Friday, April 12, 2013

Historical Marker 4/13/2013

Historical marker 4/12/2013...

I just returned from a visit to a local financial institution, the purpose of which was to find out what happened to a payment made there that never posted to the account.  Background: both the checking account and the loan account are with this one institution and the check was brought to the local branch and processed at the local branch, but never posted to the loan account.  I am sure we will soon find out what happened and get it straightened out.  But, here's the thing:  There was a time when the most trusted and common method for both billing the customer and receiving the payment was through the mail-- as in the US Postal Service.  Sure it took a couple days either direction, but most of the business happened that way and most everyone trusted that it would.  Not anymore.  Ok, I can live with that, actually.  So, we adapted and started hand-delivering the payments to the institution, in person.  But, after this last issue and the length of time and hassle it has taken to get answers and corrections, we adapted again-- by deciding the only way to "know" is to make the transfer online.

Think about that:  the most trusted method is electronic... online.

You can call me old, but it wasn't that long ago that there was no "online" because there was no internet.  When I graduated from college, there was no internet in use by the masses.  It was even more recently that people were extremely suspicious of conducting business online and having so much personal information vulnerable to internet security.  After all, one of the reasons people used to trust the mail is that using the mail to conduct fraud is called "mail fraud" and carries stiff penalties.  Regulators and law enforcement have openly conceded that there is very little they can do to prevent crimes online or to track down the perpetrators after the crimes have been committed.  Yet online transactions still provide the highest confidence and reassurance for business transactions.  Why?  I don’t know, because I can’t speak for everyone else.  My guess is the immediacy of everything.  That, and an intangible confidence in something referred to as encryption.  Or, maybe it is the relative ease with which a correction can be made, allowing the investigation to happen later and drag out—out of sight and out of mind to the rest of us.

Whatever the reason, history will have to report that in this day and age, the US Postal Service is struggling and more and more of our lives are lived out electronically:  through phones, hand-held devices, and computers.  We are growing increasingly inconvenienced by paper trails and face to face transactions.

So, if that small minority of voices is correct—those that are convinced that the 666 mark of the devil foretold in the Book of Revelation, further described and appearing on either the forehead or the hand and required to conduct all business is, in fact, a phone or small electronic device (Rev 13:16-17)…  Well, this is why it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Monday, January 14, 2013

So, How Was Your Trip?

For the record, I actually left on time.

This is the point where you raise the eyebrow of skepticism. Such statements are dripping with dubious disclaimers. Ok, ok… the point was to leave the house at 2:30 and that did happen. About 10 miles out of town, however, I started thinking about my flight—specifically, what time did it leave? I knew I had to make a stop first and that I had chosen 2:30 to allow extra time, but how much time, again? Let’s see, I remember I was going to key my confirmation number into that app on my phone, but what was the result? Oh crap. My luggage was in the back seat. If my itinerary was with me, it was in there. If. Since I’m flying down the road at 75mph, I might as well drag my luggage up into the passenger seat, right? Yeah, I did that. Not a smart move. But, that was not the problem. Confirming that I did not have my itinerary WAS a problem.

I took the next exit and called home to verify with my daughter that its location was known. It was. Getting back to that point on the road with the itinerary in hand, however, took 20 minutes—and I had already lost 10 getting there the first time. Other than making calls with my contact and explaining my schedule disruption, the rest of that first leg was uneventful.

The stop I had to make was to drop my vehicle for some repairs—which seemed like a good idea since I was going to be gone all week anyway, right? Sure, just bum a ride to and from the airport and I save on parking, too! When I got there, I got my bag out (by dragging it across the front console since it was now in the passenger seat.) I didn’t have much room between the cars adjacent to me, anyway. I’m not sure if it was the awkwardness of the bag in my hand, the angle of the ground beneath me, or something else, but when I went to close the door, the tip-top corner of it scraped across my cheek. I was having a brief conversation with my brother (who was gracious enough to be my driver.) He was asking about whether I needed to check inside [or what other arrangements I needed to make to drop off the car] and I was doing all that other stuff, and in the process of answering, “…I need to…” Wham! “… smack myself in the face, apparently.” Ha ha. What I needed to do was leave the keys in a specific place. As I was walking over there, I was assessing my new wound. Blood. Awesome.

So, there I am climbing into my brother’s car, my nephew is in the back seat, and they are both concerned about my concerns of being late, etc. Now, in addition, there is this new elephant in the room. I said hello to my nephew, but I never even made eye contact the whole (albeit relatively brief) trip to the airport. I hardly remember looking at my brother either. I did spend a bunch of time checking myself out in the mirror. It would not stop bleeding. He had some wet-wipes under the seat (he has younger kids.) For all I know, they have the opposite effect of what I needed—which was an astringent. I mean, they dissolve clotted blood, right? At least I was containing the mess. We made some small talk. I tried to assure them that I was on-time. I wanted to be at the airport by the time that we were on schedule for, so they don’t need to worry or feel rushed, blah, blah, blah. The time that was missing, however, was the hospitality—the time to have a better conversation with people I have not seen in a while. Hey, nephew, how is basketball going? That would have been nice.

When I got to the airport, all I could think about was getting checked in and through security and still have some time to buy bandages. The real problem with all of that thinking is the failure to really focus on the specific task at hand. I also wanted to pack my big, warm, coat in my bag and take my laptop bag out to carry with me. I did all of that, got my luggage labeled, fumbled through the check-in, thought I was done, wasn’t, almost forgot/failed to print my boarding passes thinking my receipt for the checked bag was that, realized it wasn’t, drew the attention of the counter person, got it all squared away, etc.—all with blood running down the side of my face. No one said anything. I even went through security that way.



“Where are you going today?”

“Moline, Ill.” Puzzled look. “World headquarters of John Deere… It’s for work.”

