“I think Crabtown would look lovely in the autumn…” (Another furniture construction project)

For the first time in six years, we decided to put up the Christmas Village, one of my favorite decorations of the holiday season, but something I’ve had to keep squirreled away while the children were too young to be trusted around it.  But when we started contemplating putting up the village a couple weeks ago, we realized we didn’t have a good place to put it.  So we decided on the dining room wall next to our china hutch, but now we faced another problem — what to put it on?

So last weekend, with Finn’s help (mostly checking in on me and then doing his own thing nearby), I built a table to put the village on.  Here’s the play by play:

I started with two 2 x 4 x .75 boards for the table and border, and two 1 x 2 x 8 for the legs. I ripped both boards so they were 18″ wide, then cut the second one at 16″, so I could make a table surface that was 64″ wide and 18″ deep.  Then I ripped the remaining 6″ planks down the middle so I had 8 feet to use as 3″ border around the bottom.

Raw materials Cut lumber

I joined the two table-top pieces using four welding plates, then used corner brackets to attach the border.  The screws that came with the brackets were a little too long, so Finn and I took a second trip to the hardware store for a box of 5/8″ size 8 screws.  Then I added corner brackets along the sides of the border for stability.  The seam isn’t perfect, but since this table will be used with a tablecloth, good enough.

Border and joined plates joined side border

Next come the legs.  Using hinges, I fastened the legs to the table-top.  This way, when we’re not using the table, the legs can just swing into the table body for easy storage.  I drilled holes through the border and the leg, so when the leg is in standing position, a bolt goes through and held in place with a nut on the inside.  This keeps the legs from folding up while the table is standing.

Hinged legs hinged legs 2

Then I put the table in place.  I discovered that though I had intended to leave about 1″ on either end for wiggle room, I actually built something with only about 1/4″ clearance on either side.  YIKES.  If it had been any longer, I might have had to move the china hutch an inch over, which would have been a nightmare.  But it fit like a glove.

table in place Table with village

And so our village is out again.  And we discovered that we have NO room for expansion.  Looks like I’ll build another table for next year to put along the wall to the left of the current table.  Mwa ha ha.

village in place 2 village in place 1

See also: Project Book Shelf

Project Book Shelf

step7-finished2During my recharge week (May 21-25), I had lots of academic work to do, but I also wanted to do something that activated a different part of my mind.  At the same time, one of my big tasks was to clean my office, something I try to do two or three times each year, usually at the end of a semester.  Two forces had been leading me to accumulate a bunch of books on the floor of my office, in piles.  First, I had too many books. Second, When I would use a book at my desk, I would get up to get it, and then set it on the floor around me so I would have it handy if I needed again soon.  Then, when I was in a hurry and needed more room, I would move the pile to another spot on the floor and WHAMMO, I have a mess on my hands.

So as the start of my semester cleanup, I decided to build a bookshelf.  But I don’t have wall space in my office for another bookshelf, and that wouldn’t solve the pile problem.  Solution? Two sided rolling bookshelf.  Read the rundown and all the messy details after the jump.

Continue reading Project Book Shelf

I’m home, for reals!

In response to Clancy’s musings about checking in, I posted:

For some reason, when I was young, my mother instilled in me that you shouldn’t put your home address on your luggage tags, because some person working in the baggage department could see that you’re traveling and burgle your home while you’re away. So she always put her work address.

Fast-forward to social networking, and I hardly ever post “i’m here right now” kinds of posts for the shadow mom who haunts my nether brain, asking whether some friend of a friend is just waiting around the corner to come burgle my home.

Does anyone else find themselves haunted by these worries?

Highlights from Snowpocalypse 2011

  • Roughly five hours of shoveling over three or four days.
  • Did not lose power.
  • Did venture out for dinner Wednesday evening to the Duck Fat Tavern, pretty much the only place open Wednesday night.  Yummy Duckfat fries.
  • Confirmed that Finn does not like playing in the snow.  The one venture outside with him had him crying and clinging to Jenny.
  • Confirmed that Forest Park’s plowing crews are much more efficient than the city of Chicago’s.
  • Did not see people claiming ‘dibs‘ until a trip into the city proper on Saturday.   This place is weird.

We’re expecting three or four days above 35 degrees next week, so I think we’ll see most of this go away soon.

On Snitching

What if they were star-crossed lovers?
What if they were star-crossed lovers?

We live in an urban neighborhood, close enough to Chicago to ride the El (instead of the commuter trains).  It’s a great place to live but, like all dense spaces, crime is a bigger problem than in the country.  In the four years we’ve lived in our house, we’ve had one crime happen to us — someone broke into our garage.

