And you know what? Ultimately, none of this will show up in the book. Oh, it'll be there, behind the scenes, informing what goes where and how this does that. But strictly as scaffolding and superstructure. I'm not stopping the narrative to deliver a physics lesson or print out some algebraic equations for readers to solve along at home. That's generally referred to as "I've suffered for my art, and now it's your turn" syndrome. No, I'm suffering for my art so you don't have to. Rest assured, though, that no matter how fantastical Erica's adventure may get, I've made a good-faith effort to ground it in reality.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra On the Third Day
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, March 31, 2017

Old dog, new tricks, etc.

My first professionally-published piece of fiction, "Project Timespan," appeared in Interzone No. 116 in February of 1997.

Today, March 31, 2017, I received my first royalty check. Ever. Not first royalty statement--I've gotten plenty of those over the years. This is my first check. And no, I'm not about to retire off of it.

Let that sink in for a moment. I'll let you do the math.

I'm not Robert Silverberg-level productive by any stretch of the imagination, but I've published enough in my modest career to have escaped the one-and-done category. Occasionally, a random stranger will recognize my name. Some publications have been obscure, others have been fairly high profile. Fiction, non-fiction, reviews, essays, etc. I've not exactly pigeon-holed myself. A bit of my work's been reprinted. I received a reprint inquiry for one of my author interviews yesterday, in fact. Out of all of that, I've never earned a royalty check.

If anyone wonders why I've never made the jump to full-time freelance writer, that probably has something to do with it.

Now Playing: Aaron Copland Billy the Kid - Rodeo
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pine trees, with occasional grapes

So, remember those grape cuttings I got a while back? I'm happy to report that after almost a month in pots, I'm getting healthy growth from the majority. The Valhallah grapes are even trying to set flowers this year, see?

That's kind of nuts for a cutting that's just barely rooted, but the cutting doesn't know that. I'll pinch the flower bunches off soon, so it puts more of its energy into producing roots and vegetation. Next year I'll let it make some grapes so I can judge their quality. Valhallah is by far the most precocious of the cuttings I've received, and the easiest to root as well. The next-most vigorous is Elvicand, which makes sense, since Valhallah is a hybrid with Elvicand in its ancestry. After that, we get Ben Hur, which is pushing out buds but not growing anywhere near the rate of the first two. I'm curious about Ben Hur, as T.V. Munson, the breeder who created the type back in the late 1800s, described it as similar to Black Spanish (aka Lenoir) in most respects for use in winemaking, but had far higher disease resistance. The one that's disappointed thus far is Wapanuka, a white table grape type. It's not sprouted. Its buds aren't even swelling. Of the four varieties, only it showed little sign of callusing before I potted it up. Fortunately, the cuttings haven't taken on that sickly gray color of dead wood. It's still brown, with thin strips of papery bark peeling away. I'll wait a few weeks before slicing into the bark to see if there's still green tissue underneath, but at this point I don't know if it'll root or not. Patience is going to be my companion on this one.

My big effort this weekend involved planting a pine forest. It's not actually a forest, but I can pretend, can't I? See, pine trees don't grow well here on the edge of the Hill Country. The soil is to alkaline. But I ordered 25 piñon pine seedlings from West Texas Nursery, and they came in a few weeks ago. These grow out in West Texas where what little soil there is is alkaline and rain is sparse. Comal County is at the easternmost edge of its listed growing range, so they may or may not survive for me. I initially wanted the Texas piñon (aka Remote Piñon pine) but they're rare in the nursery trade. This is the closely-related species, Pinus edulis, which isn't as good a match for my area, but we'll see what happens.

The reason I did not plant them right away is because the space in the back corner of our yard where they were to go had been overrun with more of that damn Carolina jasmine. I spent Saturday attacking the overgrown mass with pruning shears, a hedge trimmer and chainsaw. This is what I cleared out:

In the landscaped areas in the backyard, the previous owners thought that covering the ground with stone would be a good idea. It's whitish stuff, marble or limestone maybe, and a huge pain in the ass. It doesn't suppress weed or grass growth at all, does little to retain moisture and is difficult to dig through or move around. To make matters worse, at some point they decided new landscape fabric was necessary to control weeds, so instead of pulling up the old stuff they simply laid a new layer on top--with about six inches of soil between the two. Talk about headache-inducing! In this section, though, it appears there is only one layer of landscape fabric (probably because of that monstrous jasmine). I used the trusty hoe to move the rocks and accumulated dirt/roots/mulch to expose the fabric.

Then I used my utility knife to slice a hole maybe a foot across in the fabric, and a sharpshooter shovel to finish the hole.

Here's where it gets interesting. The seedling pines arrived in conical planting containers. I've never seen anything like this before. The trees are not terribly easy to extract from these, especially without damaging the roots.