“Oh! Haha. It didn’t sound like a vacation destination. Haha.” She notices my jacket. “Wow, I’ve never seen a leather John Deere jacket. Nice!”

“Thank you.” Etc.

No mention of anything unusual from the person wearing blue latex gloves to handle my driver’s license.

I don’t know how experienced the person ahead of me in line was with the put-your-crap-in-bins-for-scanning process but she stood there at the beginning of the line NOT grabbing any bins or loading them with crap—but doing a fine job of preventing the rest of us from doing anything of the sort. This is ND. I waited politely. But, on the inside, I am in full-on judgment mode. That is, right up to the point that I went to go through the body scan step and had to be told by the dude that I needed to take off my shoes. Who’s the dumbass now?

Still no mention of the head-wound, however.

Finally clear of security and firmly on to the wait-for-the-plane step rather than being-the-holdup step, I went to buy bandages. It’s a small airport. There is one kiosk on the secure side. They do not sell bandages. She did say, “Sorry” though. She at least looked concerned. When I got to the bathroom, I could see why. I could only imagine up to that point. I did my best to clean up, but was deliberate about not removing the clotting that was in place since that was my only hope however dramatic it looked. Then, I took a seat and pulled out my phone.

Battery level: maybe ¼ charge. Oh yeah, I was going to plug it in overnight, wasn’t I? I decided since I very much knew that I was going to need it when I landed, I had better conserve the battery and turned it off (my cord was in my checked luggage to minimize since it is my “travel cord.”) I pretended to watch the TV in the waiting area.

A few minutes later, a plane pulled up to the next gate over. A few minutes later, people got off at that gate. Did I mention it is a small airport? A few minutes later, the obvious is stated.

“Ladies and gentlemen, flight blah, blah, blah, will be departing from gate 2. This will serve as your notice of a gate change…” No big deal. Slightly humorous. But, then the kicker.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the gateway is frozen… due to the harsh conditions.” This is ND, pal. We know “harsh conditions” and if you think those are harsh… “So we will be using the steps… outside…” Oh. So glad, I checked my big, warm, coat. What was I saying about harsh conditions? Nevermind.

I get on the plane and settle in. Aisle seat. I can’t use my phone, so I take out the lame catalog in the pocket in front of me and pretended to look through it. The attendant announces that she will be turning off the cabin lights. Well, this is not really reading material—not worth turning on the light and being disruptive when no one around me was using theirs. So, there I sit. Quietly. Doing nothing. Looking at nothing (not even close to a window to look out). With an open, dried-blood wound on my face that looks like the result of a domestic dispute—or sexual assault. That’s a pretty creepy image. I’m good at that, sadly.

The flight has two legs, including a plane change and layover. I got something to eat and wandered back to the gate with almost 2 hours to kill. With nothing to do except make people wonder what the hell happened to my face. But, eventually I and the whole crowd or restless college kids on the final leg of their trip back from Italy got on the plane. And waited.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” What now? “We are waiting for maintenance personnel to come and fix a tray table…” Whatever. Federal regulations, blah, blah, blah. Ok. Just do it.

Might as well fix that other thing at the front for the attendant since you are here. Ok, that took longer than expected, but we are ready now… Wait. Um. The door won’t close.

Actually, the door moved fine, but the big lever that latches and opens it would not move. How far away is that guy? Call him back! Several minutes later we are informed that the diagnosis is someone over-greased the mechanism and it froze. The plan was to thaw it out and clear away the excess grease. All of this took over an hour. But they were very sorry. There will be no beverage service on the trip, but if anyone needs anything they should just use the attendant button overhead.

Ding! (Not me. Someone ahead and to my left.) Attended turns around. Looks. Turns back and does nothing. Umm. Okayyy…

Meanwhile, I have read through everything within reach and am back into quiet, staring creepy mode. At least I have a window, but all I can see is a patch of tarmac 12 feet below me. So, even doing that is creepy.

But, eventually we all got to our destination.

I headed straight for the car rental desk, more than a little concerned that they would no longer be open at this hour. But, they were. I was traveling on business, but I do not have a company credit card. I am in spend-and-get-reimbursed-later status. So, I have the pleasure of being informed that the $240 rental was actually going to be a $440 charge on my card today. Was that going to be a problem? Sad on so many levels, but no.

No, the next problem was actually behind me. When I got my bag, the extending handle did not work. It is a big piece-of-crap bag that I really did not pay much for, but it is not so tall that I can roll it without the handle. So, I picked it up and carried it out into the cold and dark to my rental car. First, I put on my big, warm, coat.

In case you didn’t know this—and count your blessings if it is not something you need to know—if you get a car that is really, really, fuel efficient like you want in a rental car, the engine also does not generate much heat very quickly, especially if it is just idling. If it did, it would not be efficient. The heat is a by-product of in-efficiency, in fact. The really amusing part of this point in the story, though, is that after scraping all the exterior windows, I got back into the barely luke-warm car and had to keep scraping—the inside of the windshield. That happens when you wash a car indoors, for example, or otherwise expose the interior to a humid environment and then park it outside to freeze. I use my glove to do a more thorough clearing than the scraper could from this side (convex/concave issue.) Actually, that was not a good idea. Evidently, my glove had some schmutz on it. This napkin will have to do. Yippee.

The final dash of spice on this illustrious dish came after I managed to find my way out of the parking lot and on to the street that my GPS wanted to be on. It told me to take a left, which I very much intended to do after the light turns from red to green. Any day now. Huh. That’s weird. Wait? What is that over there? Is that a green left-turn arrow?

If it was, it was the most bizarre location for that signal I have ever seen. It was more likely to be a right-turn arrow from there. But, why would you need a right turn arrow, when there is nothing preventing anyone from just turning right on the red? Besides, it certainly looks like it is pointed left. Screw it. No one else is moving and there is no cross traffic. So, me and my hazy windshield just blew right through that deal and got on to the hotel and to bed.

