Monday, July 30, 2012

Try Something New

It was the banana leaves that did it for me. I tell my kids all the time, “Don’t tell me you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it.” I’m talking about food, of course, and in this case, banana leaves have the starring role. They’re an essential ingredient of kalua pork, a traditional Hawaiian dish that’s usually cooked in the ground. Mind you, I didn’t cook mine in the ground; I used a wood fired grill. But it’s true about those banana leaves. It ain’t kalua pork without ‘em.

And that has caused me to come over all philosophical. Because truly, how often do we really try new things? (If you’re jet set or single, ignore this). For those like me, who actually thrive on routine occasionally, trying something new can be daunting. Like a kid with a plate of sushi in front him and a look of horrified anxiety on his face. Or like a grown man trying to bring off homemade kalua pork for the first time in his life.

Sometimes there are a lot of elements that have to come together in order for the New Thing to be a success. For instance, there might be a need to find where in the hell to buy banana leaves in Boise, Idaho. Or Hawaiian red salt. Or there could be a wood fired grill that refuses to cooperate and just stay at around 300 degrees all day long, necessitating the native blowgun method of cooking (don’t ask, but it involves a disused metal broom handle aimed at hot coals and the lungs of an old trumpet player). That New Thing might cost you, in other words.

You may not even like it, and that’s okay. But at least you can say you’ve tried it. Or that you’ve had it, which puts me in mind of my mother telling me, “I have had it with you!” as a kid—or was that a Bill Cosby sketch? And anyway there might be the lingering aftertaste of regret commingled with be-bafflyfuddle-wildering victory. One might ask the question “why” one was so stupid as to try Spam and seaweed. Look at it as a notch on your belt, then. And try something new. Really. Try it. You’ll like it. Or not. But just try it. It may or may not be fun or even remotely enjoyable or even perhaps a total and complete waste of time and energy, but in the end you can at least brag about it. I know I will.

And you know what else? My homemade kalua pork was so good I’m going to try beef brisket the same way. I’m told I can’t (HA!) call it kalua beef, but critics aren’t even human. Now, before I begin a new tangent I must end this blog post.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ninjas (Hemingway style)

I recently got a ca. 1950's Royal Quiet De Luxe portable typewriter. For two bucks. I'm told it's worth between two and three hundred. To me, it's priceless. It's completely mechanical, and a triumph of 20th century engineering. Ernest Hemingway reportedly composed much of his work on one of these.

I'm not that professional, but I've been practicing. I wanted to share a short story of extreme absurdity with you:

Of course there are errors. Hello, that is ROUGH. But it's beyond refreshing to compose on such a magnificent machine. Like playing a different instrument, you get different results. I'll share more in the future if it's worthy. For now, I'm just having fun. Hope you had fun reading this.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Writing Shed, Part Four

Last time I wrote about the shed I was missing a wall. There were two ends sort of dangling in the breeze like a participle. Whatever that is.

Since the fourth wall would not fit inside the other three laying down (which is how ya build ‘em), I had to frame it up on the grass. As it turned out, that was much nicer for my blown-out knees to kneel down on than the floor. My wife helped me stand it up and get in in position, sans sheathing. We had to lift the pre-drilled bottom plate over the power conduit. I didn’t install the header for the sliding glass door until the wall was set. I wanted it to be light and tweakable, because I had two corners to meet up with. After I nailed off the corner, I tacked on the first piece of sheathing at the top, letting it drape, checking for square. I wasn’t so worried about things being plumb or level yet—the deck has settled a bit since I dug the foundation stones, so there will be some shimming and leveling for fine tuning as weight is added to the structure.

Now that the power is inside the shed and not just sticking up into the atmosphere, I can begin thinking about wiring up all the switches and recepts I’ll need. I plan to use those ultra-modern LED lightbulbs, which have become pretty reasonable price-wise. I refuse to install CFLs, because one, they contain mercury, which is toxic (bet you didn’t know that, and please if you use those idiotbulbs, take them to a HAZMAT drop off when they expire—don’t chuck them into a landfill—we’ll be drinking mercury in our groundwater pretty soon if you do). Two, CFLs irritate the shit out of me because they take about five minutes to come on and warm up to full bright, which is like driving for groceries in a Model T. CFLs are rubbish. Anyway, more on electrical in the future. LED lightbulbs will contribute to efficiency, they last forever, and they won’t tax my electrical feed. They use about one tenth the power of an incandescent, and every little bit helps. Not for the environment. For my power bill. I'm an evil capitalist.

