Restorating the Kitchen Table and why “Sustainability” Can’t Work Within Capitalism

Everybody in a long term relationship knows the horrors of buying furniture. You may have been together for a decade, have basically the same interests, plans in life, you combined your families and friend circles, and then you need to buy furniture. Suddenly your beloved looks like a total stranger. How can the person you love more than anybody else like that couch? If your relationship survives the first round of furniture shopping, you may survive as a couple. And then you are together for so many years that you have to do it all again. Especially when you have children. Especially when your children are alien monsters in a cute disguise.

Last year around autumn the little one managed to actually break the legs off a chair. The other ones weren’t very stable either any more, so we needed to go out and buy new ones. And the table looked horrible as well. 14 years of eating, crafting, living had taken their toll on the plates. Nevertheless, while we could agree quickly on new chairs, we could also agree quickly that the tables were not an option. Our table needs to be large and extendable. For some reason, the large tables all had a plate that is split lengthwise, and at that point (apparently they changed since) , could only extended by inserting a plate lengthwise, which doesn’t make sense, since it doesn’t sit more people, but make sitting down and getting up  difficult since the table is too wide now.

The only one available at the big Swedish furniture shop that suited our needs was the exact same one we already had… so i decided to restore that one instead, which only took me about 10 month to get done.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This is how the table looked before. The varnish has basically disappeared in the areas most used, there are big scratches and dents. I seized the opportunity to get a random orbit sander and got to work. I removed the old paint and nasty scratches at 60 grit.

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Then I did a second round at 150. In the image below one half is already sanded, the other half is not. People who work with wood can feel the image.

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Last round was done at 220 grit and off we went for varnishing.

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I used varnish for wood floors/stairs, since that is the most durable, and you saw what already happened to the table once.

I applied a total of three layers of varnish, giving them ample time to dry in between.

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A first coat of varnish. I lightly sanded in between applying the coats, but by hand and with a 800 grit. One thing about the varnish is that it doesn’t “pull even”. It keeps a bit of a structure, and if you look closely, you can see it (though not in this pic). It also hides dirt until it’s dried and it’s too late…

The legs got some repairs where needed. Down at the feet, where you stub your toes, ant the bars where you put your dirty, sweaty feet. I had to do that inside, it was not nice.

Table legs in the kitchen

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Finally, here we are. The two plates have been sanded and painted. The middle extension isn’t done yet, but we don’t need it every day.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved With bonus husband running into the pic

Now, what does my little project have to do with capitalism? It’s easy when you think about it: Capitalism wants me to buy a new table. Capitalism needs me to buy a new table. Capitalism makes it impossible for most people to not buy a new table. A new table would have been around 300€. The materials for restoring the old one were 80 bucks for sanding discs and varnish and brushes, and 150€ for the tools (though I still have those, but they lost about half their resale value the moment I carried them out the door.) That’s 230€ with no guarantee that this would work.

It also took me almost a full week. I have an outdoor space for sanding, but of course that required the rain to stop occasionally, and an indoor space for painting and drying. Also a separate living room with a separate table we could eat on in the meantime. And most importantly: I had the time AND skills to do this and it’s actually something I enjoy. Nobody who dislikes crafting would do this to save maybe 100€. Unless you’re completely poor and have to hope that somebody else throws away their perfectly usable but pretty shabby table.

Now imagine we built our world not around consumption, but around community. Imagine community repair centres. There are tons of people, especially elderly people who can’t / don’t want to do a full work day, but who will happily work a few hours a week. Imagine such a centre where you can go and together (or without you) you can restore your furniture, repair your bike or learn how to fix your leaky sink. Imagine having the time to do so. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Eye Got May Lie Sense!

When I have started building my workshop in 2009, I did not seek a building permit and I had no project. I was just winging it.

For a building of this size (25 square meters, single story), that was perfectly OK and legal, especially since it was build in place of the previous much bigger wooden barn that I have torn down because it was becoming unsafe. The new workshop is not a workshop per see, it has two rooms, one half is made from bricks and is the workshop and one half is just a storage of gardening tools and materials. It is a combination of a small workshop, garden shed, and whatever.