Tomorrow is Monday, after all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

This is why blogging is so much fun:  putting something out there means you might have some explaining to do later.  Of course, after I blog about the whole second-mile experience and how dubious everything that happens in the first mile really is I have a run like today.  I still don't know what happened.  I started out at 5mph and it sucked and just kept getting worse.  I pushed past 1.100 or so and just had to walk (3mph.)  I don't know why.  I have been coughing and sneezing for two weeks, now, but that was getting better, I thought.  It's really flippin' cold outside, but that is outside.  I have no explanation.

What makes it even worse is that I put my finger on that pulse-meter thing and it read something like 111.  That's nothing!  I was over 200 the other day.  I've seen plenty of 170.  But there I was sucking wind and registering 111.  Boo!

Everything was miserable, but I decided to run the last .5 at 6mph for some level of redemption.  At least I managed that.  And, technically, that is the farthest I have run at that speed in a long time.  So, it wasn't a complete catastrophe.  I stuck it out past the 350 calorie mark, too.

Weight after? 195.5-- which is why I don't make weight loss a goal at this point.  Actually losing weight can be discouraging.  What I can control is speed and distance, so I am focused on improving that.  The weight loss will come as a result at some point down the road.  Also, eating better goes a long way-- farther than the running will at this point.

For some reason that I don't remember, I have a lot of Christmas music on my iPod.  It was nice, but some of it was boring.  Skip!  The decision to walk it out came after "Cotton Eye Joe" came up.  I was past the mile marker, and a good song was playing and I was drained.  Something is wrong with this equation.

But I covered the distance and made a tiny bit of progress.  Onward and upward!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I ran again today.  Yayy...  I mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating:  the first mile sucks.  I started out at the 5mph pace again.  Everything that sucks about running happens in that first mile.  Really, before I even start running there is the whirlwind of life.  "I'm too busy to run" "I have a cold" "I'm hungry and I should eat first" "The basement is cold and... not pleasant."  Whatever.  Why bother?  So, just going through with lacing up the shoes and changing shirts... and shorts, etc. and getting on the treadmill at all takes effort.

The last run was Sunday.  This is Tuesday.  One of the fun things about exercise is the delayed reaction.  It makes it hard both to know if you over-did it as well as under-did it.  I was not sore on Sunday... or Monday... or even Tuesday.  When I finally started running, however, my muscles decided they were sore.  But, sore muscles are working muscles.  This was not injury pain, this was exercise soreness.  So, suck it up and keep running.

Beyond that comes the "I don't really have to do this" and "I can't do this, I'm already gassed" and that kind of thing.  Basically, everything except experience says to stop running before mile 1.

When mile 2 comes around, though, everything is progress at that point.  It's no longer a question of pushing through, it's just sustaining.  I'm warmed up, I'm settled in, I'm over the hump.  I also start thinking more positively.  I started setting goals.

Right now, the only goal is consistency.  Can I run when I plan to run?  I plan to run on Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday afternoons.  The 2 mile thing takes less than 1/2 an hour.  I decided I should not set distance goals right now, because that mostly will mean my workouts will take longer and then it just becomes all the more inconvenient to know that I don't have that kind of time.  I'd rather keep the time the same and work on speed development.  Technically, I'll be running farther in the same time, but at least I'll know that I only need 30 minutes to succeed.  That's seems more reasonable.  That seems more achievable.  Plus, the other side is that it's more of a conditioning factor-- a cardio challenge, more than a muscular/skeletal challenge.  That's more interesting to me.

So, I cruised along to that second mile thinking about stuff like that and feeling pretty good.  In fact, as the last minute was in reach, I bumped the speed up to 6mph to the finish to make sure that I finished under 24 minutes.  23:56.  Booyah!  After that, I started looking at the calories.  I was under 350, so I walked at 3mph until that barrier was overcome.  Then what?  Then I waited for the song to end.  It was Young MC, "Bust a Move" after all.  C'mon fatso...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Here we go!

I started running again.  That sounds official, right?  You are allowed to be skeptical...

I bought some new shoes, so that helped the motivation.  I also bought a "compression" shirt which speaks more accurately to the real motivation.  Although, my after-run weight was 195.5-- which is about 10lbs less than I thought it would be, so I'll take it.

On Friday I went for a run on the treadmill, too.  I started at my 6mph pace and started sucking wind almost immediately.  I felt like I had accomplished something just getting past that first mile-- which I did with a combination of that 6mph joke, walking, and something in between.  Pretty sad.

So, today, I started at 5mph and went for two miles.  I started thinking 1 mile would be good and it came and went so well that I did a mental fist pump.  But, then I looked at the stats and, well, it's not much of an accomplishment to say I am the master of the 12-minute mile.  Know how many calories that burned? 175.  I just had to keep running.  So I did.  24 minutes, give or take, 2+ miles, 350 calories-- at least that burns off the Cheetos I ate during the football game.

On Friday I tried listening to Christmas music.  The only problem with that is my iPhone is a pain in the ass with music.  I have a nice collection on my computer, even on my iTunes account.  But, my phone just won't acknowledge the same list.  My phone won't even acknowledge songs I bought through iTunes with my phone.  Today, I went with the "non-holiday" music for those few songs and that was better.  The highlight?  Desire by U2.  Rattle and Hum!

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Here is that outlet that I told you I would photo-up for you.  It's just an outlet.  Well, it's a GFCI outlet.  But, other than that, it's nothing special to anyone but me.  It just represents a ton of work to me.  I have wired it from the back with the old wall, replaced the box, rebuilt it for the new wall, sheet-rocked around it, then around it again, then re-positioned it for the tile, and finally worked all the tile in around it.  I had to break up a sheet of tile to get around it, then hand-place stones back in around it to keep the shape and dimensions.  But, I had to do the same thing around the corner of the sink, too.  In spite of yapping about it so much here, I probably will just forget all about it after a few months and it will just be another ordinary part of the house.

