Saturday, May 11th, 2013

If you were driving down Sylvan Lane in Monona this morning, you would have seen yard after yard of neatly-tended, uniformly green lawns, and then you would have seen a yard where Chemlawn had obviously not been welcome for many years.
imgage of more dandelions than you've ever seen in once place before

I finally mowed our field of dandelions this morning because, even though I think they’re pretty, I can obviously tell that the rest of the neighbors do not share my sentiment, and I have some sense of shame, so out came the lawn mower and, after the devastation, our yard looked normal once again, if you think looking like everybody else is normal. It’s not, but that is again only my opinion.
image of field of slaughtered dandelions

I left the patches of uncut grass around the base of the tree because a rabbit has made her nest in a hole there, so I wanted to leave her some cover.

after the devastation | 2:33 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The drain in the basement floor burped up a bunch of sewer water again. Oh, yay. And here I thought my weekend was going to be boring.

I was taking some random stuff to the basement when I noticed the big, wet stain on the basement floor. I had been washing clothes. The clothes washer drains into the basement sink. Seemed like a logical assumption that the wash machine must’ve had something to do with it, but when I opened the spigots to fill the sink up, I couldn’t make the drain burp again, so I mopped up and went back to washing clothes.

When the wash machine began to empty itself at the end of the first cycle, I trotted back downstairs to see if there was still a problem. There was. And this time it was worse. A whole lot of water, blacked by something with an evil stink to it, was bubbling up from the drain. Shit. (That was an expletive, not a description of what was coming out of the drain, or that’s what I want to believe, so let’s just pretend, shall we?)

To see if I could clear it up by force-feeding it some water, I connected a black rubber balloon to the end of a hose I keep in the basement and shoved it down the drain. I do this all the time. Sometimes it works. And then there’s times like today. After running water through it for a few minutes I noticed that the basement toilet was going glubglubglub and went to check it out. The bowl was filling up with water! It was almost up to the brim!

Ran back to the sink, shut off the water. With no water pressure, the rubber balloon-thing deflated and black sewer water came gurgling up out of the drain. Shit. Again. (See above.)

I had only one more thing in my bag of tricks to try, and that was snaking out the sewer line. Last time I had to do that was about a month and half ago. Going for two months this time. Rammed that snake down the line, pulled it back up, rammed it down again, worked it in and out, rammed it down some more, worked it in and out, rammed another five feet into it, worked it, and et cetera, and so on, and such like.

And it worked. When I took a break from snaking to see how the line was draining, I found I could run the spigot wide open, pumping as much water down the drain as I wanted without getting any backup, black stinky goo or glubglubglub from the toilet. I snaked it out some more just to be sure.

Then I put everything back together, mopped the floor with a 50/50 mix of bleach and water and went upstairs to take the hottest shower I could stand. I just love weekends.

boring weekend | 2:32 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The inside of the coffee mug that I use at the office as a tea mug had acquired such a rich patina that it was impossible to tell what color it had once been, so I brought it home and gave it a good going-over with a Brillo pad, which I thought would take forever but ended up lasting no more than a couple minutes, and that was including the time it took to rinse it and scrub again when I noticed I missed a spot.

I’ve never let a coffee/tea mug go for so long without washing it out, but in my experience there is a long tradition among coffee drinkers for this sort of thing, and I’ve heard that tea drinkers will do the same thing with their teapots, so I didn’t feel my health was in danger. No one was looking into my tea mug and saying things like, “Geeze, Dave, better get your tetanus booster if you’re going to keep drinking out of that mug!”

But the other morning as I was giving the mug a rinse at the sink in the kitchenette in preparation for making my morning cuppa, I noticed that the bottom of the mug had taken on such a rich dark hue that it looked almost like the bottom of a post hole I’d dug in the garden last year. Didn’t smell like dirt, but it didn’t rinse away and I couldn’t scrub it off with ordinary paper towels, so when I was packing up after work yesterday I stuffed the mug into my man-purse and brought it home.

When it came time to wash the dishes that night, I waited until I had cleaned up all the other glasses, bowls and utensils before giving the tea mug a dunk in the dish water and letting it soak for a couple minutes, thinking that might somehow loosen up the stuck-on tea even though my efforts in the kitchenette that morning should have indicated that no magical loosening-up was likely to occur. This was a job for Brillo pads, pure and simple, and I just happened to have a box of them squirreled away under the sink.

I truly did anticipate that, even with the combined power of steel wool and chlorine cleanser, aided by a generous helping of elbow grease, I would be scrubbing the insides of that tea mug for the next generation to get every last bit of the stain out. No such thing. Two minutes, tops, and the whole operation was finished. After making one quick swipe all the way around the sides, the Brillo felt as though it was gliding silky-smooth across the surfaces, so I wadded it up in the bottom of the mug and gate it a couple quick twists, then rinsed to get eyeballs on the situation and zow! All but the ring around the bottom was gleaming back at me, bright and shiny as a new quarter.

Drinking tea the next morning was a new experience, even though I drink the kind of tea that comes in bags stapled to a little string with a paper tag.

So, what do you do with a soggy Brillo after you’ve used it to clean just one thing? Stuff it in an empty cat food tin and save it for later? Yeah, me too. Those things are like gold to me. It seems like a waste to toss it when I can see even a little bit of blue clinging in the deepest recesses of the steel wool. I usually don’t toss ’em until rust starts to take hold.

tea mug | 4:25 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, scrub-a-dub-dub | Tags:
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Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Shortly before we left the house to go see the Gershwin Songbook, while we were sitting at the table eating lunch, the lights flickered and, from the direction of the garage, I heard an odd sort of growling noise.

“That’s the second time it’s done that this morning,” B commented.

“Really?” I asked. “Did you hear a noise, too?”

“Yeah. I remember because I thought it was the garage door opener until I remembered that you took the garage door opener down to fix it.”

The lights flickered again about five minutes later and again I heard the growling noise, so I got up and flipped the switches that turned off the light over the garage door and the light out front over the flower planter. The lights didn’t flicker any more and there was no more growling.

I excused myself after lunch, went to the basement and shut off the circuit breaker to the outdoor lights, then went to the garage and clipped the power lines and capped the ends with wire nuts before switching the circuit breakers back on. Not sure how, or even if I can find the short in that circuit, but until I do, those lights will have to stay dark. Can’t have the house burning down while we’re out enjoying Gershwin or anything else.

short circuit | 6:28 am CST
Category: daily drivel, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

We’ve got a electric garage door opener. Always have had one. So, I would never know how much grunting I would have to do to open the garage door until the goddamn thing broke.

Well, the goddamn thing broke.

The first time it broke, it looked pretty simple to fix. The kind of garage door opener that we have uses a bicycle chain to pull the door up. A cog wheel just a little smaller than the one on the hub of the back wheel of your bike sticks out the top of the motor. The chain jumped off the cog, for no reason that I could see, but fixing it should’ve been just a matter of wrapping the chain around the cog.

Easier said than done, it turned out. First, because it’s been cold as Hell Frozen Over, in case you haven’t heard. Second, because the chain had to be wrapped tightly around the cog in order for the whole kit and caboodle to work. It was wrapped so tight that fixing it was not a matter of simply reaching up and hooking the chain around the cog. There wasn’t enough slack in the chain for that, and my fingers went numb before I could figure out how to loosen it.

Today was a little warmer than usual, so I bundled up and went out to the garage again to see if I could work it out. There’s a ten-foot-long piece of angle iron that runs from the motor to a bracket on the wall above the door; it’s a track for a metal shuttle about the size of a pack of cigarettes. The shuttle pulls on a steel arm that’s attached to the door. The track was high above my head, even when I was standing on a ladder, and too close to the ceiling for me to see anything going on above it, but I found a little pin that released it from the bracket above the door, and it swung down far enough for me to see what was going on.

The chain was bolted solidly to one end of the shuttle, but attached to the other end with a long screw. If I unscrewed it, the chain went slack enough for me to wrap it around the cog. Then, all I had to do was tighten up the screw again, lift the track back up to the bracket and put the pin back in. Voila! Fixed! Problem solved! I am a goddamn genius!

When I hit the button to pull the garage door up, though, there was a loud *SNAP!*, the chain went slack, and something went jingle-jingle-jingle across the cement floor of the garage. Well, of course it did. That fix was way too easy.

I didn’t have to pull the pin on the track this time to see what had gone wrong: I got a quick look at the top of the motor and saw that the chain had gone slack because the cog was gone. The goddamn cog was gone! It had snapped right off the end of the drive shaft! I didn’t even have to look far to find it on the floor of the garage. That’s what had gone jingle-jingle right after the chain went slack for the second time.

So I unbolted the whole mess from the ceiling, carried the motor to the basement work shop, and unscrewed the cover. The drive mechanism looked very simple, so simple that it appeared to be utterly disposable. I couldn’t imagine that anybody anywhere bothered with the expense of offering replacements parts for it. Imagine my surprise when a quick Google search came up with an on-line supplier for exactly the part I was looking for. What happened to me is either a common breakdown for a large enough number of people who own this particular make of garage door opener, or somebody out there likes me. I hope it’s Option B.

I ordered a new drive shaft and cog. It was only forty bucks, a whole lot less than buying a new opener. If it gets here this week, and the weather warms up by next weekend, then very soon I might be able to open the door without grunting.

an opening, NOT | 6:08 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

After cleaning up the dirty dinner dishes, I threw a load of dirty clothes in the wash machine so I could feel at least twice as justified about heading for my basement lair where I was going to pass the better part of two hours playing with my toys.

The wash machine finished the first cycle and began to empty the wash water as I started down the stairs. I don’t know what made me crook my neck to glance around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, but when I did to check on how the wash water was draining, I was greeted by the sight and smell of sewer water burbling up from the floor drain.

I wish I could tell you how fitting it was that I ended the day standing in a vile pool of greasy water that smelled of rotting food and who knows what else, wearing a pair of shit-covered rubber gloves while ramming a snake down the sewer line, but revealing the circumstances that lead up to this being a perfect coda to an awful day will have to wait until I publish my memoirs.

apropo | 6:18 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, December 30th, 2012

TL,DR: I snaked the shit out of the sewer yesterday afternoon and it’s all good now. And beer.

I just can’t figure out how the sewer works. In theory, it’s a pipe that carries water from a drain to the the city sewer line.

In actual fact, though, there are several drains, one leading from the kitchen sink, one from the basement sink, and one from the floor drain in the basement. There’s also a toilet in the basement. The drain from the kitchen sink and the basement sink converge at the top of the sewer stack before it ducks under the concrete floor. The floor drain meets the sewer stack somewhere underground. So does the toilet.

When the basement sink backs up, the floor drain is okay. I know because I usually siphon the backed-up wash water from the sink into the floor drain. The toilet gets sluggish, but it still drains. Only the sink completely stops up. I’ve tried to diagram how the three sewer lines might come together and work this way, but no matter how I do the mental gymnastics I can’t figure it out.

I used to unblock a blockage by forcing water through the pipes under pressure. This worked well for a while, but it doesn’t work so well anymore.

Some time ago I bought a sewer snake, thirty feet of tightly-coiled steel with a hook at the front end that I could force down the sewer pipe. Working it back and forth is like working a pipe cleaner through the stem of a pipe. In theory, it should clean the sewer out the same way, although it should be noted that the snake is only three-eights of an inch in diameter, while the sewer pipe is at least three inches in diameter. It might be closer to six.

If I had to guess, I’d say the blockage has to be a big gob of grease because there weren’t any roots or hair or another tangled-up mess caught in the hook on the end of the snake when I pulled it up. The sink drained fine after I used it, but the toilet never really improved. Sometimes it flushed fine, sometimes not so fine, and sometimes it wouldn’t drain at all unless I plunged the hell out of it. It didn’t make sense to me, but as long as the sink was draining I was okay with it.

When the sink began to back up again this week, and the old trick of blowing it out with water under pressure was absolutely no help at all, I got out the snake again, but was gobsmacked when that didn’t work, either. The blockage was more than thirty feet along? Then how does the floor drain still work? And the toilet?

I was not about to let this beat me. I went to the hardware store and bought a fifty-foot sewer snake. They had seventy-five-foot sewer snakes on sale, but they were mounted on motorized drums and were priced at more than three-hundred dollars. I’m way too cheap for that, even thought the motorized thing made my gadget lust twitch.

I’m not sure what happened at the checkout. The guy scanned the other items I bought, then held up the sewer snake and said to me, “There’s no price on this.”

I shrugged. “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I said, not knowing why he was pointing this out to me. Did he expect me to go back to the shelves and get the price for him? If he did, why would he take my word for it? What if I came back and said, “Oh, my mistake, it was on sale. Four ninety-five.”

He stood there for an awkwardly long time holding the sewer snake while I wondered what he would do. Eventually a woman came hustling up the aisle to ask him what was wrong. I assume she was a supervisor or manager of some kind. He pointed out to her that there was no price on the sewer snake. She turned to me and, pointing behind her, she asked, “They’re in the aisle on the other side of that wall, right?”

“That’s right, yes,” I answered.

Another awkward pause followed as they both stood looking at me. I couldn’t read their expressions. They might’ve been waiting for me to apologize for grabbing one without a price tag, or for me to go get one with a price tag, or they might’ve been trying to figure out how to suck out my brains through my nose. I couldn’t tell. At last the woman turned and hustled back up the aisle and disappeared behind the shelves where I found the sewer snake.

She didn’t come back for five minutes. The checkout guy could hardly figure out what to do with himself. He clearly felt uncomfortable just standing there doing nothing, but if there was a way to put my checkout on hold and scan the next customer’s purchases, he couldn’t figure out how to do it.

When the woman came back, she held up her hand, her palm toward her face, and asked me, “What was the price on it?”

What’s this? A guessing game now? “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I answered.

“Okay, it’s this one,” she said to the checkout guy, pointing to something, presumably the SKU, that she’d written on the palm of her hand. Computerized checkout but they couldn’t look that up in the database.

Back at home, I shoved all seventy-five feet of that snake down the sewer pipe and worked it back and forth, flushed the sewer with water, and worked the snake again before I pulled it all the way out. This is by far the uckiest part of the whole enterprise. The first time I snaked a sewer, I made the mistake of simply pulling the snake out. What do you do with a snake that’s covered over its entire length with black, stinking goo? I sure didn’t know. What a mess I made of the basement that day. What a lot of cursing I did. I learned to leave the water running so most of the gunk would get washed off the snake on the way out, but it’s still a pretty nasty proposition.

