<![CDATA[Tim Stutler - blog]]>Sun, 11 Feb 2018 23:05:00 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Camping Conversion Project for Honda Element]]>Mon, 10 Jul 2017 19:38:28 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/camping-conversion-for-honda-elementPicture
​My son Brent and his wife Arille commissioned me to design and build a camping conversion for their 2003 Honda Element. Brent's wish list included five items: the design must be comfy, clean, and visually appealing so that Arille (who I suspect prefers hotel-style camping) will actually want to use it; it has to include a shortened driving configuration which fits when the van's front seats are in use and the back seats are mounted on the walls; the entire unit has to be storable behind the back seats, for when passengers embark; it requires a lounge configuration for rainy days so the couple can comfortably relax, use their computers, or eat inside; and it needs plenty of drawers and cabinets for storage. The budget was set at $400.

I drew up a modular concept that should satisfy each requirement on the list:
The scheme included two short boxes, two long boxes, and three boards to bridge the boxes. The boxes and boards can be arranged in three configurations, for sleeping, driving, and lounging. Also, the components can be separated and stacked for storage. Wooden tabs on the underside of each board are designed to slip into slots on the boxes, locking the unit together in the various configurations. 
Then I built it, using 3/4" white birch plywood, which I finished with Danish Oil. When broken down into its separate components, the camping unit fits neatly into the two-foot space behind the back seats:
The stack will be strapped to the van's cargo hooks to keep it in place while driving.
In its every-day drive configuration, the van's back seats are strapped vertically against the walls. The camping unit sits about three inches beneath the seats. Note the opening in the back of the unit, which extends forward from the tailgate to the dashboard, allowing transport of 2 x 4s and other long items. But the unit is designed with camping in mind, which means storing the rolled-up mattress in that opening and leaving the back seats at home in the garage:


​Here's a photo taken from outside the driver's side showing the unit in drive configuration: 

The seats here are slid all the way back and reclined slightly. The cargo space on each side is accessible only from outside, though one could probably squeeze a hand between the closed door and box to grab a water bottle or two. Since my son and daughter-in-law both work for tech companies, I also provided two storage ports accessible from inside for laptops, tablets, or even (gasp) books:

​The long boxes include four storage spaces accessible from inside the Element through their hinged top lids.
At the back are drawers usable only with the tailgate down. But removable shelves (the boards with bowling-ball-style finger holes in the preceding photo) allow access to the drawer spaces from inside the van. I used 1/2" plywood for the shelves and the drawer bottoms. 

The drawers presented a particular challenge, because the tailgate protrudes upward in spots, hindering the drawers' movement. My solution was to attach a 3/4"-high lip under the boxes, to elevate the bottom of the drawer face. (See second drawing in first column of Sketch 4).
The following photos show Brent changing the camping unit from drive mode to lounge mode.

​First, the front seats are pushed all the way forward, and the lateral board is lifted out. (Note in the first photo the two small light-colored boards on the floor under the seats. The floor slopes downward under the seats, and those boards level the boxes). Next, the front boxes are pushed forward and the rolled mattress is stuffed further into the opening. The lateral board is then emplaced as a table, completing the lounge. 

As the photo on the left shows, the front seats can be used for back rests, though I think some lower-back support will be in order if using the seat for extended periods. And Brent can sit upright without hitting his head on the ceiling.

To change from lounge to sleeping configuration, one places the tabs of the lateral board into the slots between the front and rear boxes, and presses the board into place. 

Then the mattress is retrieved from the opening in the back . . .

. . . a little wine (or Bourbon, or milk or whatever) is added, and maybe a good book, and -- voilà -- the metamorphosis is complete!

For the bed here, I used a 3" full-size gel memory foam mattress topper bought on Amazon, which I cut down to 42" x 72". To preserve the somewhat delicate gel foam surface, I then stitched together a mattress cover from a canvas drop cloth (which I preshrunk) bought at Home Depot for that purpose. The box lids can be accessed without leaving the van by lifting and rolling the mattress over to one side or the other. I'll leave it to the Element's owners to install bug nets, blackout curtains, and that sort of thing so they can rest comfortably.

The camping conversion took about a week and a half to build. I managed to stay within budget. The materials cost (figures rounded): $165.00 for three 3/4" panels of white birch plywood; $81.00 for a mattress pad; $30.00 for two drawer slides; $21.00 for two cans of Danish Oil; $19.00 for a canvas drop cloth; $15.00 for various screws; $15.00 for a project-size panel of 1/2" pine plywood; $11.00 for four pairs of hinges; $7.00 for six magnetic catches; $6.00 for two bungee cargo nets; and $5.00 for glue. Total material costs: $375.00.
For those interested in building one of these camping conversions, here are the drawings for the small boxes (Sketch 5). The big-box drawings are included above (see Sketch 4).
That was fun! My Honda Element camping conversion project presented plenty of engineering challenges, but based on the reactions of Arille and Brent while checking it out, I'd say mission accomplished! (That's good, because we plan to borrow it on occasion).
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<![CDATA[Bali Yoga With Jano]]>Sun, 05 Mar 2017 02:03:41 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/bali-yoga-with-janoI just finished an eight-day yoga retreat at the "Soulshine" resort. Now, I'm not a yogi; a frozen loaf of white bread is more limber than me, I have no desire to loosen my joints enough to stick my foot in my own mouth (which admittedly is not a goal of yoga), I relish red meat, and a round of bourbon and cigars is my idea of meditation. But when my wife Marilyn asked if I wanted to attend the retreat with her, I leapt at the chance. 

Did I mention that Soulshine is in the island paradise of Bali?
Sunrise from Soulshine Bali's yoga studio.
The program, Bali Yoga with Jano, was sponsored by Maria and Joe Eckley of the Chula Vista Yoga Center and taught by Jano Galindo, their lead instructor. The prospect of trying one of their rigorous, advanced sessions was daunting to a non-practitioner like me, but I knew I'd have to experience at least one class to write an informed review. So I did. And I survived. This is the account of my experience--for those intrepid enough to follow. 

THE FACILITY. Soulshinebali Yoga Retreat Oasis was established by Carla Swanson and musician Michael Franti in the Indonesian town of Ubud. You may recall Ubud as the town where Julia Roberts found the love in the film Eat, Pray, Love. Carla told me the dearth of yoga resorts in the real Ubud inspired them to build. Soulshine's website describes the resort as a "chic and unpretentious" place to "chill ..., explore the beauty of Bali, [and] enjoy delicious organic food ... [w]hether your passion is practicing yoga ..., lounging by the pool, day tripping to the beach, temples and volcanoes, or finding your perfect spot to sink into a good book."

That's a fair description. Surrounded by rice paddies, palms, and other tropical flora, Soulshine's grounds are verdant and well maintained, and sport a distinctive South Pacific flair. 
The resort's guest rooms are air-conditioned, clean, quiet, and comfortably appointed. Suites are available, but we opted for a single room with a private toilet and shower across the hall. I must observe that after two days of showers, I discovered the frosted glass window shielding my showers from the world actually provided a clear, bubbly exhibition for the other guests. And 20 of my 23 companions were fit and attractive women. I now wish I'd avoided all those extra pastries and cakes over the last few months--you know, as a courtesy to the ladies--but a strategically draped towel resolved the issue.