Today I sealed the grout and applied the caulking around the edges.  Then I put the outlet back together and took pictures.... and that means...

The whole thing is done, as of today.  Well...  Ok, so, after I took this picture, I took all the doors off and sanded them down and then primed them.  That much I knew.  My lovely bride is considering painting them a darker color to accentuate that whole wall.  But, she hasn't decided on a color so we don't have the paint.  Today was the last nice day for what could be a long time and it was the warmest day in a long time.  So, I wanted to take advantage of that small and closing window to work out in the garage (for one thing) and also to have paint-friendly temperatures.  I expect to be able to apply the final paint to the doors after I hang them back up.  Maybe not, though, depending on what gets decided about the hardware.  If we keep the old hardware and paint it, then I'll paint after hanging.  If we want the hardware not to be painted, then I have to paint first, then hang.

That will probably be it for this year, so here is the before and after:

See ya later!

Monday, September 3, 2012


Today is Labor Day.  Holiday!  I decided to get to the mowing before it gets too hot outside.  I got our lawn done and somewhere around half of the farm before I got rained out.  Fine by me all around.  We need rain.

Last night I sealed the tile.  That is pretty simple-- I just used a paint brush and painted the stuff on, then wiped it down like the instructions said.  More importantly, because I did that last night, today I can get the grout in.

Or so I thought...

Surprise!  I have never used grout before-- because I have never done any tiling before.  For one thing, I thought the little one pound tubs we bought were ready-to-use.  Turns out they are just powder and I have to mix them.  The instructions said to fill the tub to the inside edge with water and mix.  Having never used grout before, I was expecting a consistency similar to, say, sheet rock/joint compound or even the mortar used to hang the tile-- something like peanut butter.  What I got was very runny.  Runny is hard to apply on a vertical wall.  That first tub did not go very well.

Having mixed concrete (and stucco) before, I had an idea that the amount of water makes a big difference.  On the second tub I used less.  And, like concrete, the line between too little and too much is very thin.  For the little one pound container (about pint size) I was adding mere drops at a time.  But, I ended up with a much better mix on the remaining containers.  Also, a grout float is basically a trowel with a pad stuck to it, so I was very comfortable with that tool.

Surprise number 2 is that we did not buy enough grout.  I have the lower right "wing" left to do.  I doubt that even had I mixed the first tub correctly I would have had enough.  No big deal.  We have leftover tile to return anyway.  Quite a bit, actually.  I was expecting the sheets to have more of a distinct pattern, so when I figured how many I needed I was trying to be careful about where the pattern would be from tile to tile and bought them based on that.  There is no pattern.  That's way easier to work with and uses less tile (and requires fewer cuts) because a scrap from here can go over there and vice versa.  The money from the returned tile will pretty much cover the cost of the saw.  Sweet.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Day 2 of the "Holiday" weekend:  Actually hang the tile.

First, take it all down and lay it all out so that I can put it back in the right order very quickly.  Quickly is actually pretty important.  I have never done this before, but the one thing that resonated in all the instruction I have read is that the mortar stuff that is used for it cures quickly.  In fact, it says to not spread more than can be used in 10 minutes.  Fair enough.  My concern, though, is all I have is a 10lb bag of powder that has to be mixed with water.  If I try to make it in 10 minute batches, I have a lot of measuring to do.  All that leads to inconsistency.  I took the chance that I could mix up the whole bag, with the recommended amount of water (1.5 to 1.7 quarts) and what stayed in the bucket would last long enough for the whole project.  The 10 minute rule applies to what is on the wall, spread out at 3/16" inch-- not what is in the bucket.  I was right.  But, I wanted to move quickly either way.  It took about 2 hours:

It's a good thing that the stuff-in-the-bucket lasted so long, because I almost forgot to hand-place a few of the tile bits I had cut off yesterday for the corners of the sink... and around the outlet... and where the tile met against the wall without cutting (but the edges are staggered so one piece interlocks with the adjacent piece...)  You can see why I forgot them all.  Or not.  Either way, I did, and it lasted just fine.

None of my jobs would be complete unless I had something really painstaking to do to it.  In this case, some of the mortar squished through the mesh in the placing process and filled in the gap as if it was grout-- except I need that space for the real grout.  So, I had to go back with fine-tipped tools (including a few toothpicks) to clean those back out.  None of that is visible in the photos, of course.  But, I did it.  Honest.  It took 2 more hours.

I also had to readjust the outlet.  I'll show you a picture of the outlet when it is all done.  It's one of those details that means almost nothing to anyone except me.  The previous owners put it there to plug in the light over the "window."  Since then, I have changed it to be GFCI (Hello!  It's right by the sink!) and located through two layers of sheet rock and now a layer of glass tile.  The original mechanism for holding it secure was designed for one layer of sheet rock only.  Today, I had to get and use some of those thin little metal strips that slide in and bend over the edges to secure it in place.  This is the first time I ever got them to work satisfactorily.  I literally just sat and stared at the "finished" outlet (I still have the sealing and the grouting, blah, blah, blah...) for a few minutes.  That's also why I am burning all these words to tell you about it.

By a stroke of good fortune, I get a 4-day weekend this Labor Day.  I was not expecting that at all.  So...