I was quite happy with it for a few years, but when I decided last year to start a business and went to the business registration bureau, a problem arose. I was told that since I intend to do at least some work in my new workshop, I have to register the building in the land register/cadaster. For which I needed a project and some other paperwork.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

So I had to pay a surveyor and a project architect to get the building surveyed, measured and a proper drawing made. Which I did. And then pandemics started. That has delayed the rest of the paperwork quite significantly. The whole summer and fall of 2020 I got an answer every month that “maybe next month it will be done”.

And then the bad news came. To register the building in the category “production and storage” It would need to have running water. No matter that the house with running water is literally two meters away. The office worker who issued the decision knew the law is stupid, he even said so. But his hands were tied, the law is written for corporate buildings and does not differentiate between a one-man small workshop and an airplane-building workshop. And the law says that every workshop in a production and storage building must have running water (period).

After some back-and-forth I have decided (on advice) to let the building register as a hobby workshop and garden shed within the category “building with other purposes” with the reasoning that the purpose of the building before during and after I run a knife making and leatherwork as a business will remain the same, it will always be a part small workshop, part garden shed and part whatever. Now the only requirements were that I have to have a fire extinguisher and certified revision of electric installation, which I both had because unlike running water these both make sense and I was expecting them.

That went through at the cadaster this spring, but at the same time the pandemic was roaring in CZ, the offices had limited hours and the country was in lockdown again. It was only last week after my mother had both doses of the vaccine and both my father and I were two weeks after the first shot that I felt safe enough to visit the business registration bureau in person again and apply for the license.

And it went well. The type of building the workshop is registered as was not seen as a problem for intended purposes and today I got my official papers. So as of this month, I am officially allowed to charge people for my work – and I have to pay taxes accordingly of course. I have to contact a tax consultant and research some things that I have neglected to do while the whole thing was in limbo, but that is not a legal problem anymore, that is just learning the ropes of a new business.

In other good news, today was also the day that I got my second shot of the Pfizer vaccine. My shoulder hurts like hell, I cannot use my left arm, but I feel quite happy nevertheless.

The Gardening

As you may remember, we had some (did I say “some”) work done on our garden two years ago, which left the slopes left and right to the stairs in shambles. The effort I’d made towards terracing the left hand side (seen from the garden) was undone. Last year we spent spring with building a small plateau on the right hand side where we want to put up a lamp, a project that got mostly postponed due to the fact that our friend couldn’t come over to help us due to Covid restrictions. Also, getting the area ready to put up a pool took several weeks, so all in all the gardening season was mostly cancelled.

This year, we’re working on the left hand side which is my vegetable garden. Terracing the slope means working with those nice planting stones and I must say, by now I’m pretty good at it. This is how the project looks right now:

View of a garden slope with red planting stones in rows

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You can see several things here. Number one, our ground is pretty sandy. One year I tried to plant carrots and they simply didn’t manage to grow downwards. the good thing is that it keeps moisture in the depth really well (although the surface quickly resembles the Sahara). I’ll put a layer of gardening soil on top for the young plants. The lowest terrace will be planted with chillis. The second terrace, which you can only guess from this pic is between stone rows 3 and 4. That will be for sweet peppers. the rectangular stones at the side are for flowers. We need to put them there so the side with our to be demolished one day garage doesn’t slide into the veggie patches, as there is little growth there. Now for the bigger problem:

View of a garden and a house with stairs separating two slopes

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The garden is actually a two way slope, being much higher on the left hand side than the right hand side. the perspective of the image is a bit misleading. The terraces created so far are 2/3 of the depth, but only half of the height. After the next two rows of stones we’ll run into a problem: the terrain grows wider, the stairs turn to the right, creating a triangle that sits much lower than the left hand side, which is causing us a lot of headache. Our current idea is to keep the terraces six planting stones wide, and to create a drystone wall in that nasty triangle. If you have a better one, feel free to tell me. While it all looks pretty gloomy right now, it will be wonderful and a habitat for many little critters once we’re finished and the planting has begun. On the right you can see last year’s project. That side will remain “wild”, although I always throw flower seeds there because otherwise I#m ending up with a monoculture of goldenrod.