But we’re wary, of course.  So the other night, as we’re getting ready to head for bed, we notice a car parked in front of our house with the headlights on.  That’s not so unusual — it could be someone waiting to give someone a ride or something.  But as we turn off lights and begin our bed-time routine, we notice the car still sitting there.  And sitting there.  And then we spot the glow of a cigarette (or something else smokable) through the window.

Now that’s a little creepy. I hate to think the worst of people, but I don’t really want somebody just sitting in a car in front of my house at 11pm.  Then we spot a second person in the car and divine that this isn’t a stakeout or a team casing our neighborhood.  It’s a date.  Because, let’s say, the moon rises.

Now I’m faced with mixed emotions — on the one hand, I’m relieved that the couple in the car is not planning to break into my house (probably: I guess they could be mixing business and pleasure).  On the other hand, I’m grossed out because they’re having sex in a car in front of my house.  Yuck.  We dithered a few minutes because:

  1. I really don’t have a problem, in the abstract, with people having sex in cars if they want to do that in a secluded place.  But if ever there’s a time to invoke NIMBY, er NIMFY….
  2. If what they were smoking turned out to be illegal, I don’t want them to do jail time, as I’m pretty strongly opposed to our current war on drugs and the punishment regime it perpetuates.  But if they’re going to smoke and then drive….
  3. I don’t know for sure that the sex in the car is consentual, though from the context we gleaned it probably was — we didn’t look too carefully, cuz you know, YUCK.

So I did call the non-emergency police number and reported a couple having sex in a car on our block.  I didn’t mention the smoking.  A police car pulled up behind them a couple minutes later and, as far as we could see without staring out the window (we were oscillating between prurient nosiness and prudish looking away), urged the couple, by his very presence, to move along.  And so they did.

I’m still not entirely sure about whether I wanted them to be menaced by the police, but ultimately it comes down to this: do I want our block to be a place people park their cars to have sex at night?  No, no I do not.


Parade at the Avenue

Lots of Halloween fun this year.  Here’s a rundown:

  • 17 Oct – Boo at the Zoo.  We’ve attended this Halloween zoo event every year since we had kids.  It was fun this year, but there wasn’t much in the way of surprises.
  • 28 Oct – Avery had a Halloween party at her school.
  • 29 Oct – Avery and Finn had a Halloween party at their daycare.
  • 30 Oct – Jenny had a swim meet to coach, so I took the kids to a short parade in Oak Park, where we paraded with 100 or so other kids two blocks and then trick-r-treated one block of businesses.  The perfect amount — Finn’s little legs were pretty tired by the end.  Then, after lunch and rest at home, I took the kids downtown to FrankenPlaza (Daley Plaza decked out for Halloween), which would have been better if we could have gotten somewhere near the stage to see the circus, but was okay anyhow.
  • 31 Oct – The usual ruckus, with trick-r-treaters, Jenny’s awesome pumpkin chili, and too much candy.  Did not watch The Walking Dead yet; TiVO’d it.

A few tidbits:

  • Finn was a Lion, obviously.  Avery’s costume was a little more homegrown.  We got the wings for her dress-up-chest last year, so those were already around, and she declared that she wanted to be a fairy.  Then we bought the skirt (reminiscent of the fairy skirts in Peter Pan.  She wanted to wear a halloween shirt and just happened to pick a purple one.  In refining the costume from its first incarnation at the zoo, we added the purple pants, the fedora, and the boa to make her “the Purple Fairy.”  I wanted her to be the fairy for the year 1999, but Jenny put the kibosh on that idea.  Sigh.
  • Biggest disappointment: the fog machine didn’t work.  This was bad enough, but I brought it inside after trick or treating was over to see if I could figure out what was wrong, and it worked.  It just didn’t work during the three hours out of the year that I actually wanted it to.  Sonofabitch.
  • Our house is adequately scary — several kids were afraid to come up the steps, probably b/c of the giant spider.  Mwa ha ha.  Three comments we got: “My sister and I go to [the parochial school up the street], and your house scares us every day when we walk home.” “Your house scared my brain cells out of my head!” And from the neighbor across the street: “That Mummy in your window really works — every now and again I’m changing my baby and I look out the window and get creeped out.”
  • Trick or treating with the kids was really fun.  I wore my knitted brain hat, but didn’t get one comment.  Sigh.

Also, an amusing story.  Last week, at my conference in Boston, I was chatting with a friend and had the following conversation:

Me: Do y’all decorate or do anything fun for Halloween?

Uncle Crusty: No, I usually forget to buy candy.  You?

Me: Yeah, we don’t go whole hog, but decorate a bit.  We put up some images in the windows that look like spiders and mummies, and we have some black lights on the porch and a light-up spiderweb in the window.

