Frivolous Links/Update

Every night this week I’ve had something up, and have something scheduled for tonight and tomorrow. A week straight of ‘free’ time rare and in 30 minute chunks. Mostly, I’ve been working on Bach in those breaks. But no stretches of an hour or two, not if I want to sleep – and I do.

Many of these things are fun – Chesterton Society Reading Group, Caboose’s violin lessons, the Feasts & Faith class I run – but they cut seriously into blogging time. Boo hoo, cry me a river.

I also sometimes look at stuff on the web – one can do that in small (exhausted) chunks of time. I’m addicted to people making stuff – go figure. The more outrageous, detailed and beautiful, the better. For example:

Here’s an Aussie who makes clocks and is working on making a replica of the Antikythera Mechanism:

Here’s a young couple who are building their own boat to live the rest of their lives on: https://saltandtar.org/

Here’s a maniac after my own heart: older guy building an ocean-going ship. In his front yard. In Tulsa, OK.:

And a 19 year old British kid who blacksmiths like a boss:

I’ll post something real first chance I get – I’m up to 102 drafts! Eyeeeeiii! Something in there has got to be blogable.

 

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Updates: Reading & Weekend

Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius by [Machiavelli, Niccolò]1. Am reading Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, about 25% through. This is a book Jefferson had in his library. Got to wonder: in the concrete sense of what structures and laws were enacted after the Revolution, most importantly the Constitution itself, is this book the most influential of all? Not Locke or Hume and that crowd, but the 16th century Italian patriot?

Consider:

I say, then, that all these six forms of government (monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy & anarchy – ed.) are pernicious—the three good kinds, from their brief duration the three bad, from their inherent badness. Wise legislators therefore, knowing these defects, and avoiding each of these forms in its simplicity, have made choice of a form which shares in the qualities of all the first three, and which they judge to be more stable and lasting than any of these separately. For where we have a monarchy, an aristocracy, and a democracy existing together in the same city, each of the three serves as a check upon the other.

 – CHAPTER II.—Of the various kinds of Government; and to which of them the Roman Commonwealth belonged.

Machiavelli is a fascinating guy. He points out that a new prince, having siezed the government, needs to destroy as much as possible all existing practices and institutions upon which people may resort in efforts to unseat him, going so far as to physically relocate people from their homes. Very The Prince, But then he says:

These indeed are most cruel expedients, contrary not merely to every Christian, but to every civilized rule of conduct, and such as every man should shun, choosing rather to lead a private life than to be a king on terms so hurtful to mankind. But he who will not keep to the fair path of virtue, must to maintain himself enter this path of evil. Men, however, not knowing how to be wholly good or wholly bad, choose for themselves certain middle ways, which of all others are the most pernicious, as shall be shown by an instance in the following Chapter.

– CHAPTER XXVI.—A new Prince in a City or Province of which he has taken Possession, ought to make Everything new.

The next chapter recounts tales of how even bad men flinch, and don’t do all the evil they should do were they without conscience and intent on ruling. This is the the kind of things that fuel the whole ‘Machiavelli is a patriot, and the Prince is a cautionary tale’ school of thought of which I am a member.

2. Ordered a couple more books that should get here early next week. I’m up to two stacks of books to read, one on the desk and another next to the bed,  that are approaching red tag status as they could kill somebody where they to collapse. OK, they could scare the heck out of the cat and cause a trip hazard – but it’s getting bad!

These two were on my wishlist from way back, saw them and said – I’ve got to read those! More education history stuff:

Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America Don’t know who the author is, but I figure he’ll at least point me to source materials.

The blurb:

Catholic education in America seems to have degenerated over the last few decades into a morass of modern humanism and secularism. How did we get to this point? This book provides the answers. By tying the relevant Magisterial documents into American history, we see how Catholic education began in America, why it suddenly changed in the late 1800s, and how those changes essentially guaranteed the failures we see in the 21st century.

This lines up with the impression I was getting from my other readings – that Shields and the experimental psychologists at Catholic University made an end-run around the bishops, slipping modernism into the Catholic schools by controlling the texts books and training of teachers.