Speaking about critters: The wild bees are alternately very happy with us and very upset. Each time we move some earth they go “ohhhhhhh, loose earth, let’s go burrowing”, only for us to destroy it again. They still got the entire right hand side where whatever loose earth we put here stays put. Here’s an ashy mining bee for you:

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And, last, but not least, some of the residents to be. Sadly we’re having a really cold spell with solid frost overnight, which doesn’t allow to plant even the more robust plants outside, so my windowsills are being overgrown…

©Giliell, all rights reserved Butternut squash, already showing flower buds

©Giliell, all rights reserved Nasturtiums and sunflowers

©Giliell, all rights reserved Hokaido squash, Mexican Honey tomatoes, orange cocktail tomatoes, and on the left some sweet peppers

I also keep carrying some plants outside in the morning and inside at night. Hopefully we’ll have left the worst of the cold behind us, but it’s supposed to stay grey and cool throughout the next week.

Finally I got Something Done

The original plan was to make ordinary knives, no fancy stuff, no distractions, just to build up some stock for sale when the bureaucracy here finally gets its act together. But I did not stick to that plan too well. First I got distracted several times making new tools, then two knives came out so nice that I thought it a shame to not make sheaths for them that are just a little fancy. But after two months, I have finally finished four pieces.

Today I was trying to take pictures, with very varying success. For reasons that I do not understand, I get usually the best results with reddish/magenta cloth background.

Here are the four knives, details, and some talk about each piece are below the fold.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

[Read more…]

Gardenscaping: Where the Solution of one Problem Creates Three Equally Interesting Ones

Last time we saw the garden we had a new terrace and stairs, but were still far away from it being finished, which it still is. Since then I gave the old bench a new coat of paint and we got new garden furniture and somebody competent is working on a handrail. What we still need is a lamp. The easiest thing would be to screw one to the side of the house, but when has easy ever been an option? the plan is to put a lamp post in the upper corner of the slope, at the end of the terrace.

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In this pic that’s the upper right hand corner, basically where the wooden fence starts. This way it should give light to the small terrace, but also to the stairs. Also I want a small fountain there so we need electricity anyway. Therefore we spent most of Saturday doing what we’re good at: me telling Mr what he should do and him doing what I told him. Sounds pretty much like some sexist trope about the domineering wife and the poor hapless husband, but it links to the concept of the mental load: The fact that in heterosexual relationships the women are usually the ones who have to do the planning and coordination and sadly, our family is a poster child for this in most parts. Mr has gotten better over the years (often because I simply refused to to do it. If we agreed that it was his task then I would simply unburden myself. No more checking in, no more doing the thinking), but on the whole the mental load is still mine. It doesn’t help that he’s really not good at planning in several steps. He’s more of a Scrabble guy than a chess player and his plan was to start pouring a concrete base at the top where the lamp should go and worry about the slope later. Supposedly after the first heavy rain washed down the earth including the concrete base.

At my suggestion (haha) we started securing the upper part of the slope:

 

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What looks like just a couple of stones was the backbreaking work of several hours. The slope goes in two directions: into our garden and towards the neighbour’s garden. And we had to start somewhere in the middle, because that stone that looks like I had drunk the gin tonic before and not afterwards is turned over on purpose: It covers the drainage pipe from the terrace, making sure the water can exit freely. To prevent animals from getting in there we put in a tin with holes in the bottom. I’m curious at how this will work out, but it’s raining today so I’ll take a look later. This means that we had to start right there, that was our fixed point, and work our way up and to the sides and down as well. Every other stone has a steel bolt at least 30cm into the ground and a layer of concrete to secure it. And some drainage because I do want to plant something in those stones. The first row is always the hardest because it needs to be very level. Sure, the stones will always have their irregularities, they won’t all be the exact same height, but if you’re off there, you’ll be in a lot of trouble later. That means putting the stone (15kg) into position, checking, lifting it off, altering the ground, putting it back, checking… Yes, my arms are hurting, why do you ask? Especially since our ground is full of stones and pebbles that will just not give a millimetre, no matter how hard you push down.   And the worst part: because the whole terrain is helter skelter it looks like they’re all askew because all the other supposedly “straight lines” you’re looking at are, in fact, not straight, which is probably a metaphor or something for my life  but that’s off topic.