I started in on that backsplash.  Last weekend we got the tiles and supplies.  Among the supplies was a saw for cutting the tiles.  It says it is a Wet/Dry tile saw, but the instructions clearly say to keep the blade wet.  It is pretty cool.  It's basically what I call a "Skil Saw" but that is a brand name for a powered hand saw.  Here's a picture of one:

It made the job much easier than any of the non-powered options.  It was also quite precise, which I appreciate.  I was not able to cut the rounded corners around the sink, but everything else went well.  I (of course) built a contraption for using it in the utility sink in the basement.  I deliberately built that sink so that a standard garden hose could be attached at any time.  The picture doesn't show it, but the saw has this tiny, cheap-ish water line with a garden hose attachment, so I was ready for that.  But, I wanted a way to clamp the tiles down while cutting.  Some pressure-treated lumber made a platform that sits over the top of the sink.  I clamped the tiles between that surface and a 2x4 with woodworking clamps.  The result was a firm grip on the tile with an ergonomic work height that discharged everything into the sink.  Well, when the blade gets spinning, the water flies around pretty well, so I got a little wet over the entire process, but I was sweaty anyway.

The net result of all that effort today was I got all the tile laid out.  It took 5 hours-- including the time to build the sink surface and read the saw instructions.  The stones are glued to a mesh backing, so I was able to use small finishing nails to "pin" them up, place, measure, etc.  At the end of day 1, it looks like this:

Sunday, August 26, 2012


While the kitchen was on hold, I have been working on another project...

I have a friend who replaced her landscape rocks with wood chips and is giving away the rocks to anyone who will come and haul them away.  It's an hour away (Fargo), but still much cheaper than buying the rocks-- and I probably would have driven to Fargo to buy the rocks anyway because there is more selection in Fargo.  The first load I put on the north side of the house (where we previously had wood chips, ironically.)  Wood chips bio-degrade.  Between that and the dirt I dug and replaced to do the stucco and painting last summer, all we had around that flower bed was dirt.  Now we have rocks.  Looks better and keeps the dirt from splashing on the wall when it rains.  The second load I put around the back steps and along the east side of the house, which is the side I posted for most of last year's pictures. 

Here is the timeline, then, for that side of the house going back to last year:

Now, hopefully, you also realize that the window wells have been raised-- because that was more work that is not pictured and I want credit for it.  Raising them makes for better drainage on that side and also allows more rock in the area without all of them falling into the wells.  Under the rock is a weed barrier, btw.

When we poured cement for our garage and driveway, our neighbor asked our contractor if he would fix the concrete at her front door and walk:

He said he would, but he wanted another project like ours for it, first, so that he could use the leftover for her small job.  That was a good plan, but he never got back to her.  I wanted to do it for her last summer, but I got too busy and overwhelmed by my own project.  So, I decided to resolve that issue this summer and now was the best time to do it (work is going to be crazy-busy again, starting next week.)

So today I took PTO because I had to burn a day before the end of August or I lose it.  So, I got up almost as early as usual, and drove to Fargo.  Now, the big plan was to buy a wheelbarrow in Fargo rather than locally because prices are too high locally.  But, the places I stopped did not have the one I wanted.  That, by the way, would be the one with the funnel on the end, which I thought would be helpful for pouring stuff like concrete.  It is.  I know this because I bought the one here in town.  The price wasn’t so bad, anyway, compared to similar sizes in Fargo.  But, another reason for the trip was to score some more rocks and the wheelbarrow was supposed to help with that project… except I didn’t buy one.  I did get some more rocks, though, the same way I got all the others:  One pail at a time.  However, the owner of the rocks was there this time and we got to talk a bit (about our kids—you know how that goes) and she helped with her own pail and shovel.  Sweet deal.

When I got home, I unloaded all the rocks.  I have now put rocks everywhere that I have ever considered putting them.  I really don’t need any more.  But, they are not all gone yet.  Maybe I will ask my neighbor if she wants to do the same thing on her troublesome side of her house.

Then, I started in on my real job for the day.  I wheeled my wheelbarrow and shovel 50 feet to the left and started excavating the junk dirt that was under Mary’s cement problem.  Some of it is sand, so it was a little bit correct, but mostly it is various forms of black and gray sticky mud.  I piled that up on cardboard and her sidewalk.  I am not sure what I will do with it.  But, it can sit there until the rest is done.  The objective was to get that all out and my forms set up so that I could begin filling in the class 5 gravel that is the best material under concrete.  Technically, it is the expensive stuff and more than I needed.  However, the minimum charge for bringing a truck of anything anywhere is $65.  So, my 3 yards of class 5 costs the same as 1 yard of class 3.  The delivery was scheduled for 1:00.  He was a little later than that and I wasn’t quite ready anyway, but pretty close.

Here’s the math:  The piece I am doing is 8ft x 6ft which is 48 square feet.  The slab should be 4” thick.  4 inches is one third of a foot (12/4=3) so the cubic measurement is 48 x 1/3 or 48/3=16 cubic feet.  A “yard” is actually a cubic yard, so 3x3x3 = 27 cubic feet.  So, I needed less than one yard.  But, I have another project for pavers on the side of my garage that currently has no walkway (it borders the garden) so I need about 1.5 yards for that.  And, as I already mentioned, 3 yards costs the same as one yard, so since he is coming, he might as well bring all of it.
Here’s the downside:  moving 3 yards of gravel with a spade and a wheelbarrow is a day’s worth of hard labor by itself.  I also had to spread the bit I needed for the job around and tamp it down.  I did all of that, but then I had to get the rest of the pile off the public sidewalk (to be courteous)—one load at a time.  Well, as I was doing that a dude cruises by in his Bobcat, skid-steer loader with a jack-hammer attachment.  Obviously, he kept on going.  He is a contractor working on some curb repair for the city down the block a ways (yonder, if you prefer.)  But, on his way back, he had his bucket attachment and he swings over and asks if I would like to make my day 20 times easier.  Well, as a matter of fact, I would.  He couldn’t actually haul it all the way to where I needed it without making a mess of the garden, but he was able to move almost all the pile much closer in a few minutes—all for a simple, “thank you.”  Thank you, Lindberg Construction dude!  I still had to move every ounce of the 3 yards with my shovel and wheelbarrow, but I had to move it a much shorter distance.  Technically, the measure of that difference is a savings of horsepower.  But, unless you are an engineer or a geek, that’s just boring.  (Hint:  the definition of horsepower is actually a measure of force and distance, so reducing the distance reduces the horsepower requirement.)