And: American writers on education before 1865  just because. 

3. Writing this post to avoid cleaning up for another Brick Oven Blowout!!! (read in an epic Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! voice). Yep, having 20+ people over for some pizza, steak and ciabatta. Also going to try roast chicken. Got 3.5 hours to clean and prep, more than enough, if  – and only if – I get up RIGHT NOW and do it. Yummy fun!

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Weekend Update: Brick Oven Blowout

On Saturday, the Caboose and I finished up a couple details on the brick oven: the Guadalupana shrine and the oven door.

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The Caboose putting on a 2″x2″ framing tile.

 

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Next time I’m doing stucco, I’ll stucco around this, hide the tile set and cinder blocks.

David (that’s the Caboose) was inspired: he tracked down a couple small statues of Mary to flank the big tile, and spotted some Guadalupana votive candles at, of all places, Home Depot. So now the image has candles and little statues, and will eventually have some flowers and plants growing in front.

Don’t think I posted a picture of the little ledge with tiles on it:

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Plan to tile around the edges, too – tentatively scheduled for May, 2020. Only slightly kidding.

Next, if you want to do bread in a brick oven (one that isn’t gigantic, at any rate) you need an oven door. Scrounged up some scrap oak, dragged out the trusty table saw, clamps and glue:

 

What doesn’t show: thin sheet of galvanized steel, 1″ layer of ceramic insulation batting, and another layer of steel bolted to the back of the door. That sucker is heavy! But worked like a charm. Only issue: around the top, the wood is already being charred – heat rising, and the seal not being perfect. All I can see to do is monitor the situation – can’t see an obvious solution at this point, and maybe getting charred is all that will happen?

Fired up the oven a little after noon. By a little after 3, we were cooking. First up: seared flap steak:

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Two steaks, One was a little on the rare side, the other a nice medium rare. Tuck a few slices into half a ciabatta roll, add deli mustard – it was good. Later, reheated the meat in a cast iron skillet, and it was all medium to medium-well done. Still yummy.

Per Alton Brown, you liberally salt both sides, then let sit for an hour to warm to room temperature, spread some 1000F coals, and throw the steaks directly on them! Paleo, dude! 45 seconds to a side, knock off any coals that stick, then lay the steaks on top of each other on foil, wrap snuggly, let rest 15-20 minutes, slice thin against the grain – and super yummy.

Also made pastrami for the less bloodthirsty among us:

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Next up: the ciabatta rolls. Shovel back the coals, sweep the ash to the back, and throw the raw dough right on the bricks:

 

Did you know that ciabatta can catch fire if it gets too close to those 1000F coals?

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I was concerned, a little, about the blackened mess, but – these crispy, chewy rolls were soon gone! Yummy, and I learned a thing or two, mostly about the inflammability of bread dough.

Next up: pizza!

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Goat cheese, tomatoes and basil on pesto. It got et.

Made 5 pizzas, one was a dud – you can’t use very runny sauce, tends to boil and dissolve the crust before the pizza is done – the others were quite good.

Also wanted to try baked potatoes, because it seemed weird:

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Coat in oil, salt, and wrap in foil. Put the dutch oven on the coals to preheat, add potatoes, slide back up against the fire. Takes about 30 minutes to bake. Didn’t try one, reports are the texture came out very smooth.

Finally, spread the remaining coals over the oven floor, closed up the door, let sit for almost an hour while getting the ciabatta dough ready. Then remove all the hot coals and ash (got a cool lidded metal pail for just this thing) sweep, then mop with a dripping rag, check floor temp – should be around 550F – and throw the bread in right on the bricks.

The mopping not only reduces the amount of ash you going to get on your bread, but also raises the humidity in the oven which, paradoxically, makes for a crisper crust. 20-30 minutes later:

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Delicious with a little of the sharp cheddar you can see at the bottom there. Crispy, light and chewy – good stuff! Could have been maybe a little browner. Next time!