I ran water for about ten minutes down the newly-opened sewer before I shoved the snake down the drain again and did the pipe-cleaner dance some more. Then, just to make sure the path to the sewer was as clear as I could make it, I took apart the trap under the sink to make sure there was nothing in it, and I snaked out the pipe it connected to before putting it back together.

There. That ought to do it.

I threw all the bath towels in the wash machine, set the fill to MAX and crossed my fingers. The washer drains in to the basement sink and the sink is just big enough to hold all the water the wash machine can chug through in one complete cycle. After the wash cycle I ran downstairs to check on how it was draining: Okay, so far. Then the rinse cycle finished up and it was still draining okay. I ran another load and it was okay, too.

Cleanup was worst. It always is. I cleaned off the snake as best I could by rinsing the gunk off it, then leaving it to soak in a sink filled with water and a cup of bleach for half an hour. Then I rinsed it off again. In all this rinsing and washing and rinsing, after all the snaking and flushing and snaking, I got a lot of gunk and sewer water on my arms and hair and Oh My Goodness it even splashed ON MY FACE! There was a lot of spluttering and a frantic rush to the sink in the brewery to flush my face with clear water when that happened. After I cleaned up all the hardware and tools and rinsed off the floor, I peeled out of my dirty clothes, burned them and stood under a scalding shower until I felt almost normal again.

Then beer.

snakey-snakey | 10:15 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Oh boy! A plumbing emergency! Merry Christmas!

At least I got to sleep in. Sort of. After feeding the cats, I went back to bed and even fell asleep again, not to wake up until eight. Made a pot of coffee, drank most of it while reading the paper, then stripped the bed and threw the sheets and pillowcases into the wash machine.

“Aw! Those were just getting broken in!” My Darling B complained. She likes her bed sheets well-seasoned.

To reward myself for being so industrious on Christmas morning, I smeared honey on a couple pieces of toast, refreshed my coffee cup and retreated to the spare room to check out the goings-on out here in Internetland. The wash machine finished its first cycle and started to drain itself, and from the basement I heard an ominous bluppity-blup-blup-blup! unlike any bluppity-blup sound I’d ever heard before.

A quick dash down the stairs confirmed that, yes, the basement sink was filled to the brim with greasy wash water swimming with pasta and other food-like substances that had been flushed down the kitchen sink. I take all the blame for that. Apparently the In-Sink-Erator doesn’t grind the food up as finely as I thought it did.

So I’ve spend the past hour and a half plunging and snaking out the drain and, when that didn’t work, siphoning the greasy wash water out of the sink. I’ve been flushing the sewer line out under pressure with garden hoses for the past twenty minutes and am about to wade back into the front lines to see how that’s going. Wish me luck.

And Merry Christmas.

blockage | 10:45 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, November 24th, 2012

It appears that my weekend will begin with a plumbing emergency.

After brewing the morning pot o’ coffee, I tramped down the stairs to the basement to check on the two batches of beer that were still happily fermenting away on the work bench. As I passed the basement sink, the dark, wet stain around the drain caught my eye. The only way that stain could be there, I said to myself, is if water came up from the drain. There’s a part of my brain that likes to taunt the rest of me with thoughts like this at early hours of the morning.

I tramped back up the stairs, turned on the faucet in the kitchen and left it running, then went back downstairs. Yep. Water coming up from the drain. Terrific.

So that means I’ll spend an hour or so hauling out the hoses, breaking apart drain pipes, mucking out the sewer stack and getting very, very wet. I hate plumbing emergencies. Hate ’em.

To make the morning even less enjoyable, I seem to have slept with my head cocked at just the right angle to make it impossible for me to turn and look in a certain direction. If I do, one or two of the muscles in my neck threatens to spasm and lock my head permanently cranked all the way around to the right. I’d give all the money in my piggy bank right now for a powerful muscle relaxant, or to have Arnold Schwarzenegger twist my head off the way he’s done to the bad guys in just about every action movie he’s ever been in.

twists | 6:53 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, yet another rant
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Monday, November 12th, 2012

Wow I hate going to the hardware store twice. I don’t mind going once but that hardly ever happens. I almost always have to go twice. It’s like a physical law of the universe. When I’m working on something that I’ve never worked on before, I have to go get the parts to start working, then I have to go back to get the parts I didn’t know I needed the first time. When I’m working on something I’ve worked on before, I have to go get the stuff I need to start working, then I have to go back to get the stuff I forgot to get the first time, even when I make a list.

Then there was last weekend. All I needed were two slabs of plywood and a pair of already-built racks. I was throwing up some shelves in the basement and they were going to be the most basic shelves ever: Rip the plywood into two-by-four boards for shelves, fasten some cleats on the racks, screw it all together. I already had the screws, and I had lots of scrap wood to use as cleats. That’s it. Done. I was sure there couldn’t possibly be anything in a plan as simple as that to make me go back to the store for something I forgot, or didn’t know I needed. Sure of it. What a dope.

After picking up and putting away all the tools that were scattered across the top of the outfeed table that doubles as a work bench, I grabbed the first slab of plywood and, as I was maneuvering it into position to make the first cut, noticed that in one corner of the slab the plys had come apart, as if they hadn’t been glued together properly. The plan I had for building the shelves was simple, but I needed every square inch of that plywood to make it happen, and I couldn’t use plywood that was de-laminating. I would have to take it back for an exchange. There was no way around it. But first, I had to cuss a lot.

Once I got that out of my system and loaded the plywood into the car, I made a quick list of all the supplies I needed to make another batch of beer later this week. If I was going all the way back out to the far side of town, I might as well. Two quick stops, one at the grocery store and one at Brew & Grow, and I had everything I needed. Brewing beer never seems to require two trips to get more supplies.

Then back to the hardware store. There was just one guy working the returns counter, and the people he was helping at the front of the line were returning about a dozen boxes of ceramic floor tiles and all the cement and grouting they would have needed to lay that flooring. They seemed to be in the process of opening every single box of tiles so the guy behind the counter could scan the price tag of each and every tile. The rest of the seven or eight people in line ahead of me each had just one item to return. On the up side, my piece of plywood was large enough to lean on.

I got to lean on it for only fifteen minutes or so. Thought it was going to be a lot longer than that, but after ten minutes or so passed, the return-counter guy must’ve stopped scanning floor tiles long enough to call for help, because two other people joined him at the counter, cranked up a couple of cash registers and started waving people at the head of the line over to get their returns.

One of the first people that got waved over was a guy pushing a shopping cart with a boxed tool set and a little girl in the rumble seat. When the guy took the box out and set it on the counter, the little girl stood up in the seat to get a better look at what was going on over daddy’s shoulder. She got bored with that pretty quickly, though, so she turned around to see what else was going on, and she liked the view so much that she kept turning around. Then she did a little dance. Then she seemed to want to sit down again, but it was a feint; she jumped up and began to dance again. I could tell who the parents were in the line ahead of me: Their eyes were locked on the little girl and kept almost-stepping forward, wanting to grab her and sit her down so she wouldn’t fall out of that goddamned seat.

The lady at the cash register took one look at the piece of ply I had and said I could go get another piece and bring it back, requiring me to make the trek from the exchange counter in the front corner of the store to the opposite corner in the back of the store, then trek all the way back to the return counter to exchange it. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the enormous size of the newly-remodeled hardware store?

Once my second trip to the store was over and done with, I could get down to the business of building those shelves. And it was every bit as simple as I had planned it: Rip the plywood into shelves, attach cleats to the racks, screw the shelves in place. Took about an hour and a half, although I took a break for lunch right about in the middle of the project. It would’ve been done before lunch if I hadn’t had to make that second trip.

two trips | 6:00 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, shopping, work
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Monday, November 5th, 2012

The other night, B opened a kitchen drawer and discovered that the mousies in Our Humble O’Bode have been going to the trouble of climbing all the way up to the top drawers to run around on the utensils and chew on the corks. She didn’t find an actual mouse, but she did find a whole bunch of their little calling cards in the corners of the drawer.

Up to this point she’s been absolutely humane when it came to the treatment we gave the mice we trapped under the sink. They all had to be caught live in traps that wouldn’t hurt them, and we had to let them go in the park, but since she found out the dirty little buggers have been dancing on her kitchen utensils, she’s done a complete one-eighty.

“I’ll kill the next mouse I see!” she promised as she emptied the drawer of every knife and tong to clean it out.

I looked up from the paper I was reading and asked, “Does that mean I can just kill them from now on? Do I still have to bother with live traps, or walking down to the park to let them go?”

She didn’t want to agree to that, but she wouldn’t say I couldn’t do the little buggers in. “Don’t tell me what you do with them,” was all she would say.

So I guess I’ll feed them to the cats from now on. I know a certain tabby who loves an occasional fat, tasty mouse.

rodentia | 9:33 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: ,
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Thursday, November 1st, 2012

About two dozen trick-or-treaters came to the door of Our Humble O’Bode this year, all of them little ones. None of the sullen teenagers who threw on their football uniforms and held out a pillow case last year returned this year, so all those sugar beets we kept handy in a bucket by the door will have to go into the compost. (“What? It’s a sugar beet! Now scram!”)

And this year we saw none of the hatchet-in-the-head costumes that were so enormously popular the first few years we started handing out candy at our present address. Man, those used to give me nightmares! It’s one thing for an adult to wear a gory costume like that to a Halloween party, but totally another thing to see a sweet little six-year-old girl at your door smiling up at you with a knife dripping blood stuck right between her twinkling green eyes. So glad the popularity of that particular costume seems to have faded.

No, this year they were all Spider-Mans and fairies. The scariest costume I saw was a kid with a rubber werewolf head. That was it, just a rubber werewolf head. Shouted a muffled “Trick or treat!” from deep inside it, held out his plastic pail in the shape of a jack-o-lantern, then said “Thank you!” as he left. Almost all of them were polite enough to say “Thank you” this year, and except for the two at the end who grabbed as much candy as their greedy little hands could hold, they all took just one treat, or at least asked before they grabbed a second.

Best costume this year had to be the kid dressed as Frank Sinatra, not the way he dressed in his Vegas years but from back when Old Blue Eyes was just starting to croon. At least I think she was dressed as Frankie. Wasn’t singing New York, New York or anything else that would give it away, just wore a jacket and tie with a pretty sweet fedora. I guess I should’ve asked.

treat! | 5:31 am CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, story time
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Sunday, September 16th, 2012

image of trunk full of goodwill donationsThe basement’s a mess. What’s new about that, right? Just this: I started doing something about it today. I started gathering up all the stuff that’s been laying around for years that nobody’s laid a finger on in all that time and dragged the mess out to the garbage can. It’s one of those flip-top trash cans the city gave us so the robot trucks could pick up our garbage. Huge. 55 gallons at least. Filled it to within a foot of the top.

How did we manage to hang on to a big plastic bucket full of 2.5-inch floppy disks until this moment? Didn’t those things stop being useful years ago? None of the computers we have now even have slots for them. If there was something on them that we might want, we don’t have the hardware to check for it now. Out they went. So did the two keyboards and the trackball mouse. The joystick. The two router hubs. I’m hanging on to the very impressive-looking video card until Tim can take a look at it, but I have the sneaking suspicion he’ll tell me it’s so old (at least two years, maybe three) that it couldn’t possibly be of any use to anybody now. It’ll probably be in the bin by tomorrow morning.

It didn’t all go in the trash, though. If any of it looked like something somebody might be able to use, I stuffed it into the trunk of the car and, when it was full, drove it all down to Goodwill and gave them the whole kit and kaboodle. There must be somebody out there who wants an electric guitar, or will buy one for his kid on the off-chance it might strike a creative spark. That’s how we ended up with it, after all. And the desk lamp will surely find a good home.

I had thought briefly about advertising the lot on e-bay or Craigslist, but I killed off that thought almost as soon as it entered my head. Killed it with extreme prejudice. Strangled it, really. Snapped its scrawny little neck while I was doing it, too. Posting all that crap, then boxing it up and taking it all down to the post office in the event that somebody actually bought it was something I really didn’t want to go through, even if it did net me a couple of bucks. I wanted to get it out of our basement now!

And so I did. Not much of it, but It’s a start.

goodwill | 1:03 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: , , ,
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Saturday, September 8th, 2012

A list of things I should get done this weekend:

  • mow the back lawn
  • pick up all the crap laying around in the back yard (should probably do that before I mow)
  • clean up all the crap that’s accumulated on the deck
  • mulch the branches I’ve pruned off bushes over the summer and piled in the back yard
  • mow the front lawn
  • prune the ivy that’s overwhelmed the front porch
  • clean the crap out of the garage (there’s a lotta crap around here)

What I’m going to do this weekend:

  • ask My Darling B to go to breakfast with me
  • ride my bike
  • ask My Darling B to ride bike with me
  • play with trains in the basement (I’m going to stay up all night, if I have to, to make sure I get to this one)
  • mow the front lawn, if I can work it into my busy schedule

Laziness: It can be quantified.

measurable laziness | 7:33 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, LoCo Rwy, Our Humble O'Bode, play, restaurants, yard work | Tags:
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Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

I ruined evening silfay last night, but it had to be done. The back yard needed mowing in the worst way. I sort of got out of the habit of mowing at all during the summer-long heat wave when there was nothing to mow. It was all just turning brown and shrinking away, but not dying. I thought it died out, but I guess grass and dandelions are tougher than that, way tougher. Especially dandelions. They came back with a vengeance. And rabbits love dandelion leaves. The back yard was like a walk-through all-you-can-eat buffet for the family of bunnies that’s living under our back porch. I found one of them out in the middle of a thick patch of dandelions, munching away, when I stepped out the back door yesterday evening in my ratty work clothes and thought, Aw, man, I’m going to spoil his dinner! I could put it off until another day. But I really couldn’t. I’d already put it off too long. The dandelions were as big as cabbages. Out came the lawn mower. It took an hour and a half to convert a yard full of green, leafy dandelions into a tossed salad.

silfay | 5:57 am CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

The first rule of painting a room is: Cover the floor. Your superpower is not painting without drippage. You will drip. Even if you could be as careful as you think you are, nobody has the intensity to be that careful for the hours and hours it takes to paint a room. You are going to drip. A lot. Cover the floor.

And I know I said this before, but it bears repeating: There’s a reason that some paint costs ten bucks a gallon and some costs forty dollars a gallon. If you go for the cheap stuff, you’ll have to slap on four times as much paint. You don’t think you will. You think you can lay it on thick enough the first time that it will cover any color, even traffic orange, but you’re wrong. Put a crowbar in your wallet and buy the expensive stuff. You can’t go wrong with that, but you can go way wrong with the cheap stuff.

