Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Today I'm doing a "how to use the library" session for a group of students who are learning about the history of Berlin.  Since it happens to be nearly exactly 30 years since I was in that great metropolis, I dug out some of the photographs from that trip to remind myself of my visit.  It was a long weekend visit during a longer exchange visit I made to Germany that summer.  My host family had aunt/cousins in West Berlin, so off we went.

I can only imagine how different it is today, and I look forward to seeing it again at some point.  These are a few of the shots that I thought would be most representative of showing what Berlin was like in 1983 from a young man's point of view.

Mostly I remember a vague feeling of being scared.  We drove to the city through East Germany, and the border crossings were tense- for me at least.

Yours truly, taking a photo of the Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate, from the western side.  The Reichstag is directly behind me.

And for a meta-moment, here is the photo I was taking when the one above was taken by my host mother.

Another memory of that day- and the importance of paying attention in history class- my host Aunt spent a good hour quizzing me on the history of the American Civil War.  Which I had to explain.  In German.

The Brandenburg Gate from the East Berlin side, Unter den Linden.  Me looking nervous.

At the bus stop, my host brother and me, yet again sporting a CWRU sweatshirt.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer visit to Washington

We had a lovely summer visit to the Pacific Northwest.

It is a long flight from Cleveland to Seattle, but we are fortunate that there is a non-stop to take us there directly.

It's exciting to see the water.

Grandma made several costumes for the lad.  Here is Doctor Sam.

Buzz Lightyear: To infinity... and beyond!

And the good knight, Sir Sam. Like all good knights, he wears jammies under his armor.

We got out in the kayaks- such a peaceful way to travel on the water!

We had a day adventure to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.  We took the long route via ferry to Vashon Island, then another ferry to Point Defiance.  Boys love boats.  The touch pool at the aquarium was fascinating.

Fun in the pedal go kart on the driveway.

Picking apples with the help of Grandpa's tractor.

Hard work deserves a treat.

Bill and Kim had some grown-up time in Seattle.  One fun adventure was learning how to blow glass.

A day trip to Mount Rainier National Park, where Kim and Bill enjoyed the glorious weather with a hike among the meadows.

Beautiful scenery.  Pretty nice mountains and flowers too.

Kim and Sam visit with Kim's friend Sara and her two boys on Whidbey Island.

Learning from the expert how to perfectly roast marshmallows.

 What a fun time we had!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Campus Legacy

No, that's not Sam.  That's the humble author with his grandfather, William Searl Hoffman, in 1969.

A week or so ago, I was looking through a collection of books I have at home.  I call this particular section of the library the Hoffman Memorial Collection- books that belonged to my mother and her parents and are inscribed with their names.  Most of Mom's are from her college years.  There are several that belonged to my grandfather, and one- his copy of Don Quixote- has in pencil, below his name, "Carnegie Technical Inst".  I had a vague memory that he'd gone there for schooling.  Part of what now is Carnegie Mellon University, it was a trade school and was where he went after graduating from West Tech High School in Cleveland to learn to be a printer.

I did some Googling to see if I could find anything about his time at Carnegie Tech.  Nothing came up, but I *did* find his name in a document housed at CWRU's own digital repository, Digital Case.  Not once but three times does his name appear in commencement bulletins for Western Reserve University: in 1932 when he was awarded a certificate for teaching industrial arts, in 1936 when he earned a B.S. in education and again in 1942 when he earned a M.A. in Education- all of these while he was employed as a teacher in the Cleveland Public School system as an instructor of printing.  And all of them occurred after he became a family man.

Why his education at WRU wasn't celebrated family lore is beyond me.  My sister Jane has a memory of Grandpa's graduate degree, but nothing beyond the fact of it.

I'd always dated my family's connection with CWRU (and all of its past incarnations) with my mother's graduate education in Library Science in 1957-58.  Dad came to campus almost exactly a decade later and completed his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics in 1970.  A decade and a half after that, I arrived as an undergraduate on campus earning my B.A. in English in 1988 and M.A. in English in 1993.  But it turns out our connection goes back a further 25 years with my grandfather's education.  So not a bad set of sheepskins for one family from one university.

I just wish Grandpa had stayed with us longer:  he died at the age of 62, in 1971.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book 'em

Nothing quite compares to the feeling of completing a creative project.

Kim and I carried this completed book case out of the workshop and into the bedroom yesterday.  It's the first large piece of furniture I've finished in some time.  Sure, I've done plenty of other smaller projects, but this one has been simmering and slowly coming along for quite some time.  In fact, the drawings I made for it are dated 2008.  Kim reminds me that since then I've created a few other things outside of the workshop, but still.  Five years on a case piece is a long time!

I've written about this project before here on Commonplace.  There was a post about making dowel pegs from firewood.  I talked about preparing the lumber in this post, which also shows the inspiration for the project- an article written by Shaker furniture expert Christian Becksvoort.  His version can be seen on his site- boy howdy, I saved $4,500!  And yes, I adjusted the measurements from his example- my version is about 6" wider.  This post is mostly about Memorial Day, but there is a picture of the dovetails, freshly cut, that hold the case sides together.  And in this post, the shelves were but a drawing taped to the wall and a pile of lumber.

Here is the case with the doors closed, empty of books.  It is made from solid black cherry.  The wide lumber (the top and sides are 12" wide boards) comes from a memorable snowy day, probably 15 years ago, when I acquired it from a barn in western Geauga county- the personal stash of an octogenarian woodworker who could no longer make use of it.  I think of him and his kindness often when I'm working in the shop.  The small table in front is one of a pair that I built about 8 years ago.  The bed frame was built with the same lumber.

Dovetails are a mechanical joint, and here they connect the top of the case to the sides.  The shelves are also connected to the case sides with sliding dovetail joints.

I'm particularly proud of the perfectly matched door knobs I turned on the lathe.

 Here's the case, doors open, loaded with trout and fly fishing books.

The young apprentice says it measures up!