i had a restless night of sleep, terrified i would stroke out from my escalating blood pressure. any kind of physical discomfort i immediately attributed to my impending doom. when i woke up this morning and realized i was still alive that was a great feeling. i took a diovan pill, hopefully on my way back to blood pressure normality. it was probably psychological, but i felt healthier already.

i left for belmont before victor woke up, around 11:00. i didn't bother leaving a note this time, figured he'd realize by now that if i wasn't home on the weekend i was probably at my parents' place. i bumped into james, decked out in his spandex racing outfit, carrying his ultralight bicycle down the stairs. he was off to concord and lexington to do some training. that guy is a hardcore cyclist. i felt embarrassed by my own ride, having spent the night outside in the soaking rain accumulating rust.

my aunt and uncle lili and matthew were in belmont; their car outside the house was the tipoff. they were there to go over the travel itinerary with my parents for their joint trip to western china (xinjiang) next month.

after they left, my mother fixed us some lunch, bowls of noodle soup in pho broth with beef tendons.

i continued working on my plans to build some raised beds with input from my father. we decided that 20" was unnecessarily high, and that 12" was a better height for the boxes. dimension-wise they'd still be the same, 4'x8'.

with the size of the raised bed squared away, it was time to consider some of the other aspects. what type of wood should we use? gardeners still can't agree on whether or not pressure-treated lumber is a safe option. i found some pro-pressure-treated information online, but then realized they were from pressure-treated lumber companies. they say things like their wood is perfectly safe for vegetable garden use, but don't burn the wood, wash exposed areas after working with the wood, don't use wood near drinking supply, and don't compost the wood. honestly, it doesn't sound that safe to me.

so we are definitely used raw lumber, most likely fir, which is the cheapest wood at home depot. the next issue: how to preserve the wood? untreated wood exposed to the elements will eventually rot away. nobody seems to agree how long this would take. some say a year or two, others say closer to a decade or more. if we are to treat the wood, what can we use that's safe? that doesn't have harmful chemicals that will work their way into the vegetables that we will then eat? nobody seems to have a good answer. the arborcoat i saw at the paint store is a safe choice. i looked over the material safety data sheet (MSDS) and there's nothing more dangerous than a bit of ethanol in the clear protective coat (636). the bad thing about arborcoat is the price: if just a pint is $17, how much would a gallon cost?

linseed oil1 seemed to be a choice mentioned by many raised bed builders, but nobody seems to know how effective it is. one disadvantage is the long drying time, which can take anywhere from a day to months depending on who you ask. there's also the problem of finding raw linseed oil versus boiled linseed oil. boiled is the kind you usually find in stores; "boiled" means it includes chemical additives that hasten the drying time. unfortunately these additional ingredients can make the linseed oil slightly toxic.

there's also a natural wood preservation recipe circulating online supposedly from the national forestry service that combines boiled linseed oil, paraffin wax, and a gallon of turpentine. if boiled linseed oil is bad, turpentine would definitely make it worse (some side effects of turpentine exposure: central nervous system damage when inhaled and renal failure when ingested).

not sure why i didn't think of it earlier, but i went directly to the boiled linseed oil manufacturer (klean-strip) to look up the MSDS info on their product. i was expecting all sorts of poisons and carcinogens so i was pleasantly surprised to find it had none of those things. the only1 bad thing could happen if you ingested too much linseed oil is vomiting and diarrhea. so i'm not sure what all the fuss is about. maybe this is a new formulation, one that doesn't have dangerous additives. at $24 a gallon, it seems to be the perfect inexpensive and safe way to treat the wood.

with all the necessary questions answered, my father decided that we should visit home depot and buy the parts we need to build at least one raised bed. i've been doing a bunch of computer 3D modeling, but nothing beats an actual piece that we can move around in the backyard to help us plan where to put the other frames.

so off we went. we decided to buy 2 2"x12"x12' boards ($13.40 each), and get them to cut it for us so each board will become an 8' piece and a 4' piece. we didn't need to buy any post/corner pieces because we have some leftover 4"x4" cedar back at home. next was the wood screws. we were looking for the most long-lasting rust-resistant option, but the only galvanized ones were nails and we were looking for screws. there was a whole bunch of deck screws though, made of some unknown proprietary material that was both rust proof and stain proof. they didn't seem too durable though, looking more like plastic. but they were guaranteed for life so they must be doing something right. they also come in different colors, to match the material. the thing with screws is they're sold by weight, not by quantity. we picked the smallest box (3" long tan colored, $8.69), which should be enough for our needs.

finally, we grabbed a gallon can of boiled linseed oil. when we got our wood cut, the guy looked at what we were buying and rightfully guessed we were building a raised bed. "just cover these boards with linseed oil, let it dry overnight, and do a second coat tomorrow. it'll look great. the weather this weekend is supposed to be nice so it's the perfect time to do it."

i didn't know what to expect but linseed oil looks just like cooking oil, a viscous yellow fluid. it even smells like cooking oil (or fish oil). it seemed very innocuous, and my father even wondered if it was going to do anything. we painted with a brush with linseed oil poured into a used cooking pot. it didn't seem to be absorbing into the wood until my father began rubbing the oil with a piece of rag. suddenly the wood had a smooth finish.

the weather this morning was a clear blue sky (although a bit windy), but by afternoon the sky became overcast. it looked like it'd rain and sure enough it started to drizzle while we were finishing up. we quickly moved the newly finished boards into the garage to dry.

later, before dinner, we came back out to inspect the boards. that's when we discovered in our rush to get the boards to someplace dry, we forgot to oil one side of an 8' plank. since it'd stopped raining, we pulled the unfinished board out onto the driveway and gave it a quick work over before putting it back into the garage to dry.

my own macbook pro rarely ever breaks down (hardware issues like superhot heatsink or dead disc drive is a different story); fortunately my father's pc laptop malfunctions quite often, which gives me something to practice my pc troubleshooting skills. the problem this time was windows 7 dimming the screen a few minutes after startup. i figured it had something to do with the startup items, but the problem was still there even after i cleared the startup applications folder. how i finally solved it by running msconfig.exe and turning off suspicious startup system items. the culprit was something called CCCstart.exe, which i thought was a virus, but it's actually an ATI video card monitoring app (weird thing is i think that laptop has an integrated intel video card, not ATI). once i disabled CCCstart.exe and restarted, the system went back to normal.

planning for the spring has made me reluctant to face the cold that still won't let go of our local weather. i wasn't looking forward to the chilly bike ride back but i warmed up soon enough. victor was home and seemed eager to report the bad news: real madrid lost their match today, which means barcelona will win the la liga championship for sure. all madrid can do now is make a good showing in the el clasico matchup later this month and beat barcelona should they meet in the champions league games (also this month).

we watched the NCAA game together before victor went to bed. he's going to play some soccer tomorrow with some college kids he saw on sacramento street last sunday.

1 i keep on wanting to say "lindsay" oil, as in lohan.

2 that's not entirely true. linseed oil has another danger: it can spontaneous combust. you're joking, right? apparently linseed oil hardens through oxidation. this chemical reaction releases heat, and a leftover rag soaking in linseed oil can generate enough of it to set itself on fire. i'm praying i don't go back to belmont tomorrow and see a house ablaze.