Soulshine's recreational facilities include a refreshing infinity pool, indoor and outdoor lounge areas, massage room--and the resort's centerpiece: a cavernous open-air yoga studio on the main building's third floor. The studio features polished teak floors and beams, vaulted rattan ceilings, and plenty of fresh air. 
And after an intense yoga session (or a day lounging by the pool, as the case may be) guests can get a heavenly massage--for less than $20.

One personal concern was whether I'd be able to enjoy a cigar in the evening. Experience tells me that many yogis (i.e., Marilyn) lack a reasonable appreciation for the luscious clouds of pure delight calved by a fine cigar. But my fears proved unfounded. The resort's helpful staff pointed me to a perfect down-wind sitting area. After a quick detour to the bar for my favorite whiskey, I was prepared for a proper meditation. Ohmmm my god--nirvana. (Sorry.)

Speaking of staff, from owner Carla down to the newest employee, Soulshine's personnel were cheerful, caring, accommodating, and helpful. They made our stay a joy!
FOOD AND DRINK. Soulshine boasts a full bar and excellent dining facility, though the more voracious carnivores in our group soon began suffering ribeye withdrawal. Our healthy meals featured local fruits, grains, vegetables, and nuts, and sometimes a chicken or fish entrée. I found the food and tropical drinks skillfully prepared and tasty. 

THE PROGRAM. The Chula Vista Yoga Center provided our retreat's classes and activities. The Eckleys are veterans at running international yoga retreats, and Jano is a skilled and accomplished teacher. But each morning, he put his charges through (in my estimation) a medieval, human-physiology-be-damned crucible. Marilyn insisted that these gauntlets, while challenging, were safe, well-conceived, and even pleasurable events with "good flow," whatever that means. Jano also led a restorative session each evening, just before dinner. And early the next morning, my companions would emerge to face anew the desolation of Jano (which would be a crackerjack program title, if you ask me). And they did so with genuine relish. These are decidedly odd humans.

Between yoga sessions, the group indulged in extracurricular events, like temple tours, visits to beaches, hot spring excursions, market trips, cooking classes, and river rafting. But a couple of our frolics were ... peculiar. For example, Marilyn and others signed up to soak their feet in tanks of water teeming with tiny fish--which were bred to gnaw away dead skin. I am not making this up. Aside from being utterly ewwwww, it takes the whole vegan philosophy to a new and unhealthy level, if you ask me; my firm policy is that other species may not feed on my flesh. This policy has served me well. But here was my lovely bride and her equally deranged yoga pals relinquishing their position in the food chain. Inconceivable.

That's not to say I shied away from all dubious activities. For example, at a local coffee plantation, we had a chance to try Luwak coffee. This beverage, popularized by The Bucket List, derives from beans eaten and excreted by Asian palm civets. That's right, the coffee beans are culled from steaming piles of weasel scat, then roasted and sold to gullible rich people for upwards of $100 a cup! Naturally, when I learned of this disgusting monstrosity, I knew I had to try it. If you're curious how it tasted, here's the poop (sorry again): it was marginally better than a basic Starbuck's coffee, and left a disturbing deep brown sludge in the bottom of my cup. 
My advice: stay thirsty my friends.

As for my plan to join my companions for yoga, on Thursday morning I finally ventured into their eucalyptus-balm-infused world of Lululemon togs, washboard abs, and impossibly stretchy hamstrings. The session started promisingly enough: Jano announced we were going to ​"do topless." Unexpected, but such a spectacle might be worth a little suffering. But as it turned out, he had said we were doing "tapas"--and not those tasty little Spanish dishes either (which was probably for the best). Jano's *tapas* is a Hindu term--one of several he explained throughout the session. 

And then the yoga-ing began. Contrary to my previous notions, Jano didn't go medieval on us, hardly. He took us through the transitions slowly, provided clear instructions, and walked around the room adjusting our form, as needed. He even brought me foam blocks to ease my efforts. But the class was not easy; sweat cascaded off me in thick sheets, my muscles shrieked at my brain, and my limbs shook like a misaligned jackhammer. 

But I didn't expire. In fact, I actually found myself enjoying the session, which is surprising; I can't conceive of anything else that's so painful, yet so relaxing; well, maybe a sharp blow to the back of the head. In any event, I retained consciousness, and when the class ended I proudly pulled myself to my feet, blotted the floor with a bunch of towels, and stowed my mat. Then I limped off to the massage room. 

All in all, the retreat was wonderful. I enjoyed the people, the resort, the program, and the chance to relax, read, write, swim--and, yes, practice yoga--in an idyllic tropical environment. The experienced practitioners in our group doubtless got even more out of it. But whether you're an accomplished yogi or newcomer considering a Chula Vista Yoga Center retreat at Soulshine, I don't think you'll be disappointed. And I can confirm that one does not have to master yoga to put one's foot in his mouth. 

Checking my messages outside the resort. Not sure why is everyone's staring.
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<![CDATA[DIY Panel Bed from Vintage Doors]]>Wed, 19 Oct 2016 02:24:32 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/diy-panel-bed-from-vintage-doorsPicture
​I just finished building a bed for my son and his new bride. They wanted a queen-size, java-colored panel design. Here is the concept drawing:

​I decided to use vintage panel doors for this project. Architectural Salvage of San Diego had a good supply in stock. I bought a pair of sturdy 3-panel doors, one 24"x77" ($75.00) and the other 30"x77" ($98):

​​The doors are about 50 to 75 years old, but still sound. This cutaway view shows their sturdy design and construction:

The bed consists of 4 parts, a headboard, a footboard, a frame, and slats to support the mattress. I used the following tools and supplies on this project: compound miter saw, circular saw, hand drill, orbital sander, palm sander, clamps, hammer, Kreg pocket screw jig and accessories, tape measure, ruler, T-square, doors, wood, wood glue, stainable primer, gel stain, lacquer, paste wax, rags, screws, brads, wood putty, and sandpaper.

​Here are the lumber and cut lists:
Lumber List
1 - 30"x77" panel door
1 - 24"x77" panel door
2 - 4"x4"x8' (legs)
2 - 1"x6"x69" (headers)
2 - 8' moulding
2 - 1"x10"x83" (side rails)
2 - 2"x6"x8' (side supports)
5 - 2"x4"x8' (cross supports)
10 - 1"x4"x8' (slats)

Cut List
2 - doors @ 60" 2 - 4x4 @ 56" (headboard legs) 
​2 - 4x4 @ 26" (footboard legs)
2 - molding @ 69" (fronts)
4 - molding @ 3 1/2" (sides) 2 - 1x6 @ 69" (headers)
2 - 2x10 @ 83" (siderails)
2 - 2x6 @ 83" (side supports)
5 - 2x4 @ 57" (cross supports)

10 - 1x4 @ 83" (slats)


I built the headboard and footboard first. These are their dimensions:
To accommodate the 60-inch-wide queen mattress and the two 3.5-inch-thick legs (that's 67 inches for the math challenged), I first cut 10 inches off the ends of each 77-inch door. I used a circular saw for this, after affixing a 1"x"4" saw guide to the door:
As the photo below shows, the door ends were not symmetrical. But the headboard and footboard are, which meant cutting more off the bottom of each door than the top.
The preceding photo also shows that my cuts removed the moulding at the edges of the two outer panels.