Our bathroom used to have bright blue walls but the paint faded and grew splotchy in places. We’ve been thinking about painting it, which means that My Darling B was thinking about it and I was going to do it. Well, about two weeks ago I finally got up the motivation to schlep my hinder down to the hardware store to buy a can of paint. That’s when I bought the cheap paint. I slapped on two coats of that crap as thick as I could lay it down but the blue paint underneath still proudly showed through, bright as a neon sign.

So last week I schlepped myself down to the hardware store again to buy a bucket of the most expensive interior paint they had in stock. Easier said than done. There was no one at the desk when I got there and, no matter how long I hung around looking impatient, there continued to be nobody at the desk. Eventually I headed down the aisle to the desk where they sold window blinds to ask the guy there if he thought he could find someone to help me out in the paint department. He put a call out over the PA. Five minutes passed. Another member of the “Customer Courtesy Team” wandered past and asked me if I was being helped. “Not yet,” I answered, with what I hoped was a patient smile on my face. Another page went out over the PA, and several more minutes passed.

Finally, a gal identified by her badge as Katie P dragged herself in behind the desk. “Help you,” she sort of asked. Her attitude was Surly Teenager but she appeared to be a nearly full-grown adult. I pushed the bucket of paint I had across the desk toward her and handed over the paint chip I’d picked out. She took the bucket and the chip from me without a word, mixed the paint and stuck it in the paint shaker, then went to help the next person. She literally never spoke to me after those first two words. And yes, she was wearing a blue “Customer Courtesy Team” vest.

Back at home I scrounged a pan and a paint roller out of the stack of supplies in the garage. There’s a reason we keep this stuff, although I could tell from the color of the residual paint in the pan that I hadn’t used it since about 1997 or 98 when I painted the interior of our bedroom in the last house we owned in Aurora, Colorado. I still miss that house.

The expensive paint didn’t cover the bright blue paint in one coat. By this time I was pretty sure that a bucket of black driveway sealer wouldn’t do that. But it looked a hell of a lot better than the cheap stuff, and after the second coat went on the walls were pretty enough for company again. I have an “after” photo but I can’t figure out how to get it off my camera, so you’ll just have to imagine our bathroom with walls painted beautifully in antique white.

I’ll tell you the story about the furshlugginer camera later.

paint rules | 6:24 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Monday, August 13th, 2012

I love yard work! Wow, do I ever love yard work! I love yard work so much, I did it all Sunday afternoon, and man did I have a good time! I wish I were doing it right now!

This just in: The power of positive thinking is a load of crap. Yard work sucks, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise.

As originally planned, I wasn’t going to do much more than mow the front yard. As it turned out, though, I painted the walls of the bathroom in the morning, then had to wait for four hours to hit it with a second coat, and mowing the yard only took an hour and a half. I suppose I could have taken a nap but I was trying to make that positive thinking thing work, so I got a few tools and implements of destruction from the shed and went after a few things in the yard that I’ve let go a little too long.

Like the weeds growing through the joints in the driveway. There was so much of that going on that the driveway looked more like a row of stepping stones, if you can imagine stepping stones that big. The joint across the middle of the driveway is almost an inch wide, wide enough to support its own ecosystem. I dug enough purslane out of that joint to make a salad that would have fed a family of four, and there were so many rolly-pollies it looked like one of those “what does one million look like?” school projects.

Digging all this up should have taken no more than fifteen minutes, twenty tops, but I made the mistake of using a weed eater that wasn’t sure it wanted to eat any weeds that day. It was much more interested in eating its own floss. An hour after I started, I was still trying to get the last clods of weeds out of the joint at the end of the drive. When the floss broke three times in less than five minutes, I threw the weed eater down in disgust, fetched an old toothy steak knife from the garage and sawed off the last of the weeds by hand.

Then I cleaned off the driveway with the garden hose. I tried to tell myself at first that this was the best way to do it, because the green leaves of all those dandelions and purslane were going to be impossible to sweep aside with a broom until they dried out and I didn’t want to leave the mess laying around that long. I didn’t try to tell myself that for too long, though, because I knew, deep down inside, that I was just a boy with a garden hose playing in the water, and I let it go at that. Driveway looks really nice now, and I had a little fun cleaning it up.

Finally, there was a row of bushes along the front of the house that were looking pretty sad on account of the hot weather. They were mostly tumbleweeds, really, and I knew from experience that they were the kind of bush that would grow back if I just hacked them off at the base and let them start over. I tried to get rid of a row of similar bushes in the back yard by mowing them to the ground with the lawnmower, but they kept popping back up and eventually I had to dig the root balls out with a pick and shovel. I didn’t do either to the row in front; instead, I gave it a crew cut with a pruning shears. That was the worst part of the afternoon. There was a murder of mosquitoes hiding out in those bushes.

When I was done with all that, I had enough time to surf the internet for some Mars porn and drink a couple glasses of water before I went back to painting the bathroom.

grassy | 6:20 am CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, painting, yard work
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Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I’ve been trying to paint the walls in our bathroom since Sunday.

It turns out there’s a pretty good reason some paint costs thirteen bucks a gallon and some of it costs over thirty bucks a gallon. I also learned that you should always buy the expensive stuff when you’re painting your bathroom, unless you’re painting the inside of an outhouse. The cheap stuff would be all right for that.

Anybody painting an outhouse? I’ve got about a gallon of paint you could have. No charge.

biffy | 6:16 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Sunday, July 1st, 2012

We slept like babies last night, probably because we’re not used to moving heavy appliances.

For months, we’ve been talking about getting a small, second-hand refrigerator to keep at the bottom of the stairs in the basement for beer, soda pop, fresh fruit and various other sundries that fill up the big fridge in the kitchen. Kept talking about it but never did much until yesterday morning when we decided, more or less on the spur of the moment, to make a detour on the way home from the farmer’s market to stop at an appliance store along the way where we looked at their refrigerators. They had a pretty good small fridge and a second-hand fridge that was really too big, but stopping there got us off our butts, out of the house and looking, so we drove to Sears to see what they had, then to Home Depot.

Sears, of course, has rows and rows of refrigerators, starting with those teeny-tiny fridges you can keep under your desk in your college dorm room, all the way up to a fridge that was literally big enough to stuff a dozen college students into. We’d have to wall off the back half of the dining room just to install it. The upside, though, would be that we would never ever again have a problem with room for food. More reasonably, though, they had a fridge that was just the right size, not too expensive and they had one in the back, ready for us to take it away. We said we’d talk about it and get right back to him.

Home Depot had mostly monster fridges of the kind we already have stuffed into our too-small kitchen. The few smaller fridges they had all looked like cheap foot lockers made in sweat shops. After just fifteen minutes of looking we headed back to Sears.

Sears has a delivery service but a strange way of scheduling deliveries: they call you up the night before and tell you when they can deliver the next day. If you can’t be there waiting for them, they call you again that night to tell you when they can be there the next day, and so on. This could theoretically go on forever. “Forget it, we’ll take it home ourselves,” I told the salesman, then had to figure out how we were going to get it home.

B noticed when we were at Home Depot, just down the road, that they had a utility truck they rented out for twenty bucks, if you could get it back to them in an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s an odd deadline, don’t you think? But we were pretty sure we could get home and back with the fridge in under that. Leaving our car behind, we flew over to Sears where two big guys loaded the fridge into the back of the truck, then flew down Stoughton Road to Monona, pulling into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode just twenty minutes later. Working very slowly and carefully, My Darling B and I managed to ease the fridge down off the back of the truck onto the driveway. It took a few minutes to figure out how carry it, but once we did we moved it into the garage and left it while we flew back up to Home Depot to drop off the truck. Did it in less than an hour! Score!

On the way back, B suggested that we might want to wait until we could talk Tim into coming over to help us get it down the stairs to the basement, but I poo-pooed the very thought. “It’ll be a lot easier for us to carry after I take all the packing material off it,” I assured her. “We can do it.” And as it turned out, I wasn’t just bullshitting this time. Wrapped in all that styrofoam and plastic it was hard to get a grip on, but much easier to handle after I stripped it naked. Also, this time I made sure I was at the bottom end of the fridge where the compressor and all the heavy machinery was.

The only tricky moves we had to make were getting the fridge around the corner by the back steps, then getting it down the stairs to the basement. In both cases we just took it one step at a time. Slow and steady did the trick. By three o’clock it was plugged in and B was happily loading up baskets with bottles and bags to transfer to the basement fridge. We were both so well-chuffed with ourselves that we had to show it off to Tim as soon as he came over.

The fridge in the kitchen looks so empty now. But I’m sure that won’t last.

frigid | 9:02 am CST
Category: beer, booze, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, shopping, work
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Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Adventures in Plumbing!“Is blood supposed to be coming out of the faucet?” My Darling B asked yesterday when she went to wash her hands in the bathroom sink. The short answer was yes, blood was supposed to come out of the faucet. I was so desperate to get a plumber here to work on the water heater that I accepted an offer from Cthulu in exchange for my eternal fealty. Plumbing emergencies will make a guy do some weird shit. Cthulu’s a pretty good plumber, by the way. Shows up on time, gets the job done right, is actually very personable and professional, the cats liked him. Prices are a little steep. And there’s that blood from the faucets thing. But still, thumbs up.

It was the water heater this time. Last week Friday I noticed a puddle of water creeping out from under it, and by Saturday morning the puddle had gotten much wider until, on Sunday, it was snaking its way across the floor to a drain on the other side of the room. I called a plumber first thing Monday morning, the same guys who installed the water heater about four years ago, and they said they would stop by some time between one and two o’clock that afternoon, but when two-thirty came and there was still no plumber I gave them another call and they said they would have to reschedule, so I dumped them and called another plumber. Not Cthulu, although the guy who showed up was dressed in a green uniform. Didn’t have an octopus face or anything. His name was Pat. He hummed while he worked.

Pat took a long look at the water heater and figured that the tank had cracked along the seam. He says that happens a lot to new water heaters these days. You’re lucky to get ten years out of them, he says, so cracking after just four years isn’t all that strange. The good news was it was still under warranty, so all we’d have to pay for was the labor and whatever pipes and valves he had to replace. He said he could do it right away and I said go ahead, so he called the shop to order a new heater, then set to work sawing off pipes to disconnect the old heater while the water drained from the bottom.

About fifteen minutes later, another guy, I never did get his name, pulled into the driveway with a new water heater boxed up in the back of a pickup truck. He and Pat got it ready, hauled the old water heater up out of the basement and took the new water heater down. While they were cleaning up and packing the old water heater away on the bed of the pickup truck, I noticed that the screen door was propped open. “Has that door been open long?” I asked Pat, who said it had, then caught himself. “Oh, shoot,” he said, “the cats.” I wasn’t too worried that Boo had gotten out. She dived under the sofa when the big strange men showed up and hadn’t come out. I couldn’t find Bonkers anywhere, though, and he definitely would have taken advantage of an open door. I started a search of the front yard, calling his name and kissing the air. Didn’t have to search far or call his name more than once before he answered with a thin “meaow.” Couldn’t see him, though, so I called his name again. “Meeaow.” When I finally zeroed in on him, I found him cowering behind the wheel of Pat’s van. Ten feet from the front door was as far as he got before he chickened out on his quest to see the world.

It took Pat a couple more hours to hook up the new water heater to the water and gas lines and fire it up. And it burns with the fires of hell, cranking out water hot enough to take even B by surprise, and she can stand water a lot hotter than I can. Her hands are usually bright red after she washes them under the tap, but yesterday she jumped back and yelped when she opened the faucet the way she usually did and got live steam, or something close to it. I checked the thermostat on the heater and even turned it down a notch, but it was set just one notch above “hot” with several more notches above that. I’d hate to see what comes out of the faucets when it’s turned up all the way. Maybe blood.

bloody | 6:52 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Bonkers, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode
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Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Planting season has arrived. It’s official when dinners go from being meticulously prepared over a period of hours and eaten long after sundown, to being deli-sliced pastrami and cheese sandwiches with a bag on chips on the side – still eaten after sundown, but now so that My Darling B can spend the last hour or so of daylight in the garden, poking holes in the ground and filling them with onions and radishes and spinach. Although we cheated last night and stopped at Stalzy’s Deli for dinner, wasting a precious half-hour of daylight as we sat in a booth by the window. She still had time enough to get some onions in.

seeded | 6:01 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, restaurants, yard work | Tags:
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Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

image of my new beer bench

The frame is finished, the formica countertop is tightly screwed down, and half the backboard is in place. It’s starting to look as if this is really going to happen.

I didn’t do much to the bench tonight, just enough to say I’m still working on it. I added railings between the legs of the frame so I could lay some shelves in under the countertop, a place where I could store gadgets and beer bottles. I also screwed the countertop down firmly in place so it wouldn’t slide off the frame at the most inopportune moment. And, finally, I cut a sheet of pegboard and screwed it to the back of the frame so I would have a place to hang the most-used gadgets in easy reach. I want to eventually cover the wall with pegboard, but first I want to install an outlet box in the back of the frame so I can plug stuff in if I need to.

And coming later this week: Plumb the drain so I can use the sink again! That means a trip to the store to get some pipe and joints, and stinking up the house with PVC glue. Fun! And I’ll grab a couple sheets of 3/4 inch plywood while I’m there to rip into one-and-one-half-inch strips. I want to build a frame under the sink to bring it up to a more user-friendly height, and a drop shelf on the far side where I can set all the doodads I’ll need when cleaning bottles, my favorite stage of the beer-making process. Not.

beer | 6:05 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, homebrewing, Our Humble O'Bode, play
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Saturday, March 17th, 2012

I had to snake out the sewer today. When I say it that way, it sounds kind of cool, as if there might have been trained snakes involved that would do the work for me. The reality was a lot less cool. Practically zero cool, after all the pros and cons canceled each other out.

What sucks most about snaking out the sewer is all the shit that comes up with the snake when I pull it out. I suppose there’s a more delicate way to put that, but really, why? It’s shit, and that’s all there is to it.

The snake is thirty feet of tightly coiled steel, like the spring on a typical screen door. What you’re supposed to do is shove it down the sewer pipe and give it a twist so it will whip around in there and, with any luck at all, bust the clog loose. What actually happened to me before this was, the end usually got caught on the first right-angle turn in the pipe and wouldn’t go any further no matter how hard I shoved. Then, when I tried to use the bent piece of pipe that came with the snake to twist it, I discovered that maneuver was all but impossible because there was still twenty-five feet of tightly-coiled steel hanging out the end of the sewer pipe. How do I get that part to go round and round? I ended up pulling it out with the clog unbusted and the snake coated thickly with globs of black, smelly shit, not the most encouraging way to end a plumbing adventure.

