mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)

Michelle's birthday was yesterday, the "big four-oh", and (no surprise) it was no big deal. Forty is supposed to be the big number, but like me it came with  sort of a "yeah, ok, whatever. Is there cake?" kind of attitude. I got her a silk(ish) scarf in deep blues woven with celtic knotwork. I picked it up at the KC feis while she was otherwise occupied. I hid it in the van and just left it there, so she's been driving around with her gift eight feet away for weeks. For herself she got a Mylander torte, a layer-cake sort of confection of marzipan, raspberry jam and Kirsch brandy from Andrés. I don't care for them, but she loves them and, well, there you go.

The drought almost completely destroyed ten years worth of maintenance on both yards, reducing any area not shaded by the sun to dead ground and weeds. I finally mowed the back last weekend after not touching it since May, and most of what I trimmed was mulberry, creeping charlie, carpet weed and something I've always called "tassel grass" for want of a better name. Those latter two don't really mow, they just bend over and bind the lawn mower blade. It was slow going.

The front of the house. Note the conspicuous absence of a porch.The margin of the driveway is obscured by a strip of carpet weed a foot wide, and is now damaged enough that I'm going to have to bite the bullet and budget to replace at least the first twenty feet before the next summer is over. I know how to do a slab, but I've never actually done it before, so yet one more challenge to overcome.

The house remains front porch-less. I made the mistake of destroying the porch without first purchasing the materials to replace it, and during the destruction two things happened: my Lowes card didn't get paid down as fast as I anticipated and the weather turned unmanageably hot. Now the temperatures have cooled and we have a different source of funding for the materials, the plan is to have a porch we can use (just a deck with steps) by Halloween, and a completed porch (with railings and lights) by Thanksgiving. Once renaissance festival is over and the Seamlyne queue is cleared, that's quite doable. I should be able to have "Phase 1" done in a weekend, and "Phase 2" in two or three. If I can somehow find an air-powered framing nailer, it will go really really fast.

Many difficulties with Katie just now that I plan to write about in our family blog, The Road Less Ordinary. Having to think long term, but the short term is a minefield.
mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
Need the heat to break. I hate to whine about it, but it's starting to affect my overall attitude. I'm fatalistic by nature, and the constant, unrelenting heat and dry is adding a measure of apathy that is really dangerous. It's started to bleed into my overall attitude - home and work. Not good.

I discovered last weekend that the dry conditions have exacerbated all the problems in our foundation: the blocks on the North end of the house are literally being shifted apart from one another. There are gaps in some places wide enough to stick a pencil into. I'm not panicked about it: it's on a gable end, thus non-load bearing, and there is a second foundation (actually a first foundation, to be technical) just three feet inside it, so having the outer foundation crumbling won't cause the house to collapse, but it's just One More Thing.

The yard is dead - I don't think it's just dormant. I've never seen it as dry as it is; even the crabgrass couldn't survive. The only things living are the carpet weed and scraggly mulberry bushes trying to gain a foothold. We've kept the vegetable garden and the herbs watered, but other than that I am content to let the lawn languish. I've put a lot of work into the lawn over the last several years, I said, apathy.

Seamlyne has more paid orders in its queue at this moment that it has ever had in its history, and most of them came in within a few days of each other, and a variety of regions are represented. The only scary part is that several of them have deadlines within a few days or weeks of each other, so keeping up with them will be a challenge. We can do it, though, I've no doubt of that.

The day job hasn't changed much. For one of our projects - adding a data push from our system to a third party - I am at the mercy of the third party, and they are notoriously slow and unhelpful. A fair chunk of money depends upon the completion of the project, and I've no confidence that it will happen in a timely fashion.

Several weeks ago I committed to some fence repair for a friend who is putting her present home on the market. I'm replacing about a hundred pickets. I made this commitment while the temperatures were still reasonable and like an idiot put off the work, little reckoning that the temps would rise and stay above a hundred degrees. I'm about half done, working last Saturday and Sunday morning. The fence is in shade and it wasn't actually that bad.

It has been a while since I put that kind of effort into that kind of activity, and my hands - even now, three days later - are sore and don't want to make a fist. I feel the strain deep into my wrists and forearms. It's a good ache, because it means that I did something.

mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
For the last several weeks, I've been in "production mode." In general terms, this means that I've been focused on a particular project or two that isn't necessarily creative but nonetheless needs to get done. This has been the case at both my day job and Seamlyne.

