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The Blog

Solstice Wall Shadow Lines – 2d or 3d?

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

The solstice wall is based on the movement of the shadow line in the photo below.

We marked the locations of the shadow every fifteen minutes so we could create a map of the shadow’s location as the sun set.

The lines above became a starting point for months of debate. The initial idea was to draw the lines on the wall’s surface and use them to create an interesting design.

Over time we realized that drawing on the wall wasn’t the right approach. It was two-dimensional and not very interesting. The wall is huge and in our main living space. We needed to find a remarkable approach and take our time getting it right.

Eventually, we started to consider making the shadow lines 3 dimensional and thought about adhering pieces of wood to the wall. This felt like the right direction, but it needed more. Soon we saw an opportunity to hold the shadow lines off the wall. This way, the shadows would be more interesting and the whole thing would look more sophisticated.

This idea stuck. But it also created new problems to solve. How would we install the pieces of wood on the wall? It took months and multiple models to figure out what could work. More on that soon.

Here is a brief video on this subject:

I’m sharing this process on social media. Follow along!

The Solstice Wall: An Introduction

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

At our home on Orcas Island, we have a large interior wall that faces south. In 2021, during our first summer at Flattop, we noticed that the roofline cast a shadow across the wall as the sun set every evening. This shadow’s movement gave us an idea.

What if we marked the location of the shadow line as it moved up the wall? That seemed like an interesting idea, but the marks would be specific to a single day. What day should we do it? The obvious answer was on the summer solstice. So, when that day arrived, we placed tacks and sticky notes on the wall that marked the shadow’s location in 15-minute increments.

These lines were like coordinates for the shadow’s location over the evening. The tacks allowed us to start thinking creatively. The shadow lines created a canvas across the whole wall, which is about 10′ X 15′.

These lines, which only existed digitally, were the foundation for months of design debate. What could we create that uses the lines and the whole wall? For the past 18 months, we’ve been working to answer that question.

Here’s a brief video introduction:

https://www.instagram.com/reel/C0z0QTtPwtV/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igsh=MTdlMjRlYjZlMQ==

Today, we have everything lined up to bring a new idea to life and I’m sharing every part of the process. I’ll share on this blog and a few places on social media:

For the Health

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

Sachi and I have an inside joke that relates to Hawaii. Her relatives have a tradition of saying, “For the health!” before eating or drinking special items that may or may not be healthy. We’ve brought the spirit of this phrase into our lives and pretend that we can make anything healthier by saying, “For the health!”, before munching on cookies, ice cream, or other goodies.

In the post below, I’m taking a decidedly more realistic approach to the phrase.


For the Health

When we moved into the new house, I had a mantra: new house, new rules. It felt like moving was an opportunity to rethink habits and set goals. This included the dogs and initially, they were the only success stories. They quickly adjusted to new regimes of behavior.

I ​turned fifty​ this year, and that prompted a new set of rules, mostly focused on health and wellness. Perhaps “rules” is not the right word. They are really more like intentions or hopes. My overall goal is to establish common-sense habits that can last.

I want to be healthier tomorrow and next year, but my real focus is decades into the future. I ask myself: What can I start now, and keep up for years, that will have a cumulative effect that’s positive? Sustainability is key.

When I talk to friends about these changes, they are always curious. It seems they are looking for ideas. I’d do the same in their shoes. We all need inspiration to change. I’d like to share the changes I’m making in case it helps you. Sharing also adds some social pressure on me to keep it up.

Turning fifty was a great reason to evaluate. Over the last year, I’ve had a physical, blood work, and minor issues that needed treatment. For example, a painless kidney stone led to a recommendation to drink a lot more water.

This has been one of the most positive changes I’ve made. I now drink water all day, starting with a glass along with coffee. Looking back, I had lethargy and headaches in the afternoons that likely came from dehydration. More water solved that problem.

My age also prompted a colonoscopy, which was clear. The procedure created an opportunity to learn about gut health. I made it a goal to increase the amount of fiber in my diet. Along with improved digestion, fiber is known to help with hypertension, cholesterol, and more.

So, I’m eating more fruits and vegetables, and I learned more about bran and whole grains. You hear about it all the time, but what is it, really? I think about it like this…

Grain, like wheat, has two basic parts: the seed and the husk. White bread and white rice are processed to remove the husk, which has most of the fiber. I’ve switched to whole-grain bread and mixed rice (brown and white), you know, for the health.

One of the great joys of my life is ice cream, or any cream, really. For years, I enjoyed yogurt in the mornings and ice cream in the evenings. This level of dairy needed to change. Today, mornings are all about protein. I usually have two eggs, veggies, and a bit of mayo. I’ve found that I have more energy and don’t crash as easily.