I had to figure it out, though, or call the Roto-Rooter Man, because the clog was not going away no matter how many times each week I flushed the pipes out with a hose. And here’s what I did. Don’t tell Roto-Rooter. I don’t want them to know I beat them at their own game.

The key to making the snake work is the twist, and not just one or two twists. It’s got to go round and round more or less constantly while you’re shoving it into the sewer. If it’s not, it just gets hung up in the muck, develops a kink and won’t go any further. The hardware store had one of these snakes in a bucket attached to a motor that spun it round and round, all for the low low price of three-hundred dollars and change. What I did was bought a plastic bucket with a snap-on lid for six dollars, drilled a hole in the lid so the snake would slide in and out, and screwed a lazy Susan to the bottom of the bucket. Voila! Home-made roto-rooter!

Granted, it would’ve been a lot easier on my arms if it had been motorized. It took me two hours of hand-cranking my manual roto-rooter to finally clear the clog out of our sewer. The best part, though, was that, with the clog busted and lots of clear water running down the drain, the snake came back up nice and shiny, and almost not smelly at all. I still took a very long, hot shower after I was done, though.

snake | 8:48 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, January 14th, 2012

I’ve spent the morning and part of the afternoon making a few improvements around the house, starting with the book cases in the extra room.

It used to be Tim’s room, but we’ve been using it as an office. That’s a highfalutin way of saying we put a desk in there that’s been buried under a heap of bills and catalogs for more than a year. There’s a twin bed in there, too, that’s usually buried under old clothes and blankets, except for the two times a year that Sean comes to visit. Other than that, the room doesn’t get much use.

And it was a lot of extra space that wasn’t getting much use. Meanwhile, in the basement, three big boxes of books sat waiting to be unpacked. So, early last summer, I bought a couple of book cases from one of those unfinished furniture store, brought them home and left them untouched in the spare room for a couple months. Can’t rush these things.

Last month, though, I finally took the shelves out of one of the book cases, slapped a coat of finish on them and on the book case, waited for the whole shebang to dry before I sanded it all down and slapped on a second coat. I was going to paint them because I’m not very good at staining wood. It always comes out way too dark for my liking and usually kind of splotchy. Paint never does. My Darling B encouraged me to try again, though, pointing out that I could always paint over it if I didn’t like it. She’s kinda smart.

And what the hell, it did turn out looking pretty good, thanks to a stain sealer I found. I didn’t have to rub the stain off with a rag, just paint it on with a brush and leave it to dry, then sand it and brush on a second coat. I chose the lightest shade they offered and it turned out looking great, nothing like any of the other projects I’ve tried to stain.

I finished the first book case just before Christmas, and I finished the second one last week, but I still had to screw it to the wall because it’s almost eight feet tall and I didn’t want an eight-foot-tall book case loaded down with a couple hundred pounds of books to tip over on anybody. It probably wouldn’t happen, but those sound so much like famous last words that I didn’t unpack any books until I sank some anchors in the wall this morning and screwed it firmly in place. That sucker’s not tipping over now unless the whole house tips over.

Finally, I unpacked the books, three big boxes of them, and hauled them upstairs one arm load at a time. I expected they would almost fill the whole book case, with a little room left over for a few of our other books, and I wasn’t too far off. I got all the boxes unpacked, and carried up a couple stacks of books that were standing around in the basement, but that took up all the room there was. To make more room, we’ll have to weed out the books that could be sold to Half-Price Books or given to the friends of the library, but that’s for another day.

Because I still had other improvements to make. While My Darling B was out of the house, on a trip to the grocery store, I shut off the power to the lights and replaced a light switch that was going on the fritz. It worked about nine times out of ten, but that tenth time was iffy. The lights would blink on for a moment before going dark again. The same thing might happen with the next flick of the switch, or the lights might come on and stay on. It probably wasn’t the safest thing in the house, electrically speaking. I bought a new switch last weekend and have been waiting for the opportunity to switch off the power and replace it. This morning, I got it.

While I was in wiring mode, I did a little rewiring in the basement. A switch at the bottom of the stairs was not being used for anything, so I ran a wire from it to the lights in the corner of the basement where the beer’s kept. It seemed like such a simple idea, but I had to run the wire through the narrow gap between the stairway and the furnace uptakes, a place where spiders weave their webs and much dust has settled over the years. I went sweaty and I came out looking like a breaded chicken breast.

But it was worth it. That’s the same corner where the wash machine drains into a sink, and where the circuit breaker panel is mounted to the wall, so we go back there a lot – to fetch beer, to shut off the electricity when replacing light switches, and when taking part in the latest plumbing emergency caused by too much wash machine lint going down the drain. The lights used to be turned on by a pull chain, necessitating a long walk through the dark to the corner, but now we can switch them on at the bottom of the steps and walk all the way in the light. Go into the Light! Cross over children! All are welcome in the light!

After I finished that, there was plenty of clean-up to do because everywhere I tried to step there were wire ends I snipped off, bits of plastic insulation I stripped and, of course, chunks of meat and clots of blood I butchered from my hands. I swept up the big stuff, then vacuumed up the rest and, while I had the vacuum going, I cleaned up all the cat hair on the stairs, which must be where they do the bulk of their shedding. After just two or three weeks there’s enough cat hair on the stairs to make a Snuggie.

And that was all I had the energy for. Also, I felt gross. I went straight to the bathroom, peeled off all my clothes and stepped into the shower, cranked the handle up to “live steam” and stood there for twenty minutes, letting it blast all the crud away. And after dressing, I had a little nap, because I sort of felt I’d earned it.

improve | 3:30 pm CST
Category: books, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, entertainment, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode, play
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Sunday, January 8th, 2012

How to install a 3-way light switch:

First, ask the google to show you a couple videos about installing 3-way switches. That way, you’ll find out that you need a four-strand wire to make them work before you do something stupid, like buying a hundred feet of standard three-strand electrical wire.*

The 3-way switches that I bought came with instructions printed on the insides of the boxes they came in. Throw them away. They will only confuse you. If you need a wiring diagram, ask the google again, review a few wiring diagrams until you find at least two that you understand, make a sketch your damned self and work from that.

If you run standard three-strand wire (hot, neutral & ground), you’ll have to run two lengths of it because you need that fourth wire to make the switches work. This is going to sound really obvious, but do it anyway: When you run the first wire, mark each end of it with a pen or piece of tape or your own blood. You’re not bleeding? Have you stripped the insulation off the wires yet? Do that. Okay, now mark the ends of the wire with your blood. Do not run the second wire until after you mark the first wire. If the reason for this isn’t apparent to you, you really need to just shut up and mark the ends of the wire. Then run the second wire.

There are three screws on a 3-way switch. One of them is a different color. This is important. If you don’t understand why, ask the google!

The first time you try out your 3-way switch, it might not work the way it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, go take a nap, or relax with a cup of coffee and a newspaper, or surf the internet for cat videos. Don’t try to fix it right away. Leave it alone for at least an hour. After you’ve calmed down, go back, take everything apart, and start over from the top.

If it does work the first time you try it, you’re a better man than me.

*It’s not like I won’t use the wire. I will. But it doesn’t make me feel any less stupid about not knowing that four-strand wire exists explicitly for this purpose.

amped | 5:45 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, January 2nd, 2012

A few words about shellac, in case you think you might ever use it to finish and unfinished item of furniture: Don’t do it. But, if you do, don’t underestimate its power to frustrate you.

First of all, it takes forever to dry. The label on the can says you should wait an hour for it to dry before you apply another coat. This implies (at least to me) that it dries in an hour. Not even close. It takes days for shellac to dry enough for you to even touch it without leaving fingerprints all over it. Ideally, you should leave it alone for at least a week because, if you shellac your desk, then wait only a day or two so that it feels as though it’s dry, you will probably make the mistake of setting things on it, things like your computer keyboard and your telephone, which will then become much more permanent parts of your desk than you ever intended. You will become become part of your desk, if you casually lean on it with your elbows while pondering a news article or chatting on the phone, which, after sitting on the desk for a few days, had to be separated from the shellac with a good, strong jerk. I had to stand up to get enough leverage.

The long drying time highlights one of the other problems with shellacking anything: You’ll need a place where you can leave the shellacked item standing out to dry for at least a week. If you’re applying more than one coat, you might as well clear a spot for at least a month.

Another thing that kind of sucks about shellac is that you have to use denatured alcohol to clean up your brushes after you’re done brushing it on. That can be a problem because the can that denatured alcohol comes in looks just like the can that mineral spirits comes in. (Mineral spirits come in? Is/Are mineral spirits singular or plural?) Mineral spirits have no thinning effect at all on shellac. You might as well use water. If you mix up the two cans and use mineral spirits by mistake, and you will, you’ll end up with brushes so firmly shellacked that they could best be used to scrape ice off the windshield of your car once the shellac dries. It dries pretty damned quick when your brush is soaked in it. Go figure.

On the plus side, I very much like the look of a desk finished with shellac, but I would rather have my teeth drilled than use it again.

don’t | 9:08 am CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, painting, yet another rant
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Sunday, January 1st, 2012

I pulled a six-inch-long living booger from the drain in the bathroom sink the other day. Not “living” in the sense that I had to wrestle it into the toilet while it gnashed at me with its slavering fangs, but it was very clearly a sickeningly large, living clot of scum that had not only taken up residence at the bottom of the p-trap, it had thrived to the point that it was big enough to block the drain and strong enough that mere boiling vinegar wouldn’t dislodge it. To rid myself of this vermin, I had to impale it on the end of a wire brush long enough to reach all the way to the p-trap and drag it out, kicking and screaming, rhetorically speaking, of course. Then, like an invading army sowing the remains of a ruined city with salt, I dumped plenty of Ajax chlorine cleanser down the drain and gave the trap a good reaming with the long brush, in case there was any scum remaining down there that might try to rebuild the colony.

scum | 1:07 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, December 26th, 2011

My Christmas morning prezzie from The Great Big Cosmic FU* was a plugged-up bathroom drain. It was starting to drain slowly earlier this week so that by Sunday morning I was standing in a deepening pool of my own effluvia as I washed up. There is but one way to unclog the bathroom drain, but it was Christmas morning so I said sod it and let it go until this morning when I mustered enough motivation to climb into the garage attic, haul out a garden hose and connect it to the outside tap, drag the other end in through the bathroom window, attach the clogbuster, shove it down the drain and turn the tap wide open. Had to jump up and down on the drain with a plunger a couple times, too. The one good thing was that temps were in the 40s today so my fingers didn’t freeze solid and break off while I was draining the hose and wrapping it up before hauling it back up to the attic.

The rest of Christmas morning was excellent, though. Tim came over, we dumped the contents of our stockings on the table so we could ooooh and aahhh over the prezzies, then we hung out for a while playing with the Nerf guns that Santa left under the tree. They came with velcro darts that would stick to fuzzy fabric, and they also came with a couple fuzzy targets we were supposed to strap on so we could play Nerf paintball but we didn’t do that. We hung the targets from chairs and other stuff and just shot for practice. Tim got pretty good.

Dinner was a great big ham and enough mashed potatoes to feed Coxey’s army, and we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t hold any more, except for Sean who can always hold more, somehow.

Just before I busted the clog in the bathroom drain this morning, we gathered again for brunch – scrambled eggs, ham and womp biscuits, the kind that come in paper tubes you open by banging them against the edge of the kitchen counter until they explode – WOMP! Always the one to add that perfect touch, My Darling B mixed up a couple Bloody Marys with peppers she grew herself in her garden last summer, and garnished them generously with pickled onions, pickled cukes, jerked beef and a cube of cheddar, but without asparagus spears, because who eats those damned things, anyway?

I busted that clog after brunch, then washed up and we all settled in the living room to watch a movie. FYI: “Hobo With A Shotgun” is not a Christmas movie, just in case you were wondering. Also, it’s not something you should watch if you’ve just eaten. Or ever eaten, come to that. Just don’t watch it, is I guess what I really want to say.

When the movie didn’t work out, we moved into the dining room to play “Boggle” for an hour or so until we were tired enough to break up and move off to our separate napping places.

*My use of the phrase The Big Cosmic FU in no way implies that I believe that the cosmos is, in fact, flipping me off, or is even capable of it, but sometimes it sure feels like it is, doesn’t it?

swag | 4:03 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, entertainment, movies, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags:
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Sunday, October 16th, 2011

A couple of bulbs in the lamp over the dining room table exploded last week. I may have mentioned that already.

I never did figure out why it would ever do that, which made both me and My Darling B a little nervous. It’s a little hard to relax and enjoy dinner with a lamp that wants to be a bomb hanging over our heads. It’s got a switch on it that turns off the ring of exploding bulbs and switches on a central, but much dimmer bulb, so for the past week we’ve been eating dinner in a sort of hazy twilight which, for some reason, made me squint a lot, as if that would help me see see my food.

When the bulbs blew, my first thought was to head down to Menard’s the very next evening, buy the cheapest ceiling lamp I could find, and install that until we could find a lamp we liked. I didn’t do that, though, for two very good reasons: I knew that, if I went through with installing a cheap-o ceiling lamp, then a cheap-o ceiling lamp is what we’d have in the dining room for at least the next ten years. Maybe forever. The second reason was, I’m very lazy. I didn’t want to install two lamps. Screw that.

So yesterday I finally made a trip to Madison Lighting, figuring that a shop that sold nothing but electric lights would have an enormous number of lamps of all kinds, and I would certainly be able to find one there that I liked. And I did, come to think of it. It had a sort of Scandinavian look to it and it cost four hundred fifty dollars. Thinking that I was in the artsy-fartsy corner of the store I walked on and found lamps that looked more like the stock I found on display in Menard’s, checked out the price tags of a few that appealed to me, and revised my estimation of where the artsy-fartsy lamps were. The whole shop appeared to be high-end. I kept walking until I made a complete circuit of all the display rooms and didn’t see one lamp selling for less that a hundred fifty bucks, and that was a single pendant lamp with a hand-blown glass globe about the size of an orange. I’m sure it was high-quality stuff, but I was going to need at least three pendant lamps to shed enough light to fill the dining room, and there was no way I was going to pay close to five-hundred bucks to do it, so I ambled toward the door.