​Rather than try to buy something that matched, I used the moulding I'd just cut off. (See photo at right). Here, the part to be removed has been outlined in black:

After cutting out that piece, I cut it in two along the white lines drawn in the photo to the left, and used both sides for the panel.

The extracted moulding was then glued and screwed to the panels:
Because I didn't want the finished bed to look like it was made from two old doors, I inserted a wooden block into the lock/door knob cut-out, glued and nailed it in place, and filled in the remaining gaps with wood putty. 
​After the headboard and footboard were sanded, they were ready to be fitted with legs:
I attached the legs to the headboard with glue and pocket screws. The front of the legs is flush with the headboard's face. The following photos show the back side; the holes were drilled from that side:
Once the legs were attached, the headboard was ready for its header. I positioned the header such that it extended one inch beyond the face and ends of the headboard, and clamped it all together. I again used pocket screws and glue, which would not be visible on the header or the face of the headboard.
Using pre-shaped moulding I bought at a local lumber store, I cut out pieces for the face and sides of the headboard. I attached these using glue and finishing screws. Brads would have worked too, but I wanted to ensure the moulding wouldn't rattle loose for at least a generation or two.

​I attached the legs, header, and moulding to the footboard, and filled any depressions, holes, and gaps in the wood with wood putty. I then smoothed the headboard, foot board, and sideboards with my palm sander. They were now ready for priming:

​I planned to use gel stain on the bed, which can be applied over previously painted wood, after a light sanding. But I wanted to ensure not only that the stain properly adhered to and absorbed into the painted surface of the doors, but also that it would look the same on the doors as it looked on the legs and other unfpainted wood surfaces. So I primed the headboard, footboard, and siderails with two coats (one quart) of stainable wood primer. I used SPQT Original Primer by Stainable Primer.
Stainable primer contains tiny particles of sawdust, which absorb the stain. It is thick and viscous, almost like a gel. It is also expensive, setting me back $55 for a quart. But I feel the cost was justified. I experimented by staining the inside of the footboard sans primer (you can't see that side when the mattress is on the bed). The stain did not adhere as well on the untreated surface as on the primed surfaces, and scrapes and chips off more easily.

​I next applied Java JQ Gel Stain by General Finishes. One quart was enough for the two coats I put on.

Here're the stained headboard, footboard, and (in the background to the right) siderails:

​Next, I applied three coats of lacquer. I used two aerosol cans of Mohawk Pre-Catalyzed Clear Satin Lacquer.

​Because the stain is oil based, and the lacquer water based, I waited 48 hours before applying the lacquer, to give the stain time to cure. I lightly sanding the first coat of lacquer with 320-grit sandpaper.


The headboard, sideboard, and side rails are the only parts visible when the mattress is on the bed. Once those pieces were stained and lacquered, I turned to the frame:


​This is a heavy bed, so I wanted a frame that could be disassembled for transport. I found a set of brass brackets that would accommodate this goal.
​I attached the brackets' male fittings to each end of the side supports (2"x6"), and then glued and screwed the side supports to the stained/lacquered side rails (1"x10"). These are the only permanently attached parts of the frame. Here are the dimensions of the frame, along with a photo of a side support with side rail and bracket attached:
A 12" mattress will be used on this bed. I positioned the brackets' female fittings high enough on the legs that the top of the mattress will extend 1" above the top edge of the footboard, and 1 3/4" above the bottom edge of the headboard.
​The following two photos show how the side supports/side rails attach to the legs:

​Once the side supports/rails were in place, I attached the 2"x4" cross supports. I used pocket screws -- but no glue, so these can be disassembled:
I next applied paste wax to all the stained/lacquered surfaces. Finally, I laid the ten slats perpendicular across the cross supports, evenly spaced (2 1/2"). I screwed the slats to the end supports (without glue).  

Here's the completed bed:
The total cost of materials was about $400. Now I just have to disassemble the bed and drive it to the home of my son and daughter in law!

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<![CDATA[Review of Cooking Class for English Speakers in the South of France: "Week in Uzès -- French Cooking Holiday"]]>Thu, 23 Jun 2016 05:39:21 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/review-of-cooking-class-for-english-speakers-in-the-south-of-france-week-in-uzes-french-cooking-holidayMy wife Marilyn and I finished a French cooking class last week in the South of France. For me, "the South of France" always conjures images of Earth's beautiful ones (think Gwyneth Paltrow) frolicking on the French Riviera. It also strikes me as an inaccurate description. I mean, I live in San Diego, which is in the southern part of California or simply, "Southern California," but not "the south of California." No, that would be Tijuana.

Whatever one calls the region, we didn't encounter Gwyneth Paltrow. But we did have a wonderful stay (probably because we didn't encounter Gwyneth Paltrow). In fact, it was the best vacation I can remember.* The cooking school, Cook'n With Class, is located in Uzès, a lovely little French Picture(Highlight images to enlarge.)
town that's been around for fifteen hundred years -- or thirteen centuries before the U.S. was a gleam in Thomas Jefferson's eye. Its classes, focusing on Provençal and Mediterranean cuisine, are all taught in English.

The school offers classes of different lengths. We signed up for its "Week in Uzès -- French Cooking Holiday," which presently costs 2,000 euros per student. As discussed below, that's quite a bargain by my reckoning. Class size is kept small to ensure personal attention (our class had four students, plus three who joined us for one day). The price of admission included six days of events and classes and seven days' lodging at a nearby inn, Mas du Moulin. ​​The inn, built in the 1700s, is a clean, comfortable, well-appointed stone farmhouse.

​Innkeepers Diane and Clive Norwood were outgoing and accommodating hosts, providing breakfast each day (compliments of the school) and anything else needed. I must note that peculiar, unsettling animal calls issued from the surrounding woods at night; I'm pretty sure I heard a banshee, though Clive insisted it was a frog (of all things; I suspect Clive is in league with the banshees). Whatever they were, our nocturnal carolers lent a unique and amusing texture to our evenings.

But cooking is why we'd come to this corner of France. And our quest was richly rewarded. The week was filled with demonstrations, hands-on instruction, parties, excursions, tours, wine drinking, entertainment -- and the constant aroma and taste of savory dishes that would reduce the most braise-hardened foodie to delighted whimpering. 
The school's proprietors, Eric Fraudeau and Yetunde Oshodi-Fraudeau, are an engaging husband-and-wife team which founded the school a decade ago in Paris. They opened their southern venue in July, 2015. Eric, the master teacher, is an unassuming if haphazardly coiffed Frenchman (who claims his barber is serving time and that he needs to start looking for a replacement). ​​And he is an accomplished chef who has established and run kitchens in fine international restaurants and resorts for thirty-some years. But most important for his students, Chef Eric is a patient and convivial teacher.

Yetunde, who manages most of the school's sales, marketing, and administrative functions and coordinated many aspects of our culinary adventure, is also a trained chef who has lived and worked around the globe for much of her life. When we first met, the outgoing Yetunde told Marilyn that I am "Hemingwayesque." ​

​I instantly liked her.