As a result, my creative side is going out of its mind. I've got a project in mind, an animated short film, and I've found a software package that will allow me to create it (AnimeStudio, if you're interested). I set myself to an hour a day working through the tutorials and it looks awesome; the learning curve isn't terribly steep, but as usually happens something came up. Several somethings, actually. Many tights orders and a huge project at work. So much for learning time.

On the subject of Seamlyne, I've grown increasingly frustrated there. It's making next to no money, and what money it is bringing in is being pulled out for personal bills. That's its purpose, I know, but there's nothing left in the business account to actually, you know, run the friggin' business. I've twice had to put the "sorry, long turnaround time" message on the website knowing that, should an order actually come in, we'd have to wait for the deposit to clear to buy the fabric for it. Seamlyne's only line of credit is burned up, too.


Tax season is officially behind us, but we only filed last week, and it's a tax bill we can't pay. We'll have to apply to have this year's taxes rolled into the payment plan from last year. Lowe's won't get their payment until late, and it's getting later every month. Yes, our money situation sucks mightily. We're more behind than we have been, and it isn't likely to get better soon, if at all.

Hurts to type those words. I've never said it "out loud" before. Signs of the times, I guess.

Victim to this also is the Front Porch Project. I've got everything but the wood, which I had planned to buy at Lowes, but we haven't made a payment there so the account is closed for business. Yet another hole in the house, and though this one at least doesn't let the bugs in, it is right in front where it is plainly visible and unattractive. I imagine we'll have to save (if we can) and buy our lumber at The ReStore. It won't be treated lumber, but porches were built with untreated lumber for centuries.

Let's see...I don't want to keep whining about money, but that's what I've got just now. I need to get to work, so we'll just let it go for now.

DIY Update

May. 14th, 2012 02:05 pm
mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
It turned out to be quite the weekend. We got a lot of gardening done, in spite of a persistent migraine for Michelle. In the garden now we have cucumber; zucchini; bell peppers, poblano chilis; two tomato plants (couldn't tell you what kind, those are all Michelle's). Left to plant are garlic (which we won't harvest for a year and a half), bush beans, and potatoes.

It looks like the shed I hoped to finally build is going to have to wait yet another season. Our front porch, which has been cracking for many years but has remained basically whole has started to crumble: the bottom step lost a corner, the other steps are showing cracks, and it will only get worse from there. Time to pull out the sledgehammers.

The gas meter and line to the house is inches from the porch, so the plan is to demolish the porch - a reinforced concrete slab on a foundation of cinder blocks - a little at a time, starting at the meter and working back from it. I'll take the rubble a bucket at a time and find a place to dump it on some back country road between home and work. The slab will go first, then I'll take down the cinder blocks, taking care to preserve them for future use.

The new porch will be long and narrow, about 5' x 15', and extend from the South edge of the existing porch to under the double-window in the living room. It will have a railing of turned spindles.

To that end, this weekend I installed a new storm door on the door to the side porch, and we'll use that entrance from now on, until the new porch is safe to use.