But the roots! Oh, my, they are packed in tightly! Some are even potentially girdling the young tree. This will never do.

Although the planting instructions on the West Texas Nursery site seem to recommend planting as-is, I felt it prudent to separate the roots. These were so small I just used my fingers to break up the soil and knotted roots, and after a short bit had a nice, frizzy cluster of roots.

Everything after that was pretty straightforward. I planted the seedlings in the holes then refilled with soil. In some instances large rocks came out of the hole, so there wasn't enough soil to go back in, in which case I filled a bucket with alluvial soil/clay from the drainage out front and used that to supplement the hole. Afterwards, I replaced the landscape fabric, covered with stone and mulch, then watered each tree with a gallon or so of water.

All in all, I planted 10 trees here, roughly 2.5-3 feet apart. This is closer than the recommended spacing, but I expect a fairly high mortality rate. In any event, it'll be years before they're big enough to worry about crowding, and even then they're relatively small trees. If I'm lucky, by then they'll be producing edible nuts. I've still got 15 seedlings left, and I plan to put some out in the front yard and pot up others to hold in reserve as insurance in case I have a big die off. The pine forest might not look like much now, but give it 10 years and you might even be able to tell there are trees planted there.

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Complete Roost Recordings
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, March 27, 2017

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Aunt Jessie (1885-1952)

La Grange Yellow Pages phone book, 1958
On this date in 1952, Fay Stewart, otherwise known as Jessie Williams or simply "Aunt Jessie," passed away at the age of 67 in San Antonio, just a couple of months after selling the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange to Edna Milton. Her sister-in-law, Eddie Ledda Moody, traveled from McLennan County to oversee Miss Jessie’s burial in Sunset Memorial Park.

Fay Stewart’s parents came from Georgia, moving to Waco well before she was born. The family lived for years on Franklin Street, but struggled after Stewart’s father died unexpectedly in 1886. While it is entirely possible that Stewart learned the ropes of prostitution in Waco's infamous Two Street vice district, there’s scant evidence she was successful enough to own her own brothel there. By 1910, however, she’d moved to Austin and assumed the alias of Jessie Williams, as was customary for women in the sex trade intent on protecting their families’ reputations.

It's somewhat timely, then, that I spent the evening yesterday in Austin (Westlake, to be specific) with a book club discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse. It was a lively and engaging evening, with some outstanding tempranillo along with Popeye's fried chicken and sides--beans, slaw and potato salad--from County Line. Several of the folks in attendance had friends or relatives who'd visited the Chicken Ranch back when it was an operating brothel, and my hosts were related to Col. Wilson "Pat" Speir, the head of Texas DPS and Texas Rangers at the time of the Chicken Ranch's closing. Lots of great questions and discussion throughout the evening. Have I mentioned how much I like book groups? Because I sincerely do!

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Bossa Nova Years
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sailing Venus: Of writer groups and turning points

I've joined a writing group. The members invited me, out of the blue, a while back and I took them up on it, despite the fact (and this cuts both ways) none of them are of the SF tribe. No matter. I've been wrestling with Sailing Venus and the group offered me two things I desperately needed: 1) feedback on the prose itself, particularly whether the science-heavy world-building is integrated subtly an engagingly in the narrative, and 2) a regular deadline that forces me to regularly write. The feedback thus far has been interesting. Some of what I attempted in the story worked far better than I'd expected. Some trouble spots I'd not recognized were exposed. And some trouble spots I recognized early on have potential solutions. Already the feedback I've received has impacted the current pages, with new conversations and more fully-developed subplots than existed before. If I have one regret, it's my characterizing Sailing Venus as a YA book. None of the other writing group members have much familiarity with YA, but they do have pre-conceived notions that creep into the critique occasionally. As I've mentioned here before, my goal is to straddle that same line Steven Gould did so well with Jumper, namely, a story and characters equally accessible and appealing to adult as well as young adult readers. Don't worry about the intended audience, folks, just focus on the story and your reactions to it. Aside from that quibble, it's been a positive experience.

And the internal resistance I've fought on this one has started easing up. My word count is inching upwards, and those words (at the moment) are flowing more freely. I suspect this is because up until now, the story's been ill-defined in my mind. Oh, I knew what had to happen, but I didn't know how. Nor were the scenes clearly defined in my mind. That resulted in lots of restructuring and jettisoning some ideas whilst combining others. In essence, life is happening to the characters, but these seemingly mundane interactions are coming together in a way that will catalyze the harrowing adventure. I'm writing scenes now that I first visualized years ago, and while the details have changed, the core essence remains. Last night I wrote the third of three successive confrontations, each one quieter than the one before, but packing exponentially more emotional punch. After I wrote this passage, I had a throbbing stress headache. Talk about identifying with one's characters:

Erica recoiled, stumbling back. She had to get away. She couldn't let them find her here, watching this. Watching whatever came next. She fled.