After a few days for it to dry and to allow me to put the bottom step together, this is the finished project.


When I got to this point, we had a relative coming to visit.  So, I put the cupboard doors back on and painted around the sheetrock-- the walls that were finished at that point and took a picture.  This is as done as it will be until the tile is purchased and installed..


Back to the kitchen.  Here’s a picture before the sheetrock:

…Which is before the window was closed off, so you are also treated with seeing the package of paper towels on the shelf on the other side of the wall…

And another picture showing the other wall along the counter:

That corner of the kitchen has been a problem since the last project, so it was nice to make that normal.  See, because of the old countertop, the corner went all the way to the corner, around the end of the plaster on that wall.  But, when I replaced the plaster on the other edge of the corner, I gained the depth of the sheetrock’s difference.  So the corner was… weird.  Basically it was less than 90 degrees or P shaped or however you would describe it.  Replace the plaster = fix the corner.  Normalcy prevails.

But normalcy is just not how this wall was constructed.

Before I get into that...

For perspective, here are the "after" pictures for the sheetrock since you have the other pictures and I just mentioned that:

Now, here is the back side of that wall:
Actually, I took this picture while I was working on it for a working reference.  I knew I would need to find those "studs" to hang the sheetrock-- which would be covering the "studs."  Zoom in if you have to, but notice that not one of the "studs" reaches from the ceiling to the floor in one piece.  Every one is spliced together from one or more boards.  The center right is the old window, but it now has a short stud running vertically down the center of it.  The far right is the old plywood wall which had holes cut in it to run the wiring you can see.  It had also bee cut up to access the plumbing for the sink (bottom right) and further right (not in the picture) is another panel cut to access wiring to outlets, switches, and a light for this area and that wall of the kitchen.  It turns out that the 4ft line is that line extending down from the old plywood, through the window, and through the back of the sink.  Since that is my seam for the new sheetrock, I had to add some "stud" segments of my own behind that line.

The sheer normalcy of this "after" picture cannot be overstated:

The plumbing is accessible from under the sink on the front side.  I took the before picture from the bottom of the stairwell looking up at the studs.  The after picture is from the top of the stairs looking across the wall.  Behind anyone standing at that point of view is the back door, which accesses the garage, which is the most common door we use since building the garage, so to look at a normal wall here is a major aesthetic improvement.


The kitchen is not the only project of the summer.  I am also spending a ton of time out at the farm where I grew up.  Part of that is because Dad and Mom are both 70 and really can’t keep up with themselves.  In a very frustrating way, Dad (well, both of them really) seems very content to just let things go.  The short list is the lawn mowing and this series of pictures.  Father's Day weekend my sister and her family and I fixed some stuff.  We tried to rally the help of the other siblings, but after all of that, it was just us-- on Father’s Day weekend.  One of my other sisters texted me curious about how it went.  I sent her these pictures and these words:
We moved these (they have since been painted and look much better)

We hung this door back up (it was off the track and dangling crooked by one caster)

We fixed this door so it closes (it had been left open for months)

And we stood these tires against the wall (rather than lying in the grass and in the way)

And, of course, we mowed everything.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We took a trip this late spring for a relative's graduation.  We drove.  It was a good time.  But, one of my personal highlights was this picture we took while eating at a "Chicago Deep Dish Style" pizza place.  Apparently, I was supposed to make a funny face, too.  Oops.  Love this picture, though =) 


So, what to do with the window, now?  Close it.  It is now just part of the wall.
The wall itself is, of course, made of plaster and lathe.  That stuff has been cracking and falling apart all over the house all these years and I am sick of fixing it.  I certainly was not going to hang any glass tile backsplash to it.  The paint itself could flake off with the tile glued to it, or the plaster could, too.  Therefore, I removed it all and put up sheetrock.  Here’s the thing:  3/8” sheetrock is about half the width of the lathe and plaster.  The lathe is about 3/8" itself, and the plaster itself is about that, too.  All of that means that I really had to put up two layers of sheetrock.  I wasn’t going to do it, at first.  The glass tile is about ½ an inch thick by itself and it has a backing mud that is used to hang it up.  But, my lovely bride had second thoughts about the glass tile and thought maybe we should put up the pressed tin stuff like we have on the ceiling.  Well, that stuff is really thin—like 1/16” or something and would have left too much unsightly gap.  I put up a second layer of sheetrock.  That had another advantage which is that the seams are not in the same place as the first layer and it is some of the best drywall work I have ever done.  It is so good that my lovely bride is back to liking the glass tile again.  Why?  “Because now it is so much easier to picture without the gaps.”  Seriously?  Whatever.
Another thing you may notice from the picture is that the cupboard doors are missing.  That is because a 2x1 strip of wood mounts to the end faces of the cupboards which extends all the way to the surface of the counter top.  The only function they serve is to provide something to screw the door hinges into.  I suppose they provide a slightly cleaner line, too.  But, since they go all the way to the counter, I had to remove them to replace the counter and the wall behind them.

The big project this summer outside of work is the kitchen counter.  The old one is a crappy laminate that is very old.  I don’t know how old it is.  I do know that it has been there as long as we have lived here, which is at least 5 years longer than most people go without an improvement.