Random thought: it's been several years since I took out the wall between the living room and the dining room, creating the arch and opening up the space. Late at night, though, I still mentally go for the light switch where the wall used to be.
mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
It was very busy, and very productive, and, for the first time in many weeks, something close to normal. 
Technical Matters
Saturday we went out as a family. I had some electronics from work to drop off at The Surplus Exchange for e-cycling, ultimately deciding to keep the two PCs - I'll convert one of them for my own personal use. Nothing wrong with them that a little TLC (read: not being used by DataGuy) wouldn't cure. I've been pointed to Zorin as a possible alternative OS to Windows, and I'm going to give it a shot. Frank pointed me to a DAW* called Reaper - if I can make a go of that on the new OS, then I'll be able to jettison Windows on the downstairs (shop/studio) PC.
Family and Health
That done, I took my family out for a late lunch/early dinner to Ghengis Khan, the original mongolian barbecue. Miraculously, the kids both ate well: they loved the flavors, and watching the guys cook their food on the large (large? gigantic) flat-top grill was just too cool. (Ironically, I can make the same sort of food with the same flavor profiles at home and they turn their noses up at it.) Jami flirted shamelessly with our waitress, a curvy, pretty blonde girl with some beautiful tattoo work. Apple don't fall far from the tree, I guess.
That was all fun, but the best part was just being out. Michelle didn't have a migraine and we were able to function normally - or close enough that it doesn't matter - for the first time in a long time. It was wonderful. She is making progress every week, and while some days are better than others the trend is toward the good.
She has expressed an interest in walking/exercising again, so to that end I moved the treadmill from the garage to the dining room, a job that I should probably have had help with but just did anyway. It's a pro-sumer levelI'm guessing the thing weighs about 150 pounds and is large and unwieldy to boot. My hand-cart is one of the small variety, good for moving the odd stack of boxes, and I pushed it and my thigh muscles to the limit of their operational specs, but by god I got the thing done. 
It was a stupid thing to do. Had I lost control of it I could have easily destroyed the treadmill, or a nearby piece or furniture, one or all of the pets, or me, or some combination of all of that. My back and legs are both reminding me of the folly of pride.
My birthday is tomorrow. I'll be 46, and I'm trying not to do the mental countdown to 54 (the age at which my dad died). We don't have anything planned, and I'm totally okay with that. (It's amazing how one's priorities change when one's health - or the health of one's spouse - goes to shit.) I did splurge for a birthday present for myself, though.
I've always wanted a phrase recorder/looper. It's a device that goes between your guitar and amp, about the size of a kid's lunchbox with two foot pedals on the face, one for "record/playback", one for "stop." It records what you play and plays it back: the performer just taps the appropriate button with his foot as he goes (I've heard it called a "stomp box" for that reason.) Because it's foot controlled, you can create and use phrases on the fly, and add a lot of depth to your performance. I've experimented some already, and the results are encouraging.
Michelle's grandmother Ruby actually made it possible. I'd gotten a small amount of money from her mom that I figured to use as seed money for the "looper fund". It was the check from Ruby that made it immediately possible, and, cannily, she sent two checks. I'm just guessing here, but I think she knew with just one, my birthday money would probably just go to pay bills, and she didn't want that, so she sent a second, larger check for the household. ...aaaaaand off to Guitar Center I went.
I've wanted one of these things for a long time, at least two years, when we saw Tim Thompson use one. Using his (same model as mine, I think - it's not like there's twenty different brands) he was able to deliver a really complex performance, just him alone on stage. It was impressive as hell and I decided then I wanted one. Just took me this long to do it. You can read about it here if you care to.
Home Improvement
With the treadmill out of the way (it had been in the garage) I suddenly had enough free space to do something toward the house. A month or so ago I purchased a cabinet for the kitchen to complete what I call the "coffee wall" - the length of counter space where I keep my coffee maker. Tossing on another 30" (plus a planned foot of additional counter) will complete the "L" of cabinets, and I've started forming a plan as to how to make the countertop. 
I pulled the cabinet out of mothballs, so to speak, and started the finishing process. First: 75/25 mineral spirits/polyurethane as a grain sealer, then Golden Oak stain. It was completely dry this morning, but I didn't get up early enough to put on the first coat of poly. I'll do that this evening. In doing the finishing, I found the cabinet was more damaged than I thought (I knew it was damaged, but failed to note how badly...the discount was worth it, though). A back corner at the bottom is completely gone so I'll have to put a new bottom in it, possibly a portion of the back.

So, that was my weekend. Long, busy, tiring, productive. Mostly normal. 
* digital audio workstation. 

mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
The day was productive, but not in the way I thought it would be. I had thought I'd get a dye job done and maybe assemble the tights once the fabric was dry, but I just decided to get the basement wiring project finished. That's the way things typically get done around here: I Just Decide to get something done and I work on it until, 1. the projects actually does get done; 2. I run out of money; or 3. I run out of time.

For years - decades, really - to have light in the basement where my shop is has meant pulling a cotton string attached to an ancient ceramic bulb socket, and there were four. Two of them had four-foot fluorescent lights plugged into them so there has always been plenty of light, but you had to walk through a dark basement to turn on the light farthest from the door. Kind of a pain. There was one set of lights actually controlled by a switch, but the switch was placed in a spot convenient for the way I once had the shop configured Way Back When, but not for several years since.

When we first made Seamlyne a business back in 2000 - officially, not the paying hobby it was for a decade before that - we bought two commercial sewing machines on credit. No way those could go upstairs, so I began the process of finishing the basement as well as I could. The job is about half done, having reached a point of stasis: done enough that it looks like an actual room instead of a concrete block dungeon, as long as you don't look between the shelves at the back. With carpet, pictures on the white-painted walls, a table lamp, and track lighting to supplement the harsh task lighting over the cutting table, it can be quite comfortable down here (where I happen to be writing from at this moment.) There's even a worn old loveseat, much the worse for wear, but still sittable.

If you count the spare refrigerator, a hotplate, and large plastic shop sink, there's even a rudimentary kitchen. It's got all the amenities except for a bathroom, which I simply don't have the money for - below grade, it would have to be a toilet that pumps waste up, and those are très expensive.