In the background you can see some boulders to further stabilize the slope. We still had these lying around, but we’ll need to get more of them to create a girdle on the lower edge to prevent the ground from being washed out. It will also create a nice habitat for lizards and insects, because with all the work we’re doing and all the alterations we’re making to suit our desires, that is always an important aspect. That’s the allotted “wildflowers” side of the slope anyway. I hope to get enough of the stones set in time to plant the pumpkins and courgettes. We’re not lazy, we’re environmentally friendly! We’ll spend a lot of time in the garden this year (I seriously cannot understand people who are planning their holidays this year. No, not even within Germany), so we better make it look inhabitable.

I Never Thought I am Going to be Happy About Loosing my job. Again.

You might have noticed that over the last two years I was getting more and more dissatisfied with my job. Or, more precisely, with my employer.

Twelve years ago I landed a job at a USA corporation owned factory that had all the right components – interesting job where I could learn new things all the time, both manually and intellectually challenging so I could show off my wide skill set, and well paid, extremely so for my humble standards. After a few years however the shine got a bit worn off, as I was constantly struggling with the mindset that was prevalent on key management positions and I was always outspoken about my disagreements with anyone, no matter how higher in  the hierarchy they were above me. Despite this (or maybe because of it?), I got enough respect and clout at all levels in the company that when it came to a serious clash between me and a complete nincompoop of a mid-ranking manager, where unkind words were said on record, the manager was sacked and not me.

All this instilled in me a deep loathing of managers and especialy those who have MBA. To me, MBA managers are the embodiment of Dunning-Krueger effect – they have no discernible skills, but they think they can dictate actual experienced experts how they should do their job. Not every manager is like this of course, but enough of them that it is noticeable.

Then the whole company was acquired by another international giant, this time a german one. For a short while it looked like things will get better, that the flaws/positives ratio will shift a bit for the better regarding how workers are treated. It did not last – our division was chipped off of the big block and sold off again. And unfortunately again to a USA owned company.

From the start I was fearing that things will go back to the bad old ways, and they did. More than that, it quickly became apparent that things will get a lot worse before they get better – if they get better. And these suspicions were proven true when previous years – in direct contradiction to what we were told after the acquisition I might add – a massive round of layoffs has started. First people were “merely” encouraged to go and they got adequate or even generous severance packages if they decided to do so. Then started the push to slash personnel even more, and people got terminated. Still with severance packages, because this is EU and not USAistan, but loss of job is still a loss of job, even when you get handed several month’s worth money.

When I started, I was first part of and then the head of a three-person team. The clash with the idiotic manager was because the team was taken from me and I was forced to do all the work alone, which was only possible in an Excel sheet, not in an actual real world. I got one team member reinstated and some duties were given to another team. It was still not ideal, but it was workable and under the then german owner it seemed like it might improve again in the future. However this last round of layoffs took also my last subordinate for good and it meant that I would, again, have to do everything by myself.

I am not willing to risk a full blown burn-out.

So I decided to quit. Had I been a mediocre or worse worker, I would have gotten a decent severance package and I could leave the company straight away. But being good has some drawbacks. The company did not want me to quit, and I was told I won’t get anything if I do so. I had some quite intense (but polite and respectful) exchanges with both my supervisor and my HR manager and an agreement was made, due to be signed on Monday. I cannot  of course disclose the details (and if you by some coincidence know or think you know any of the obscured details, do not disclose them in the comments, it would get you banned and the comment deleted), but I can say that I will stay at the company until November and do my best to impart some key components of my extensive experience on my successors. In exchange for that I won’t be completely stiffed. I would prefer to go straightaway, but this is the financially more savvy option.