The improvement is to replace it with… a laminate counter top.  Well, there ought to be a good explanation for that, but there isn’t.  There is this:  It is “temporary” and enough of an improvement to be satisfied for several more years.  This is not a new cabinets, new stainless steel appliances, and new granite counter tops kitchen remodel.  This is quicker, simpler, and cheaper.  It’s the kind of improvement that when you go and throw it all out to do a proper kitchen remodel, you don’t feel like you are throwing away a lot of money spent a few years ago—like other people do.  We shake our heads at these home improvement shows (which we watch all the time) and people see kitchens that are less than 10 years old, scrunch up their face, and say, “It all has to go.”  Everything in that kitchen is newer and nicer than ours.  But, our whole house is old.  Remodeling our kitchen is complicated and out of date by definition.  Nothing in our house is “open concept.”  So, at what point do we throw away the authenticity to change that?  We are more of the restore type—just newer and cleaner.  ‘Cause, seriously, our cabinets and countertop (and with each passing day our appliances) are pretty gross.  The walls, ceiling, and floor used to be gross too, but I replaced those a few years ago.

This is the “before” picture:
Not that you really can see how bad it is in the picture.  For one thing, the laminate has two seams right in front of the sink which are separated and peeling off.
The scope of the project was to be the countertop and back-splash.  But…. The current area above the sink has this bizarre window.  In defense, the kitchen has no dishwasher (appliance, that is.)  Some people get nostalgic about standing at the sink washing dishes and looking out the window.  I can appreciate that.  But, this window is not the window to the outside.  THAT window is several feet further back.  In the space between are the basement steps and about 2 more feet to the wall.  But, technically, one could at least "see out a window…" kinda.  We never got into that.  The space between is more of a storage area for us, and the actual window is as old and gross as any in the house, so the view was never that attractive to us.  We (read “I”) hung a piece of can’t-see-through-it fabric on the back side of it for years.  When our daughter was taking sewing lessons she sewed a better one together and that has hung there since and shows in the photo.

The first step was to pull the sink out, install the new countertop, and put the sink back-- quickly, because nothing can be out of service for more than a few hours or be messy, either.  So, this is a photo with the sink out and the old countertop removed:

“But… wait,” you say… because the only thing that is gone is the laminate.  Yeah, see, that’s what is so “fun” about old houses.  The countertop was built one board at a time just like the cabinets.  So, the countertop didn’t come out in one large piece.  It was several boards.  Thus, I took out the drawers and put in plastic, because all of those cabinets are open under there and all the demolition debris is just one more thing I don’t want in those already gross cabinets with all of our pans and such.

And here is the new countertop with the sink back in place:  


Rapt, as you no doubt are, by minutiae you will quickly realize that this is failed journalism.  Failure, in journalistic terms, because this is so far into the middle of the process that it is nearer the end.  This, after all, is a week into the month of August.

Rapt failure, this.

However, I did have sense enough to take pictures along the way.  So, I am actually ahead of last year’s journal since I am beginning with pictures rather than adding them later.  I am just behind the actually blogging itself.

The first thing I did was get a new job—the good kind.  The good way to get a new job is to get a promotion.  I say that with the experience of someone who has had wayyy too many jobs by this point in my life.  Even I think I am flaky.  I have done plenty of the “get a new job” thing.  So, I am very certain that getting a promotion is much better.  You, however, can do whatever you works for you.

The job itself is nothing to brag about, really.  It’s just different.  And a raise.  And more time off.  And that is really the point of telling you all of this—I am able to do what I have done this summer because I have had the time off to do it, and that is different for me.  For the record, I love my job, it's just not a high-ranking flashy position or really close to anything like that, and I doubt I would brag even if it were.

And that brings me to the first picture:

This here is one of the first tasks I did in my new position.  When I tried to explain what it is that I do, I usually just explained that I do whatever they ask me to do.  It’s true, really.  Who am I to refuse?  The back story is that my “boss” ordered these panels one day and some other stuff including the magazine rack thing in the middle of it.  And, typically, by the time the stuff got here, it was mostly forgotten, so it sat and sat.  Eventually, the people in the warehouse got sick of it, but by then, my boss had me to send to get it and take care of it.  So, I had the fun of installing the miss-matched oddity.  It was fun, actually-- I enjoy building and construction, obviously.  There is an explanation for its oddities.  But, seriously, who really cares?  The point is, this is what it is.  And what it is was my job to put it together.

But, my job isn’t all oddities.  For the first time in all the time that I have spent there, I got paid to travel.  I have always enjoyed doing that.  Some of my previous jobs have allowed for that.  It was good to get to do that again.  I hope it continues.  And the place that I got to attend was the company world headquarters.  When we got there, we took a picture:

This picture cracks me up.  This picture exists because of all the good fortune I just mentioned.  So, just to keep me humble, it definitely needs to have the taker’s finger covering a chunk of it… and some stranger in the background.  But, for the record, this machine is one of the products we make and it is cool that it was on display in such prime real-estate.  For the record, I am wearing a company shirt and a company jacket (I told you I love my job, right?)

But, the best part of traveling on the company’s dime is the free meals.  So, we went to this place called “The Machine Shed” which was awesome.  Part of the awesomeness was this sign above me when I sat down:

They had all-you-can-eat fried chicken and I ate all that I could.  They also have great home-made applesauce (it’s more like a pie filling than applesauce in a jar.)  But, they also have an amazing brisket.  You can’t just get brisket anywhere, you know?

So, that is the fun part of the new job.  The more realistic side of it is this:  This summer I have to complete a safety and ergonomics analysis of every task in the factory.  And, now that we are building tillage equipment in the summer “off season” I basically have to do 4 major sections of the factory twice.  It works out to, like, 115 spreadsheets.  It is mostly tedious.  It is mostly the kind of job that gets done by grinding away at it a little bit each day—day after day after day.  On the other hand, that is the kind of thing I probably do “best.”  Not best is the sense that it is my best work or the pinnacle of my abilities, but best in the sense that most people in the world just can’t bring themselves to do a task like that.  They get bored.  They get sick-of-it.  They lose interest.  They get depressed.  I understand.  But, this basically describes the majority of my life for the first 18 years, so I am used to it.  Go figure. 