Our week started Saturday evening with a pool-side degustation party at Mas du Moulin, at which our class sampled fine regional wines, cheeses, breads, pâté, meats, tapenade, fruits, and other local treats. It was also the scene of my first faux pas: "nosing the cheese." It seems that hand-crafted French cheeses -- unlike the humble, ubiquitous Velveeta of my Midwestern youth -- have distinctive anatomical parts. And when presented with a triangular wedge of the delicacy (French cheese, not the Velveeta), one simply may not hack off the tasty point, or "nose." Who knew?

Lesson learned. But like many of the week's lessons, this one was delivered with good humor and to much mirth.

​Sunday was a free day. After breakfast at our inn, Marilyn and I toured Uzès, gaping at the castles and other ancient fortifications, shopping, and enjoying a light lunch in town -- one of only two meals we bought all week. That evening, we and our classmates returned to the inn to enjoy more cheeses, meats, pâté, tapenade, and the four or five (forgive my besotted memory) bottles of wine left over from Saturday's soirée. 
Come Monday morning, we waded into the world of French cooking, some of us more gingerly than others (see preceding sentence). Chef Eric proved an organized, efficient, and entertaining teacher. The day's main course was rabbit and onion, accompanied by a potato/carrot purée. Unlike the rabbit and fowl sold in the U.S., French game is sold with the head still attached. Eric explained that this enables a cook to positively identify her purchase, even as he unceremoniously Marie-Antoinetted our hapless friend. He then guided us through the process of carving, searing, and braising the rabbit.

We also prepared a side of Tomato and Basil Soup with cheese-stuffed zucchini flowers, and Tarte au Chocolat (chocolate tarts) with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. Finally, we started making Terrine de Lapin (rabbit pâté) for later in the week (pâté must rest in the refrigerator for a day or more, to let the flavors combine and develop). 
Photographs by Paulina Chudzik.        
Then we ate. And we drank; the French customarily enjoy a dry, light white wine as an apéritif, a different wine (or wines) to complement the plates served, and a sweeter wine as a post-meal digestif. I readily indulged in these mid-day libations. Cheese-noser though I may be, I still recognize a worthwhile custom when it dribbles over the rim of my glass. 

​Like every meal that followed, Monday's lunch was heavenly! The rabbit was tender, juicy, and more delicately flavored than any I'd had before. Marilyn most enjoyed the purée and soup. And then there was the tart ... ooh la! A confirmed chocoholic, I found myself transported to cocoa-bean heaven.
After lunch, we toured a local goat farm, experiencing rural France in all its pungent glory. And goats are not only aromatic, but also really strange looking. Check out this one's pupils and skull shape; goats look extraterrestrial, right? And have you ever heard a goat scream and holler? No? Then you must listen to this.

You can thank me later.

[Travel tip: do not pet the goats; the U.S. Customs form asks whether you touched livestock. If so, then you have to explain to a humorless Customs Agent that, "No, officer, touching farm animals was not the purpose of my overseas travel." It's awkward; trust me on this.]

As weird as goats may be, they account for the tasty cheese so popular in Mediterranean cuisine. Our enthusiastic goatherd showed and explained the process of raising his charges and producing different types of cheese. And our visit concluded with a cheese tasting, accompanied by baguettes and (of course) more wine. I enjoyed the tour. My only complaint was that not a single goat shrieked at us the entire visit. I guess they were well adjusted. Or just mannered. Or maybe extraterrestrial.

Monday's was the only pre-set menu of the week. Classes the next two days started at local open-air markets, where Eric sought input on what foods and dishes appealed to us. I expressed a hankering for duck, which he added to the week's menu. But for Tuesday, Eric found the most exquisite lamb shoulder at the market -- plump, red, and nicely marbled -- which we seasoned and roasted, to be served with artichokes A la Provençale
Along with the lamb shoulder, we put seared and roasted monkfish atop cream of peas, thick-sliced bacon, and squash balls; and made apricots with dark chocolate ganache and tarragon. Really -- tarragon! It was a wonderful combination. And sommelier Frederic Duverger joined us before lunch Tuesday for instruction on wine pairing. Our meal included multiple wines he'd selected for our dishes. ​
Photographs by Paulina Chudzik.  
That afternoon, we visited a local vineyard where the vintner (Hugh Laurie's doppelgänger) proudly led us on a tour, waxing philosophical about the nuances of organic wine making. Naturally, we enjoyed a goodly ration of his wine, under Frederic's tutelage. We reluctantly quit the bucolic retreat at around five o'clock, sated and sleepy.

Frederic and Eric lead the class in wine tasting.
Wednesday found us at a different open-air market in Uzès. Over the course of the week, I was continually impressed by the quality and expense of the food products the school provided. For example, Wednesday's main course was the duck I'd requested. The chef determined to serve it with sautéed mushrooms and green beans. He could have chosen a common mushroom, but opted for more pricey chanterelles. He also bought the most succulent duck breasts at the market, though other vendors had lower priced selections. 

The duck was preceded by an amazing salad of fennel and fresh seafood (octopus, oysters, mussels, langostino, and clams); bread and cheese; and more good wine. 
Photographs 2 & 3 by Paulina Chudzik.
Our dessert proved worthy of Wednesday's transcendant lunch: to-die-for Paris Deauville, a creamy cake with caramel and strawberries. Marilyn made the batter, which was poured into a caramel-coated Savarin mold (mould for Anglophiles), baked, chilled, removed, filled with fresh strawberries, and served. Wednesday's lunch was my favorite of the week.
Photograph 4 by Paulina Chudzik.
Our focus shifted Thursday to breads and pastries. The school brought in chef Patrick Hebert from its Paris site to teach French baking. Chef Patrick schooled us on Crème Brûlée à la Framboise, Madeleines au Thé Matcha (small, seashell shaped cakes), Clafoutis (fruit baked like pie in a flan-like batter), focaccia, and lemon cake. We also made dough for baguettes and croissants, which are multi-day projects. The bread recipes were surprisingly hard, and I had no idea so much butter is used. I'll never butter a croissant again!
In addition to desserts and breads, we prepared more savory dishes for a Thursday evening party and a picnic Friday. These included Gardianne de Taurreau (bull stew), Escalivada (tomato, eggplant, pepper, and onion salad), and the pâté we had started earlier Monday. For Thursday's midday meal, we made Pissaladière (a simple anchovy and onion pizza) and salad with vinaigrette. We also had the crème brûlée and madeleines with lunch, reserving the other dishes for later.
Thursday evening's cocktail party, held poolside at Mas du Moulin, featured regional musicians, dancing, and general frivolity. We also enjoyed the chance to meet a number of locals in attendance. The school served sangria, wine, cheeses, and the foods we'd prepared earlier in the day. Everything tasted great, but the bull stew was  triumphant!

Our last day of classes found us at the school early to finish the croissants and baguettes. We ate the former for breakfast as soon as they were pulled from the oven. Without exaggerating, I can proclaim them the best croissants I've ever had -- light, flaky, moist, and full of flavor! Bravo!
After breakfast, the school finished packing our picnic lunch -- French style, of course.

We all headed by horse-drawn carriage to Pont du Gard, part of an ancient Roman aqueduct built in the first century. ​We lunched practically in its shadow.