In the evenings, my ice cream has transitioned to Greek yogurt. I discovered a “cereal” called Kellogg’s All-Bran Buds. I realize that doesn’t sound appetizing, and it’s not a delicacy. However, it adds a satisfying crunch to yogurt and a half cup has 61% of your daily recommended fiber. Another cereal I learned about recently: ​Poop Like a Champion​.

Overall, we try to aim for the Mediterranean diet (according to the ​Cleveland Clinic​):

  • Lots of vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils and nuts.
  • Lots of whole grains, like whole-wheat bread and brown rice.
  • Plenty of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as a source of healthy fat.
  • A moderate amount of fish, especially fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • A moderate amount of cheese and yogurt.
  • Little or no meat, choosing poultry instead of red meat.
  • Little or no sweets, sugary drinks or butter.
  • A moderate amount of wine with meals.

Moving to the island was a great time to focus on cooking at home. Today, over 95% of our meals are at home. This helps us eat more whole foods and control the ingredients and portions. I’m getting used to smaller portions and more veggies. What we don’t skimp on is the flavor that comes from ingredients like butter, mayo, and soy sauce.

We’re not heavy drinkers but enjoy alcohol as part of our week. For us, the concern is more about calories than something more severe like liver disease.

This summer, I tried something new: non-alcoholic beer. It kind of blew my mind and made me rethink my relationship with the brews. I’ve had good experiences with craft-style beers like Athletic Brewing, which have very similar flavors to their alcoholic counterparts. It helps, too, that they are lower calorie; most are between 60-90 calories a can.

Keeping an exercise regimen has always been a challenge for me. In the new house, I wanted to find a way to exercise consistently no matter the season or weather. My Hydrow rowing machine has continued to be the ​perfect tool for me​. I now row first thing in the morning and listen to podcasts while matching my strokes with the instructor on the screen.

I’m also more intentional about being outside than ever before. The garden has been a constant source of movement, activity, and interest. Moving rocks, stacking wood, spreading mulch, weeding, planting, and pruning add up to a big and ongoing job that I genuinely enjoy.

So, more water, more fiber, smaller portions, fewer (and better) calories, and exercise. Unlike fad diets, supplements, or hardcore workouts, this feels sustainable over the long term, especially since it’s not absolute. I’m not abandoning sugar, fat, laziness, and everything nice. You gotta live your life.

I may not be a perfect specimen at 51, but that’s not the goal. I’d rather be above average at 80.

The next time you see me, ask about these new habits. Whatever the status, you will have helped by applying a bit of the peer pressure I need.

Sleep, Creep, and Leap

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

In talking to plant people, you hear the adage, in reference to planting ornamental plants:

The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap.

It’s a nice, medium-term way to think about the garden; one that teaches patience.

“…and on the third year, your gardening genius will finally be revealed!”

Two summers ago, just after moving in, I planted the garden with hope for the future. Just wait, I thought, in the summer of 2023, the garden will be bursting with color, fragrance, and life. I couldn’t wait.

The summer of 2023 just passed and I’m not sure my hopefulness in 2021 was warranted.

The second summer (2022) arrived and built my confidence. Most plants lived through the winter and crept into the summer, just as expected. Sections of the garden did well, like this huge dahlia.

We built a new bed which I filled with trees and shrubs, along with a bunch of perennials.

The process of choosing plant locations has always given me mild anxiety. How do I know where to plant them? What will they become in this location versus another one? Is this plant taking a spot away from a better one?

With a three-year plan in mind, I began to ask: Do I want these plants in these locations, for years?

An example is the boysenberries we planted along our fence. Over time, they become part of the fence and more permanent. I think we chose well with these two vines and should get berries next year. The plant in the middle is pineapple guava, one of the few tropical fruits you can grow outdoors in our region.

Another win is creeping thyme, which is starting to grow nicely over the rock wall.

As I learned more about gardening and garden design, I realized that I wasn’t locked in. I could experiment over time, and learn what works where. I could move sad plants and divide perennials I love. I could shake up everything. This was liberating and I started to see that the garden was always in flux.

Last fall I dug up 20+ Dahlia bulbs and overwintered them inside. I now know this isn’t required, but I wanted to move them anyway. They did almost nothing this year. As of October 2, a total of one has bloomed.

This “frost free” gardenia looked dead after a harsh winter. Today, it’s starting to show signs of life and I’m claiming victory in its savior.

Bottom line: experience matters and you have to earn it. The person who made planting decisions in the first summer was a rookie and rookies should not be making three-year plans. But what could I do?

The 2021 garden was a chance to learn from mistakes. Perhaps gardening knowledge is simply a collection of lessons learned.

