September 2008

My request for a weekend NOT filled with trips to WalMart and grass-mowing ended in a good compromise.  Since the two items mentioned are actually necessary, we got up and began them early on Saturday and so got them out of the way.  This left the weekend free for possibilities.

Mel actually likes to go grocery shopping on Saturday afternoon when the rest of Broken Arrow is there because she gets to see lots of people she knows.  I chose to go early and adopt the Dale Earnhart philosophy and race about the store to get through it as soon as possible.  I thought of the late #3 and his practice of intimidation by bumping at one point when an elderly woman had her cart stalled on the left of the aisle and was reaching across the aisle to the other side.  I thought briefly of my former navy coworkers who at one point in the submarine careers might have yelled “Hey! Make a hole!” but I kept silent.  I went around.

Erin wanted desperately to fill the entire day with activity in the form of us driving her everywhere but I staunchly refused.  That’s not fun for anybody but her.  Instead, we went up to the Gilcrease Museum to see the traveling exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs.  I have been a big fan of Adams since the early 80’s and have most of his books on my shelves but I have never seen an actual print made by his hands.  Now I have.  Most of them were printed more darkly than I would have expected but that certainly did not take anything away from their impact.  I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.  I should invest in a membership there because there’s always something interesting being shown up there.

I also managed to find some time to work on my workbench.  I finally had to bite the bullet and wrestle the top off of my bench and flip it over to get at the bottom and mount my vise.  After much sweating and the purchase of a special (very large diameter) drill bit, I managed to get the thing back together and it is a sight to behold.  I’m quite happy with it – scratch that item off the list.

I also got so restless at work Friday afternoon that I just up and took the afternoon off and used that time to drop off a broken router at the PorterCable factory repair center.  I’ve been putting this off since last January.  Unfortunately the wait meant an increase of $40 in the repair cost but you can’t have everything.

Finally, I put a new mobile base onto my tablesaw.  The old one was one that I had built and was not up to the task.  The saw pretty much crushed it and it was no longer mobile.  The new one is much nicer and I hope it holds the saw up.  It’s near the weight limit so we’ll see.  I would have bought a bigger one but that’s all the store had.

All in all it was a very satisfying weekend.  It’s time to move on to another building project.

I forgot to document what we did weekend before last.  Heaven knows that years from now, that information will be vital.  The 22nd century equivalent of Garrison Keillor will be narrating it on a PBS documentary someday as yellowed photos pan by on the screen.  Hope springs eternal.

Since Evan is off to college, and last weekend Erin was off on a retreat with the church, Mel decided to visit her mom in Fort Smith.  Her mom is quite sharp and in good shape for a woman in her 80’s but she gets bored with all that spare time on her hands so she appreciates a visit.  We didn’t actually do much beside visit a new nature center but it was a pleasant way to relax for the weekend.

Actually we did go out to the former Fort Chaffee to seek out a nascent museum which attempts to chronicle Elvis Presley’s first haircut as he joined the Army.  Apparently that is Fort Chaffee’s claim to faim: Elvis was there once. We found the building with it’s four barber chairs and many large photos of Elvis sitting on one of them but even though the door was unlocked, the lights were on, and the visitor’s register was out, the alarm had not been deactivated and we set it off.  The ensuing whooping made it impossible to enjoy the experience so we left.  No emergency vehicles were seen so I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal.

We had gotten “the call” from Evan that previous Thursday.  That would be the call that all parents get about one month into a child’s first semester at college.  The call that goes: “I don’t think I can handle this, I want to [fill in the big change]”.  The big change is to change the major, change the school, come home, etc.  This is usually precipitated by the first round of exams and when we checked with all our friends around town, we found that they had all gotten this call from their new freshmen.  We invited Evan to drive the hour down to Fort Smith and have dinner with us to ease his mind.  It turns out that he was battling a pretty severe head cold which partially accounted for his attitude.  He also needed a trip to WalMart for various things and so after a few hours with us and his grandma and after about $100 spent on him, he felt remarkably better.  Good enough in fact to return and face those tests.

And so the weekend passed with merely a ripple on the calm waters.  Meanwhile the news was full of dire warnings about our collapsing economy.  It was an interesting contrast. I’m not sure what to make of it.

Today I find that my nose isn’t running, my nose isn’t bleeding, I’m not coughing, I’m not stuffed up, and I have no sinus headache.  I haven’t felt this all together since the ragweeds started blooming back around labor day. I hope to feel this good all day long since it’s been a rare thing lately.  I look forward to the first frost which will kill these weeds after which I can stop the meds which always make me feel slightly less than perfect.  They are better than they used to be and I don’t feel drugged and sleepy but they do give me a general case of the mubblefubbles.  My creativity is lost when I take those allergy meds for any length of time.

I have to mow the lawn tomorrow; that will probably stir things up all over again.

It seems that every Saturday and Sunday is spent doing maintenance on our lives like shopping for groceries and mowing the lawn.  And, of course, driving Erin everywhere in her unending quest to be socializing every moment.

My goal for this weekend is to do something fun like go to one of the museums.  Perhaps get into the garage and finish installing my vise so that I can get on to some other projects.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently that I’ve been trying to mount a new vise on my workbench.  The reason for the delay is that I did such a good job in building the old vise into the bench that I haven’t been able to get it off without destroying the entire benchtop.