I got the sliding glass door from my brother. He was looking to replace the one on his house with a French door, and I told him we’d go halvsies on that if I could have his old slider. Turns out I paid twenty five bucks for it; not bad. It installed very easily. There’s a flange along the outside edges of it, and that flange is meant to butt up to the framing. After it’s all hunky-dory, the sheathing is installed over the top of the flange, decently tight to the door. [I've since been informed that I should have installed the flange over top of the sheathing. But I ain't changing it.] It’s important not to screw the flange along its top edge—it has to have room to expand and contract with temperature changes. If you strangle off the door by running screws through the top flange, you may end up with cracked glass.

After I got the slider figured out, I was able to continue sheathing the rest of the shed. A 2x4 wall is pretty strong in compression, but adding the sheathing makes it strong in shear load. Building each wall into a square makes those walls exponentially stronger, as does adding the roof. All that to say I’m past the point of needing to brace the walls, but it’s not done until the roof is on. And speaking of which, my brother and I figured out a way to build it simply, cheaply, quickly, and all while keeping it quiet and adding a facility for it to vent from bottom to top. If a roof isn’t vented, condensation could develop in cold weather, and extreme heat could build up in summer, both of which make it tough not only on the shingles, but eventually the framing. So we’re going to vent it. I’ll show you next time around, or the time after that. Or the time after that.

Between now and then I have to fine tune the floor, moving one foundation stone and shimming some others. I also have to build the inner wall. This will separate the storage part of the shed from the writing part. I already have my lawnmower parked in there. It looks great.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Writing Shed, Part Three

Since I last updated this series, I’ve done a lot of work to the writing shed. Plus, I began using a phrase I’m sure I’ll use often in the future: “Babe, I’m going to the shed.”

I neglected to install pressure blocking on my joists when I was framing up the floor. I clean forgot it. To compensate for this, then, I added a layer of 3/8” underlayment, glued and stapled down. Now the floor doesn’t sag. Of course, it rained soon after I did this, permanently raising the edges of each sheet, so now I’ve got to get in there with a belt sander and some 40-grit and relieve the seams a bit. It wouldn’t do to have a crummy floor. I meant to seal the whole deck with some oil base floor paint, but I was tied up that morning, and by the time I was ready to roll, it was raining.

On to the next bit, then. I’ll fix the floor after the roof is on.

Since I had a nice flat surface to work on, the next step was building the trusses. This required a flurry of Googling in order to remember how to use my Swanson Speed Square. Basically, it’s an aluminum right triangle with cheats on it so carpenters don’t need to know trigonometric math by heart. I figured my 4/12 pitch (4 inches of rise for every foot of run), drew the angles, and cut my top chords. After that, with my brother’s help, I laid out each one precisely the same (I traced the first one on the deck and then lined up all the others on those lines, temporarily screwing each truss to the deck for nailing). OSB gussets were glued and nailed on with ring shank nails. The bottom chords, sections of 2x6, were cut, glued in and nailed the next day.

I suppose I should mention the power feed. The back yard is currently in a state of recovery because I have been digging the crap out of it lately. I had to remove an old piece of conduit that had been sticking up out of the ground (it wasn’t live) that failed to launch. Shed plans changed over the course of many years; what can I say. After that, I had to relocate two sprinkler heads. While my yard was littered with trenches and big clumps of grassy dirt, I went ahead and dug another trench for the shed’s power supply. I used schedule 80 conduit and a 25’ length of 12-2 W/G outdoor wire—the wire could probably have been buried directly, but I wanted to have zero problems. This, on a 20 amp breaker, will provide plenty of power with very little voltage drop due to resistance. I could have used smaller gauge wire, but I’d rather be on the safe side. I need enough power to be able to run the little air conditioner my neighbor gave me, plus a little heater (alternately, of course).

The walls went up pretty quickly. I laid them out on 24” centers, which is plenty for a shed. Most sheds are framed up like this, only they use 2x3s instead of the 2x4s I used, so it’ll be plenty strong. The easiest way to build a wall is to precut your top and bottom plates and then layout your stud locations with both of them sandwiched together. When you’re ready to nail everything together, you’ll have perfectly plumb and square studs. Once the frame of the wall was nailed together, I laid out the sheathing on it before standing it up. I nailed my OSB sheathing along the top edge of the wall, allowing it to drape down. I then could rack the wall for plumb if needed, then nail off the sheathing after the wall was braced.