I could only go into the negotiations as I did because I predicted the situation and I was already preparing for this option for the last year, saving money so I feel more secure and can actually afford to say “I quit anyway” and mean it. I still get less than I would if the company fired me (partially because I still underestimated the strength of my hand, but for that I only have myself to blame), but a lot more than I would if I had one-sidedly quit. I do not recommend to anyone to try what I have done, however, I have also seen people to overplay their hand in these things.

My next plan – and it will affect the blog, hopefully in a good way – is to not seek another job. I feel pretty confident that I would find one, but I am so mentally tired from corporate culture that I need a looong rest to get my bearings back. So the plan is to make knives for a year and see where that goes. I will wake up just as if I were to go to a job, work 8-10 hours daily at knives, and when I build a bit of stock I will try if people will buy them. If it works, great. If it does not, the worst that can happen is that after a year (or perhaps a bit more, depending on how quickly the money dries up) of doing something I like doing I will be forced to sell the knives for just the price of the raw materials and seek employment again.

This is not the first time I am doing this. Straight after university I was working in USA for a short while and with the exchange rate at that time I could subsequently afford to be one year unemployed and live off of the savings. I used that time and money for purchasing a good PC and learning myself the skills needed to build and maintain one, as well as the skill set needed for work with Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Photoshop etc. all that new fangled stuff that I did not learn at school but thought – correctly – will be important in the future.  This has helped me to land my first job, in which I have spent five years and I left it for similar reasons (and under similar conditions, funnily enough) as the current one. I felt quite happy leaving that job, despite not having a new one yet. And I feel similarly happy now as I did then. I hope it works out well for me again.

 

Not a Solution

To be honest, it’s a serious medical condition, but I can’t help but feel a smidgeon of envy:

A woman in China is making headlines for a rare type of temporary hearing condition that makes her unable to hear men. According to the Daily Mail, the patient, only identified as Ms. Chen, woke up one morning and couldn’t hear her boyfriend speak.

Unfortunately, the condition seems to be brought on by a lot of stress and fatigue:

The night before, Chen felt nausea and suffered from a ringing in her ears. She was also under a lot of stress, working late and not getting enough sleep. Chen thought little of it and went to sleep as usual before waking up with the condition.

Doctors were initially puzzled by her symptoms, but she was eventually diagnosed with “reverse-slope hearing loss, in which she could only hear high frequencies.”

[…]

Dr. Xiaoqing believes fatigue and too much stress may have contributed to Chen’s hearing loss and expects her to make a full recovery.

I’m glad to hear, but perhaps in the meantime, someone can invent a certain type of earphones that produces the same effect? I’d buy a pair and wear them at work. It won’t stop the mansplaining, but it might buffer enough sound to reduce my annoyance.

Homeward Bound

This is a travel day, and what with Gatwick and German airports and any number of random occurrences, I just want to get home. Sometime very early Sunday morning, I will be.

The quiet version of my feelings is here, but quite honestly, I’m still playing my angry music. So here’s Blue October, expressing a lot of frustration on my behalf:

(I confess, I have always had a weakness for rock musicians. Something about the way they express themselves without reserve. Especially when it’s traditionally masculine men expressing emotions. And previous post, it’s what I love most about the video – the tough, rockstar performance images placed beside the caring father images. Heart.)

How To Sharpen Pencils

Well, the end of last week was a pile-on of stuff, and even as I’m recovering, I have another work trip scheduled this week – that’s another two days of basic work productivity gone and done. At least I’m not going far this time, just down to Vilnius, and I don’t have to drive. I’m hoping my fellow travellers will let me nap in a corner. I’m just tired right now.

Anyhoo. The rat race is never-ending, as demonstrated by this video (the end was a real exercise in futility).

And you still get a song.

Wheat Kings

Sometimes my head has too many thoughts.