After lunch, the horse-carriage ride back, and an afternoon dip in Mas du Moulin's pool, we joined Yetunde, Eric, and the others at an elegant local restaurant. The excellent multi-course dinner served there was a fine ending to an exceptional week. But I must say, I enjoyed the lunches we prepared with Eric even more!

As noted above, my week at Cook'n With Class was the best vacation I've ever had. Unlike the typical European vacation, this was an active learning experience, we ate like (French) kings, and we had great fun doing it. Indeed, Marilyn and I were so impressed with our experience that we will be taking a class or two (they offer one-day sessions, too) at the school's Paris venue in 2017.

I highly commend Cook'n With Class to anyone -- from novices to accomplished cooks -- who loves cooking and eating!

[Travel Tip: If you decide to try the class, bring bigger pants for the flight home, and do plenty of these by Mas du Moulin's pool ...]
... you'll need both.

Bon appetite!
* This is an uncompensated, independent review; the author has received neither remuneration nor any other consideration not afforded to all students of Cook'n With Class. 
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<![CDATA[I Was All Wrong About Those Activity Trackers]]>Tue, 15 Mar 2016 21:15:43 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/i-was-all-wrong-about-those-activity-trackersPicture
​I've never had much use for an "activity tracker": my feet already let me know when I've walked enough for the day, my Levi's advise when it's time to ease up on the cheesecake, and the dent my coffee cup leaves in my forehead informs me when I haven't slept enough. Of course, the geek-chorus-approved smart watches I see everywhere do much more than activity trackers and are admittedly pretty cool. And shedding the onerous burden of hauling a phone out of one's pocket and holding it up to one's face is worth something, to be sure, but not the $300 to $2,000 premium demanded by the likes of Apple -- especially when every cellphone in the New World already has a clock on it. So, when my wife told me she wanted an activity tracker, I dutifully researched what was out there, but objected that such "wearables" are a waste of money.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Let me explain. As any modern husband or boyfriend can attest, a cellphone in a woman's hands -- or, more precisely, in her purse -- is basically useless. The advent of pagers, and cellphones after them, revealed that women's purses possess sound-insulating properties surpassing anything developed by the world's most talented sound engineers; they're the acoustical equivalent of a black hole. That means my wife rarely hears her phone when it rings. So the sequence of my messages to her usually goes something like this:

    "Hi, honey. It's me. Give me a call."
         (No response)
    "Me again. Call me back."
         (No response)
    "I need to talk to you. Are you there?"
         (No response)
    "Oh no, I'm trapped under a semi on the interstate! Call me ASAP."
         (No response)
    "I smell something. I think this truck is leaking toxic chemicals. I can't lift my head to see how far the plume has advanced, because the semi's front axle has pinned my chest to the pavement. But I feel a little dizzy. Gasp ... trouble breathing. Where are you?"
         (No response)
    "Oh my god, now I smell smoke! What is that ... barbecue? Sweet Peterbilt; I think my buttocks are aflame! That's probably best, because my boxers have a hole in them. Embarrassing. Please call before it's too late."
          (No response)
    "Not much time left, now. I can't see the paramedics (refer to my message about the axle), but I hear them saying I have a nasty gash in my femoral artery and will bleed out in a few minutes. It's getting cold. I'm so cold. In the name of all that is pure and holy, please pick up your phone."
         (No response)
    "I can't feel my legs now. If only I could hear your sweet voice one last time. I see a bright light. It's beautiful. So very beautiful. If you get this message before..."
         (No response)
    "I am undone."
         (No response)
    "Sigh. With a burst of super-human strength, I managed to lift the truck off my chest. Okay, I'm just going to pick up some milk on the way home."

         (No response)
​Who hasn't experienced that frustration -- unanswered cellphone calls, I mean; not being pinned under the axle of a semi-truck hauling noxious chemicals. (That would really be irksome.)
But what does all this have to do with activity trackers? Well, my research led me to a device made by Garmin, the Vivosmart HR, which should eliminate the sort of one-sided conversation described above. It's worn on the wrist and does all the usual activity-tracker stuff. But in addition, it vibrates when someone calls or texts, and displays the caller's ID, as well as any text message -- like a much pricier smart watch (and it shows the time, too).

Brilliant! No more missed calls. And with a 20%-off coupon, it cost me $120 at REI. I consider that money well spent. If my wife wants to believe I bought the thing just so she could see how many steps she takes in a day, that's okay. 

​Of course, if she doesn't take my calls now, we'll need to talk about that ... probably not on the phone.

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<![CDATA[California Bike Lane Markings - Review]]>Tue, 23 Feb 2016 04:36:30 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/california-bike-lane-markings-reviewCalifornia has no uniform system for marking bike lanes. Some of its markings provide more useful warnings than others. Like this one ...

Nobody wants to hit that guy minding his own business as he heads to the shipyard.

But this next marking ...

... and that hat; no cyclist wears that hat.

I stand corrected.

​But what about this marking?
All right, that's just nit picking.

​This surfboard/bike abstract is useful ...

... because one never knows when a hovering surfboard is concealing a bike. Duly noted. Or does the marking warn against crazy sidewalk surfers?

Yeah, we want to watch for that dude.
Oh. That seems inappropriate.

Now, this last bike lane marking ...
... it threw me.

Ah, okay. It's good to know one is about to enter an alien abduction zone during a bike ride. But painting the flying saucer more distinctively might have clarified the marking's meaning.

California bike lane markings: three out of five.

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<![CDATA[Filipino Oxtail Stew (Kare Kare)]]>Thu, 18 Feb 2016 22:41:57 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/filipino-oxtail-stew-kare-kare
Growing up in Ohio, I enjoyed standard Midwestern fare: bread, vegetables, pork, chicken -- and lots of beef. But we never had oxtail. Indeed, the only ox I can even recall hearing about was Babe, Paul Bunyan's companion. I wasn't simple enough to believe that oxen were blue (except for Babe, of course), though I couldn't have told you whether they were a unique cattle breed or a wholly separate species. And if pressed, I would have guessed that the last of them disappeared along with the Medieval serfs.

But a few years back, my mother-in-law made Kare Kare, or Filipino oxtail stew. Sweet bovinity, those creatures still walk among us -- and have tails big around as a burley farmer's forearms! I have never encountered a beast with such a prodigious rudder, and wouldn't want to stumble across one in a foul humor. But blessed Babe, oxtails make for a scrumptious stew! Kare Kare is salty, sweet, and luxuriously umami. And its surprise ingredient, beurre d'arachide (okay, that's just French for peanut butter), gives it a flavor and richness unparalleled in the stew world.

I've tried a number of recipes for oxtail over the years, including the excellent recipe in Adobo Road. Here is my take on the classic Filipino stew. (Note: I make enough for four, plus some to  freeze for a future meal, so feel free to halve the recipe.)