To get proper use out of a non-commercial brick oven, one must dedicate half a day to prep, and all of a day to firing/cooking. So, invite a lot of friends over – we did, worked out well, weather was California perfect. Spent Saturday evening making the ‘biga’ – the sponge – for the ciabatta and mixing up some pizza dough.  Then cleaned up and set up and first firing. Guests started showing up around 2, cooking started around 3, and the last guests left after 8. Just hanging out on the patio and backyard, yacking and eating and drinkling.

A lot of fun. It will take me a week to recover.

Weekend Update: Pizza and Luther

Hectic. Intense. Ready for a break.

But found time for some fun! On Saturday, we had a couple religious sisters over for dinner and the night (they sell books at Catholic events, were over in the East Bay from their house on the Peninsula, had some more gigs lined up in the Concord area for Sunday morning early, and didn’t want to do the drive home late, drive back early thing – if you’ve driven around here, you will be sympathetic). Took the occasion to do more wood-fired brick oven pizza! Woohoo!

One thing the interwebs in their inscrutable majesty tell us is that every brick oven is different, and one must just keep using it to learn how your particular one works. Seems ours is on the large size for a pizza oven, because I also anticipated baking bread in it, and so made it large – it’s maybe half way between a pizza oven and a smallish bread oven, size-wise. This means that heat time is longer – took about 2 hours to get the floor up to 800F, a proper temperature for Neapolitan-style pizzas.  Even then, could probably have used another 1/2 hour to really load enough heat in the 1/2 ton or so of bricks, mortar and concrete that make up the oven, to do more than a few pizzas.

But it worked! Ended up making 4 pizzas, two strictly traditional – simple flour, yeast, salt & water crusts, crushed fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and a dribble of olive oil – and two with a little more adventure to them.

At 800F, takes 2 minutes or less to cook a thin pizza. We didn’t quite make it – it cooled to a bit over 700F by the time the pies hit the bricks – so it took 3-4 minutes (That’s why I think we need that additional 30 minutes of heating).

How do I know the temps? This:

Fancy-dan laser infrared thermometer gun! My son and I were taking the temperatures of anything and anyone who wandered into rang. Just don’t shoot them in the eyes! Fun gadget – always impressed by how technology works it way down, so that I have a very sophisticated computer masquerading as a phone in my pocket – with satellite GPS uplinks and access to the WWW.  And it’s just a phone no better than that owned by hundreds of millions of people. Here, we have laser and infrared technology combined into a little plastic gadget that can measure temperature up to maybe 16′ away – for under $30, price of a medium fancy lunch.

Amazing. Life can be fun, if you let it.

Rereading Lord of the World. It stands up to and might even require rereading.

Next up, while shopping for pizza ingredients, got a call from my daughter at Thomas More College where the juniors are now reading Luther.

She was exasperated – people fell for this? Luther is completely unconvincing and is borderline incoherent much of the time!

She said that she at least expected him to be a smart guy, making somewhat sophisticated arguments. She, like her father and mother before her, had been recently reading the likes of Augustine and Thomas right before running into Luther, and so had developed a very high standard for rational argument. It’s hard, in that context, to see Luther’s arguments as much more than the logical equivalent of a monkey flinging poo: you don’t like the Church – we get it. Anyone who disagrees with you is evil or stupid or both – right. Your arguments, such as they are and no matter how they torture understanding and context, are the simple and pure light of the Spirit shining through – gotcha.

So she called me to vent. She’d gotten to the reading – Christian Liberty – before her roommates, and had ranted to the empty dorm room – oh, come on! – then had the experience of hearing her roommates do the same when they got to the reading. And of course she’d grown up hearing me rant about how idiotic and vile Luther’s actual words are, as opposed to what people imagine them to be in that weird space he seems to occupy in Protestant mythology.

The hard part: realizing that the followers are sincere. Educated Catholic reactions to Luther’s arguments and claims have, from the very first, been something like: that’s utterly ridiculous! You have to cherry-pick and torture Scripture to get it to say that! You ignore all context, gloss over all history, dance around basic logical question – and then call your opponents names when they point it out! What a knucklehead!

Yet – yet – those who speak of his fiery style and manly vigor, who see him as this saint who lead the world back to real Christianity, truly do not see the ridiculousness of his arguments and claims. Educated Catholics have a very hard time arguing calmly in such an environment, where each page, each paragraph, presents another absurdity, overreach and attack on opponents.