And ended up at Menard’s. I still didn’t want to go that route, but we needed light in the dining room and, as it turned out, I was able to find a decent-looking pendant lamp in amongst the ones that looked like nausea incarnated. They were el cheapo but I was able to find some hardware to adapt them to track lighting and ended up spending just a hundred bucks and about three hours of my time to wire them up and hang them from a track, with pretty good results. Or so I’m telling myself. I won’t have to think about taking them down for at least ten years, anyway.

fiat lux | 1:18 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, October 10th, 2011

I just finished flushing out the plumbing from the basement sink again. Thought I’d mention that and get it out of the way. The rest of this post is free of plumbing emergencies. No, really.

I should have gotten my hair cut on Saturday but I didn’t because I was too busy doing other things. I wish I could remember what they were now. The first thing I remember doing on Saturday morning is riding my bike around the lake. It was such a beautiful day I couldn’t pass it up. I pedaled really slow, too, so the trip would take longer. I got at least an hour and a half of sunshine doing that.

Then I got another hour or two when I painted part of the siding around the back door. I was planning to paint the back of the garage, too, but I found so much peeling paint on the garage that it would’ve taken me all weekend just to scrape it off, and then were would I be? I’d have a scraped garage and no time left to paint it, that’s where I’d be. And I didn’t have all weekend to scrape it anyway, so I let it be. It’s taken this long to get to the back of the garage. It can take a little longer.

Saturday afternoon I jumped in the car and drove an hour or so to East Troy where I volunteer at the railway museum. The dinner train was running that evening so I hopped aboard to help take orders and serve drinks for the bartender, and after the train pulled back into the station and all the passengers disembarked, I stayed behind to help clean up. I ordinarily would do everything in my power to avoid doing scut work like that, but when I get to ride a train while I’m doing it, it’s fun somehow.

I had so much fun that I went back the next day to ride trains from noon until four, helping the motorman and conductor where I could and, when they didn’t need help, just leaning out the door and watching the countryside roll by.

And that was my weekend. And it was good. How about yours?

stuff | 6:55 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, bicycling, hobby, Our Humble O'Bode, painting, play | Tags:
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Saturday, October 1st, 2011

It has been a day.

Everything was fine to start with. Morning coffee with the morning news, one sucked, the other didn’t. While B got ready to go to the farmer’s market, I threw a load of dirty clothes into the wash machine and cranked it up, then went about the rest of my morning chores: Filling the magical cat food machine that automatically dispenses kibble three times a day, then tromping down stairs to sift the crap out of the kitty litter, my favoritist job in the whole wide world! Yeah, not really, but I have to say that because I’ll blow my brains out if I ever admit to myself that I’m going to spend the next ten to fifteen years of my life sifting cat poop. So I don’t admit it.

The wash machine happened to finish the first cycle and drain the wash water while I was in the basement. The water runs down a pipe that fills up the sink in the basement, and I noticed that the water wasn’t draining. At first I thought it was draining slowly until I went back five minutes later to check on it and found the water hadn’t gone down by as much as a half inch. That’s as bad as not draining at all. Great.

But we had a trip to make to the farmer’s market, so I put it out of my mind and enjoyed walking around cap square with My Darling B. I am her bag bearer. My job is a lot easier since we bought a little cart to hang the bags from. Bag bearing used to pull my arms off but now I just drag the cart around and help her arrange the bags from the hangers. And eat scones. One chocolate chip scone is the price I ask for dragging the cart around all morning. Seems fair to me.

I set to work unclogging the drain as soon as we got back, because we couldn’t wash clothes or use the kitchen sink until it was draining again. I tried the usual tactic of shoving a garden hose down the drain and flushing it out, but that didn’t work very well this time around so I went to the garage and got the sewer snake. I hate using that thing, mostly because of the gunk that’s stuck to it when I pull it out of the sewer. It washes off, but yuck. And yet, even though I jammed twenty feet of coiled stainless steel down the sewer and gave it a good thrashing, the water still backed up in the drain. I don’t know what else to try. It may be time to finally call the professionals. That’s gonna suck.

After I got that mess cleaned up I stripped off all my mucky clothes, then stood in a blistering hot shower for about twenty minutes. I don’t usually go for ultra-hot showers, but after I’ve been splashing around in sewer water I’d like to be boiled. Since that’s not possible, I crank the temp up as hot as I can take it and stand under the shower head until my skin is bright red.

My Darling B had lunch ready when I came out, so we sat down to pulled-pork sandwiches. I had worked up enough of an appetite to wolf down two. Then I napped. I felt as though I deserved it.

My nap reminded me of the time when I was sick and trying to get some sleep in our bedroom while a woodpecker was hammering away at the side of the house. When I woke up, I tromped down stairs again to fetch a can of wood filler from the work shop, went out to the garage to grab an extension ladder, and when around to the side of the house to see about patching the gaping hole the little bastard made in the siding. It was an impressively large hole for such a little bird. He must have been working on it most of the summer. I scooped quite a bit of wood filler into it, patted it flat with a putty knife, filled in a few smaller holes and generally smeared plenty of wood filler all over the patch of siding he appeared to find so tasty, hoping the epoxy would be the ultimate yuckfest that would discourage him from ever coming back.

I had to visit the hardware store to buy some wire staples for a future project, stapling a ground wire to the back of the house where it runs down from the attic to the electric meter. I don’t know what it’s for but I pulled it off the siding last summer and had to yank another part of it off a window frame when I painted all the frames this month. I’m going to staple it back on tomorrow or maybe next weekend, unless another plumbing emergency swallows up most of a day.

And then I played with my toys. If the Justification Police had come around to see what the heck I thought I was doing, I would have pointed at the mucky sewer snake in the pail under the basement sink. I’m still laying track around the return loop at the very end of the Lost Continent Railway, but I’m nearly done. It’s a three-track around a half-circle six feet across. There are six switches and a crossover I had to build myself. In other words, there’s a lot of tiny little fiddly bits to piece together.

Today, for instance, I pieced together several bits of track leading up to a switch. Each bit had to be precisely cut to length so all the bits would fit snugly together. I bought a specially-made tool like a wire cutters that’s supposed to cut through the track easily and leave a flat, clean end, but the one I have does neither. It’s gone dull and I haven’t been able to sharpen it no matter how long or how carefully I work it over with a file. Old-timers used to cut track with a razor saw, but that’s always been a chore for me. One day, when I was desperate to cut some track, I grabbed my Dremel power tool and fitted it with a cutoff wheel. It cut through the rail like butter. I’ve cut rail with the Dremel every since. The only downside is that the friction from using a high-speed power tool makes the rail hot enough to sting my fingers.

The bits of track are held together with track joiners, inventively-named clips that must be tight enough to hold the track ends but loose enough to slide into place. They are, in fact, always, always too tight or too loose. They’re also too long. I usually cut about a third off the end, then trim the tongue off the other end so both ends are flat. I’m not sure what the tongue is supposed to do, but what it ends up doing is pushing the track ends apart, resulting in a lot of cussing. I’m not against cussing, but I am against wasting time.

I cut the track joiners with the Dremel tool, too, and that’s why I have blisters on my fingers tonight. The cutoff wheel makes the tiny track joiners so hot they burn. I’ve tried holding them with pliers, or in a vise, but I can’t make the cut as quickly that way. Speed trumps comfort. Blisters don’t change that equation.

blister | 7:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, LoCo Rwy, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Sorry, not much time left over to drivel tonight. I spent a couple hours doinking around with train track on the model layout in the basement, and when I thought I couldn’t justify spending any more time on that, I went upstairs, sat my butt down in the recliner and read other people’s drivel posted on the interwebs. That made sense.

I can claim to have spent at least a couple hours wisely this evening: I went to dinner at Alchemy, a nifty local bar, with My Darling B. We wish Alchemy was a lot closer to our house, within walking distance, say, then realize that, if it were, we’d spend all our free time and most of our money there. I don’t consider that a bad thing, just not very thrifty, but then if we stuffed all our money in a bank account we wouldn’t have any fun, would we? And it’ll all be worthless after the economy implodes, anyway. Might as well spend it while we can still afford thick, juicy burgers and put on a layer of fat for the lean years ahead. Geeze, could I be more cynical? Damn digressions…

And I washed some clothes! And put away the dishes! I’m an engine of productivity!

doink | 10:20 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, LoCo Rwy, Our Humble O'Bode, play, restaurants, scrub-a-dub-dub | Tags:
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Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Um. I can’t explain why I not only posted that mind-bogglingly messed up story about last night’s plumbing emergency before I was finished with it, but more than that, while it still had a lot of unedited crap dangling like a stinky klingon from its underside. Damned careless of me. I do apologize from the pit of my frozen soul.

But I have, as it turns out, still more of the story to relate to you. I wasn’t kidding about having a soul as cold and solid as the icy surface of a Jovian moon. I am absolutely shameless about stringing this story out as long as I can, and I don’t care how much you despise me for it. I am impervious to your shame rays. Shame away.

The part I left out, and it was the best part, I promise, was this: I had this idea that I could saw out a length of the pipe that carries the water from the kitchen sink to the sewer, and I would do such a batshit crazy thing because it would make unplugging the sewer pipe so much easier. Shoving a hose down the drain of the kitchen drain requires crawling under the sink, disconnecting the drain pipe, disconnecting the washing machine, connecting a garden hose to the water spigot that the wash machine was previously connected to, dragging the garden hose across the dining room floor to the kitchen while dribbling water all over the Formica and shoving the other end down the drain. I think you can see why this sucks.

But if I could shove a garden hose down the drain pipe in the basement, that would be a whole lot easier and I wouldn’t care how much water I dribbled on the floor. I gleefully hacksawed a three-foot length out of the drainpipe. But before I did that, I took a quick trip over to the hardware store to pick up a length of plastic pipe that was the same width as the copper pipe, as well as a pair of rubber collars with built-in clamps that would join the ends of the plastic pipe to the copper pipe. I took special care to measure the copper pipe to find out it was an inch and a half wide, and I bought plastic pipe that was also an inch and a half wide. The rubber collars came wrapped in a thick cardboard label declaring that it was an inch and a half wide. All was in perfect order.

So it will probably come as no surprise whatsoever that the rubber collars were too big to clamp tightly around the stump of copper pipe that was all that was left sticking out of the floor when I was done sawing it to pieces. Without a tight seal, and with the rubber collars I had it would be anything but, waste water would dribble all over the basement floor if we tried to use the kitchen sink to, for instance, clean up the dinner dishes, which remained strewn all over the dining room table. I discovered this at quarter to eight. The hardware store closed at eight o’clock. Well. Of course.

Driving like a man with nothing to lose, I made it there with just a few minutes to spare. I ran, literally ran from my car to the plumbing section, shoving aside women and children who got in my way, and found a rubber collar that would fit the copper pipe. And I made sure it would because I had a two-inch-long section of pipe that I hacked off the end of the now-useless piece of pipe I’d cut away earlier. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into the hardware store carrying hacked-off pieces of Our Humble O’Bode, I only know for sure this wasn’t the first time.

Back home again, I put the drain pipe together after flushing the sewer out with the garden hose. Everything was fine and dandy and seemed to be draining properly without dribbling too excessively. At that point I was willing to put up with a teensy bit of dribble. And when it was all put back together and the emergency was over, I took a long, hot shower, then plopped my butt in the recliner and did not remove my carcass until it was time to get up and totter off to bed. And somehow I even managed to sleep without nightmares of broken water mains and gushing toilets. Thank goodness.

strikeout | 10:00 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Ah, adventures in plumbing! How I’ve missed them. Just the other day My Darling B was remarking on how long it’s been since we’ve had a plumbing emergency, and then she rapped the table with her knuckles, as if that was going to bust up the bad juju she had unleashed with just a few words.

The basement sink has dependably been the messiest, most repetitive plumbing adventure in the house. It stops draining every three or four months, and to fix it I have to take apart the trap, that little dip in the pipe under the drain. Since there’s always water in the sink, I end up dumping it onto the basement floor. Weirdly, there’s a drain in the floor just three feet away that all the water runs into and is never plugged. I don’t understand that at all. The drain in the floor and the drain from the sink must both end up in the same sewer line, so how can one be plugged and the other not? Whatever.

is the worst for plumbing emergencies, so of course that turned out to be the problem I’d have to fix. The drain gets stopped up from time to time and I have to fix it by shoving a hose down the drain and forcing water through it to move the block. What makes it such a pain in the ass to fix is that two sinks drain into the sewer from there, the one in the basement and the one in the kitchen. If I forced water down only the drain of the basement sink, it would just back up and come out the kitchen sink, so I have to stick a hose down that, too, which means I have to crawl under the kitchen sink and take apart the trap

akbar | 6:16 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

You know how sometimes a project you’ve been thinking about for weeks will suddenly percolate to the top of your mind and you’ll suddenly be seized with a compelling need to complete it? Please tell me you know exactly what I’m talking about. I need to know I wasn’t possessed by demons.

I was thinking about two projects while I was walking trough the aisles at Menard’s this afternoon. One of the projects was an almost complete plan to put up a pair of book cases in the spare bedroom, and the other project was a half-baked idea to wire a couple of electrical outlets so I could hang a couple fluorescent lamps in the basement. The book cases have priority because we still have big cardboard boxes filled with books that really have to be uncrated and stacked on shelves before they decompose where they’re sitting, so naturally I spent the afternoon with my arm stuck up to the elbow in a freshly-cut hole in the basement trying to fish electrical wire between the floor joists.

I couldn’t understand why I was doing that, even while I was doing it. I kept asking myself, Why am I even doing this right now? I was even saying it out loud. It was a project that was so back-burner, it wasn’t even on the stove. It was in the freezer, still wrapped up in heavy butcher’s paper, solid as a rock. I thought maybe I’d get around to it later in the winter when all the other projects had been bumped down the list and I was looking for something to do. But no. Some weird need boiled to the surface and I found myself drilling holes in the ceiling, talking to myself.

Well, it’s done now. The subterranean vaults of Our Humble O’Bode are no longer dark and forbidding, and that project won’t be hijacking my afternoon ever again. I feel so used.

hijack | 10:53 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: , ,
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Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Last night, just before we went to bed, My Darling B assured me that we wouldn’t have to worry this year about an aerial assault of our fair city by squadrons of cropdusters spraying yellow shit (otherwise known under the trade name Killer Yellow Shit) to poison all the gypsy moths who so sneakily hide under the branches and leaves of the tress in our neighborhood. I believed her, because she read it on the internet and, as everybody knows, anything you read on the internet is true.