...except for light switches by the door. Now we have them. I divided the basement into two zones: laundry, close to the door; and shop, away from the door. The exposed ceiling is starting to look like a bowl of noodles, but I'm okay with that. It's messy but safe, and all to code, or will be after I go to Lowe's to pick up covers for the junction boxes. 


Michelle woke without a headache for the first time in about two weeks, and so We went to the Nelson Atkins Museum, our first family outing in quite a long time. The kids loved it for about the first half hour. Jami particularly liked the Egyptian section, especially the mummy. Surprisingly, Katie liked the Asian section.

Before we left for the museum, Michelle started to feel the headache and so took a preventative dose of medicine. Before we left the museum, however, her headache spiked and we were constrained to get lunch to go and just come home. She took a percocet and retired to the family room. Since a dye job can't really be interrupted once started, and since I didn't know if we'd be making a trip to the ER for Even Heavier Meds, I came downstairs to install light switches.

I can already see what I want my next wiring project to be, though I'm in no rush - it's just a re-route and not critical. The circuit I tied into for the laundry-side lights also powers the furnace, and I want the furnace to have its own. I'll run another 15amp circuit if I must. I know how at least.


As to the tights, I'll make them tomorrow. 
mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
 The children are enjoying going to public school. I think they both appreciate getting out of the house and each other's company as much as anything. (If you missed that we aren't home schooling any more, this article explains it all.) However, they are also exposed to a whole new germ pool, and Jami's been sick off and on (mostly on) for a couple of weeks. Thus, by extension, Michelle and I are also exposed.

Courtesy snip... )
mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Titanic)
The ceiling is done. I started in earnest about 1:00 and started sweeping up the mess about 5:30.

I replaced a three foot wide strip across the width of the room - that's it in the picture there on the right (click for the large image). I played it smart, using my Dremel and a spiral bit to remove small, manageable pieces of the drywall - a drywall saw would have put a lot of shaking into the material and possibly pulled down more than I wanted. There was dust, yes, but not the amount I expected largely due to the facts that I held the nozzle of my shop vac close to the tool , and the insulation between the joists didn't just fall out like I thought it might. The insulation stayed put, and everything went very well...

...Until a large piece of the affected ceiling fell on my head and back. The piece was about two feet wide and five feet long and it felt like the entire house had collapsed on me. With it came dust and termite poop and mouse turds in a long cascade down my neck and back, in my hair and inside my shirt. Thankfully, I was wearing safety glasses and had my mouth closed at the time. (The kids were safe: Katie was grounded to her room and Jami was watching from a safe distance.) I went to the front porch and stripped to the waist, and Michelle toweled me off.

My back hurts in a line just above my bottom ribs, but I can't tell if it's from having a sheet of gypsum fall on me or from working overhead all day.

In any case, there were three joists exposed by the work.  The first joist I sistered with new wood (mostly to give myself a nailing surface), the third was already sistered on the non-work area-side and didn't need anything. The second joist, however, was more eaten away than I thought: I went to grab hold of it to move one of the roof supports and it crumbled in my hand. Termites had turned it into an empty shell of a board, crushable with no more effort than crushing an empty beer can. That one I replaced completely, and removing it was easy.

After that, new insulation went in, new drywall over that and I have a few more seams to mud than I originally planned on for this project.  I'm okay with that.

In other news, I got me a bicycle. I've been wanting one for several years and one of our neighbors sold me his for ten dollars out of his garage sale. It's an 18 speed mountain bike, lightweight and bouncy and electric blue. The rear calipers need adjusting, the whole thing needs to be oiled, but it's a smooth ride for all that. We didn't have any available cash, so Katie lent me the money.

Yeah, my daughter bought me a bike. Cool, huh?

mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
Yesterday, I posted that the worst was over, writing about the living room wall project.

Boy was I wrong. A section of the ceiling inline with the termite damage in the wall must be replaced. What I think - I won't know for sure until I start tearing stuff down - is that the termites ate the paper backing off the drywall and now it won't hold a nail or screw, and thus sags noticeably and cannot be shored up, not even with a washer on the screw head. The screw, washer and all, just punches up through the drywall leaving a ragged hole and a still determinedly sagging ceiling.

I think I'll only have to replace a four foot wide section. The room is just over ten feet wide so that means a seam somewhere - I'll try to hide it on the shadowy side of the room. I hate working overhead (who doesn't?) : the tear down for ceilings is messy, dirty, and, if I know my attic, loaded with vermin shit. We'll clean out the living room (anyone want to help move a piano?) and use dropcloths to create a room-within-a-room so the mess doesn't migrate.