It also describes the kind of tasks I blog about here.  True story.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


My introduction to Ross was a picture.  My future bride was showing me pictures of her family and there was her dad, Ross, sitting in a chair, looking at the camera.  The expression on his face told me a bunch of things that turned out to be completely wrong.  He looked stern.  He had a faint smile, but he still seemed intimidating.  He seemed to me to be an intellectual.  He turned out to be intelligent enough, but not really the intellectual type.  I wonder why I saw a stern, intimidating intellectual,?

Ross turned out to be a kind man.  He never said much that I remember, but he enjoyed company and stories and conversations.  His contribution was mostly to ask questions and get people talking.  His own answers, even his questions, were seldom more than a few words at a time.  Once he got someone talking, he would just listen, smile, chuckle… whatever to keep it going.  He often interlocked his fingers and rested his hands on his belly as he listened.  If he was in his chair, he’d rock a little.

So, after all these years, I did see plenty of Ross in a chair, with that faint smile, but the picture is illuminated differently, now.  I’ve seen the expression many times.  It’s not stern.  He is a no-nonsense guy.  No funny-business.  But, he was plenty quirky—in a charming way.

Like many families in this part of the country, farming was once the foundation of how life was lived.  Ross grew up on a farm, working with his farming father.  I don’t know many of those stories.  The reason for that may be that when Ross was 19, his dad was killed working under a harvester… during harvest.  That changed everything.  So, Ross, the eldest of 6 children, became the head of the household in many ways.  That’s a pretty harsh introduction to adulthood.  My impression is that ever since that point, he thought about little else.  The burdens of the family and the farm and his own young age in all of that seemed to consume the better part of his life.  Yet, by the time I met him, he was out of farming.  By that point the farm was being rented, then sold altogether.  He had worked for another farmer for many years by the time I met him.  He was all but retired by the time I met him.

Considering the life between those two points, he did very well for himself.  He was not a wealthy man, but he was not poor, and certainly not broke.  Through his and his wife’s hard work and frugal living, they had managed to get to the point we all dream of which is to live comfortably, if simply, without having to work for a day-to-day paycheck.  He had grown kids who had families of their own and were building their own lives.  He had grandkids that loved him.  He had a comfortable house to rest in and keep him occupied.  He did not really have hobbies, unless you consider mowing grass a hobby.  Actually, maybe you should in this case.  Ross kept on top of his lawn.  He mowed it frequently—fanatically is probably a better word.

When Ross thought someone was peculiar, he would say [that person] is a funny duck.  And that, of course, is ironic since Ross was a funny duck himself.  He had his own language.  If you think about it, that is a convenient tool to have if you are minimizing your personal word count.  Whenever I met up with Ross, his greeting was a 3-beat long, “Sayyyyyy…”  Kinda like the way some people say, “Awwww…” when they see something cute or endearing.  He often referred to the mother of his children as “Mudder” but, that is just how he pronounced it, without reference to spelling.  He had a special greeting for his daughters, too, but that is personal for them and for them to share.  But, when we left, he would stand and wave good-bye by rolling his hands around each other like the actions to that line in the patty-cake nursery rhyme.  It takes a special person to leave such an endearing memory in so few words.  I always loved visiting my in-law parents.

But, if you ask anyone who knew Ross about his most defining characteristics, most would lead off by declaring that Ross was a John Deere man.  He treasured anything that bore the brand.  He has the most extensive toy collection I have ever seen (I’m sure it’s not a record or anything, I just don’t personally know of any other more grand.)  And, like a true collector, they are all displayed carefully, thoughtfully, and lovingly like the individual treasures they are.  He also has books and watches and caps and other assorted knick-knacks and was sure to get a new set of calendars each year.  The best way to do that is to drop in to a dealership during their annual “John Deere Days” which Ross did as much as he could.  Even long after being a serious customer, both he and the dealerships looked forward to the visits.  Every company striving to enhance their brand can only dream of such reverence and loyalty as Ross to John Deere.

I will always consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to earn my living working for the company that Ross so admired.  It certainly helped my relationship with Ross.  But, I dare say we liked—no, loved-- each other more deeply than that.  Of course, as I have tried to explain, I don’t have the words to back up the claim.

I knew Ross for about 20 years.  We both got older over that time, little by little.  I am blessed to have been able to have Ross visit my home a few times, and even more blessed to have visited his home many many times.  As those years passed by, he was gradually less mobile, less active.  He gradually had more health problems, but was only forced to live in a nursing home starting just last December.  We came to visit him, then.  At one point he asked me to push his wheel chair around the place for a little stroll.  It was my good pleasure to do so.  By Easter, we were still able to communicate with him and spend some time together in his company.  He was almost silent by then.  But, he and I went for another stroll.  This one was shorter.  He fell asleep along the way.  Eventually, I wheeled him up to the table where the rest of us sat and visited some more.  Ross was in and out of sleep as we passed the time, there.  At one point, after a while, he discreetly reached over and touched my hand with the tips of his fingers.  I took his hand in mine as we sat there in silence a few minutes—just listening, smiling faintly.

Those were the last moments I personally spent with Ross where we were both conscious.  He had better days with a few people after that, but I was not present for them.  I was fortunate enough to bring his daughter to be with him and his bride to say good-bye in their way as he breathed his last breaths this side of heaven.

I am thankful to Ross for my own lovely bride and for being her dad.  I am thankful to Ross for being a grand-father for my lovely daughter.  I am thankful for his kindness, his hospitality, his quirkiness, his faint smile, and his wordy silence.  And I will forever be thankful for the segment of my own life when Ross held my hand.

Roswell L. Brueshoff, 11/7/1928 - 4/21/2012