Year Three – A New Beginning

Here in year three, I should be able to finally start the three-year plan and stick to it. I was inspired to dig almost everything up and start over. Like many things, the more you learn about gardening, the more amateur you feel. I’m under no illusion that I know what I’m doing, or that I’m capable of pulling off the three-year plan. But I am going to try.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve formulated a plan. I created an overhead map of our property so I could sketch a design reflecting my accumulated knowledge to date. The red marks are new or moved plants.

For the first time, this plan accounts for dividing perennials, planting some things I’ve propagated, and getting bulbs in the ground for the spring. Unlike the garden before, I’m thinking ahead about the overall design. This means planning ahead regarding height, color, spread, what blooms when, and for how long.

Finally, I’ll plant things with a real three-year plan in mind. Then, in 2026: Camelot!

I want it to be so, but I am realistic. I have so much yet to learn. I fear that in 2026, I’ll be saying “That 2023 dude was an idiot” and resolve to start the REAL three-year plan. Vive la 2029!?!?

You can see where this is headed. There is no end. There is no magical point where any garden is leaping all the time. Plants change constantly and sometimes mysteriously. There is always a new problem to solve or an idea to manifest. Maybe a leaping garden is more of an aspiration.

I’m already looking forward to the spring of 2024 so I can see the results of my planning and the start of what should be a longer-term experiment. If I keep saying, “Just wait until next year!” every year, I will be on the right track.


I Can Recommend

Speaking of gardening, I want to share a show and a few Instagram accounts that have taught me.

Gardener’s World:

For over 50 years, the show Gardener’s World has been a staple of British TV. Each episode has a mix of practical advice, visits to unique gardens, and an overall soothing British feel.

Monty Don is the long-time host (along with his golden retrievers) and I’ve come to be a big fan. It’s the kind of show that you put on when you don’t want to think too much. It’s light, educational, and quite entertaining. It helps, too, that UK weather matches our own.

​Seasons 6 and 7​ are on Amazon Prime. Seasons ​7,8,9 are on Tubi​.

Instagram Accounts

​Dave The Plant Man​ is a constant source of useful and interesting posts about plants. He’s so kind and charming.

​Nettles and Petals​ is an account by Jamie Walton, an extremely tattooed and experienced gardener who focuses on edibles and wild plants.

​Powers Plants ​posts frequent tips and observations about small home gardens and garden design.

​Branches and Leaves​ has taught me a lot about propagating shrubs and trees.

​You Can Do It Gardening​ – Jess is a garden coach who records herself consulting with clients. Great for design and how-to.

​Garden Mentors​ is by a local friend named Robyn Haglund. She doesn’t post as often as the others but knows her stuff and teaches online classes for gardeners.

Dear Friend, Let’s Talk about Mastodon

I set out to write a letter to non-technical friends explaining Mastodon. Then I thought: What if others want to use it? What if I encouraged that? What if anyone could copy, remix, adapt, etc?

This document is a starting point for your Dear Friend letter. 

I’ve dedicated the post below to the public domain and shared it as a Google Doc. Feel free to duplicate it, edit it, share it, etc. If you have ideas, corrections, etc. feel free to add them as comments to the doc.

No attribution is necessary, but if you’d like, my name is Lee LeFever and my Mastodon account is here: sanjuans.life/@lee


Dear friend,

You’ve heard me talk about Mastodon recently. I probably said things like “People who are done with Twitter are using Mastodon” and “It’s like Twitter, but different”. If you are skeptical, I understand. At first blush, it sounds like another social media start-up trying to make a billion dollars by selling advertising and personal data.

I can assure you, dear friend, that Mastodon is different and this letter is my attempt to explain why and how. The big idea is that tech companies, advertisers, or billionaires are not required for us to use social media. In fact, once you understand Mastodon, you’ll see that they get in the way.

Today a growing number of journalists, leaders, celebrities, and millions of others are choosing to use Mastodon because it functions like Twitter, but without the baggage. This is a choice you may be considering, too. Do want to use social media that’s owned and managed by a company, or by communities of people like you?


What is Mastodon again?

For now, let’s just say that it’s like Twitter. You create a free account, follow people, and read their posts in chronological order. They follow you and see your posts, etc. It’s a useful way to connect with others and learn what’s happening in the world.

How is Mastodon different from Twitter?

Think about it like this: Twitter is singular: one company, one community, one owner, one set of rules, one bottom line. Mastodon is plural: Multiple communities, each with its own members, moderators, and rules. 

I’m confused about that. Multiple communities?

It can be confusing at first. I was confused, too. The key thing to understand is that all the Mastodon communities are independent and self-supporting, but work together because they use the same software. The plumbing of Mastodon makes it possible for all those communities to operate together. After you get going, it starts to feel like one big community. 

