Brick Oven Rebuild, Part One–Getting My Soldier’s in a Row

At Attention

The yearly springtime curtain of green is descending in our woodland, and it’s time to get the outdoor kitchen rebuilt and ready for action. Our new smokehouse survived the tornado of exactly two months ago, and as my favorite food writer AD Livingston noted, they usually turn into storage sheds when not in use. It’s time to get the masonry tools out of there and get to work.

The all new left side and repaired back wall (above) is made of reclaimed bricks from the old oven. The left side itself is a “soldier row” of bricks that are stood on end–19 in total–that curve on the front and back ends. We were very fortunate that none of the fire bricks on the cooking surface were damaged, and I only had to re-set two rows, and these beauties are dry laid. No black mortar stains under the fingernails. Yet.

I am not Montressor

The dome is almost complete, and the black mortar is everywhere. The front is to be a flat slope that rests on the angle iron, which also has to be joined to the arched top. I have the masonry blade on my circular saw, so the dust mask will get a workout. If I were as fast a mason as the villain Montressor in Poe’s masterpiece “The Cask of Amontillado,” who walls up his friend not so Fortunato in the cellar beneath his house, I would celebrate with some pizza in a few days. Give me a couple of more weeks, and check to see if anyone has gone missing.

Another Midwestern State Caves to Big Ag and Bird Flu Hysteria

I loved teaching at The University of Illinois as a Grad student, and I was often assigned to teach English in a stately building named Lincoln Hall. A giant bronze bust of Honest Abe greeted all students and staff at the entrance, in honor of the man who in 1861 famously said,

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Lincoln, First Annual Message (to Congress)

Alas, not many people from the Land of Lincoln, which has instead become the land of tractors with A/C, stereos, and GPS guidance systems, still share such a view.

It was no surprise to see the following headline from WGN Chicago: “Illinois recommends residents halt use of bird feeders, baths,” complete with a stock photo of a hummingbird. The rules were actually nothing but some recommendations, which most literate people will ignore as just more evidence free corporate sponsored agit-prop. The only notable one is the last one, again from WGN: “Avoid feeding wild birds in close proximity to domestic flocks.” Take that, wild things.

This empty rhetoric (I also taught in the Department of Rhetoric) is a diversion away from the real problem, overcrowded factory farms where birds have died by the millions–last count was around 27 million, with 10.3 million coming from just two farms in Iowa–and so we have the classic solution in search of a problem. Even WGN seems to be saying as much with its last sentence:”So far, the [current bird flu] strain has not been detected in any songbird species.” Bird flu is ahead 27 million to 0, and the contest isn’t even over.

Hummingbird Flu is not Coming to any Sugar Water Near You (Probably)

Hummingbird Nest on Two Old Mac minis

The news industry exists for the same reason as the entertainment industry–to sell consumer products. Instead of reporting actual facts about daily Covid deaths, or Russian fascists committing genocide, we get stories about hummingbirds–not that I have anything against Hummers, but things need some perspective.

Today’s bird flu hysteria is about the ever-present danger of hummingbird feeders. Today’s click bait headline on is “Avian flu and bird feeders: Can you still feed hummingbirds?” It should read “should” instead of “can,”but this is only click bait, and I clicked on it. Among the ads for sandals and Toyotas was some generalizing about hummingbird safety, from Dr. Victoria Hall, who lives in the hummingbird paradise of Minnesota.

Dr. Hall starts out well enough, admitting that there is actually no evidence about any dangers of giving birds sugar water–unlike humans, who contract type two diabetes if they consume too much sugar water, aka soft drinks (that’s my addition). Then out comes the generality.

Because the science is unclear on the role of songbirds in this current H5N1 outbreak, one consideration is to not encourage birds to gather together at places such as bird feeders or bird baths. These are places where things like viruses could easily be exchanged between individuals


Exactly. That’s why I am not going near any cafeterias as long as viruses exist. On top of viruses, there could not be enough plates, or food, or silverware. Someone could have a gun. Someone else could speak Russian. Some creep might have a sharp fork.