But we must. I read an essay once by prominent Protestant theologian saying he had a hard time letting go of the beauty of the basic Protestant view of Christian life, and saw it as perfectly viable and comparable to the Catholic view – a matter of taste, as it were.

Wow. Just – wow. But he is an exception – in general, admirers of Luther follow Luther’s own example when reading Scripture when they read Luther – vast amounts of authority and value are given to certain selected passages, while the bulk of Luther’s writings are explained away or simply ignored in light of those cherry-picked passages.

So: I’m going to redouble my efforts to by sympathetic to Lutherans and their Protestant brethren who take Luther seriously enough to have read some of him. I’ll try to listen, and hear where they’re coming from. THEN I’ll start quoting Luther back to them! BUWAHAHA!

No, wait – I’ll be even more patient. I’ll try to plant one little seed – and then shut up, and leave it to God. Because, frankly, this is hard.

Then there’s the rank and file – people who have read little or no Luther, and so imagine him, based on reputation alone, to be sweetness and light itself. They, like the bulk of Lutherans since before Luther’s body was even cold in the grave, more or less ignore most of what he said without even being aware of it. His Bondage of the Will teaches a predestination that is every bit as extreme  as Calvin’s – yet Lutherans don’t typically talk like Calvinists in this regard. For example.

In one of those odd confluences so typical of Real Life(tm), on Catholic Radio this morning was an interview with a bunch of converts from Lutheranism and Protestantism in general who are recently back from taking a tour of Germany to visit the various sites associated with Luther. Needless to say, they were not your typical such tourists. As converts from the mish-mash fathered by Luther, they were much more prepared than I would have been to engage – and they, by the accounts they gave, were at least as brutal as I would have been.

One point one the guys made to a tour guide at a Luther museum: 60% of the people of Germany claim to be irreligious. Well? If Luther were such a positive religious influence, why have the sheep so relentlessly fled the fold, rejecting any fold? When the guide answered that it was Communism, he replied that Poland, right next door, suffered at least as much as Germany did under the Communists – yet, united in their Catholic faith, they remain a strongly religious people. Strong enough to lead the way throwing out the Reds.

So, there is that. I, on the other hand, have to reign in my tongue. Fortunately, I suppose, have not had occasion to discuss Luther with any of his admirers for a number of years now.

Reading/Writing/Thoughts Random Thursday Updates

City of Corpses: The Dark Avenger's Sidekick Book Two (Moth & Cobweb 5) by [Wright, John C.]
Ami’s skimpy outfit is part of the story and the occasion for a very age-appropriate, not at all preachy discussion of modesty and virtue. 
Reading aloud to our 13 yr old, finished up Daughter of Danger and are now on into City of Corpses. He’s still digging it, even though the opening couple chapters are a bit expositional – not a lot of physical action, but more clever banter and psychological games. It’s holding his attention. It is a good book, a good story well told. Highly recommended, can’t wait for book 6.

 

I’m parallel reading Machiavelli’s The History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy  (about 60% through) and Stephanie Osborn’s Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System a 75-page discussion of what the New Madrid fault system is and what it means that Dr. Osborn put up on Amazon more or less as a favor to people who attended one of her talks. It’s sort of like a really good, really long Wikipedia article, written with more verve. I’ll have both these read and review them in a couple days.

Recently ordered a hard copy of Lord of the World just to have a copy to lend to my kids. Not everybody has a Kindle or can tolerate reading on a screen. Reviewed it here.

Aaaaand – ordered a copy of Edward Feser’s Locke and Lafferty’s Okla Hannali. The Lafferty is due to both Mike Flynn’s and Kevin Cheek’s recommendation – and Lafferty is a hoot and a great writer. The Locke I got because I’ve been trying to work some Feser into the pile for some time, and this seemed timely, and is short and relatively cheap. Have Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction on my wishlist, but it is comparatively long and expensive, so went with Locke for now.