But I like Twitter. Why move?

Twitter has been fun and useful to many. If you’re happy there, that’s great. Many people are finding that Twitter has changed recently. It’s now a private company owned by a billionaire who is making changes a lot of people do not like. Mastodon has become a viable alternative because it creates the same kinds of connections without a business model or bottom line.

I’m suspicious. How does Mastodon make money to support itself?

It’s not a company like Twitter or Facebook. Mastodon is software anyone can use to create and manage their own online community. The Mastodon software is open source and maintained by a non-profit and volunteers around the world. Most Mastodon communities are self-supporting.

So, how do I use Mastodon?

It’s like Twitter. Once you have an account, you can log into Mastodon on the web and via apps. You’ll use a website or app to post updates and connect with others.

Where do I sign up for an account?

What we call “Mastodon” is really a collection of thousands of communities using the same software. As such, there is no single place to sign up. You’ll need to pick a community (or “server”) that is your home community. See Mastodon’s list of servers to get started.

Wait. I need to find a home community before I can participate?

Yes. Remember: Mastodon doesn’t have a single owner or sign-up page. When you join, you’ll have things like a username, password, profile pic, etc. That information needs to be stored and managed somewhere. Your home community provides the place and ensures you can connect with other people on Mastodon.

How do I choose my home community?

There are communities of all shapes and sizes. Each one has its own name, members, rules, and culture. You’ll need to pick a community, but there is no lock-in. You can migrate your account to a new community at any time.

Two things to consider:

  1. The name of your home community is visible to others. This means your Mastodon username can be an expression of your identity, values, or preferences. You can ask: what community reflects me? If you’re into free speech or classical music, there is a community for you. If you care about mountain biking or gardening, those communities are available. If you don’t care, there are a lot of large, general-purpose communities.
  2. Communities on Mastodon are managed independently and you may find a variety of rules and policies across communities. Before joining, look at the community rules and how the community is moderated. If you want a free-for-all with no rules, for example, you can find it.

If I join a home community that’s focused on Pink Floyd, does that mean I’ll only interact with Pink Floyd fans? 

No, not exclusively. Your home community is one part of a much bigger picture. Once you have a home community username, you’ll have an all-access pass to follow anyone on Mastodon, across 1000s of communities. 

Will I be locked into my home community? What if I don’t like the moderators or rules?

No. You can always move your account to another community. This is a big reason Mastodon is different from Twitter. If you leave or get kicked out of Twitter, you lose access to the one big community. With Mastodon, you have a choice of communities and can find what works best for you. 

What if I get kicked out of my Mastodon community? 

First, you should probably do some self-reflection. Then, you can find a community that accepts your form of participation. You’ll still be able to use Mastodon and follow people, but your experience may be different because disruptive communities and individuals can be blocked by other communities. Your version of Mastodon, in this case, may be of the free-for-all variety. 

OK, so I have my home community and then the people I choose to follow. How does that work?

Twitter provides a single feed of posts. Mastodon provides at least two feeds:

  1. Everyone you choose to follow across Mastodon communities (Home Feed)
  2. Everyone who joined your home community (Local Feed)

Why would I want a local feed from my home community?

Let’s imagine that your home community is @flyfishing.wow, which promotes itself as a hub for fishers. Your local, (built-in) feed of posts is likely to focus on fly fishing because that’s who joined the community. This operates separately from the feed of people you choose to follow across Mastodon.

What if my home community goes away?

This is a risk in using Mastodon. Not all communities will be successful or supported over the long term. Thankfully, Mastodon provides a tool for downloading/exporting your data. This makes your account portable to a new community. 

Can I choose my own username?

Yes. Your username will reflect your home community and be visible to others. For example, if you join flyfishing.wow, your username will be:

@[YourName]@flyfishing.wow

The home page of your account would be:

https://flyfishing.wow/@[YourName]

Do I have to use my real name or photo?

No. All you need to join is an email address and that can be an alias if you wish. Mastodon does not require identity verification. 

Can I use multiple communities as my home community?

No. An account can only belong to one home community at a time. However, like Twitter, you can have multiple accounts. If you’d like, you can migrate your account to another community.

What happens when I follow people?

Their posts arrive in your Mastodon account (and app) in the “Home” feed. The posts are chronological and you can like, comment, and boost (retweet). Unlike Twitter, you can follow hashtags and see the posts with that tag.

How do I find people to follow?

This may require a bit of time and experimentation. If want to find the Mastodon accounts of people you follow on Twitter, you can use free tools like Debirdify, Movetodon, or Fedifinder.