What came next? She shoved it from her mind. She didn't want to know. She already knew. She should turn around. Confront them. Stop this... betrayal? Was this what betrayal felt like? Then why did she feel so guilty?

Erica stopped, blinking in confusion. Where was she? The hangar. How had she gotten here? She couldn't remember. Why couldn't she remember? The airlock leading to Wind Sprite lay open before her. Beckoning her. Only Wind Sprite guaranteed solitude. She was safe aboard Wind Sprite. Nobody could hurt her there.
Honestly, I feel sorry for Erica. She's about to make some very bad decisions, and suffer the consequences. Hopefully, once I'm finished, readers will feel that same empathy. After all, isn't that what writers strive for?

Now Playing: Dr. Jeffrey Thompson Voyager Space Sounds
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Genesis' hit single, "Follow You, Follow Me," is a song that's grown on me over the years. I believe the first time I realized I really liked it was during the "We Can't Dance Tour" in Houston, when they didn't play it. Or rather, they played a small snippet of it during a medley of other truncated songs I'd looked forward to hearing. The video's not much, but what's odd is that Mike Rutherford gets the majority of the camera time, Tony Banks is mostly ignored and there's some unnamed guy playing drums who looks vaguely Phil Collins-like in profile, but isn't Phil Collins. Despite the video's shortcomings, the song more than makes up for it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Postmodern Jukebox.

Now Playing: Genesis Duke
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Postmodern Jukebox is kinda great. The Wife turned me on to them, and I've seen then live twice with her in the past year. Not all of their covers click with me, but when they do, it's magic. This last tour, we were treated to PMJ newcomer Sara Niemietz. I've grown increasingly impressed with not only her vocal prowess but her well-developed song selection--she picks material that really suits her skill set. Her latest effort is a bluesy, torchy cover of the Cheap Trick hit "I Want You to Want Me". Mission accomplished, Sara. Mission accomplished.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Miles Davis.

Now Playing: Pink Martini Get Happy
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Chicken Ranch does San Antonio!

Hey, San Antonio! I haven't had a public signing in the Alamo City since August, and I know some folks have asked when I'm heading back down that way. Well, tomorrow's your lucky day! I'll be signing copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch at Barnes & Noble La Cantera 2-4 p.m. Thursday, March 16. This is the swanky Barnes & Noble in the La Cantera shopping center off Loop 1604, just west of Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

I remember the first time I ever visited this location was for a Rick Riordan signing for one of the Percy Jackson books. Talk about a madhouse! There must've been a thousand kids (and their parents) wrapped around the building for the autographing. It was really an impressive circus the staff handled quite well. Now, in all humility, I don't expect that large of a turnout for my little book, but if you're in the neighborhood please stop in and chat for a while. I always love to share Chicken Ranch stories!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Attila Attila
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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tiki build-along

Anyone who's been following here in recent months will notice I've been trending tiki for a while now. I'm a little late to the tiki revival, but I come by it honestly. We moved into the new house a little more than two years ago, and we really lucked out to get a place with 1) a swimming pool, 2) a covered patio built for entertaining, and 3) tropical landscaping around the pool. I spent the first year here building The Wife a photography studio. That took some serious effort, since the majority was DIY. Last year was consumed to great extent by my book's publication, plus my office-build-along. Early in the summer, though, The Wife came home with some silly light-up tiki statues, and on our vacation we picked up some additional tiki masks in Key West. At that point I said to her, "I'm going to build a tiki bar."

Mind you, at that point I was unaware of the larger tiki revival going on. As far as I knew, tiki culture was something from the 50s and 60s that had long since vanished. So I set about building my own tiki bar armed only with my own undaunted ignorance. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn't want. Eventually, I settled on these plans for a 6-foot bar as my template. Note that these plans are for a more upscale bar than a tiki bar would normally qualify for. So I made some adjustments of my own. I extended the right side to make it a wrap-around. The drawers were radically simplified, and the wine racks do not pull out. For lumber, I used pine plywood rather than oak or similarly expensive hardwood. I coated all the wood with UV/water resistant stain (cedar color) before applying several coats of polyurethane, which I then topped with several coats of spar urethane. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to have palm thatch wrapping around the bar. We have a dozen or so palm trees around the house, so there will never be a shortage of palm fronds if any need replacing. The bar top is laminate flooring pulled up from my office, as are the drawer fronts. When I get some more long pieces, I'll probably use more of the laminate for the backing on the inside of bar. The moso bamboo culms edging the bar top came from Bamboo Branch in Austin. I also built it on casters, so it can be easily moved. It made its debut at my book release party and attendees seemed to get a kick out of it. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out.