Kind of a good new, bad news thing.

I’m almost there – at least I have a way forward.  It would have been faster to scrap the entire top and start anew but I figured it would be easy and by now, it’s just as well that I finish it out as it lays.  I’m actually a bit proud fo the work I did the first time around since it has held up to my attempts at peacefully dissassembling it.

I’ve told this story before but I don’t think it’s here in this blog.  It’s probably worth storing somewhere. This one comes from my graduate school days and is the story of what it’s like to be a minority among minorities.


I got the lovely opportunity to work for 14 hours straight on Friday and, in the process, miss the football game.  But it’s all good; I’m not complaining.  It was not unpleasant, we ordered pizza around dinnertime, and much important work was accomplished.  There were many of us involved and things ended well. But the weather was not so nice.

Saturday dawned with hurricane Ike making a mess out of Galveston and our weather was pretty wet also.  It amazed me how fast the hurricane made its way up here to dump rain on us.  It was miserably humid and warm. 

Saturday night, I got to attend the wedding of a friend and coworker.  This was lots of fun; I like weddings when I’m not involved.  I get to enjoy everything without the hassle of worrying about whether things are going as they should.  Weddings never go perfectly and yet nobody ever notices the minor glitches that cause so much stress.  This one appeared to go perfectly but I’m sure the bride noticed a few minor things.  But after it was over, everyone seemed to feel fine about it.  The only negative that I was aware of was all the rain that fell during the event.  We danced, had some fancy finger food, and generally had a good time and when it was over, the wind had kicked up and the rain began to drive sideways and so we went home soaked from the waist down which is all the umbrella could shield as we went to the car. 

I thought for sure that all that bad weather would give us a chance to “worship from home” as we say when we ditch church but no; the weather dawned cool, clear, and beautiful so off we went.  We got home, had a brief nap, I made Erin mow the lawn, I attempted to get my new vise mounted, and then went out to dinner with the in-laws.  It was a very nice weekend indeed.  Today is a picture postcard of blue skies.  I look forward to walking the dog after dinner.

…in the rain.

Erin seems to have begun a relationship with another boy – this one is from the town just south of here.  Their football games are on Thursday nights – at least this one is.  She wanted to go.

This would be a good time to mention that it is raining tonight.  I don’t even want to go to a high school football game in another time when it is NOT raining; I’ll be darned if I will go when it is raining.  So I stayed home and Mel took her and a friend.

I have gotten several text messages relating to how much time is left and whether it is raining at the time or not.  I hope they don’t come home with the sniffles.

As I was working away on my house recently, I began to wonder several things.  Why is my house built the way it is? My mind does this often; when I’m engaged in something that requires no thought, the brain goes off on its own.  If no thought is required, the brain goes on thinking anyway and will go in some interesting directions. Interestingly enough, there’s a New York Times article about this very thing.

I noticed as I pulled off the trim that my house is made with cedar siding.  I know a bit about wood and cedar is certainly nothing I would choose to side a house with if I were given the choice. It is weak and porous and splits easily.  Add to that the fact that paint does not adhere well to it. From a purely engineering standpoint, it is a poor choice.  It does have the advantage of having a scent that is pleasant and which keeps insects away but that’s about it.

The surface of it was rough as if it had just come from the mill without having first been through a planer to smooth it.  But again, I’m familiar with wood and that roughness was not due to saw marks.  It was artificially roughened.  So at some point, a mill cut the wood and then went to the extra effort of sending it through a special machine to make it look rustic.  Rather than just leaving it rough from the saw, it was sent through a special process after that.  This seems incredibly silly to me.

But whoever built the house wanted it to look that way.  They wanted a sort of rustic look.  There are a huge number of homes built in my area that date from the late 70’s and just about all of them look this way.  But why? Why did everyone in the mid-to-late 70’s want such a rustic look?  As I worked, my mind began to hypothesize a series of events that may have led to this.

I’ll bet it goes back to the Great Depression.  Both my grandfathers were builders back then and my Dad told me how things were built back then and they did not use rough timbers.  But during the depression, the government created lots of work projects to stimulate the economy and get people back to work.  They build lots of things like parks and the associated buildings: cabins and such.  Being the government, I’ll bet they tried to get by as cheaply as possible and since they were building cabins in the woods, they probably figured that rough timber would be not only cheap but appropriate.

Maybe the outlook began to shift back then to the point that by the mid 1970s, everyone thought this was the way things ought to look. And they started to make artificially roughened things.


Maybe I should just keep hammering and focus more on getting my house fixed up.

One way or another, my house looks like one of the many ranch style monstrosities from the 70’s and I wish it looked different. One thing I can do is sell and buy something better.  As soon as Erin is out of high school, we’ll start looking.  Should be paid for by then.

Wooden Gears

Originally uploaded by gregwest98

Here is the result of a project I mentioned two weeks ago. We made these on a computer-controlled router that my friend has. He normally uses it in his small business to make guitars with but just for that day, we made some gears. I have in mind a larger, long term project to build a marble maze and these will be used to lift the marbles from the bottom to the top. Not practical in any way but pretty cool. It should be fun to play with some day.

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