I would consider making your Mastodon experience a fresh start and an opportunity to make new connections in addition to people you like on Twitter. Follow promiscuously for a while. Find and follow hashtags that interest you.

How will people find me?

The old-fashioned way: by posting regularly and being an authentic and interesting person. Follow a lot of people, leave comments, and boost posts. Talk about your Mastodon account on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else you connect with others.

What can I do to feel safe on Mastodon?

Like other social media, Mastodon is what you make it. If you see a community rule being broken, you can report the account to the admins of your home community or contact them directly. You can also mute or block any user. Feditips has a useful post on this subject

Should I use the website or an app?

Mastodon works well in a web browser. However, many people use apps on mobile devices. Mastodon has an official free app. I like the free Metatext app. See Mastodon’s list of apps.


Running a Mastodon Community

Most Mastodon users will NOT play a role in managing a community. However, understanding the process can help the rest of Mastodon make more sense.

I get that there are 1000s of communities. Who creates them? How?

Anyone who wants to start a Mastodon community can access the open-source software and host it on a web server, much like a website. This type of hosting is likely to require knowledge of installation, updates, back-ups, etc. There are instructions online

There are also managed hosting options. In this case, you’ll pay a fee to have someone else manage the server hosting, updates, back-ups, etc. You’ll use Mastodon’s admin tools via a website.

Once it’s hosted, a sign-up page will appear that people can use to join your community.

Let’s say I create a community. How will people find it?

You’ll need to register a domain name that serves as your community’s name. You can pick any domain you want, just like any other website. A lot of Mastodon communities use lesser-known domains that end in .social, .life, .world, etc. You’ll use the domain name to talk about your community and encourage people to join at that domain.

It sounds like I’ll have to spend money to do this.

There are costs in running a Mastodon community. You’ll pay for registering a domain and for using a web server. The server costs may start small (~$10/month) and rise as more people use the community. You’ll also be using your time for supporting users, moderating content, sending updates about the system, and other community management tasks.

If my community has thousands of users, will I be on the hook for that cost?

Yes. This is what makes Mastodon special. Each community supports itself. Large communities use crowdfunding and donations to cover the server and admin costs. In some cases, organizations support the community. Running a smaller community means a couple of people can volunteer. Larger communities might need on-call server admins and a staff of moderators for around-the-clock coverage. 

Let’s suppose my community grows quickly. What will I need to do on a daily basis?

It’s up to you (and other volunteers) to moderate the discussions and manage the community. This can be more difficult and time-consuming than it sounds. As the community leader, you can set the tone and enforce rules that you feel are important. If a person is disruptive, for example, you can use built-in tools to prevent their participation. Further, you can make your community private, request an application, or open it to the public.


Other Questions

What if Mastodon is bought by a billionaire or sold to another company?

That’s not possible. There is no company to sell. Even if a specific Mastodon community becomes controlled by a billionaire or company, it is only one part of a huge network of independent communities. People can just move to a new community if it goes sideways.

This sounds pretty great. Does it actually work?

Yes, it does. However, it’s important to note that Mastodon is not Twitter or Facebook. It’s a different platform with different features and values. The user experience isn’t as smooth as other platforms and it may take some getting used to. Once you get settled, using it becomes second nature. Mastodon and apps for using it are always being improved.

I like my Twitter friends and want to follow the same people on Mastodon. Is that possible?

Yes. There are free services that will help you find and follow your Twitter friends on Mastodon. See: Debirdify, Movetodon, Fedifinder.

What can I do to make Mastodon work for me?

  • Identify a community that will serve as your home on Mastodon and join it. Once you have a username, can follow anyone you want. There is no lock-in. You can migrate your account to another community at any time.
  • Add your Mastodon username to your Twitter profile and post tweets about the account. Add username links to your blog, newsletter, or any other way you connect with others online.
  • Follow a lot of people and hashtags. Think of Mastodon as a fresh start. Follow and unfollow liberally. Leave comments, like, and boost the posts you like.

What’s it like to use Mastodon?

A lot of Mastodon’s recent growth is from people leaving Twitter and looking for a safer, friendlier, more helpful place to connect. You may find that people are nicer than you expect.

  • There are no ads. Mastodon communities are usually member-supported and don’t need ads, algorithms, suggested accounts, etc. The experience feels cleaner in that way.
  • In general, Mastodon communities do not tolerate harassment, bigotry, etc. The Mastodon Server Covenant is a guideline for community owners and includes this language for what they want to promote:

Active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Users must have the confidence that they are joining a safe space, free from white supremacy, antisemitism, and transphobia of other platforms.

It’s important to note that Mastodon is not a safe haven. Disruptive people and communities exist on Mastodon. However, Mastodon provides tools for muting and blocking individuals and entire communities.