The hummer feeders stay up, and filled. I might even find a new nest this year. But on to more important things–what Coach Saban serves the losers of Alabama’s spring scrimmage–beanie weenies, and no cake for dessert. That monster! How do his teams keep winning?

Stop Feeding Songbirds (If You’re Easily Frightened)

“Why experts say you should immediately stop filling birdfeeders”. So blares a leading headline on our state’s top “news” site, Never mind that there is only one expert cited, and she lives in Minnesota. At any rate, here’s what Dr. Victoria Hall has to say.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of gaps in knowledge about the role of songbirds in HPAI outbreaks. We have some data from previous outbreaks around the world, but this outbreak is very different. The 2022 outbreak is unique because of the very high levels of transmission of the currently circulating H5N1 virus strain in wildlife.”


Let me translate:

“…we have a lot of gaps in knowledge about the role of songbirds in HPAI outbreaks.” Trans–We don’t know.

“With minimal viral surveillance being done with songbirds, it is hard to measure the risk of transmission from songbirds to other birds.” Trans–We don’t have enough data to prove anything, but I am an expert, so I don’t need any.

Let me step in to the void with what is actually known. Here’s useful information from the CDC, cited near the end of the article:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 27 million cases of avian influenza have been reported in backyard and commercial poultry as of April 8th. Another 637 cases have been reported in wild birds in 31 states, including Alabama. The Alabama case was reported Feb. 23 in an American wigeon found in Limestone County.

Divide 637 by 27 million, and you have it–0.0000236% of documented bird flu cases in the US have been found in wild birds. I personally am going to roll the dice and keep my bird feeders full, and my chickens fed. Though I will end with a witty fake headline:

All cases of bird flu reported in Alabama were in the wild bird population.

Of course that number is only one, which occurred almost two two months ago, and was a couple of counties away from here. I just like to live dangerously.

The Roman Workbench is Finito Mussolini

Zeus Protecting Emma the Aussie from Donner, the German God of Thunder

Workbenches are multi-taskers, from holding stuff off the ground, to sheltering the pooch from harm during a thunderstorm outbreak. This Roman design turned out even better than expected. Just ask Emma.

Eight Legs are Twice as Good as Four

Here are only three of the holding devices that can be used on the AD 79 bench, traditional and modernized, though all are useful if not essential. The middle metal one, a forged bent piece of cast iron, is know known as a holdfast. Strangely enough, this wall tile from the Roman city of Herculaneum, buried in ash by Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, has a Roman version of the same holding implement, securing the board on the right.

Cherubs are Handy Helpers

Used in combination with a bench top dog (stop), as opposed to the dogs under the bench, the holding ability equals any modern set up. The Romans likely used wooden pegs, which can easily be made in any length or form. The modern version is the metal dog, and the little Veritas made dogs on my bench are called “surface dogs.” They will likely last longer even than this bench. Combine the old or modern dog with a modern version of a holdfast, a Sjobergs “hold down,” the one with the screw down mechanism, and your work isn’t going anywhere you don’t want it to.

Anyone wanting to know how to build this style of bench should buy Ingenious Mechanicks by Christopher Schwartz. It is better researched than many scholarly texts, without the mind numbing academic terminology. And it has pictures.

Speaking of academics, I once had a student who acted in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, while she was still in high school (she played one of the merry wives who dumped Falstaff in the river). She also enjoyed jokes about punctuation, pointing out that without the comma, “Let’s eat, Grandma,” becomes “Let’s eat Grandma.” True enough.

Something similar is true with “finito Mussolini,” in that a comma makes it “finito, Mussolini.” Little Mussolinis can be found in parts of congress, various state houses, and truck stops everywhere. They should be reminded of what happened to the real Mussolini, and the importance a comma can make.

Leftover Cedar End Table

Table or Stool?