6 lbs oxtails
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large onion, cut into 1/4" slices
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into 1/2" slices
1 lb eggplant (long Chinese eggplant, if available), trimmed, split lengthwise and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 lb green beans (Chinese long beans, if available), trimmed and cut into 3" pieces
2 bok choy (Chinese cabbage), cut into 1/2" pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Water (to cover meat in pot)
4 bay leaves
2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
Beef stock (as needed)
4 tbsp annatto oil* (mix vegetable oil with annatto-seed powder, available at Asian food stores or here)
1 head garlic, minced
1 cup smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce (available at Asian food stores or here)
1 tbsp cacao powder (or cocoa powder)
1 tbsp chili sauce (I use Sriracha hot sauce)
2 tbsp calamansi juice (lime juice works, too)
Rice (to serve with the stew)
Shrimp paste** (bagoong, the traditional Filipino shrimp paste, is available here)
    * Gives the dish a mildly sweet, nutty flavor and orangish hue.
    ** Optional. This salty shrimp paste is traditionally served on the side. It is an acquired taste for some; if omitted, add salt to the stew.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place oxtails on large roasting pan and season well with salt and pepper. Brown in preheated oven for 30 minutes, turning every 10 -- 15 minutes for even browning. 

Transfer the browned oxtails to a large pot. Add enough water to cover the meat by an inch or two, and add 4 bay leaves and 2 tbsp peppercorns. Bring the pot to boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

While the oxtails are cooking in the pot, reduce the oven to 350 degrees F, add all the vegetables (but not the garlic) to the now-empty roasting pan, and toss them in the beef fat, supplemented by 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Roast the vegetables for 20 minutes, turning occasionally. 
Remove the roasted vegetables from oven, tent with foil and set aside.

Prepare the rice according to the instructions on the bag.

Transfer the oxtails from the pot to a large plate, and set aside. Strain the bay leaves and peppercorns out of the broth, reserving 8 cups of the broth. (Add beef stock, if needed.)

Heat the unwashed pot over medium-high flame, and cook 4 tbsp annatto oil and the minced garlic head for 2 minutes. Skim the fat from the broth, then add 7 cups of the broth to the pot and bring to a boil, scraping beef residue from the bottom of the pot (reserve 1 cup of broth to thin sauce later, if necessary). Whisk 1 cup of peanut butter into the broth.
PictureWe have a calamansi bush in the yard. If you don't (what?!), you can substitute lime juice.

​Mix together 2 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp calamansi juice, 1 tbsp cacao powder, and 1 tbsp chili sauce.

Stir the fish sauce mixture into the pot. Bring the stew to a boil over high heat, and simmer until thickened to the consistency of a thin gravy, about 20 -- 25 minutes. Add the oxtails, heating until warm, then pepper to taste. Kare Kare is traditionally served with bagoong, a salty shrimp paste. If not using bagoong, add salt to taste.

Serve over rice and enjoy!
Hmmph. I dare say....
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<![CDATA[DIY Furniture-Quality Plyometric Boxes and Window Bench]]>Thu, 11 Feb 2016 08:26:17 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/diy-furniture-quality-plyometric-boxes-and-window-bench
The finished project, sans cushion. Scroll down for more project photos.

I recently started using my wife's yoga room to exercise. It's a nice, clean little space. My workouts in there included Plyometric exercises, like stepping and hopping and even leaping up onto objects, such as Plyometric boxes. (I am told all the jumping and skipping will build explosive muscles, which sounds nasty, but apparently is a desirable quality.)

I wanted to get some wooden boxes for the room, maybe something like the seasoned scotch crate to the left; how great is that? I want it. But my wife quashed my planned desecration of her cloister with such a relic -- or with any of the many unfinished plyo boxes available online, which she felt looked industrial (and were expensive, at upwards of $125.00 each). 

That meant I had to make something--something nice to look at and touch; you know, furniture quality? A window bench might do. But those have only one jumping surface, and I wanted more. My solution was two plyo boxes, and a nicely finished window bench to stow them in. If you're interested in building some yourself, read on.

I first bought an 18" x 45" taupe cushion on Amazon for $45.00. The cushion would dictate the footprint of the bench. Two other things would also affect the bench's dimensions. First, it had to tuck snugly into the 23.5"-high space beneath the yoga room window. And I wanted two boxes of different sizes -- which had to both fit inside the bench. ​

Staging the Project:

Shopping List: 
1 - 4' x 8' sheet of 3/4" plywood (I used oak for the boxes and the platform they'd rest atop; it was the cheapest hardwood offered by Home Depot)
10 - 1"x4" boards, 8' long (I used select pine)
1 - 1"x3" board, 3' long (I used select pine)
1 - 2"x4" board, 3' long (I used scrap 2x4)
1-1/4" Coarse Pocket Hole Screws
1 - 32 oz. can Bombay Mahogany finish (Minwax PolyShade Satin Stain and Polyurethane)
1 - 32 oz. can Antique Walnut finish (Minwax PolyShade Satin Stain and Polyurethane)
Wood Glue
Wood Filler
Fine Steel Wool, Grade #0000
Paint brushes
Furniture Pads (I used Everbilt self-adhesive heavy-duty felt blankets)

Tape Measure
Circular Saw
Jig Saw
Hole Saw
Compound Miter Saw
Orbital Sander
Power Sanding Block (electric sander)
Kreg Tool Pocket Hole Jig
Right-Angle Drill Attachment
Safety Glasses
Hearing Protection
Filter Masks
Project Dimensions:*
*Note: drawings are not to scale.

Building the Project:

Step 1 (cut the box sides from the plywood):
Dimensions of Boxes 1 and 2
Cut List for Box 1 (L20" x W12" x H18"): 
2 - 16.5" x 20"
2 - 12" x 20"​
2 - 10.5" x 16.5"

Cut List for Box 2 (L24"x W14" x H16"): 
2 - 14" x 24"
2 - 14.5" x 24"
2- 12.5" x 14.5"

I asked the Home Depot employee in the lumber department to cut the 96" plywood panel into two sheets, 51" and 45" long, so it'd fit on  my car. Once back in my garage, I measured and marked each sheet ...


​... follow-ing these patterns:


​I used a circular saw for the plywood cuts. A simple DIY jig helped to saw the pieces faster and truer. Here's a website
 showing how to make the jig. 


​And here are the box sides, sized, cut and ready for drilling.

Step 2 (drill and assemble the boxes): 
After dry-assembling the boxes to ensure the sides fit together right, I drilled the screw holes. Nearly all the joints in this project were secured with pocket screws and wood glue. A pocket screw is driven into the wood at an angle, and provides a sturdier joint than a regular screw (and one far stronger than a nailed joint). And pocket screws can be installed on inside surfaces--out of sight. That was important for this project, which needed to present a clean, finished look. I used a pocket-hole jig made by Kreg Tool​.

​The first photo shows the pocket hole jig clamped onto the plywood. The second photo shows how the holes are drilled. The two holes are close together. The manufacturer recommends spacing each screw pair six inches apart. But because I expected my boxes to be ill-treated by footfalls heavy, stressful, and rude, I reduced that to four-inch intervals.