Except this one thing. The skies over our house were buzzing with cropdusters for almost an hour this morning as soon as there was enough daylight to see. I could hear them as soon as I got out of the shower, and as soon as I realized what was going on I toweled off as quickly as I could and went from room to room shutting windows. ‘Cause that keeps all the poison out. Really. And you don’t have to worry about getting any on you when you walk out to your car ’cause it’s perfectly safe, as far as poison goes. And it’s just a little poison. That’s been dumped by the ton from airplanes. On us and our house. And our garden.

dusted | 5:47 am CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, yet another rant
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Monday, April 11th, 2011


Tonight: My Darling B tries to figure out how to feed the tax man without draining our bank account, and I try to figure out how to drain the bathtub without feeding the Roto-Rooter man.

I’m not sure, but I think I had the easier job. All I had to do was climb a ladder into the attic, bring down the garden hose, hook one end up to the spigot and shove the other end down the drain. Although I had to get dirtier, I didn’t have to do any math. Also, my job involved physics. Or something. A siphon is physics, isn’t it?

I thought I would have to take the drain apart and dredge it out with a flexible wire brush I bought from the hardware store for just this purpose, because there was quite a lot of grease and hair down there. It’s not normal grease and hair, either. That’s right, Abby Normal has been showering at our house, and she sheds a lot. I can pour any amount of lye down the drain and it won’t have any effect on the clog Abby leaves behind. Thus, the brush.

But first I set up the garden hose, cranked the spigot wide open and let the water run for a while to break up the blockage. That got the work started nicely while I went to the basement to get my tools. When I came back I found the drain gasping for air.

I don’t shove the garden hose down the drain, in point of fact. What I do is take the vent hole cover off and shove the hose down that. I used to plug up the drain because I thought the water would come gushing up out of it if I didn’t, but that doesn’t happen. I didn’t know why before today.

The gasping sound from the drain explained it. The water going down the vent past the drain pipe was sucking in air through the drain. Look up “venturi effect” in wikipedia and you’ll see why.

That’s when my brain cell latched on to the idea of filling the tub with water to break up the clog. If the drain is sucking down air, thought my brain cell, then it’ll suck down water, too; first a little bit, then a lot. Ever seen what rising flood waters do to an earthen dam when they find a way over the top? First a trickle dribbles over, then a stream. The stream cuts a gap and the gap gets deeper and deeper until the dam gets eaten away by the water.

Same idea in my bathroom drain, but substitute clog for dam. Once the siphon starts sucking water through the drain instead of air, the water should carry away the clog bit by bit until just about all of it is gone. And that’s just what happened. At first very little water went down the drain, but after about ten minutes of that the drain was sucking down water faster than I could fill the tub. I didn’t have to take the drain apart, I didn’t have to scoop hair and grease out with a brush and my fingers, and I didn’t have to mess around with lye or explosives, although if I could think of a way to unclog a drain using explosives, that would be very cool.

Then after supper | 8:38 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, January 9th, 2011

My claim to fame today is that I figured out how to get some heat to my basement lair. The password is ‘ducts.’ Remember that. There’s going to be a test.

I’m so tired of freezing my ass off when I’m in my basement lair. I’ve tried wrapping myself up in blankets, wearing long underwear, et cetera and et cetera. I even bought myself a pair of those hobo gloves with the fingertips cut off. B says they make me look like a Dickens character, which is pretty cool and I love her for saying that, but I would have settled for being warm. Since that wasn’t happening, I had pretty much resigned myself to finally breaking down and installing some kind of electric heat, and in order to do that, I would have to figure out how to wire a 15-amp circuit for it so I didn’t overload the already-maxed-out circuit that supplies most of the basement and some of the rooms upstairs.

And while I was staring at a junction box on the ceiling at the bottom of the basement stairs, trying to figure that out, I noticed there was a little flap door in the hot-air trunk that comes off the furnace and thought to myself, Y’know, that looks like that could have once been a hot-air feed. When I gave it a poke, it opened right up. Hmmmm…

A quick trip to Menard’s and I came back with something called a plenum take-off duct that had a square base pretty close to the same size as the duct with the flap door, and after a little work with a pliers I got the two to fit together so well it was almost as if they’d been made for each other. How this happens, I don’t know. Sometimes the universe is good to me.

All I had to do from there was find a way to make them stay together. I could solder them, which could be fun inasmuch as it involves fire and lava-like molten metal, but it would never come apart again and I couldn’t help thinking that technology should have evolved beyond that by this time. And, as it turned out, it had. We have tape made from aluminum foil now. The stuff you buy at Walgreen’s called “duct tape” isn’t really duct tape; this stuff is. Wrap a bunch of it around the joints of your ductwork and it’ll never come apart. Also, it’s real pretty.

With a roll of that and fifteen feet of five-inch duct, I drove home and spent the afternoon trying to figure out how to snake the assembled pipes between the floor trusses to get some hot air from the furnace into my basement lair, and damned if it didn’t come off. The hardest part was probably cutting the hole in the ceiling, and that was hard only because I had to wear one of those face shields so I wouldn’t be eating drywall dust. Oh, and because I spent the better part of an hour holding a saw up over my head, trying to get the size of the hole big enough for the vent. You wouldn’t know to look at it now, but I did quite a hatchet job on the ceiling. The vent covers it all up, though. Looks great. And I’m almost feeling warm down here now.

Duct Duct Goose | 9:49 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, October 17th, 2010

image of storm window

Today’s Manly Project was an attempt to focus with laser-like intensity on storm windows. It was not a job anywhere near as fun as it might have been were I to have somehow employed actual lasers, a tool which I must sadly admit I have not yet included in my work shop. Some Manly Projects, however, make no use of power tools at all and yet remain very manly. It seems contradictory, but it’s true, I promise.

Our Humble O’Bode is an old house, so we still have a few storm windows. Three, to be exact. Two of them flank the picture window, and one takes the place of the screen door in the front entrance. They disappear into a slot beside the water heater in the basement during the summer and somehow, when I pull them out in the fall, I forget they’re entangled in a cocoon of spider webs until I’m tangled up in them myself and back away from them spitting and windmilling at the air around me.

The storm window that fits into the door scares the hell out of me. Consisting of a piece of plate glass six feet tall and two feet wide, I’m absolutely certain it would cut me to ribbons if I were to drop it while hauling it up the stairs from the basement. I climb the stairs so very slowly and deliberately when I’m carrying it that I might appear to the untrained eye to have suffered paralytic stroke, but I’m okay, really. Don’t worry about me.

It takes just a few minutes to pop the screen out and, because a long, thin strip of plastic flash is all that holds it in place, it should take no more than a few more minutes to pop the storm window in. The plastic strip locks in place by friction; it’s got a foot that slides into a groove at just enough of an angle that it doesn’t easily come out. And although I appreciate the simplicity of the design, getting it to slide in is frankly a bigger pain in the ass than trying to get the mismatched teeth of a zipper to open. It’s a good thing I have to do this only twice a year.

Swapping out the other two screens for storm windows is a piece of cake. They hang from the old-fashioned storm window hinges and lock into place on a short metal arm at the bottom of the window, so it should have been no big deal at all. I spent about an hour, though, trying to seal up the one closest to the door because it leaks like a sieve. Sometimes when I sit next to it and there’s a stiff wind it almost feels as if the window’s open. This season I decided it was time to fill in the cracks around the edges with weatherstripping, the kind that comes in a big roll and has adhesive backing. You’d think that would be quick and easy, wouldn’t you? Not.

I got two rolls of the stuff, one that was wide and thick and looked like it could stop a Canadian cold front, and the other a little thinner, just in case the thick one was too thick. Turned out they were both too thick. I patched things up as best as I could, but if I want to keep the Merry Little Breezes out this winter I’ll have to stop by the hardware store again and try something else. Another day, though.

Storming the storm windows | 4:02 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Looking around the house for something really manly to do after lunch, I was absolutely gobsmacked when a manly fix-it project came looking for me. I shouldn’t have been. By this time I should really expect something like a broken water pipe to sneak up on me while I’m trying to work on something else. It’s almost customary, really.

But I thought I’d get away with doing just one or two manly tasks on my own today, like draining the water softener’s brine tub and dragging it up the stairs to the driveway where I could rinse it out with the hose. I don’t know if that’s something you should do to your water softener or not. Usually all I do is fill it up when the salt melts all the way to the bottom, but when I opened the lid earlier this week I was so grossed out by the glob of gray sludge left at the very bottom that I did what I pretty much had to do.

After I rinsed all the gray glop out I found a baffle at the bottom of our brine tank made out of what is commonly called hardboard that has somehow survived years of being submerged in salty water. In my experience hardboard usually disintigrates to mush when you get it wet. Maybe the salt has something to do with its relatively good condition, or maybe I’m thinking of particle board. Whatever. I was surprised to find a slab of wood down there. Make a note.

After rinsing out the tank, putting it all back together and dragging it down to the basement I was confronted by a pool of brackish water standing in the basement sink. My Darling B was washing clothes, and the wash machine drains into the sink, usually without any problem but occasionally with very bad results just like this.

Adventures in plumbing really suck, mostly because they involve getting drenched by lots of slimy, cold water. That’s probably the reason plumbers make you give them so much money. I never argue with plumbers about the cost, I just pay them whatever they ask for, especially in light of the fact that by the time I’ve resorted to calling one I’ve gone through all the options I could think of and botched the job pretty badly myself. I’ll bet they get a lot of that. That’s probably another reason they ask for so much money.

The fix today was relatively simple, just messy and involves unreeling a pair of garden hoses across the floor and up the basement stairs. In spite of it being so simple, it took forever to get the job done because I was trying to figure out why the drain keeps backing up, and I think it’s because it’s not properly vented. Actually, I think it isn’t vented at all because I climbed up on the roof and poked a stick down the vent. It went about six inches and came to a dead stop. That seemed odd, so I crawled into the attic to look for an elbow in the vent pipe, and couldn’t find any kind of pipe anywhere. So I shined a flashlight down the vent. It appeared to be a dead end.

Which makes sense. If it were properly vented, then my method of unblocking the drain wouldn’t work: I stick a hose down the drain in the kitchen sink and another hose down the drain in the basement sink, open up the spigot and let the water run for about five minutes. At least some of that water ought to go shooting up the vent like a geyser, but it doesn’t.

I busted the clog using my garden hose trick, cleaned up the mess and put all the tools away, then took a scalding shower that lasted thirty minutes, after which I almost felt clean. Then I sat on my butt drinking beer and cracked open the thousand-page Harry Truman biography I should have been reading almost all afternoon if I hadn’t been up to my elbows in sewer water.

Super Soaker | 5:57 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Hey! This is my last week of near-absolute freedom to do whatever I want before I start my new job on Monday! Yay, me! I think.

There are still all kinds of things to do around Our Humble O’Bode before the snow flies, but I don’t know how many of them will get done in these last five or six days because I’m feeling a very strong urge to relax and do nothing in anticipation of re-entering the work force, an urge I think I just might indulge at least a little bit.

I spent yesterday morning and a bit of the afternoon tidying up the basement work shop. It didn’t look like tidying up at first. It looked a whole lot more like I was gathering up all the lumber that was leaning against the three walls of the work shop and throwing it all on the floor in a big heap, not an improvement at all. I needed to make some room on the floor, though, so I could knock together a frame that I eventually tipped up and screwed to the back wall, then added arms to so I could pick the lumber up off the floor and stack it on our new lumber rack.

I used to have something like this before I knocked down a wall to make room for a bigger work shop, but as it was part of the wall that got knocked down, I haven’t had a storage rack for months and lumber’s been piling up all around the walls of the room. This sucked in a big way. Every time I turned around in there I knocked something over. Finally, yesterday, I scrounged up some scrap lumber, cut it to fit, cleared a spot on the floor and screwed it all together, and voila! Storage for most of the lumber that was previously clattering to the ground because of my elbows.

It took me a little more than an hour this morning to fax a copy of my military discharge to the Department of Administration. They love to collect documents like that, and now that I’m working for them they’re putting together a file on me. I supposed that should make me worry, but I’m getting old enough that my paranoia doesn’t kick in until the commandos in stealth helicopters land in my back yard. Jane from the DoA doesn’t even register on my paranoi-o-tron.

You’d think the public library would have a public fax, wouldn’t you? I would. You can do just about anything else there: answer your e-mail, write a novel, print a form, and you can even check out books yet. But they don’t have a fax machine. “You could go to Kinko’s on Monona Drive,” the librarian suggested.

I figured I’d need a cover sheet to send a fax, so I sat down at one of the terminals and composed a very simple one when I couldn’t find a free template on-line. The computer locked up, though, when I tried to print it, and the librarian couldn’t figure out why. She logged in to the terminal right next to it (because I was still logged in to the locked-up terminal and couldn’t be logged in on two machines) so I could try again. “Is there a word processor on this machine?” I asked her, after a quick glance at the vacant directories.

“Sure,” she said, then came up short as she poked around in the same empty directories I’d just been through.

I thanked her for her help, jumped in the car and headed for Kinko’s. Did you think there were still places like Kinko’s out there where you could get big print jobs done? I sure didn’t. I was positive that everybody printed everything on computers any more, but no. The Kinko’s on Monona Drive is a classic offset print shop, with three big, stinky lithograph printers visible in the back of the room and piles of print jobs stacked on the countertop. I thought for a moment I’d been sucked through a crack in time to my days working in the basement of the Iola Herald.

“Help you?” the guy behind the counter asked me.

“If you can send a fax for me, yes,” I answered.

“You think we can do that?”

I smiled at him. “You guys have printing presses. There’s probably a fax machine in here somewhere.”

There was, and he did. He even had a printed cover sheet for me. Three minutes later my fax was on its way and I was headed home again. Total elapsed time from the moment I left the house to go to the library: one hour. Wish I’d thought of Kinko’s in the first place.

Time out | 3:20 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, work | Tags:
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Sunday, September 12th, 2010

image of me painting the house

I didn’t intend to spend all afternoon painting the house but somehow that’s what I ended up doing.

It started with the gable over the garage roof. I’ve let that go for quite a while, under pretense of various excuses too ridiculous to try to explain, but because it’s already the third week in September and I’m running out of excuses, I’ve suffered just a few panic attacks from thinking I might not get the painting done before the snow flies. I had another one this morning when I saw what a beautiful day it was today and tried to think of doing anything but yard work or home maintenance, but eventually caved in and started looking for a can of paint and a brush. It wouldn’t be so bad with the sunshine and the cool breeze. More importantly, My Darling B was home so that, in case I fell off the roof, she might come investigate the dull thud I made when I hit the recycling bin on the way to the ground.