I’ve seen Mastodon terms that I don’t understand. Can you help?

Yes. Let’s start by translating from Twitter:

  • Twitter = Bird Site
  • Tweet = Toot
  • Retweet = Boost or Reblog

Now let’s translate Mastodon features:

  • Community Software = Server or Instance
  • All Communities that Work with Mastodon = Fediverse
  • Independent Communities = Decentralized
  • Software Connection Between Mastodon other Communities: ActivityPub

This is helpful! Can I use it for my friends?

Yes! I want you to use it. Share it as-is, or copy it and edit, improve, remix, and share.


I’ve dedicated the post above to the public domain and shared it as a Google Doc. Feel free to duplicate it, edit it, share it, etc. If you have ideas, corrections, etc. feel free to add them as comments in the doc.

No attribution is necessary, but if you’d like, my name is Lee LeFever and my Mastodon account is here: sanjuans.life/@lee


Thanks to Boris Mann, my friends on Mastodon, Feditips, and all the people working to make Mastodon the best it can be. Created by Lee LeFever. Learn more about Lee at LeeLeFever.com and CommonCraft.com.

Turning 50

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

A couple of weeks ago, Sachi returned from the post office with a grin on her face. She said, “Oh, do I have something for you.” This piqued my interest and I waited for the prize to be revealed. She dealt out the mail like a card dealer, slapping bills and brochures onto the table until it was finally revealed: my invitation to join AARP.

We both laughed, and mine was only a bit performative. The day had finally arrived. I was turning 50 and there was no going back. I put the invitation in the recycling bin and assumed AARP would be in touch again soon.

Entering my fifties is cause for a bit of reflection. Multiple people have asked what the birthday means to me, or what plans I have for my fifties. I leave them mostly disappointed, as I don’t have much to offer. I don’t plan to start running marathons or take up pottery. Those may happen, but it’s not my intention right now. I’m probably still riding the high of moving to Orcas and ​building Flattop​. For now, I’m not itching for change.

When I think about the next decade, I mostly want to remain mentally and physically healthy. Age comes for all of us and my hope is to (at least) maintain the status quo. After all, the arc of aging is long and bends toward incontinence. To keep one’s head above water is a constant struggle.

Louis C.K. has this great joke about how a doctor’s advice changes once you get over 40. He limped on a sore ankle for a month and finally went to the doctor to get it fixed:

If you’re over 40, by the way, the doctors give up on you. At 20 they would have fashioned a new ankle out of acacia wood, but for me, it was:

“Yeah, your ankle’s worn out!”

Is there anything I can do?

“Well there are stretches…”

Will that fix it?

“No, you just do that now! You do that until you and your shitty ankle goes away.”

My friend Rachael sent a text on my birthday with a similar sentiment:

Happy birthday, Lee! Welcome to the over 50 club. Special privileges include: sore knees, mystery back pain, the need for a nap during the day, and going to bed early.

I wrote back to say that this was also a major part of my forties. And it’s all true. Naps have never felt better. Some form of low-grade pain or soreness is usually present and I accept it as part of life.

Alas, I am thankful to be here, right now. 110 years ago, in 1913, the ​average life expectancy​ for men was about 50 years. Today it’s 76 years. Given my relative health and lifestyle, it may be more like 80.

This is cause for hope. Each year that passes represents a year of advancements in medicine. We could be on the verge of new cancer treatments, new vaccines, new therapies. I’ve lived through 50 of these years and believe the next fifty will be marked by scientific discoveries like the ones that kept my ancestors from getting smallpox and polio.

I sometimes visualize my age and future advancements in science on the same track. We’re on a collision course, creeping slowly toward one another. The older I get, the closer science gets to curing whatever will eventually do me in. Each year time passes and I get inexorably closer to both death and potential saviors.

My hope is that science is advancing toward me faster than I am degrading. In the future, it could move down the track, toward me, in leaps and bounds. In this context, I just need to stay on the track long enough for these advancements to reach me. The sooner the better.

So I am hopeful.

I heard once that your forties are the best decade because you finally get comfortable with who you are and care less about what people think of you. That feels right to me. I care less and less every day. Or, more aptly, the comfort I feel with myself grows every day.

What I am most thankful for at this stage is the people I’ve come to know and love. First and foremost is Sachi. I can’t imagine life without her. We’ve been fortunate to find a group of friends that we’ve come to consider family. All things being equal, this is the fountain of youth.

In approaching 50, I noticed how my outlook changed. For my entire life, the future seemed practically infinite. My age wasn’t a factor. I had plenty of years to reinvent myself or find some new life direction.

Lately, my thoughts have subtly and unexpectedly shifted from infinite time to a single question: how much is left? Let’s say it’s about 30 years. That feels substantial. 30 years is a long time to do virtually anything I want. I’ll never be a starting quarterback, but 30 years feels like a luxury and I’m doing what I can to appreciate it. I know that soon I’ll look around and say, “Remember how it felt to be 50, with so much time?”

Today it feels like:

  • 30 years for me to remain healthy
  • 30 years for science to advance
  • 30 years to reinvent or reimagine
  • 30 years to discover and learn
  • 30 years to increase my life expectancy
  • 30 years to love

I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Beds, Benches, and Lessons Learned

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

Under our house, we have a pile of lumber, decking, siding, and plywood that was leftover from the build. Nearby is a pile of two-man boulders. My goal is to use these resources to build out the landscaping at virtually no cost.

I tend to learn by doing. I might sketch out a plan for a project, but I’m always drawn to getting started quickly and stumbling through. And there are stumbles that waste both time and resources. But eventually, I learn enough about what doesn’t work to understand what does, and why. It should be noted that, on this approach, Sachi and I differ.

The Fire Pit

One of the features of living on Orcas Island is the availability of tractors. My next-door neighbor and three friends within walking distance all have them. When I tell them about the work we put into building a patio for a fire pit, they all say, “Why didn’t you tell me? We could have knocked that out in an hour!” And it’s true. We sometimes choose to take the manual route because it’s harder. We want to sweat. We want to feel it.

In this case, the manual route meant leveling the grade and moving rocks large and small across the property. It turns out that rocks are heavy and difficult to move with a little cart. But soon, I developed a system and started moving rocks with something approaching efficiency. I have bruises to show for it.

Moving the big rocks turned out to be the easiest part. Leveling the surface was also easy compared to covering it all with aggregate gravel. Bucket by bucket, we built up a 3-4″ base.

Within a couple of days, it was done and our friend, John, offered a fire bowl he didn’t need. It was the perfect fit for the space. So now, we have even more places to build a fire. Thanks, John!

The Potting Bench

In all the time we’ve spent in the garden, we’ve never had a proper place to work. We’d end up sitting on the ground to pot a plant or assemble a tool. I decided to fix this by installing a potting bench along our fence. In looking at designs, I loved the idea of the bench having a screen where potting soil can drop to the ground or into a bucket. This required a sketch.

I had all the lumber I needed, and dove into the project.

To my surprise, it came out even better than I imagined. We now have a potting/workbench in the garden. The surface is the same as our trim material, so once it silvers, it will match.

Hanging Planters

This project was a challenge; honestly, I’m still waiting for it all to fall apart.

In our first summer at Flattop, we thought it would be useful to mount gutters on the fence and grow strawberries. It didn’t work. Because there’s so little volume, it dries out quicker than you can keep it watered in the summer heat.

So, I had another idea: what if I built planter boxes that we could hang on the fence instead?

For this, I’d use panels of our decking, which is thermally-modified ash that is very rigid, but also a bit fragile. Without a fully developed plan, I started cutting pieces and gluing them together. Initially, I didn’t use screws because I was concerned the wood would break apart on the ends.

I built four boxes and let them dry for a few days. Then, I hung them on the fence and used spare wire fencing and weed barrier to create a bed that drains well.

They looked so good on the fence, and I was nervous. The added weight of soil and water would be the real test. Aaaand one didn’t pass. The day after I added soil, the first box I built came apart. Fun!

Clamps to the rescue. And screws. I ended up pre-drilling holes and covering those boxes with screws from every conceivable location. Lesson learned.

As of today, the boxes are full and currently growing basil, mint, dill, shiso, and zinnias. They seem to be holding for now. Time will tell.

Slowly but surely, the property that was wiped clean by construction is coming to life. We still have a lot of open space to work with and years to fill it. Hopefully, I can find ways to use the resources we have to do a lot of that work. I can’t wait.

Digiscoping from Flattop

When friends visit Flattop, they often say, “This is a place that needs a telescope.” and it’s true. Our view is full of interesting things to see in the distance. Coming out of construction, with so many other priorities, we could only say, “We’ll get one eventually.” That eventuality recently arrived, thanks to an early birthday present from Sachi’s parents (Thanks, Jim and Arlene!).

After a lot of research, I found that a “spotting scope” may be the best option for our location. Spotting scopes are used by hunters and birders because they are portable and have real power. The model I have is a Maven CS.1, which is considered a mid-range model.

My goal was not only to see into the distance but to take photos. This turned me onto an idea called digiscoping, which combines phone photography with telescopes and spotting scopes. It took more research than I expected, but I now have a reliable way to attach my phone to the scope. The attachment is called a Phone Skope.

This time of year, bald eagles are common on our property. They hang out on a Douglas fir that’s clearly visible from our living room and I made it a priority to test the new scope on our feathered friends. I was not disappointed.

Sometimes video footage comes out better than photos. Here’s four minutes of a bald eagle doing eagle things:

As boating season kicks off, I’m sure I’ll be snapping pics of ones that I find interesting. This is a small cruise ship called Wilderness Legacy.

Looking further across the Salish Sea, we can see Canada and the layers of islands in the distance more clearly than ever before.

I’m hoping to use the scope to take photos I never thought possible. More soon!

Anatomy of a Speed Run

The alarm went off at 5:20 am and I rolled around in bed until the light came on. Sachi was up first and fed the dogs, who were slightly confused. They’d seen this before and were wondering: Are we going, too? We were up to catch the 7 am ferry to the mainland.

As always, we bring food and a bunch of water bottles for us and the dogs. Wine totes from the grocery store work really well for that.

water bottles in a tote

✅ Sustenance

The longer we live on Orcas Island, and at the mercy of ferries, the more we learn to optimize. It’s normal to visit the mainland as a day trip. You take an hour-long ferry ride over, run errands, and come back on the ferry. The question becomes: What can you get done between ferries? If you plan poorly, you might waste hours waiting for the next ferry. This is where optimization matters most.

This time of year, there are two ferry options for the return home, a 3 pm and a 7 pm sailing. In any other season of the year, it would be difficult to get reservations on these sailings because they’d be full of tourists. In January, we can get reservations for one, both, or show up and hope for the best. As a general rule, we don’t leave these things to chance. 

We left home at 6:15 am, both dogs curled in the seats, with the goal of making the 3 pm ferry home. It was going to be close. Our list was full of errands with unknown durations. Things had to line up just right to work.

boarding a ferry

✅ Caught the 7 am ferry

The original reason for the trip was a doctor’s appointment. Once it was on the calendar, our thoughts turned to what else we could do during the trip. Our car needed its 75k mile service. We needed things from Costco. We needed to eat and get gas. How could we optimize our time?

A complicating factor was that our errands were spread across NW Washington. When I made the doctor’s appointment, I also made an appointment to get our car serviced at the dealership, which is 45 minutes from the doctor’s office, up Interstate 5, in Bellingham. 

The dealership was our first destination and we arrived, with both of our cars, by 9:45 am.

✅ Dropped off the car

We told the intake guy at the service counter a familiar story: We were in a time crunch and trying to make a 3 pm ferry. We’d need the car ready by about 1:15 to make it work. Service people in our region are used to islanders on speed runs. He was gracious and said he’d see what he could do. This variable had the potential to change our plans. If the car was ready at 1:30 instead, we might be pushed to the 7 pm ferry.

We needed to work Costco into the mix and decided to visit the one near the dealership. As we parked at Costco, Sachi said we could only spend 30 minutes inside and we both took it as a challenge. It was a small trip… milk, lots of veggies, etc. They were out of eggs. EGGS. For one of the first times ever, we approached the checkout without a line. The universe was aligning. As Sachi paid, I ordered us two hot dog combos for $3 in total. There was no time for other food options. We made it back to the car in 30 minutes.

✅ Costco Groceries

✅ Brunch

Next was my doctor’s appointment, 45 minutes away. We drove down I-5 and arrived with a few minutes to spare. We took the dogs on a quick walk and fed them.

two dogs in a car

✅ Dog Care

Every minute that went by added a bit of pressure. They called me in and the doctor arrived in a reasonable amount of time. We talked for 10 minutes or so and I was trying to be curt. This variable was working in our favor and I didn’t want to compromise it.

✅ Doctors Appointment

I returned to a car full of excited dogs and Sachi focused on the task at hand. We agreed that we’d immediately head back up I-5 toward the dealership with the hope that the car would be ready. Before we left the parking lot, I received a text that it would be ready by 12:30. Sachi looked at me with a smile, “We’re going to make it.”

We drove up 45 minutes up I-5 and picked up the car with a bit of time to spare.

✅ Picked Up the Car

Sachi had an idea for adding one more stop. Mainland gas is cheaper, especially at Costco. If we hurried, we could fill both cars on the way to the ferry. So we drove back down I-5 to the second Costco of the day to fill up.

✅ Gas for Both Cars

We arrived at the ferry terminal by the skin of our teeth and were both looking for a late lunch. Sachi, as usual, had planned ahead. We ate leftover chicken and rice as we made our way back to Orcas Island. It tasted amazing because it was tinged with victory.

✅ Late Lunch

The speed run was successful and Sachi slept on the ferry.

✅ Nap

We arrived home before dark.

About Me

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

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