This little tool has been a lifesaver. It's a cordless hammer drill I borrowed from my father-in-law that drives 3-1/2" screws into anything without stripping the screw head or snapping the screw off from the torque. Toenailing nails or pre-drilling for screws are things of the past with this baby. I built the header (a sandwich of two 2x6 with a layer of 1/2" plywood between) in just about ten minutes after the pieces were cut to size - no pounding, no pre-drilling, no broken screws. A dream tool if ever there was one.

All this work, however, will wait. Today is our anniversary - 16 years we've been married. In fact, as I type this, 11:20, 16 years as of right now. I don't have a lot to offer my journal in the way of waxing philosophic as it pertains to marriage, except to say that I couldn't think of a better partner to go through life with. Love you, honey.

Tonight, we'll have a relaxed dinner in - no baby sitting, so no meal out - set about to restore some order to the rest of the house before I dismantle the living room ceiling, and watch episode 2 of John Adams before retiring, hopefully, early. Tomorrow, we'll work in earnest, but tonight we're taking a rest.

John Adams, btw, is a terrific mini-series from HBO, and although I love the writing and every performance, I hate the camera work: apparently no one at HBO owns a Stedicam or tripod, and the camera work is head-aching shaky, especially in close-ups.

mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
The worst part is over: the new header over the South window, bridging the termite damaged wood, is in.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, though still dusty, dirty, and unpleasant. Decades-old chewed-through wood and a whole lot of termite poop is no fun when filtered through a circular saw running at several hundred RPM.

What I didn't know going into it was that the exterior sheathing was also weakened, so when I pulled on the cut sections of the studs being displaced, a hunk of sheathing broke off. The siding wasn't damaged so the envelope of the building is still (more or less) intact, though come Autumn and cooler weather I'll need to remove the siding in that area and install new sheathing. No problem, I've done that before.

The only things left to do in the room are to finish hanging the drywall, mud the seams, paint the walls, trim the windows and doors. In project order, they also happen to be in descending order of ickiness, so as I said,

The worst part is over.

mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Default)
I've decided on this particular project to relax a bit, and not try to rebuild the house in one day. My usual pattern is to devote as much time as is humanly and logistically possible to seeing the completion of the project at hand. When I was childless, I'd get up a little early, put a coat of mud on the drywall seams so it would be dry and ready for the next coat when I got home from work.

Not anymore. I just don't have the energy - nor do I wish to wake the kids.

I did finish the project for work - a bit of promotional material that we'll print, laminate, and provide to potential customers as dinner placemats for the break room. That done, I let my blood sugar crash and napped for a bit, then started in earnest on the living room wall.

The process involved removing all the remaining drywall nails, setting a new outlet box for electricity and networking - remembering how to read the cat5 keystone jack wiring diagram was a small challenge  - and replacing the insulation I had to remove along the way.

Power restored, jack connected to the router, the tools are put away and the living room cleaned up for the night. Messy business, drywall, and I haven't even started mudding yet.

The real challenge is coming: I haven't yet dealt with the termite damage above the South window. I have a plan of attack there, I just don't want to. The termites turned a lot of wood pulp and the paper backing on the old drywall into mud which subsequently dried, adhered to the insulation. It comes away in moldy, dusty chunks and is, so far, the most unpleasant part of this whole project.

Casualties: left thumb and left elbow, a small cut each from hard contact with protruding nail heads.

Progress: about eight feet. Fifteen feet to go.

Off and on storms tonight, those the worst is North of us. Grapefruit-sized hail, according to the news. For us, just noise and (hopefully) rain. I'm hoping it will break the humidity, which was terrible today, like wading through air.
mapsedge: Me at Stone Bridge Coffee House (Titanic)
I'll bring the full story later, but let me offer this as a quick update.

Friday evening, I started removing drywall from the front wall of the living room. Nothing new there, the usual frustrations. There are a few wiring why-the-hell-would-you-do-that's (which I will repair as part of the project), but no real surprises, except...

I already knew there was termite damage on the south end, but I didn't know the extent. There was quite a lot, so much so that I'm going to remove a portion of the framing and insert a header into the wall just to bridge the damage.

Oh, and a couple studs that don't attach to anything except the exterior sheathing. Like I've never seen that before.

I'm documenting the process and when the full story is told it will include pictures.

Today, I had just enough time to visit Lowes to pick up all of the relevant supplies before we made the long journey North to visit Kate and Rob for really good BBQ and an even better movie. (Wabash and Open Range.)

I've a project that has to be done for work for Monday morning, so the wall will have to wait. I've got a few more hours on that. I had hoped to have the wall up, mudded and primed by tomorrow night, but obviously that's not possible - not with sleeping and meals in there.

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