I gathered up my tools and went to work. The first thing to do was make sure I could get up there and stay up there, something I wasn’t entirely confident of. I’d spent way too much time on the roof of my boyhood home, shooting at starlings and stacks of beer cans with an air rifle. Don’t ask why it’s important to be on the roof when you do that. I couldn’t give you an answer that made sense. It was thirty years ago, which not only affects my memory, it makes me a tad uncomfortable about walking around on rooftops now. However, once I made myself go up there, check out how steep it was and work out a way to keep the paint can from tipping over, I felt a little better about putting my mortal self at risk for the sake of making Our Humble O’Bode look prettier.

To keep the paint can from tipping over I scrounged up a slab of particle board and three pieces of scrap lumber to shove underneath it until I had achieved a relatively level platform. Before I went with shoving scraps of lumber under the board, I had planned to work out the angle of the roof, cut some wedges from scrap and screw together something a bit more stable, like somebody who knew what they were doing would use, but my jerry-rigged platform worked just as well and I didn’t have to fire up a power saw or try to hit a nail with a hammer.

The most difficult part of the gable to paint was the part that was furthest back, because I had to sit on the garage roof to do it. Even though the weather was rather mild, those black asphalt shingles were hot as an iron skillet. I burned a couple inches off my butt while I sat there, painting as fast as I could. After the back corner was done I was pretty glad to be able to stand on the edge of the eaves with my back end to the breeze to paint the rest.

It took all of a half-hour to paint the gable. I stood back, looking at my efforts and thinking, That was way too easy. Now what? Well, I had the paint and brush out, so I figured I might as well touch up a few spots I missed on the front of the house. I hadn’t been able to figure out a way to set up the ladder so I could paint the paneling over the windows, for instance, until today, so I did a quick clean up of those spots, set up the ladder, and got to work.

And while I was up there, I painted all the soffit I could reach, too. The soffit is the overhang between the eaves and the siding. I’d left it alone, thinking I would go back and paint it white, but it looked better painted the same color as the siding. One of my neighbors gave me the idea when he painted his house last month.

Pretty soon I was inching the ladder along, painting all the soffit on the front of the house, possibly the longest stretch of soffit, from the northwest corner of the house all the way around the southwest corner, back to meet the garage and across the front of the garage, too. I didn’t finish until four thirty, with just enough time left over to clean up and get dressed for dinner.

Three hours of standing on a ladder with my head cranked all the way back and my arms in the air left me absolutely pooped. I went to bed early, right behind My Darling B, who spent the day pulling weeds in her garden.

Up | 8:42 pm CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

image of rough lake

Day after Labor Day, back to the grindstone. Oh, wait. I’m still on seven-day weekends. Never mind.

Or not. I’ve still got some yard work to do before the snow flies, and from the way the weather’s been acting that’s probably going to be at about noon on Thursday. I’ve pledged that I will finish painting the siding on Our Humble O’Bode before winter, for starters. I haven’t ever attached a condition to that – “I’ll either finish painting or eat all the paint chips scattered around the foundation of the house! With milk and sugar!” – but I’d end up eating a lot of crow if I don’t, so the push is on. There isn’t much left. I should be able to finish in a week or so. The soffits and all the window frames need to be painted, too, but I never said anything about those so I think I’m safe there.

Other yard work, such as trimming the overgrown lilac and honeysuckle bushes, will get done only if I can finish painting. In that case, I might end up taking care of that next spring. Care to put any money on that?

The other Very Important Thing I’ve got to do today is return the videos we rented from Bongo Video that we should’ve taken back last night because the late charges are crazy expensive. I don’t know why we don’t just hand them the rental fee plus one or two days’ late charges when we take the movies out in the first place. I can’t remember the last time we rented movies and didn’t pay the late fees. We used to feel guilty about that, but guilt slowly morphed into self-satisfaction that we were doing our part to keep a local business afloat with our very own financial mini-stimulus program.

I picked one hell of a day to return the videos to the store on my bike. All the wind in the world is right here in Madison today – apologies to the folks in Galveston, but it’s one-hundred and one percent true. The wind was even kicking up rollers across Lake Monona big enough to surf on, not that anyone was taking advantage of it.

Honeydew | 11:54 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, daily drivel, painting, work, yard work
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Monday, August 9th, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt used to write a daily newspaper column called My Day. I’ve read the ones that were considered interesting enough to compile and print in a book (imaginatively titled My Day) and they’re about what you’d get if you went to any random blog, adjusting for the fact that Eleanor had a finger in just about every pie in Washington, D.C., let alone that she was the wife of FDR.

She didn’t let that prevent her from writing about utterly mundane things. If you can, imagine one of the Python boys seated at a doily-covered table (I’m thinking Graham Chapman would’ve made a great Eleanor Roosevelt) with a cup of tea in hand, squawking, “Someone sent me a most amusing present. When I came into my room this afternoon, I thought I was being visited by a zoo, for it was surrounded by four polar bears. On closer inspection, however, I found that the polar bears were guarding a goldfish bowl…” So, even though she was living in the White House, someone punked her room while she was out. Then, she blogged about it, because if you don’t blog about it, it didn’t happen. See? Some things never change.

That quote came from Eleanor’s January 7, 1936, column, in case you were thinking I made that up.

I’m no Eleanor Roosevelt, but I’m reminded of her column every day when My Darling B asks me, “So, what’re you going to do today?” Wow, you really want to know? I’m going to wash the dishes, then sweep the floor, then clean the cat box, then fold the laundry … eat your heart out, Eleanor!

For what it’s worth, then, here’s my day:

5:45 – Alarm goes off, get up to make coffee for My Darling B. Arguably the most rewarding thing I do all day. B gives me a kiss for it.

6:00 – Read comics while wolfing down a big bowl of granola generously doused in lactose-free milk.

6:20 – Sit on sofa to chat with B after she emerges from shower & pours herself a cuppa joe. Her side of the conversation always starts: “I don’t wanna go to work.” She always goes to work anyway, because she has a flawless work ethic.

6:45 – While B gets dressed for work, I clean out the cat boxes and fill cat feeders. A cat feeder is a great big bowl divided into five sections that rotates like a lazy susan. There’s a cover over the bowl so the cats can get to only one section at a time, and a motor turns the bowl according to a timer. The cat boxes are simple plastic pans that I have to rake the poop out of twice a day. We got the wrong motorized cat appliance.

7:00 – Drive B to work. I take the Beltline to Midvale Boulevard because it’s the fastest way to cross down. It’s also the most dangerous, hundreds of speeding cars jammed bumper-to-bumper as if it were a Nascar event. How we avoid mangled pileups & firey death every day is a mystery to me.

8:00 – Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog. Drink the rest of the coffee while reading the morning news.

8:45 – This being Monday, I applied for unemployment benefits. I can do this online in about two minutes, and thank goodness because getting through on the telephone is more agonizing than getting my teeth drilled. I think I could probably do it in less than one minute if a glitch in the system didn’t ask me to go through the login procedure twice.

8:47 – Update Facebook status & otherwise doink around on the interwebs.

9:00 – Unload the dishwasher, pile it with dirty dishes, start.

9:30 – Sort dirty clothes, throw a pile in the wash machine. Yes, I sort clothes even though I’m a guy. You can’t live with the same woman for twenty years and not sort the clothes.

9:45 – Apply for a job, something else you can do on-line in about two minutes, believe it or not. Hat tip to My Darling B for catching the vacancy announcement on the state job web site. Maybe I’ll be clerking in the Journalism department at the UW soon. Not holding my breath, though.

10:00 – Walk to the bank. This counts toward my physical conditioning for the day so I came back through Greenlawn Cemetery just to make a big circle.

11:00 – Pet the cat.

11:15 – (Yes, it took fifteen minutes to pet the cat. He’s a needy cat.) Off to the store to get nylon socks for the finches, by special request from My Darling B. No, finches aren’t into legware. These socks are bird feeders. Fill them with nyjer seed and finches come peck the seed out through the nylon mesh.

11:45 – Fix the bird feeder, fill up the thistle socks, sound the dinner bell. Go in and pout when the birds don’t come flocking to the sumptuous spread I put out for them.

12:45 – Start working on dressing up the windows I installed last weekend. The windows themselves look great, but the rough opening they’re hanging in is so rough it looks as though I used hand grenades to take out the old windows. I built a box frame around each one yesterday and I’m going to cut & fit molding around the insides today.

2:15 – Break time! Drink a quart of water while doinking around on the interwebs.

2:30 – Back to work on the other window. I’m losing hope that I’ll get a nap this afternoon.

3:45 – Knock off for the day and head for the showers to clean up before fetching My Darling B from work. The home improvement project still needs a little fine-tuning but it’ll do for now, and I really need to cool down and get unstinky before I drive across town.

5:30 – Home again, home again, jiggedy-jog. Sandwiches for dinner so B doesn’t have to spend lots of time in a hot kitchen on this hot day right before we head off to dance class.

6:30 – B catches a few winks before dance class while I doink around on the internet.

7:00 – Dance class. Swing dance tonight. It’s supposed to be a group class but only B and I show up so we get a private lesson. We learn a little technique, how to spin, do a little core work, then learn a new swing step, passing side-to-side, so we’ll have a few new moves when we go see Ladies Must Swing at the Terrace on Friday.

9:00 – Home again, home again … you know the rest. Time to relax. Wind down. Take it easy, Maybe read a couple chapters.

9:03 – Zzzzzzz …

Timeline | 8:40 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, scrub-a-dub-dub, work
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Saturday, August 7th, 2010

image of demolition

I got a bug up my ass after lunch, grabbed a wrecking bar and a hammer, and started tentatively picking apart the framework around one of the windows alongside the back door to see if I could figure out how to take it apart. It’s usually not too hard: I find the first piece I can pry off, then the next piece, then the next, unbuilding the window until eventually I’ve made a hole in the wall. I start off slow, but the momentum builds quickly until eventually I’m tearing off pieces in a shower of splinters.

When I start a project like this I begin by rather carefully picking my way through each step while a little voice inside me says, This is insane! I don’t know the first thing about home construction! How am I ever going to patch this back together? But taking any part of the house to pieces is sort of like archeology: Each little bit I pry off the house tells me how the other guy cut it to fit and nailed it into place, and when I know that, I can see he was not so much different from me, a feeling that gets especially strong when I find evidence, like pieces of scrap wood used to frame an opening, that he was flying by the seat of his pants. What the hell? Did he pick this up off the floor and think: This looks like it’ll fit! In you go! If he could get away with that, I feel a lot more comfortable that I could, too.

I started on the left-hand window just before one o’clock and about two hours after that I finally ended up with a hole in the wall – what the guys who visit Home Depot call the “rough opening.” It was very rough, a ragged hole framed by two by fours just big enough to let the builders slip a factory-made window into it. That would have been a factory back in 1950. Factories these days make windows that are about the same size as the windows they made back then. If I were to be very lucky, the old window would end up being the same size as the new one, or slightly bigger. If I were to be not so lucky, well …

Last summer we bought a truckload of new energy-efficient windows to replace the single-pane windows in the back of the house. I pulled out the dining room window last fall and replaced it, but the two windows beside the back door have been waiting in the garage attic until Tim helped me get them down today. They’re a pair of Anderson casement windows, which means that when you crank on the handle they open to the side like a door. And, as luck would have it, they were almost exactly the same size as the windows I pulled out of the wall.

The first one came out rather easily, once I figured out that the guy before me hadn’t done much to nail it in place. I tore away all the framing on the outside, then did the same on the inside, and it practically fell out. In fact, I had to hold it in place to keep it from falling into the mud room while I was pulling some nails out of it.

That left the hole. It’s a problem having a hole in the wall of your house when you have pets. They want to see what’s outside the hole. I hadn’t thought ahead far enough to put up a barrier that would keep them from jumping through the hole and running off to chase rabbits, so I had to ask My Darling B to watch the hole while I unpacked the window and cut some lumber to frame it up. And she did it. I just love her for stuff like that.

The wood I used to frame up the rough opening was a trifle warped, The new window fit the framed opening just perfectly, although the warped wood made it bind a little bit. The binding was easy enough to overcome with a little brogian motivation: I backed up to the window and kicked it into place with the heel of my shoe, then asked B to hold it there while I tacked it into place with finishing nails in each corner. We had a new, functioning window in place and open to the world at quarter to four in the afternoon.

I decided it would be best if I could get the second window in before dinner so I wouldn’t have to think about it all night, then work up the steam to start the job the next day. Did I have enough time? I didn’t know. The job was not the same: The other window was up against the rail that runs around the back deck and I wasn’t sure how I was going to tear out the molding and sneak the window frame out from behind the rail. As it turned out, brute force prevailed, as it usually does.

image of new windows

Having a sawzall handy helped quite a lot for cutting the molding to itty-bitty pieces. After I cut them up, I worked the pieces out from behind the rail with a pliers, then pried the rest of the molding away with a wrecking bar, same as on the other window. The window itself, though, turned out to be a tremendous pain in the ass. Although the first one practically fell out of the hold, I had to break the frame of the second one to splinters in order to get it out of the rough opening. The first one is sitting beside the deck in the yard, a ready-made cold frame for B to grow veggies in. The second one, though, is a mangled mess. I’m not sure what we’ll do with it if I don’t sneak it into a dumpster at the nearest strip mall.

Fitting the second window in place would have been easy if it hadn’t been for the mosquitoes. Just as I was getting ready to hoist it into place, the dinner time bell sounded for every mosquito in Dane County, and ninety-five percent of them homed in on me. I’m serious as a heart attack. I would have suffered blood loss serious enough to render me unconscious if B hadn’t come to my rescue with a bottle of insect repellant, spraying it all over my arms and the back of my neck so I could finish framing up the rough opening. Once that was done and the new window was unpacked, it was quick work to fit it into the hole and tack it in place with some finishing nails. The rest was clean-up.

I celebrated with a cold beer and a long, sloppy sit-down on my tired ass, gazing in wonder at what I had wrought. And after I showered off I stood at the door again, gaping in amazement. “It’s still there,” I pointed out to B.

“What’s still there?” she asked.

“The windows,” I clarified.

“Well, of course they’re still there. Where would they be?”

“It’s not that they’d be somewhere else, it’s that it takes me a while for it to soak in that I did that,” I explained.

After dinner I stood in the mud room again, gazing smugly at the windows.

“Are they still there?” B asked from her seat at the table.