UC: Oh…

Me: And outside we have a light up pumpkin, a cool orange street light, and a small fence made of illuminated bones and hands along the sidewalk.  And there are a couple gravestones in our yard, and some light-up skulls.  And this year we bought a big spider and some webbing to go under the window.

UC: Wow.

Me: Oh yeah, and there are some light-up googly eyes in the bushes.

UC: What would “going whole hog” look like?

Census fails to save money or the planet

Junk mail image

So we got a notice from the US Census yesterday, a letter mailed in an envelope telling us that next week we’d be getting a census form and that it would be great if we’d fill it out. It could have been a postcard or, perchance, nothing and I still would have gotten the census stuff next week. I understand that some people don’t look at the census stuff, but I figure this letter won’t make much difference.

And to add fuel to the fire, we got a second letter for “apt 2” of our single-family, no apartment house. I guess we know how they were using the house in 2000.

image by Oran Viriyincy, used under CC license

Adventures in Cabinetry

So we spent three days over the weekend hanging cabinets in my sister-in-law’s condo.  Whew!  A couple highlights:

  • I learned how to unhook garbage disposals.
  • We discovered that there were no reliable lines — the floor had an uneven tile, the corners were not 90-degree angles, the walls bowed in and out because the builders used 24-inch studs instead of 16.
  • We attached the floor-standing pantry and three upper cabinets before discovering that we were supposed to leave a one-inch space between the wall and the pantry thingy.  We came up one inch short and had to move all the cabinets.
  • The three floor cabinets went in pretty well, with minimal fuss (though plenty of shims).
  • The opposite wall ended up being a real bear, as we discovered that it was a decorative wall with 24-inch studs.  But instead of wood, the builder used these weird metal studs that, to put it gently, SUCK.  We got two ground cabinets in and decided to hold off on hanging the wall ones until later.

On the plus side, I picked up a battery charger and my cordless drill is finally working again.  Cue Tim Allen rar-raar noise.

A little work around the house

The four projects I did as part of the “get stuff done cuz I have some free days” bonanza:

  1. Installed new lights in all three upstairs rooms. I bought a new light for my office about 2 years ago, and Jenny bought lights for the guest room and the “reading nook” a couple months ago.  I busted out the stepladder and installed them.  The reading nook one looked like crap so I unhooked it, returned it, and tried again.
  2. Installed my father-in-law’s television. My FIL laments that he never gets to watch football when he visits, since the living room television is always surrounded by kids and other people who don’t care.  So for Christmas, my Mother-in-law bought him a television and had it sent to our house.  I went into the crawlspace and wired the reading nook for cable, then set up the television.
  3. Installed my new eco-friendly shower head. I got for a nice massaging eco-friendly shower head for Christmas.  It’s installed.
  4. Put plastic on the upstairs windows.  Sure, I’m six weeks late, but better now than never, eh?  Now maybe I can stop wearing a stocking cap in my office.

Harvest time

Tomatoes 4

So we’ve been eating cherry tomatoes for a few weeks from the robust plants along the south side of our yard.  The last couple weeks, I’ve harvested 30 or so each week.  Today was the first time the big tomato plants were ready to harvest.  Here’s today’s crop.  I suspect I’ll bring this many in at least two or three more times yet.  Mmmmm, yummy.

Weekend Warrior-ing

The Fourth of July usually affords an extra day off, and thus my in-laws usually find time to come down to visit. Phil and I busted some medium-serious butt to get projects done. Here’s what we accomplished:
Cap that duct Front Porch New ceiling

  1. Most importantly, I noticed during one trip to the scrap wood pile in the cellar (the area under our back porch) that the heating/AC duct was not connected to the vent it fed in the floor of our back porch. Thus, we were cooling my cellar instead of my house. Since we prefer not to waste AC or Heat in the back porch anyhow, I removed the duct all the way back at the point where it attached to the central line, adding a cap and liberal amounts of duct tape (first image). The air pressure in the entire house got better. Dang, I wonder how much money I wasted heating and cooling that cellar.
  2. I had a little putter time, so I cleaned up the tool room quite a bit. I’d say it needs another 3 hours of puttering to be all excellent, but it’s nearly done.
  3. When he visited last week, Phil covered most of the floor of our front entry/porch using the remainder of the floor we bought for the kitchen last fall. He and I finished that up, replaced the threshold on the door, and added quarter round along the floor. Just one piece of floor left to slot in, which we’ll do in two weeks when he brings the table saw back from his place. We also added a new light fixture to match the table and chair Jenny found with her mom second image).
  4. Six months ago or so, I scavenged a Target composite bookshelf from the alley whose backing was falling off. I finally got around to nailing the backing on and carting it up to my office. I put it against the wall, cut a hole in the back to let the heat and AC through, and trimmed some shelves for the purpose. I just need to buy a couple of those shelf-hanging metal doohickeys and the pile of books on my office floor can have a home.
  5. Two and a half years ago, when we had all the plumbing replaced, a 27 foot strip of ceiling and the side of the duct channel was opened up and has remained that way in our basement, making my eyes sore every time we go down there. Well, not anymore! We added some struts to hold up the droopy edge of the ceiling, we added some finished plywood along the side, and we replaced the drop ceiling. It looks normal down there again! Of course, there’s one strip of ceiling tiles that are a brilliant white compared to the dingy years-old off-white of the rest of the ceiling (third image).