Today’s song holds more than just a nice melody for me. In a lot of ways, what it is about is a reminder of why I do the work that I do, and why it is important to do it well. If you google “David Milgaard” (the inspiration – what a terrible designation – behind the song), you can probably divine more than a hint of what I do. The why is a complicated mix of ‘I like it’ and higher values and the feeling that I can do something to make the world a little… better, I suppose. Or something that makes me feel useful on a daily basis. Anyway, here’s your music:

The Tragically Hip is a strange kind of band, they’ve been around since the 1980s and they really sunk deep into the Canadian consciousness. They were certainly a fixture of the music world in the 1990s and early 2000s. I don’t know if they ever tried (too hard), but they never made it big outside of Canada. Within Canada, though, hoo boy. Everyone knows them, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily like them. They have a very unique style that doesn’t always feel accessible. It’s taken me years to grow into my appreciation of their music, and they certainly have a rich collection of Canadiana that touches on stereotypes and themes and very specifically Canadian subjects, even though their songs that I do like are definitely among my favourites. Their lead singer, Gord Downie, is a whole other kettle of fish. He did their farewell tour 2 years ago (he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was given about a year, he walked on later that same year) and it was one of the biggest things to happen in recent Canadian cultural history. Not least because in his final months he addressed the subject of residential schools (I’m a bit out on a white dude saying so much without hearing about him giving First Nations people a voice of their own, but I can’t say he did wrong). We’ll be hearing more from the Tragically Hip in the future.

In any case, enjoy the music. I have a very social weekend ahead of me and it’s tangling with new stuff at work that makes me feel out-of-step but has many possibilities for personal and professional development. I hope to recover soon. :)

Stupid Work

Do you know this when you’re doing something that is physically and intellectually easy but takes so much time you cannot believe it? As you may know I started a new job this week, which is as a special ed teacher.

Now, I’m not a tidy person. Actually, saying that is probably like the Queen claiming to be not amused when her house just burned down. And because I’m chaos incarnated, I need to be very organised, because I cannot be trusted. So to have a good start, I created a folder for all my kids, with their files, their names printed on colourful paper sorted by their class, note paper,…

That stupid shit just took me two hours of my life. Who has got time for this? Do tidy people simply get a few hours more a day in whi9ch they can be tidy?

Blue folder on a cluttered desk

As you can see in the clutter behind the folder, I struggle with keeping my workspace clean.
©Giliell, all rights reserved

Tools.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved. Bad flash, sorry. Click for full size.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved. Bad flash, sorry. Click for full size.

Good tools are important. Having the right tools is very important too. I can highly recommend the Staedtler sharpener (mine is in obvious need of a clean). It works beautifully and renders a very sharp tip. Speaking of sharp tips, everyone who has worked with pencil, colour or not, is familiar with point breakage during drawing. This sends tiny bits of core all over the place. If you’re working in ordinary pencil, it’s not a major deal if it smears, as it’s easily erased. That is so not the case with colour pencils, Prismacolor in particular. Normally, I use a fox tail brush to clean, but these can cause problems with colour pencils, in that no matter how lightly you wield one, it’s still heavy enough to cause many a smear. The solution? Feathers. I use 3 types of feather. Not only can you pick up minuscule bits of pencil with them, they are very good to brush an area of your work without smearing.  The turkey feather is the lightest, and excellent at picking up bits; the other two are stiffer, with more weight, and good for an overall sweep. If you have a bunch of bits and dust, gently press the feather down on them, and it will pick them up. Don’t forget to clean your feather after. Just using your fingers on the feathers works fine.

Living rural, I don’t have to go far to find feathers, but if you’re deep in an urbanscape, feathers of all types are easily found in craft stores. The benefit there is that you can buy feathers by the bag, so you’ll have more than enough for your needs.

ETA:

22 seconds in the microwave, kept all the info. Just sharpened it, seems to have worked. This was also a sharp reminder of a major failing on my part – not paying attention. I’m so colour focused, I completely ignore observing the condition of the pencil. Now that I had a very good look at this one, there are a number of gouges and scores, particularly on the ‘back’ of it, and there was a suspicious piece transparent tape, too. So, while it’s good to know you can fix your pencil up, it pays to be very observant of the pencil itself before you bring it home.