After drilling, I put the boxes together. Click on the following images for details:
Step 3 (cut holes in the boxes for lifting and carrying): 
Removing the 22- and 24-pound boxes from the bench will require vertical lifting, which meant I had to install something to grip. Because the cushion will rest directly on the boxes (the bench will be lidless) and the side clearances will be too narrow to insert hands, the tops and sides of the boxes offered no apparent spots for handles. I cut handholds in the boxes instead, using a drill and hole saw. 
Drawing inspiration from the noble bowling ball, I cut two three-hole patterns in the top of each box. (I take special, if undue, pride in this innovation.) 
Step 4 (cut boards for bench): 
With the boxes assembled, it was time to start building the bench.
Cut List for Bench: 
2 - 1x4 @ 50.5" (horizontal front & back interior top planks)
10 - 1x4 @ 45" (horizontal front & back planks)
8 - 1x4 @ 22.75" (vertical corners)
2 - 1x4 @ 18" (horizontal top side arm rests)
10 - 1x4 @ 9.5" (horizontal sides planks)

2 - 1x3 @ 15" (vertical top side interior arm rest supports)

​I used a compound miter saw to cut the boards. (A hand saw and miter box would have worked, too.) 

Step 5 (drill the bench's boards): 
Using the pocket hole jig, I next drilled the inside surfaces of the bench panels. On the vertical corner boards, I spaced each hole-pair about 6" from the next pair. These drawings show where the holes were drilled.
Step 6 (finish the bench's exterior pieces with stain/polyurethane): ​
Before assembling the bench, I sanded and applied two coats of the Minwax stain/polyurethane combination to the exterior, smoothing the finish with fine (grade #0000) steel wool between coats. I used Bombay Mahogany for the vertical corner pieces, arm rest and platform, and Antique Walnut for the rest of the bench. I repeated the procedure on the boxes, using just the mahogany. A third and final coat would be applied to the bench and boxes later, after everything was fully assembled.

Step 7 (assemble the bench's side panels). 
The gaps between the horizontal planks in the bench panels are 3/4", which is the thickness of a 1x4 board. This made spacing the boards easy during assembly (see image at right). I used a square to ensure the corners met at right angles.

Step 8 (assemble the bench's front and back panels): 
This involved the same assembly process used for the side panels, except the planks were longer on the front and back panels.
Step 9 (attach the bench panels together) 
I held the bench panels secure with clamps while screwing them together. I also used a square to ensure all corners formed right angles.
Step 10 (rough-finish the bench's interior with stain/polyurethane): 
Because parts of the bench's interior will be visible through the gaps between the planks, I applied two coats of stain/polyurethane to the interior. I didn't take the time to give it a nice finish like the exterior. But feel free to do so, if you are more meticulous (anal) than me. 

​Step 11 (attach the six top pieces to the bench): 

Next, I drilled and attached the armrest tops, 1x4 stiffeners for the top planks (front and back only), and armrest supports. These three pairs of boards had to be attached in the order specified, to avoid covering screw holes before they were used, and because the armrest supports would be attached to the two stiffeners.
As the above suggests, the armrest assembly has two components, a top and a vertical support piece. The assembly will be mounted on each end of the bench, at the top edge:

These armrests are too low to function as true armrests for any but the most incorrigible sloucher; they serve to keep the cushion in place, are a nice aesthetic feature, and offer a convenient spot for a coffee cup or water bottle--with a proper coaster, of course (good lord, show some breeding). The vertical supports bolster the armrest tops and prevent the boxes from catching the tops when being lifted from the bench. I used 1x3s for the armrest supports because I liked to look, but 1x4s would be fine.

To stiffen and strengthen the top planks on the bench's long sides (i.e., the front and back), I attached a 1x4 to the inside of those planks:
These were the only pieces on the project I joined with glue alone; the stiffeners will not be subjected to much stress, and I felt screws were not needed. After attaching them, I kept the boards clamped in place for an hour to allow the glue to set. Reminder: attach the armrest tops first, followed by the stiffeners, and finally the armrest supports.

Step 12 (measure, cut, drill, and assemble the platform): 
For four reasons, I decided to use a two-level platform in the bench instead of a floor panel: (1) small items will not be stored in the bench, so a floor won't be needed for containment and, therefore, would add unnecessary weight; (2) a platform would shift part of the boxes' weight away from the bench's four legs; (3) the top of the taller box will be flush with the bench's top planks and support the cushion, but the shorter box must be elevated to match that height; and (4) a floor might not sufficiently support the boxes, people sitting on them, and their coffee/water bottles (and coasters).

The platform, depicted in red below, is essentially two open rectangular boxes of different heights, connected together, which can accommodate the divergent heights of the plyo boxes. The platform consists of two long pieces running the length of the bench's interior, connected together by four shorter perpendicular pieces, which create the ends of each platform box. 
I cut the platform's components from what remained of the plywood panel.

Cut List for Platform: 
2 -- Long side pieces, 50.5" x 6.75", at tallest end (with the additional cuts shown in the drawing below)
2 -- Cross pieces, 9.5" by 6.75" (if you don't have enough plywood left over for the full 6.75" height, shorter pieces will suffice. Connect them with their tops flush with the long side pieces)
2 -- Cross pieces 9.5" x 4.75"

After cutting the 50.5" sides, I used a jig saw to make the additional cuts shown here:
From each end of the rectangular pieces, I cut a piece off of the bottom corner, 2.25" high and 2.75" long, as shown in the above drawing. That will raise the platform's ends so they are flush with the bottom of the bench's planks. The rest of the platform will recess from the bench's sides, where it will be visible only from ground level.

Finally, the platform was drilled and assembled. I dry-fitted the platform in the bench, and then adjusted the platform's length.
I next set the boxes atop the platform to check for wobbles and to ensure the boxes were flush with the uppermost edge of the bench's planks. I had to level the top and bottom edges of the platform by removing a few high areas with an orbital sander. When that was done, I drilled pocket holes for attaching the platform to the connecting pieces and bench.

The design calls for four cross pieces, but I ended up inserting a fifth in the rectangle for the taller and narrower box, because the gap was too long to support that box. Positioning the end piece where the new piece is positioned would have eliminated the need for the additional piece. But the end piece was already screwed and glued in place.

Step 13 (measure, cut, and drill 2x4 pieces to connect the platform to the bench): 
The platform will be attached to the bench at eight points with 2x4s (depicted in blue below): 
Note that each middle support-piece spans the gap between the side of the platform and the bench's bottom planks (and will be attached to the platform and planks). But the end support pieces rest under and support the weight of the platform (and will be attached to the bench's vertical corners and to the platform).

Cut List for Bench/Platform Connections: 
4 - 2.75" x 2.25" (end pieces)
2 - 2" x 3.5" (middle pieces for high end of platform)
2 - 2" x 2.5" (middle pieces for low end of platform)

After cutting the connecting pieces, I dry-fitted them and the platform into the bench, and adjusted the pieces. Then, I drilled pocket holes in the connecting pieces to attach them to the platform and bench.

Step 14 (rough-finish the platform and connecting pieces with stain/polyurethane): 
Like the bench's interior, the platform and connecting pieces were finished rough. But as with the bench's interior, you are free to sand and steel-wool those pieces to a smooth, museum-exhibition luster.

Step 15 (attach the connecting pieces to the bench): 
Once the connecting pieces are attached to the bench, the platform can no longer slide into the bench. So, before attaching the connecting pieces to the bench, I slid the bench down over the platform, placed the bench and platform on the floor, and propped up the platform high enough within the bench to provide room to screw the connecting pieces to the bench. 