The second wall was nearly a tragedy, because the wind came up a bit, and I foolishly decided to stand the wall up in these gusts. April helped me out by smooshing herself between the wall and the fence until I had everything nailed off. The corner where the two walls meet is critical; it’s gotta be plumb in both directions, so it was a bit of a faff until the bottom plate was nailed down, the corner nailed off, and the free end braced. The third wall, you’ll notice, has been framed out for a large set of double doors. This will be the entrance to the shed. I’ve left its free end incomplete for now, because I’m waiting on a sliding glass door for the office section. Until that’s on site, I don’t want to build anything, just in case the rough opening isn’t quite as advertised. It would suck to have to modify a wall I only just built.

So the next step is to finish the walls. Once those are done, my brother and I can roll the trusses and finish the roof. That’ll be next month. Thanks for tuning in here. It’s pretty exciting!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fatherhood for the Clueless

Recently, at the Vineyard Men’s Retreat in Challis, I shared a little about my own dad. The guest speaker David Parker opened the mic on the final morning for testimonies and I jumped at the chance, because I felt a burden to share about my broken relationship with my dad. I believe there are plenty of men who, for one reason or another, are disconnected from their fathers, and I wanted to encourage other guys like me who have daddy issues.

As I said that morning from the stage, I’ve been trying my whole life to get my dad to engage, to show interest in my life, to be involved in what I do and in who I am. Sadly, he has never done that; not once. The only times we’ve been even semi-close or involved with each other have been when either I or my mom took the initiative or reached out. Ever since the divorce, he’s been passive, disengaged; he’s deferred to others—especially my step-mother. I realized the most painful part of it all only a few years ago—that in the process of destroying our family when I was two years old, he literally traded us in for something he wanted more. That’s been borne out by a great many bits of evidence, from how he does engage with my step-relatives to the fact that I haven’t received a phone call, email, letter, or even a card from him in the 5+ years since I decided to see how long it might take for him to notice me.

I share this not to bitch and moan. I share it only to illustrate that these patterns do not have to continue in my life, and especially not in the lives of my own two boys. I’ve made attempts to reconcile, don’t get me wrong. But at this point, it’s clear he just doesn’t want to be a dad or a grandfather to me or my brother and our families. I have moved past that. Now I focus on my own boys. So does my brother, with his own. We’ve had a great many conversations about this. One thing we decided upon was that it was a net good for us simply to be present in the lives of our boys. Sure, we mess up as dads from time to time. But we’re here. That’s the bare minimum, and we’re accomplishing that with gusto. I personally, and I know I can speak for my brother on this point as well, want more for me and my boys than just to be present.

I want to involve them in my life, and I want to be involved in theirs. Just last night, I was walking and praying and asking God to show me what to pray for in their lives for this next year or so. He showed me. He gave me specific things to pray for. I’m not going to share specifics here, because it’s none of your damn business, frankly, especially if you’re not family. But suffice it to say that what God led me to pray for in my boys is exactly what they need for this upcoming season of life, and it’s all blessing. I can’t wait to get started.

And if you’re like me, if you had to struggle through boyhood and manhood for years without much of an example, take heart. God uses that hunger to produce amazing and miraculous deeds of warrior fathering and genuine masculinity, not only in your life, but in the lives of your kiddos. Trust me, I know. My life is proof that God loves to use what everyone else thinks is useless and wasted and broken, and through grace, make it something magnificent. That’s what a man’s heart for his boys is. Magnificent.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Writing Shed, Part Two

I’ve had a lull in my brainiac works, so I’ve been able to get some work done on the writing shed.

I started off by disrobing part of my yard with a sod cutter. Once it was nude, I had to level the site, which I accomplished with a shovel and rake. I then located the first foundation stone. I used some cinder blocks I’ve had sitting around for a few years; they’re good enough for what I’m doing. I dug ‘em down a few inches and made sure they were tamped in well, and level.

Since I didn’t have a transit handy, I used the straightest reclaimed piece of 2x8 I had on hand to telegraph the elevation from the cornerstone to all the remaining foundation stones. I placed my four foot level on top of the 2x8 and voila: it’s a 12 foot level. Mind you, I wasn’t aiming to get each stone perfectly in position—just close enough to be able to shim the floor after it was built. The goal was to get all six stones roughly at the same elevation, within less than a quarter of an inch of each other relative to the cornerstone. The Egyptians would probably ridicule such lax tolerances, but this is good enough for who it’s for.