True story: my elder daughter Teresa works in the office at a little Catholic grade school in the L.A. area where the Fesers send their kids. While in general she would have little opportunity to meet him, she saw him and his family as some sort of school picnic. She texted me, since she knows I am a fan of his blog. I told her she needed to say hi, and tell him thanks for linking to my blog (which he has done once or twice).  He was surrounded by people, and she was understandable shy, so it didn’t happen. Next time, I will tell her to screw her courage to the sticking place – she’s got that theater degree and did a one-woman Taming of the Shrew, after all.

Next time, I’ll tell her to tell him how much I like his books. I hope.

Anyway, I’ve got possibly, guessing, maybe 50 books on the short-term to be read pile, and literally hundreds on the eventually read/reread shelves. Just hope I’ve still got some eyesight and energy when/if I retire…. 6 years, 11 months to full SS, but who’s counting?

As far as writing goes, I really, truly have little time now, a situation I hope will resolve itself in a few weeks. Just too much going on, trying to get the front yard brickwork farther along before it’s totally dark after work, and have something going at church 2 and sometimes 3 nights a week – good stuff, but still. Once it’s dark after work, I’ll be forced to move inside – where the writing is!

For now, must content myself with stuff I do for work (anybody want to know all about lease finance? Physical asset management by leasing companies? No?) and the prep I do for our Feasts and Faith Thursday classes. Today’s class: got the Nativity of Mary, St. Peter Clavier, and St. John Chrysostom (we do Thursday – the following Wednesdays)  – all fun, plus the Sunday readings.

As far as thoughts go, this amusing little thing crossed my Twitter feed:

Red

This was brought to mind by a semi-random comment made in my hearing about how certain radical educational ideas, such as abolishing age-segregation and compulsory classes, would support progressive education. Um, what? Progressive education is what we have NOW – the graded classroom, age (not need or talent) segregation, the mewling idiocy of virtually all textbooks, the thinly-veiled efforts to keep us stupid – ALL that is the product of the best Progressive minds. Every great figure in the sordid history of education that has brought us to the point we are today was a Progressive, or would have been had the term been around at the time. Take Chicago – please. They will proudly identify themselves as Progressive, and do, in fact have among the highest paid (last I checked, it was THE highest paid) teachers in the nation. They count education reformer Dewey among their favorite sons.

So, with a century of uninterrupted Progressive leadership, with very well compensated teachers, what kind of schools does Chicago have? How are those teachers dong?  Not too good.

Just like in the cartoon above, it is hilarious to see Progressives trying to pin it on somebody else. Rahm Emanuel, you see, isn’t the right kind of Progressive – or something. When I think of Progressives, my mind turns to Chicago as the living laboratory of a century of Progressive government, and – no thanks.

The Pizza Has Landed!

Finally. It’s really only been 15 months since I started this project, it just seems like forever. Anyway, not *done* done – still need a door and a roof and to install the Mexican tiles, but: we made pizza tonight in our very own brick oven!

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The Caboose with the first pizza from the oven!

When we last left our intrepid yet reckless home improvement maniac, we had just put the first coat of stucco on over the ceramic insulation batting and chicken wire. The next day, the Caboose and I got up early and threw that second coat on before heading off to Sunday Mass:

Then, this morning, we put on the finish coat:

Since we were done well before noon, figured a new pizza oven needed an epic pizza peel, so I gathered scraps and drug out the table saw and clamps:

Around 6:00, we started the fire:

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The dough was on its second rising:

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Let the coals burn on the area where we’d be putting the pizzas for about 20 minutes, then shoved them to the back, swept the ash to the back as well (more or less) then started in with the pizzas:

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That’s mine – made the crust far too thin, got wadded up getting it off the peel. Tasted good, though.

We ended up making 4 medium-small pizzas, which proved plenty for five people. Things I learned:

  1. Should have let the coals burn longer on the spot we’d be cooking. As it was, by the 4th pizza cook time had more than doubled. Maybe need to heat with coals for 30 – 45 minutes? Maybe allow 1.5 to two hours of total heat time?
  2. No super-thin crusts unless you’re going small.
  3. Got to make a door. Helps keep the smoke out of your eyes.

Way fun.