I positioned the four middle connecting pieces so that they were flush with the bottom edges of the lowest bench planks. Note: the tops of the connecting pieces need not be flush with the top of the platform. But they should not extend higher than the platform. After attaching the pieces, I lowered the platform into place and attached it to the connecting pieces. I needed the right-angle drill attachment for some of the screws. 

Here's the finished platform attached to the bench:
Step 16 (adjust the bench and platform so they rest solidly on the floor): 
I next checked the bench for wobbles. Even after my previous adjustments, I had to sand a bit more material off the bottoms of the platform and bench to even out everything.

Step 17 (apply final finish to boxes and bench exterior): 
I waited until I was done building and banging around the bench and boxes before applying the finish coat (exterior only). I smoothed the previous coat with the fine steel wool, wiped and vacuumed the project, and applied the third and final coat of stain/polyurethane. Then, I waited a couple days for the finish to cure, and made a few passes over it with the fine steel wool. Last, I applied a light coat of wax.**

** I later stripped the wax from the boxes (but not the bench)​; they were a bit slippery.

Plyo Boxes Meet Yoga Room: 

I lugged the bench and boxes upstairs to the yoga room, put the cushion in place, and savored the final product.

Concluding Observations: 

This was a moderately difficult project with many steps. The total material cost was $315.00. But it was worth it. I can now ratchet up my workouts without harshing the vibe of my wife's yoga room: ​
Best of all, my wife feels her new furnishing actually enhances the space, so I may have scored a few points with this project. I'm glad I didn't try to force an old whiskey crate on her (my initial inclination). Perhaps there's something to all those zen sayings Marilyn posts on the wall.
I feel enlightened ... or exhausted.

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<![CDATA[Couldn't happen to a nicer guy]]>Sat, 19 Dec 2015 03:21:09 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/couldnt-happen-to-a-nicer-guyPharma CEO Martin Shkreli was just indicted on securities fraud charges. 
What happened then? Well in Whoville they say, the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day.

And then they all looked at each other and laughed and laughed. And they had another Who-beer.

*Apologies to Dr. Seuss

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<![CDATA[A Bacon and Cheese Diet? I'm in.]]>Fri, 10 Oct 2014 18:46:23 GMThttp://timstutler.com/blog/a-bacon-and-cheese-diet-im-inI had a settlement conference yesterday with a friend/opposing counsel I hadn't seen in awhile. "Fred," I'll call him, is about two weeks shy of his 50th birthday. The last time I saw him, he was a bit chunky and somewhat lethargic. But yesterday, in his stretchy polo shirt, "Fred" was a red-headed dynamo exhibiting a ripped frame about 30 pounds lighter than before.

"Fred" -- or Doug, the name my quotation-mark-intolerant friend's parents chose -- has always been a weight lifter. But it's no exaggeration to say that he now cuts the appearance of a sinewy capital "T" with a cherry plopped on top (kind of like a sundae on steroids).

"Looks like you've been working out," I observed, a manly yet PC understatement meaning, "WTF, Dude -- I hope you're not planning on riding the Tour de France soon, or taking any job requiring a urinalysis." 

"Sorry," Doug said, polishing off the last of the breakfast on his desk. "I didn't get to finish my bacon and eggs before you got here. Yeah, I've been working out, but it's this fat-friendly 'ketogenic diet' I'm on that's made the difference."

I usually avoid things ending in "ic," which experience tells me are usually distasteful or scary -- you know, like "epidemic," "Dianetics," "calisthenic," "acidic," "Titanic," "Nicki Minaj." Ok, that last one doesn't quite fit, and I know there are positive ic-suffixed terms like romantic, but you get the idea. Still, one don't usually hear "fat-friendly" and "diet" in the same sentence, so I set aside my natural revulsion for things icky, and listened. (Actually, he had me at bacon.)

According to Doug, a ketogenic diet is a low-carb, hi-fat approach to eating that sloughs off fat; lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol; wards off cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's; and gives one incredible energy stores. It's heavy in round steak, sausages, and other fatty meats, as well as cheeses and heavy cream, and light on fruits and (gulp) breads.

"I don't know," I ventured skeptically -- and cautiously, still worried about triggering a 'roid-rage-induced assault. "I ride long-distance events on the bike, and I'd bonk after two or three hours without carbohydrates."  He suggested I look it up.
Now, I'm not a smart man...
... but, frankly, a steak, bacon, and cheese diet sounds like something I'd invent if I lived in Colorado or some other state where salads are smoked rather than smothered in vinaigrette and eaten. It defies all conventional dietary wisdom. Still, I was intrigued. Did I mention the bacon part? This merited further research.

The first thing I learned is people on the Internet spew positively messianic diatribes about their views for or against the diet. But I read about Master Sergeant Mike Morton, a respected record-holding, ultra-distance runner who'd recently switched to a ketogenic diet. In his first military physical after the switch, he reported that, "My good cholesterol (HDL) went from 43 to 89 MG/DL... My bad cholesterol (triglyceride) went from 77 to 51 MG/DL." And he lost fat. Hooah, SGT Morton! Hooah.

"That's dumb," I can hear you scoff. "How can adding more fat to your diet trim off body fat?" That's a fair and logical question. Sticking with the military theme, I'll dummy down the theory so I can understand and explain it. Let's liken an endurance event to a military beach landing. Carbohydrates, which are converted to energy sources in the form of glucose and glycogen, are the soldiers that usually storm the beaches in fast landing craft. The fat stores are like a bunch of sedentary, contented soldiers sitting on the ship in the harbor. They have plenty of potential, but the problem is they never get into the mix because insulin blocks them from leaving the ship. And, by the way, the carb soldiers bring insulin with them onto the ship. In keeping with my admittedly silly analogy, and to entertain myself, I'll call the insulin "Ursula," and make it a hooker. 

The theory behind the ketogenic diet is that replacing carb soldiers with fat soldiers reduces the number of Ursulas onboard. With nothing holding the fat soldiers aboard, they storm the beaches. The benefit is that there are roughly 50 to 100 fat soldiers on a given ship for every carb soldier! So, they can pour onto the beach for much longer. The net result is greater and longer fighting capacity -- and a ship with much less fat left aboard. The key is replacing the carbs with fat long enough (two to eight weeks, according to the Internet and the book I'm reading) to change how the ship, or body, deploys it's fighting/energy resources.

Does all that sound too good to be true? Maybe; I don't know. I'm neither a doctor nor a ketogenic evangelist, so don't take my word for it (good General George Patton, don't be that reckless). Do your own research -- and ask your doctor.  There are studies and anecdotal evidence supporting the theory, just as there are skeptics with contrary evidence. Now, one thing that even ketogenic disciples agree is that when the intensity of the battle reaches a certain level, the ship automatically sends in more carb soldiers than fat soldiers, so high-energy bursts require carbs. That means a 100-meter sprinter or time-trial cyclist might want to opt for a higher-carb diet. But for weight loss and lower-level endurance events, this ketogenic diet thing sounds intriguing.

But here's not the kicker: although beer, with all its carbs, is verboten on a ketogenic diet, an occasional bourbon is allowed. That seals it: I'm going to give it a shot (the diet ... and the bourbon).

I'm riding in a century (100-mile) race this November. I'll let you know how it goes, assuming I survive.

Your results may vary.

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