The next step involved the Pythagorean Theorem. In framing, we call it the 3-4-5 rule. Basically, in order to find the hypotenuse of a right triangle, pull measurements on each 90 degree leg that fulfill the 3-4-5 rule, like so: if one leg is 3 feet, and the leg 90 degrees from that is 4 feet, the hypotenuse (the side of the triangle that connects the two right angle legs) has to be 5 feet. If it’s not, you don’t have a right triangle, and your framing isn’t square. In my case, I pulled 6 feet on one side and 8 feet on the other, and moved those two legs until the diagonal (the hypotenuse) yielded 10 feet (notice that these are multiples of 3-4-5). I had to do this several times, confirming the placement of my foundation stones.

Once all the stones were reasonably situated (of course, one of them refused to cooperate, but that’s par for the course), I could begin building the frame. The reclaimed materials bundle that I have managed to procure came ready-made with a doubled-up 2x8 joist; perfect for the backbone of my floorplan. I cut it to length and began laying out the framing, nailing it together as I went. Now, lots of guys would probably tell you to use hangers, but I elected to save some scratch and toenail (drive nails in on an angle, one from each side) the floor joists together, gluing them after they’d been nailed. Cheaper and faster, and arguably just as strong. You’ll notice from the photos that using reclaimed lumber means putting up with random holes (drilled for electrical in the previous installation), but they don’t affect the strength.

My next step was insulating the floor, which was interesting. I used 24” wide batts and installed them upside down, so that the kraft paper faces the ground. Hopefully that will increase durability. I had to buy insulation supports, which are just lengths of steel stock that you wedge into the joist spaces that act as a spring and support the weight of the insulation. It’s lame and I hate it, but it’ll do.

After all that was done, I busted out the 3-4-5 rule again and made sure my framing was reasonably square. Sure enough, it had gone slightly trapezoidal, but I could easily rack the thing into shape using a length of 2x4 as a lever, prying against the ground and moving the corners back into square. Further fine tuning was accomplished by using the factory edges of my sheathing (the OSB floorboards) as a guide. It went pretty quickly once I got the first sheet lined up with the framing and nailed down. I used construction adhesive, gluing as I went along, lining up the sheathing and then nailing it down.

Now that the deck is done, I should be able to run electrical pretty soon. Since this big 12x12 deck is nice and level and flat, I’ll be building my trusses before I build the walls, and then setting them aside until I’m ready to build the roof. I need something like a huge workbench in order to fabricate those, and the shed floor fits the bill perfectly. The next installment in this series will chronicle that. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hot Wing Beans

“Wake up,” my wife said to me. It was just past 1 AM.

“Wha?” I asked. It was a legitimate question.

“You were laughing maniacally,” she said. I was glad that she didn’t add the word “again” to that sentence.

“Oh,” I said. “I had a bad dream.” It was true. I had been having a bad dream; one in which there is at least one unexplainable thing and at least one impossible goal. You know how those are. That’s what makes a dream go from vivid or just plain crazy to bad. In my case, I remember that it was crucial I get to the curtains and close them. But I just couldn’t do it, no matter how I tried. And then I began laughing maniacally, ostensibly to scare off the baddies. Or maybe I was the baddie.

It turns out I scared my wife awake. I felt a little bad, mind you. What spouse wants to be awakened by the love of their life in bed next to them, laughing like a super villain? It’s no bueno.

I don’t know if there is cause and effect in dreamland. There are the usual suspects when it comes to bad dreams, i.e. what- did- I- eat- last- night and all that. In my case that would have been the hot wing beans (2 cans of pinto beans, ½ cup of brown sugar, ½ cup of Frank’s Red Hot, and some bacon grease; simmer on low for an hour). But it just as easily could have been the Sleep Notes. The latest entry in that file reads, Someone fell thru the F, which means God knows what. Honestly, why do I bother? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m sure there’s potential there.

After my evil episode, in that unsettled mood that always follows the rude awakening, I fell back to sleep and dreamt in vivid Technicolor. It wasn’t bad, but it was borderline bad. I don’t remember details, but I do remember it was quite a ride. I’m having friends over for a barbeque today, and I might make the hot wing beans again, just to see if they’re the culprit. Maybe tonight, around 1 AM, the beans will fuel some federal grant money for dream research.

Probably though, they’ll fuel something else.