In hindsight, there are some things I'd do differently. The bottom shelf initially didn't extend the entire way across the bottom, because I had some notion the bar refrigerator would go there. Well, that proved completely unworkable, so I retrofitted an extended shelf there. Not terribly pretty, but it works. It's also not a full wet bar--no running water--so there are limits on its functionality. Looking at all the incredibly inventive home tiki bars out there (now that I know what to look for) I'm struck with all kinds of ways I could improve it.

And so begins the grand tiki adventure. I have a tiki bar. I now need a full-blown tiki lounge space. Our covered patio area is 64' long by 10' wide. That's a lot of room to spread out. And we have plans, oh yes. Below is the view from the bar, looking out to the pool.

This view is from the waterfall, looking back to the corner of the patio. The cabana umbrella is synthetic for now, and not terribly convincing, but a real thatch one lies in our future.

From the waterfall, looking back at the bar. I initially placed the bar here, because the outdoor stereo/CD player is behind those cabinet doors. It seemed a natural spot, but the more I think about it, I'm becoming convinced the bar should switch places with the dark wicker furniture to the right. There are electric plugs there, so I wouldn't have to run long extension cords for the fridge, plus there's a sink in the garage, right behind the wall next to that solid door. It would be relatively straightforward to build a back bar in that area with a sink, making it a full wet bar.

Because I'm a completist, here's the view from the house looking back the opposite way. I'm in the process of constructing a garden shed off in the yard, so the lawn mower and wood chipper currently parked on the far end will have a different home in another week or so. All in all, quite a bit of potential. The only thing holding me back now, apart from hours in the day, is money in the bank account. I could easily blow a lot of cash on this, but as with everything we undertake, it will be on a budget.

Case in point, the sconce lights on the wall. It's a western star motif. Pretty much every light fixture in the house is along this design aesthetic, which is all fine and dandy, but it's just not us. And the house isn't really rustic enough to carry it, you know? Since we moved in we've talked about changing them out, and on the back patio they really clashed with the tiki vibe. Looking online, however, I quickly learned there was not much commercially available that could pass as tikiesque, and what little there was cost way beyond what my budget could shoulder.

Here's a closer view of one dismounted from the wall. Not terribly tiki, is it?

To make matters worse, the previous owners had an unhealthy obsession with Tanglefoot. If you're unfamiliar with it, this is a very, very sticky substance used to ring the trunks of trees to keep leafcutter ants from climbing the trunk, things like that. For some reason, they seemed to think the stickiness acted as a repellent, that if they slathered the stuff on things they didn't want insects, reptiles, spiders, etc. on, it would keep them away. They slathered that stuff on all the outdoor speakers, the patio columns and worst of all, the tops of the wall sconces. Until I took a closer look, I'd assumed the tops were opaque. Not even close. So many dead bugs, spiders, geckos, dust, dirt, twigs and unidentifiable gunk had built up over the past decade that it completely blocked out the light from the bulb below. I can assure you, it's nasty. And every light had this mess slathered over the top of it. You should see the outside speakers.

Fortunately, Tanglefoot cleans up with mineral spirits. That's not to say it cleans up easily. It doesn't. But after far too much time and effort, this is the result. Quite dramatic, no?

Now the sconces are clean, but not any more tiki than before. What to do? For that, I turn to the tikiphile's answer to duct tape--reed fencing, commonly available in garden centers and home improvement stores nationwide. The sconces are roughly 10" high, so I cut sections of the reed fencing 12" wide and long enough to wrap around three sides of the sconce, twice. Turns out the fencing isn't terribly tight, so the western star is painfully obvious with a single layer. Two layers, though, that works nicely. The wire ties are loose, though, so the reeds slip out easily. Too keep it held together, I applied a flexible glue to the wire ties. Also, I slathered the reeds in spar urethane to protect them from UV and moisture. They'll be protected from the elements under the patio overhang, but reed's not the most durable substance on Earth, you know? I figure a little insurance wouldn't hurt.

Next, I took thin, black craft wire and looped it around the reeds.

The sconce had a perforated hole pattern above and below the star. This turned out to be perfectly situated to thread the wire through to anchor the reed.

Once I got both ends of the wire through the holes (which sounds simple enough, but in practice was maddening) I simply tied them off.

Voila! Instant tiki wall sconce. Most of these are on a dimmer switch, which makes it all the better--I can turn them down when necessary to get that coveted, dimly-lit tiki atmosphere.

Updates on this project will be few and far between, but I've got some grand plans and hopefully I'll be able to pull off a few as we get deeper into spring.

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