 

Reading/Writing/Home Improvement Saturday Update

Daughter of Danger: The Dark Avenger's Sidekick Book One (Moth & Cobweb 4) by [Wright, John C.]

A. Reading Daughter of Danger out loud to the Caboose. He is a big fan of the Swan Knight’s Son series, which I’ve previously read out loud to him. Highly recommend the whole Moth & Cobweb series by John C. Wright, especially if you have children, who need to hear stories of people being good and heroic in the face of implacable evil. Characters wrestle with their consciences, and their consciences win!

I’m halfway through Machiavelli’s History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy, which is free on Kindle at the moment.

Swan Knight's Son: The Green Knight's Squire Book One (Moth & Cobweb 1) by [Wright, John C.]

The first part was fascinating, covering the Fall of Rome, the murder of Stilicho, his family and the families of the Goth legions and the subsequent sack of Rome by Alaric. I’ve now recently read Belloc’s, Lafferty’s and now Machiavelli’s accounts of the same events – very nice to compare and contrast.

Then Machiavelli covers the 6th – 13th centuries, a period that is to me and I imagine many people a bit of a blur – the various Germanic conquerors staking claims to Lombardy and Naples, emperors and would-be emperors coming to the pope to be crowned or not, popes getting involved in worldly affairs, the Avignon Captivity, rise of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, then the White and Black Guelphs –  I hope by the end of all this to at least remember which was which (and perhaps spell the words correctly).

One striking thing is how often the popes come off as sympathetic, as being forced to take action, of acting as peacemakers, as sending legates to try to prevent violence. Sure, Machiavelli, who no one ever has accused of being a softy or wearing rose colored glasses, tells plenty of appalling tales of greedy, worldly and violent popes – which is what one would expect. But he’s also willing, in passing, to acknowledge the good or at least well-intentioned actions of popes. I did not expect this.

Finally, about 40% of the way in, we reach another period of Italian history where the names and some of the stories are familiar to me. Dante, Brunelleschi, and, of course, the Medici. All those family names and many of the characters from the Divine Comedy put in appearances. Cosmo di Medici comes off as a near-saint – but the bar is pretty low among Florentine politicians. Still, his generosity and failure to hold grudges are in sharp contrast to the other leading historical characters – even if he’s doing it as part of a strategy to keep his head down and his family in power. That’s Machiavelli’s take, at least in part. Haven’t gotten to the attempted murder of Lorenzo and successful murder of his brother yet (a Murder in the Cathedral!) and his extraordinarily adroit handling of the situation which left him and the Medici much more firmly entrenched than they already were.  I’m eager to get Machiavelli’s take, which I assume he would have gotten more or less first hand as a young man.

Otherwise, I get the same general sense from Machiavelli as I do from Tacitus and Thucydides – hubris, blood lust, petty egomania and the violence, political failures and brain-dead stupidity they engender are eternal – as is the desire for the well-governed city.

B. Collected my first rejection letter. I will therefore not be joining the ranks of authors who got their first submitted story published. Feedback was promised, which I eagerly await. Then, as soon as things calm down a little (they will, surely) I’m getting back in the submit stuff saddle! Right now, things truly are extraordinarily complicated, I’m not just being a sissy.

C. At the moment, it is 102F outside with a bullet, on its way to a forecast 113F. This not only harshes my mellow, it seriously hampers my ability to work on the Brick Oven of Doom. Even I, a maniac of epic proportions, won’t try to work in the sun when it’s over 100 outside – at least, not for long.

Nevertheless, got up early and, with an hour break for Mass, worked until 11:45 A.M., when it hit 98F – and got the first coat of stucco on!

 

Getting the insulation on and especially the chicken wire on and tight enough was a bit of a pain, but the stucco itself was about the first part of this project that actually went better than I’d anticipated. I’ve stuccoed a bunch of walls when I’ve gone house building in Mexico (church groups build small tight houses for the folks working at the machiadores just over the border) so I knew how to do it. It just went really, really smoothly, especially with the Caboose helping with the stucco supply – didn’t need to climb down and up to reload.

If things go perfectly – ha! – we might have pizza as early as Monday!!