Unbuilding | 9:25 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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image of book shelves

I don’t know how many books we have. I wouldn’t be able to give you even a ball park figure. Could be hundreds, could be thousands, I have no way of knowing, because most of them are doubled up in the garage-sale book shelves we’ve collected over the years, and a significant number are still crammed into boxes, waiting for the day of liberation when we have enough shelf space to bring them out in the open air. It could happen. Not sure when; I’m a little vague on the details of that, too.

Although I planned to knock together a proper book case to stash some of the books in, I got to thinking, as I was looking over the lumber on sale at the local do-it-yourself store, that I could rig up something more like a multi-media organization and display center than a piddling book case. Besides needing a place to set our books, I also need shelf space for my ever-growing neato typewriter collection, as well as a rack to hold the stereo components I’ve cobbled together and a nearby shelf for the LP phono albums I keep finding at the thrift store. Aaron Copeland’s Grand Canyon Suite for a buck! Nat King Cole’s Greatest hits for a buck and a quarter! I couldn’t leave them there, could I?

Obviously all these considerations called for a shelving system, nay, a structure that would be a bit more suitable to the various needs of each different tenant. Connecting all the wires of the stereo components in a typical book case, for instance, sucks. You can’t get at the back of the components, which are all in the dark, unless you give each component a quarter-turn that leaves half of it hanging over the edge of the shelf, so you have to nervously hang on to it while you’re plugging things in. Then you have to try to quarter-turn it back while simultaneously tucking all those wires in. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to be able to fit all the components into a single shelf. When you have to poke holes through the back of the book case and run wires from one shelf to another, you might as well do a couple shots before you even begin and just keep drinking to dull the pain.

A mere book case, being just eight to ten inches deep, won’t hold a typewriter, either. I’d need a shelf at least sixteen inches deep, and made of wood stout enough to bear the thirty-pound weight of a 1929 Underwood upright. Particle board doesn’t cut it for a job like that.

With all these considerations running through my head, I selected a car load of lumber that might have given the impression I was remodeling a closet rather than building a place to keep our books and record collection: a heap of three-quarter inch plywood and two by four studs that came to a grand total of forty-six bucks, much less than the eighty or so I would have needed to build a proper book case. I was well chuffed about that.

Assembly took all freaking day. It wasn’t hard, it’s just that I wanted to take my time and make sure it got done right the first time. After clamping all the two by fours together I carefully measured out the grooves that would hold the shelves, then cut them out with a router, one-quarter inch on each pass. Took two hours, much longer than I thought it would, but that’s largely because I don’t use a router much so the widest blade I have is a quarter-incher. When I go shopping for more lumber next week I’m going to see if there isn’t a router blade that will hack out a three-quarter inch dado on one pass. There has to be, right? If there isn’t, don’t tell me.

Hacking the plywood into shelf-sized pieces took only twenty minutes or so because I have a table saw and it’s awesome. I’m literally awed by it, and maybe just a little scared yet. I still count my fingers after each pass, for instance, but that doesn’t make any less awesome.

Then came assembly. I hadn’t quite worked out how I was going to do this. Most of it ended up coming together on a wing and a prayer.

The first set of uprights, on the far left, was easy: Using a beam level I made sure they were straight up and down, and then I fixed them in place.

The second set of uprights, in the middle, was a little harder. In theory I knew exactly how far they should have been from the first uprights and should have been able to place them using a tape measure and a plumb bob. I don’t have a plumb bob, so I cobbled it together by sticking the top shelf and the bottom shelf into the slots on the first uprights, slapping the second pair of uprights against them, and screwing things together to see if that would work. For some reason that I’m not completely aware of, it did. The rest of the shelves slid into place deceptively easy and I was inordinately pleased with myself. That was the calm before the storm.

I tried to put the third pair of uprights, on the right-hand side, in place using the same method. The moment I stepped back to it up, everything fell apart. I tried again and got a little further along, but it fell apart again. When I finally got the top and bottom shelf fixed in place between the uprights, I could clearly see they were leaning forward further than a drunk taking a leak at a urinal. I took everything apart, lined it up again and, while I was fitting the bottom shelf into place, the top shelf fell out and tried to give me a concussion.

Eventually I worked out a sequence that would let me put all the shelves in the slots except one. I tried every way I could think of to get that sucker in there, even shaved the edge down a bit with a chisel, and it came really close to sliding into place where it should have gone … right before everything fell apart again.

At that point I should have started drinking vodka from a beer bong, but I had to shower and pick up My Darling B from work.

After supper it all went together rather easily. I don’t know what I did differently. I guess because I’d had that chance to walk away and not think about it for a while, my head was clear enough to get through the sequence without making mistakes. Not that I recall making mistakes before that, I just seemed to be having rotten luck lining everything up. It all went so much more smoothly after supper, though, that it was almost magical.

If I can find the time to put a few more of these together I’ll not only have a place to put all the books, we may also finally know the answer to the question Just how many books do we have in our possession?

Shelf-Improvement | 9:20 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment, music, Our Humble O'Bode, play | Tags: , ,
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Sunday, August 1st, 2010

image of Our Humble O’Bode

I’ve always had this far-away, make-believe kind of idea that I might be able to finish painting the house some day. Actually, in most of my “Thank God I’m Finished!” house-painting fantasies I slap the last coat of paint on just moments before I suffer a massive cardiac infarction, or some similar mortally final lightning bolt that shoots me off into the cosmic void, but thoughts like this usually occur to me only after I’ve spent hours frying to a crisp in the summer sun while scraping and painting, scraping and painting. In much happier fantasies I finish well before I die but long after I go bald and grow a beard down to my knees.

Looking at this photo of the garage I was trying to recall which half of the wall took longer to paint: Up at the peak the boards were shorter, but I had to stand on a shaky extension ladder twenty feet in the air where I could reach about three feet from side to side and top to bottom, forcing me to climb up and down the ladder a couple dozen times, slapping a little more paint on each time I repositioned it. It was a maddeningly slow process. When it’s all averaged out, however, I think it took just as long to paint the top half as it did to paint the bottom. Down at the bottom where I didn’t have to climb the extension ladder, I could paint pretty much constantly, but each freaking cedar panel is thirty feet long and takes half an hour to cover with a decent coat of paint. If that doesn’t sound as maddening as going up and down an extension ladder all afternoon, try to imagine painting for a half hour under a blazing sun, then stepping back to survey your work, only to discover that when you’ve painted a thirty-foot-long panel that’s just eight inches wide, you can’t see any progress at all. Talk about wanting to simply curl up and die.

This is just all to get the first coat on, by the way, to make the house look presentable to the world at large, instead of a patchwork of the previous coat of corpse green, shot through with streaks of white where we scraped the bubbled and cracked paint layers away, and finally the blocks of red-wine red where we’ve been doggedly remaking the house to look as nice as we’d like it to. In another time, maybe in a parallel universe, I’ll have to brush on another coat to make the red nice and even and cover all the places I missed. There are always a few. But for now it looks good from the street and maybe the neighbors will stop pointing and making comments to each other as they walk their dogs past our house.

Covered | 6:08 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Saturday, July 24th, 2010

image of cabinet carcase

This, my friend, is possibly the most overbuilt cabinet carcase on the face of the planet. That’s three-quarter inch plywood you’re looking at. Orson Welles, were he still walking this green, effective earth, could perch on that, after it’s put together of course, and it wouldn’t give a fraction of an inch in any direction. We’ll be able to take shelter from tornadoes in it. This will be an indestructible cabinet.

I’m not an engineer, and I don’t build a lot of cabinets, so I wasn’t sure what to use for the carcase. Half-inch plywood seemed too flimsy, and I certainly didn’t want flimsy, because this is going to be a permanent part of our house, so I went up a notch to three-quarter inch plywood to make sure it would be sturdy enough that anybody could sit on it, or jump on it, or set a life-size statue of the Buddha cast in pure, solid lead on it.

It’s meant to be a window seat, you see, a perch to lure the casual visitor, a place to rest, a corner for quiet repose. It’s fairly small, just over three feet wide and about two feet tall, and I can tell already it’s ridiculously overbuilt. I probably could’ve gotten away with using quarter-inch plywood, tacking it together with cleats to stiffen it just enough to bear the weight of a seat cushion, because I doubt anyone will ever sit on it. All we’ll be storing in it is blankets and quilts for the guest bed. And yet I built a bunker we could easily stick two rabid wombats in and let them fight to the death without a care in the world that they’d ever get free to menace either of us.

Now, for the book cases that’ll flank it on either side … I’m thinking steel plate.

Carcase | 11:05 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: ,
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Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I passed a couple of quiet hours yesterday afternoon pursuing our never-ending attempt to repaint the house. You read that right: I said painting the house. We started the enterprise almost two years ago after inquiring of several professional painters how much they would charge us for them to paint our house instead of us, and blanched when they informed us we would have to fork over a sum in the neighborhood of eight grand.

Isn’t “blanched” a great word? All it means is that the color went out of our faces, but it sounds so much worse, even onomatopoeic, suggesting the splash made by projectile vomiting. And even better, when you say it the word contorts your face into the most disgusted expression. You don’t get that combination of color, sound and facial expression in just any word. It’s a nearly perfect word, really, and deserves a lot more use than it gets.

Two years later both My Darling B and I are now thinking that eight grand would probably have been well worth paying to have somebody else paint the house, first and foremost because it would’ve been done two years ago! Half a dozen guys would’ve shown up at our house, scraped, taped and painted for about a week, and then tah-daaahhhh! Painted house!

In painfully marked contrast, the only free time B and I get to grab a brush and slap on some paint is weekends and holidays during the summer, which is exactly the same free time that My Darling B uses to tend her garden and the same time I’m usually up to my elbows in plumbing emergencies and other fun projects. Ugly as it has made our house look for two years running, we’ve had to put off painting because it always ended up with a pretty low position on the priority totem pole of do-it-yourself home-improvements.

Two years of piled-up embarrassment and good old-fashioned guilt will go a long way to raise the priority of any project, though, so there I was, brush in one hand, paint can in the other, halfway up a ladder slapping a first coat of Cottage Red on the rear of Our Humble O’Bode. I was hoping to cover everything from the bedroom window over to the dining room window, but painting always takes longer than you think it will. I was lucky to get this far before I had to put all the tools away, seal up the paint and jump in the shower so I wouldn’t stink up the car during the drive to the other side of town to pick up My Darling B from work.

I thought I would be outside painting again today, even hoped to get as far as the back door, nearly all the way around to the garage, but instead I spent the morning cowering inside the house as rain came down as heavy and dark as fudge on an ice cream sundae. Ever heard rain described metaphorically as dessert before? Just couldn’t help myself, sorry.

Paint Guilt | 4:47 pm CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Thursday, July 8th, 2010

It’s easier to find an image of a dandelion on the internet … no, wait: It’s easier to find more than 2,010,000 images of a dandelion on the internet than it is to answer this question: Do I have to declare my military pension when filing for my unemployment benefits? I know, because I’ve spent the day doing both. Or, in the case of the second half of the formula, trying to do both.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is the source for all information about unemployment benefits, as well as the office that processes claims. I filed my initial application last week Thursday using the department’s web site. It seemed pretty simple and easy to use, but there was just one thing about it that struck me as odd: I receive a retirement pension from the military but, according to the information on DWD’s web site and in their on-line application, I don’t have to report it.

When I applied on-line and got to the question, “Are you receiving a pension?” there was a footnote that said I should report my pension only if I was receiving it from an employer I worked for in the past two years. I retired from the military more than five years ago, so I clicked “No.” A little pamphlet I got in the mail from DWD likewise says I should report receiving a pension only if I’m getting it from someone I worked for during the last four quarters, which again would leave my military service out of it.

I even pull the state statute off the interwebs, and it says the same thing: I have to report a pension if I’m receiving it from an employer I worked for during the base period (the time period they used to calculate my weekly benefit amount). Either it’s really badly worded or I don’t have to report a cent of the pension I’m getting from the military.

I sort of hate to jinx it, but I really wanted to know I was doing it right, so I tried calling them. Yesterday I didn’t call until after nine o’clock, figuring that’s when they opened for business, but when I dialed I got a busy signal. I hit redial two or three minutes later with the same result. Dialed again about five minutes later; still busy. Every five or ten minutes after that, busy busy busy. I throttled back to dialing every fifteen minutes or so until about ten-thirty when I finally heard a ring tone and got the automated phone tree. Score! After navigating my way through the menu to the point where I could talk to a representative about filing a claim, there was a pause before the recorded voice pleasantly told me, “We’re sorry, but all of our representatives are busy now and we have reached the limit of the number of people we can put on hold. Please try again later.” And the call was disconnected. Can’t talk now! Thanks for calling! Bye!

Wow, that’s cold.

B searched the DWD web site this morning to see if she could find an answer specific to military pensions. She couldn’t, but she did find out the DWD opens its telephone lines at seven in the morning, so I tried calling again just after the clock on the wall struck seven bells. I got through on the first try, navigated through the phone tree and was told once again by the friendly recorded voice they couldn’t take my call now, and then it hung up. I got through three or four more times this morning but every single call ended with the recorded voice hanging up on me.

You know what? I’m done. I did my due diligence. The state statute says I don’t have to report it, I’m not going to report it.

Oh, the dandelion:

I spent a couple hours in the yard flirting with heat prostration while pulling dandelions from a small patch of dirt beside the driveway. We both love dandelions and let them grow as crazy as they want to all over the lawn. There’s a pretty good chance our love of dandelions irks the older homeowners in our neighborhood who spend a lot of money on Chemlawn treatments to get rid of dandelions and other weeds in their yard, but our take on that is: We’ll pull up every one of our dandelions the day they stop spraying their lawns with Roundup or whatever herbicides they’re using. I’m not too worried they’re going to take us up on that.

Dandelions are welcome to grow all over our lawn, but in the little patch of dirt between the house and the driveway I’m trying to get creeping charlie to take root, and the big, broad leaves of the dandelions crowd out everything else. I’ve been avoiding the dirty job of pulling them up because the weather’s been so hot lately that the roadside is spotted with charred piles of slag where people parked their cars out in the sun, but today there was a cool breeze and I could stand to be out in the sun for almost a half-hour at a time if I stepped inside to drink a couple pints of water and sweat like a pig.

In about two hours I’d pulled up enough dandelions to fill a bushel basket. Also thistles, chickweed, something that begins with a ‘p’ but I forget right now, and those weeds that look like inch-tall Christmas trees with a little yellow ball of a flower at the top.

Due Diligence | 9:06 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, work, yard work
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