A few bullets in lieu of something thoughtful

TV Cabinet

  • The first week of online classes always feels anti-climactic.  Isn’t summer supposed to be about non-teaching projects?  But then the paychecks start arriving and I log back into Moodle with a smile.
  • Summer nerd project: file server and jukebox built in the shell of the old tv I found in the alley a while ago.  No more caches of mp3s on each puter in the house.  Central storage and rsync, baby!
  • Summer house project: paint and scrape.  After I put the cellar door back on.
  • Summer MPCA project:  Apply for 501c3 status.
  • Summer job project: Apply for tenure.
  • Summer writing project: Finish that prospectus.
  • I’m 5 months through the year and I’ve only read 5 books from the “read before I read anything else” pile on my night stand.  Books left before next December’s gift-a-thon replenishment? 12.  Sigh.

Everywhere you look…

Dear God, does that make me Bob Saget?
Dear God, does that make me Bob Saget?

So this year brings a number of changes, the most significant in my family life being that my sister-in-law Carrie and her husband Chris have come to stay with us for a while. Chris just finished his training as a youth minister and has taken a job here in the Chicagoland area, so we invited them to come stay for a while so they can save some money. It will likely take a little greasing of the wheels to get used to having two more adults and three cats in the house, but we’re excited to have them here.

On the Java front, Carrie brings with her a single-cup coffee maker with cool blue lights and a whole space shuttle’s worth of buttons. Now I don’t make my coffee in the morning, I Barista the shit out of it.

Weekend bullets

Avery turns 3
Avery turns 3
  • We had a couple gatherings over the weekend, one small event for Avery’s third birthday on Saturday, and one larger one, our “open house” event for Chicagoland friends. The first was fun, and the second was fun wrapped in chaos.
  • We’ve done a number of home improvement projects over the last year, including adding a new laminate floor to the kitchen, gutting and replacing the bathroom vanity, walls, and ceiling, and replacing the horrible water damaged wall in the hallway. Our realtor (aside: Firefox’s dictionary doesn’t recognize realtor), who has become a friend, came up to me and said, “I love what you guys have done, especially the bathroom. The vanity is wonderful and the colors are great. Now all you have to do is replace the tub.”
  • Avery has started playing imagination games and we had this conversation with her the other day:
    Avery: I’m Buzz Lightyear, mommy.
    Jenny: Who am I?
    Avery: You’re Superman, Mommy. And I’m Buzz Lightyear. Daddy’s Woody.
    Jenny: What about Finn? Who’s Finn?
    Avery: Um. Finn’s Woody.
    Jenny: What about Daddy? Who’s Daddy then.
    Avery: Zerg.
  • I also fixed a dangerous and ugly-looking workaround we’d made for wiring the dishwasher, since the guy installing it didn’t want to rewire a socket.  As I finished that project (which had been brewing for 18 months or so), I commented to Jenny that “It’s a good thing we have this party, or I’d never get anything done.”
  • I’m going to try and finish all my grading today.

Awesome moments in parenting

Nearly-three-year-olds are fascinating. Avery is hilarious and temperamental, cute and so energetic she seems likely to explode; she oscillates between these states with alarming rapidity. But we can’t get over how many amazingly cute moments we see daily.

Rakin on Halloween
Rakin' on Halloween

Here are a few from the past few weeks:

  • Avery spots a flattened raisins box in the parking lot at the library. “I throw that away. Where’s the garbage can?” Jenny points it out and Avery starts to run to it. Then she stops, tells herself to be careful in the parking lot, and walks the rest of the way.
  • She hugged Jenny and I yesterday and said, voice muffled because her face was mashed up against our thighs, “I love you, guys.”
  • She popped into the bathroom and stuck her head around the shower curtain to tell me, “Be quiet, Daddy. Finn sleeping.”
  • Jenny: “Avery, don’t stand in the dog food.”
    Brendan: “Now there’s a sentence you never expected to say.”
  • Upon eating the last piece of Halloween candy for dessert the other evening, Avery asked, “We go trick-or-treating tomorrow?”
  • She helped me reinstall a towel bar that fell down the other day.  As we finished and sat back to look at our work, she said “Good job, Daddy!  Nice!