The giant stack of cedar we were given is essentially gone, with the remainder good for nothing but pegs, wedges, and fire starter, although the shavings make a superior smoked salmon flavoring, when thrown on the fire in the smokehouse–think Virginia juniper instead of red cedar, as the tree is technically a juniper instead of a cedar. This piece is a gift to the in-laws who gave us the truckload of lumber to begin with.

I actually made this to be a stool, but once possession changes hands, it is up to the discretion of the new owners, who have always been thinking end table. The legs are made in the same fashion as “stick” chairs, as in the very old style of Windsor chair known as “Welsh stick chairs.” The usual Welsh Windsor is normally made without stretchers between the legs, as opposed to an English style chair. The piece, chair or table, therefore is considerably lighter than one with stretchers.

I have also finished my Roman workbench, and a picture of it will help to explain where all that red cedar went.

How to Put the Hammer Down on Big Chicken

The AI [Avian Influenza] virus is most often transmitted from one infected flock to another flock by infected birds, people or equipment.

North Carolina State University

In yet another amazing display of smoke and mirrors, the British government has banned free range chickens, and therefore, free range eggs. This rather transparent ploy came as many large indoor factory farms suffered bird flu outbreaks, which the government blamed on free range flocks, which strangely enough, were not experiencing the same levels of infection. Free range eggs, however, had taken over two-thirds of the consumer market in the UK, with five large grocery market chains selling nothing but free range eggs. Now that market share will be shifted back to factory farmed eggs.

This is the politics of Big Chicken–if you can’t beat the competition, have the government shut them down.

And it isn’t just free range chickens that are taking the blame–there are also those pesky wild birds. The following quote came from the NPR website, under the title of “A worrisome new bird flu is spreading in American birds and may be here to stay.” Here’s what one of the people who head Big Chicken in the US has to say–

“So I think I am kind of holding my breath this month,” says Denise Heard, director of research programs for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

The virus has a number of ways to get from wild birds into poultry, says Heard. Since the last outbreak, the industry has worked to educate farmers about how to protect their flocks.

“Wild migratory waterfowl are always flying over the top and when they poop, that poop gets on the ground,” she says, explaining that the virus can then get tracked into bird houses on boots or inadvertently moved from farm to farm on vehicles.

Heard says there currently seems to be less spread of the virus from farm to farm than was seen during the last major outbreak. Instead, there are more isolated cases popping up, perhaps because wild birds are bringing the viruses to farms and backyard flocks.

NPR, April 9, 2022

There is just enough truth here that it makes the idea of 5 million chicken mega-farms being composed of “bird houses” more than particularly hilarious. Migratory waterfowl do in fact suffer from bird flu, but they don’t die at nearly the death rates that battery caged chickens suffer. The slip-up comes when Ms. Heard says the virus is “moved from farm to farm,” which will be obvious when spring migration ends, and the disease just keeps on trucking.

My crystal ball tells me the next scapegoat will be backyard flocks. After all, of the more than 13 million diseased and culled poultry that Iowa had in March 2022, 53 were from backyard flocks. Just do the math. The interwebs is already full of do’s and don’ts for local chicken. Big Chicken gets a pass.

However, don’t expect anything from Big Chicken except higher prices, windfall profits, and the same low quality products. Therefore, I am proposing a Joel Salatin, aka the world’s most famous farmer, style solution to the problem: do nothing, as long as part of the nothing includes buying none of their products. Salatin, who is the right kind of conservative, in that he works to conserve the environment, says you can protest, lobby, and write all the letters that you want, but if you still buy those McNuggets regularly, Big Chicken just doesn’t care.

So the next time an industry plays the old look over here, not there, game, just assume they have something to hide. I know where my eggs come from, and its from our big chickens, but not Big Chicken.

Favorite Turning Tools, English Edition–Ashley Iles Tools for Foot Powered Lathes

Word for Today–Heaviosity

These may just look like two overgrown turning tools, and in fact, they are. The roughing gouge in the foreground–#6 sweep–is 1 1/2″–and the straight chisel is 2″. Their size is suited for their purpose, which is turning green wood on a treadle lathe, be it reciprocating, or continually spinning in one direction (“Treadle”-think foot powered version of the conventional electric lathe).

To my knowledge, Ashley Iles is the only major tool manufacturer to offer a complete set of turning tools for foot (human) powered lathes. I already had a set of four carbon steel turning tools, and these two, a couple of small spindle gouges, and some adapted straight chisels, rounded out the set. I bought both of these from across the pond, and the service offered by English tools sellers ranges from excellent to magnificent.

A Well Made Bevel

What distinguishes these tools from conventional turning tools? The bevels for one. The roughing chisel’s primary bevel is around 25 degrees, similar to a bench chisel. The edges of the bevel are ground into a triangle to keep the tool from snagging on the work as it turns. This is a cutting tool, not the typical turning scraper.

As is the shallow sweep roughing gouge. It has a similar bevel angle, and the size and sweep distinguish it from other similar gouges–my 1″ roughing gouge has a #11 sweep. I just purchased the shallow sweep one, and though the tools originally were available unhandled (my chisel has a rough and ready home made maple handle, which I scarfed out when the only turning chisel I had was a skew), this one arrived with a fine beech handle.

Finally, these tools are made from easily sharpened carbon tool steel. One reason is, that they need to be good and sharp, to avoid creating mostly sawdust. A extra bonus is that carbon steel is much less expensive than the usual high speed steel of high end turning tools.

The entire line of these tools are available from Classic Hand Tools in England. They can be purchased a la carte, or the entire set of six can be had for about $205. Several of these tools, including the shallow gouge, are unavailable in the States . Shipping is fast, and airmail is reasonable. In fact, my total for the gouge was less than it would have been for an equivalent tool here, if such a thing existed (the Iles deep roughing gouge, which is sold here, would be 5-10 dollars more if bought in the US). On top of that, no one knows how to package a tool like the Brits.

With Five Million Chickens on One Farm, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Actually, there were two farms in Iowa that had more than five million chickens each. Were. Iowa, the largest egg producer in the US, obviously is interested in quantity rather than quality. Now they have 10.3 million fewer chickens because of just two mega-farms, all in the space of one month.

Factory farms are justifiably notorious for the use of battery cages for chickens, that are too small for the chickens to even turn around. Disease will spread throughout an entire population of birds in no time due to the overcrowded conditions. But the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture thinks he has found the true culprits in this story–wild birds.

The theory is that asymptomatic migratory birds transmit bird flu to chickens that are locked up tight from both reporters and wild birds. As imaginative as I usually am, I am at a loss to see how this transmission occurs, short of crows with crowbars. Even sabotage by the Animal Liberation Front sounds more plausible (ALF has the most unintentionally humorous website on this planet).

Anyway, the numbers, via the Iowa Capital Dispatch

March 17–5.3 million chickens to be culled from one farm

March 31–5 million chickens to be culled from another farm

I foresee more to come. Those pesky wild birds are everywhere.


because facts really should be sacred

Ruth Blogs Here

Or not, depending on my mood

A Haven for Book Lovers

I am just a girl who loves reading and talking about books

what sandra thinks

because I've got to tell someone.


a little lunch, a little wine, a LOT of talking!

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

This, That, and the Other

Stories, Prompts, and Musings


Tales of quilting, gardening and cooking from the Kingdom of Chiconia

Cyranny's Cove

Refuge of an assumed danophile...

Exiled Rebels

Serving BL since 2017

this is... The Neighborhood

the Story within the Story

Beauty lies within yourself

The only impossible journey in life is you never begin!! ~Tanvir Kaur

Southern Fusion Cooking

Country Living in the Southern Appalachians, USA--A little of this, a lot of that

Discover WordPress

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Atavist Magazine

Country Living in the Southern Appalachians, USA--A little of this, a lot of that


Longreads : The best longform stories on the web

%d bloggers like this: