November 2009

After the lumbar X-ray I had a couple months ago, my doctor thought it would be informative to have an MRI done on the same region.  It was certainly interesting.  I can remember when those devices were first invented and one of my job searches focused on getting into that industry so I was quite interested in the process itself.  The operator sensed my enthusiasm and gave me the tour while I was putting my pants back on. 

The MRI did little more than provide more of the same sort of information.  A disc is touching my sciatic nerve which I already knew.  I suppose the doctor now knows that there is nothing more serious going on but I was told that these things usually clear themselves up in time and I should take it easy.  I was hoping for something more useful – something I could actually take action on.  I have been told by several average, uninformed people that I should find a “good chiropractor” but some important details are left out of that advice.   That’s like saying that in order to improve your standard of living, you should get yourself a million dollars.  There are some intermediate steps left out.  The fact that chiropractors are sort of in the “quack” end of the medical professional community doesn’t help although the fact that this is a spinal issue and they focus on the spine may make it the right thing to do.  I guess I will have to look around and try to make a decision somehow.

It was memorable for two reasons at opposite ends of the emotional scale.  After Mel’s mother’s funeral, it was deemed imperative (which I agreed with) that the family carry on and have a Thanksgiving feast.  So we did.  After driving home with a trunk full of dirty laundry, Evan found himself having to spend one night and get back into a car and drive right back to Fayetteville for the feast but since he wasn’t driving or living in a dorm, he was fine with it.

We certainly crammed a lot into the past week or so – not something I recommend.  Since we find ourselves short by one car, we decided to petition to purchase grandma’s old car from the estate.  So the car situation has worked itself out although Erin would most certainly rather have grandma back than her car.  Mel brought home a huge grocery sack full of old cards and letters that had been saved and spent a good bit of time going through those.  A great deal of this sort of thing remains to be done and will be done in the coming months in getting the old house ready for sale.

On the positive side, we had the aforementioned feast at Mel’s brother’s place in the woods.  I love going to that place and always look forward to such occasions.  I made a short video of the day and posted it to youtube so that the rest of Mel’s family could watch and hopefully feel like they were there.  Evan spent lots of time doing homework.  He’s taking C++ and since I’ve been dabbling with software for about 30 years, I was pressed into service as tutor.  Strange how one can learn the concepts but still make the same dumb mistakes over and over as I was doing during tutoring.  This points to some basic flaw in the structure of the language but I don’t see enough of the big picture to know what that is.  We got our Christmas tree up and decorated the house with the kids’ help.  Evan and I raked up the yard and produced about 20 bags of leaves even after mulching.

All in all, we crammed in a lot of activity.  It helped that I had taken the three days before Thanksgiving as vacation.  I also managed to create another floor tile but this time it was made of oak to see how I liked that look.  Oak is a lot easier to get your hands on than walnut.

And through it all, I endured shooting pains from my back and down my leg. 

I guess the word for this year’s holiday is “bittersweet”.

I hope it’s not wrong to say that it was nice to see all of Mel’s family after her mom’s funeral.  We certainly finished out the day in the manner her mom would have had it:  with the house crammed with as many extended family as would fit in the door and with tons of high-carb home-made foods.  There may have been a salad somewhere but I did not see it.

All families really should get together like this at some time other than funerals.

Thankfully, the service had the desired effect on Erin.  She had been holding everything in; probably because of the performances in the play that she was responsible for but she finally let it all out at the service and seems to be getting back to normal.


Erin is doing Shakespeare this fall and it’s pretty fun.  I’ve always thought of attending Shakespeare plays as something of an affectation; something to get your dose of culture and get that over with or to be seen by others as cultured.  That’s why I don’t really go any more; I don’t enjoy it too much.

It’s different when your daughter is in the cast though.  This time it’s much more interesting to me.  The drama teacher has put some modern twists in it also to make it a bit more palatable to the expected audiences.  Michael Jackson music is a constant background to the production.  During the party scene where Romeo and Juliet meet the partygoers do the thriller dance which is quite fun to watch.

I’m amazed at how many people are interested in buying a wrecked car.  I had been worried about disposing of Erin’s car after the accident but should have known that this is America.  Put anything at all on craigslist and somebody out there will take it.  So, rather than pay some auto salvage yard to come tow it away, I got a small bit of money for it yesterday. 

All callers told me that they had a car like it with a bad engine and they intended to pull the engine out of mine and install it in their old one.  I admire people that can do that.  I admire all such forms of self-sufficiency and this is a pretty extreme one.  I would like to think that if I had the knowledge and skills to replace an engine in a car that I would shoot a bit higher than a ’96 Ford Escort but that’s just me.  I’d be building myself a Jaguar or Lexus or something.  Still, the principle is the same:  self-sufficiency is admirable and you can sell anything.

I don’t know why disasters seem to come in clusters like they do in my life.  But this fall has seen more than the usual share of problems.  But all of them pale in comparison to Melissa’s mother passing away early this morning.

She just never recovered from her heart surgery.  We can worry it to death and try to figure out what happened medically or we can just move on.  I can write at length about my latest woodworking project but with matters of this import I find myself without words.  I’m just trying to keep track of things at this point.

Luckily, I have been able to schedule a guy to fix our roof and also to sell Erin’s wrecked car and thus get those two nagging issues out of the way.  That is two fewer things for Mel to be concerned about.

So let’s see:  had to have the dog put to sleep, car wreck, and grandmother passing.  Thanksgiving could very well suck this year.

Some years ago, a teenaged girl rammed my pickup accidentally and did a good bit of damage but totaled her car.  She was extremely upset and scared; for my part I did not get mad or impatient.  I figured it was the right thing to do – no point in getting grumpy after the fact and would only make her cry.  I don’t believe in karma; I just figured that it’s the right thing to do overall.

I can see how the idea of karma came about though:  when Erin got rammed last night up in Tulsa, one of the other drivers was as polite to her when she was scared as I was in my accident.  And the cop too.  All the same, I’d rather it hadn’t happened.

I guess everyone has their first car accident.  It was dark and rainy and was up in one of those parts of town where the intersections are death traps with many lanes,  many traffic lights, and lots of traffic.  I always hate it when her church small group leader (who lives up there) has events at her house after sunset.  Anyway, Erin turned when she shouldn’t have turned and got rammed in the front of her car which pushed her into yet a third car.  Only the driver of the minimally damaged third car was rude and that only until the police officer suggested she go sit in her car and keep quiet.  Luckily, Erin got a policewoman who was not only nice but cute as well – much less intimidating than the usual big-guy-with-a-gun type. 

I’m afraid that the old ’96 Escort that served Evan and Erin so well is a goner.  It doesn’t appear to have all that much damage but when the car is only worth about $1000 to begin with, it doesn’t take much more than a bad fender-bender to total it.  We only had liability on it anyway.

I am certainly glad that nobody was hurt – especially Erin.  But other than that, it’s a bummer.  She’s going to learn what “liability only” insurance means and she’s gonna be walking for awhile.

It’s that time of year when we enjoy the last of the nice fall foliage and take a deep breath before the holiday activities begin.  This past weekend, Erin was gone and Melissa was back.

Mel had been in Fort Smith for the latter half of last week to stay with her mom in the hospital who is improving but is only improving extremely slowly.  We are told that for an 82 year old, we can expect a slow recovery.  Slow recoveries always make adults wonder and worry about the expense of it all but she is recovering and everyone is happy about that.

The experience left Mel tired and so we spent the weekend relaxing around the house.

Erin is at some state convention for student council kids in Norman so she was out of the mix.  That left us with nothing to do but watch movies and putter around.  Or rake leaves.   This was something that needed to be done and which I thought about but did not do.  They will most certainly be there for the foreseeable future.

I finished up a phase of my parquet tile project and cleaned up the garage from that – hundreds of small bits went into the trash can.  Basically I had used up all the walnut that I had.  Much sawdust was vacuumed up.  I’d like this to eventually result in an improvement to the house but it has been such fun that it was worth doing as an end in itself.  Two sticks of firewood and a couple of random scraps yielded three 14 inch floor tiles and one 10 inch.  That’s roughly two square feet of tile per firewood chunk which were approximately four inches square (once the sapwood was cut off) and about 14 inches long.  Seems worthwhile to me.  The only problem I can foresee is that firewood may or may not be dry on the inside and wood that has not dried will usually warp when it does so.

I got an invitation in the mail to join AARP which is actually several months early for me.  This was not something I was thrilled to get but which everyone around me found hilarious.  My facebook entry lit up with comments which of course is why I put it there.  I like to generate comments; that’s the whole point of it in fact.  Otherwise, it would just be a blog like this.  But I don’t intend to join quite yet.

New Tile Pattern

Originally uploaded by gregwest98

A more complex pattern with the super-shiny pour-on epoxy finish. The whole thing is like a solid block of plastic now.

I know, I know.  Get a life and all that.  But these things are looking really good and deserve to be addressed because as I said before:  free hardwood flooring.

Yesterday, I took my two prototypes over to my friend’s house (garage actually) who has a thickness sander.  This machine took out all the changes in elevation and got rid of my silly angle grinder mistakes and produced a perfectly smooth, flat surface on both.  He even gave me a couple of bottles of clear epoxy finish that he was not going to use.  This is the stuff you usually only see on bars and/or the tables in Mexican restaurants with coins and stuff embedded in the surface. 

I took them home and proceeded immediately to mix up some of the epoxy stuff.  This is a strange material that is very viscous like honey but has a high surface tension and will seep into any crack now matter how small.  It both fills the crack and locks the whole thing together into a solid mass.  Like most things, the process is fundamentally simple but there are a hundred little things that you need to be aware of that can bite you.  This inexorable crack seepage is a double-edged sword.  It fills the cracks, yes, but it can also flow under the whole thing and stick it to your workbench.  Luckily this occurred to me in time to rescue everything and I hurriedly arranged for a pedestal to sit things on so that the excess ran off the side and puddle on a piece of paper that I also hurriedly arranged. 

Also, when bubbles form, you can pop them easily with the flame from a blowtorch held well above the surface.  This is satisfying on several levels.  You get rid of an imperfection and get to play with a blowtorch at the same time. 

This crack seepage also means that you end up with little depressions where the epoxy flowed into the crack but hardened before the rest could flow in to the gap and make the surface level.  Still, one can hardly complain.  This is easily remedied by a second coat and the process has the advantage of getting a beautiful finish in place in one step.  Two steps I guess when you add the leveling coat. 

If I were to do it again, I would apply a very thin coat first with a brush and let all this seepage occur and plug all the leaks in the process.  Then I would pour the top coat on.  It would still be a two step process but would not involve any sanding.  That’s always a plus.  I find sanding to be a very unrewarding process.  It helped when I bought a random orbit sander with easily replaceable disks which I replace often.   

Amongst woodworkers, this thick, ultra glossy type finish is looked down upon.  It’s considered the equivalent of too much makeup.  Purists say that if you want your woodworking projects to look like they are incased in plastic, just use fake wood to begin with.  But this really does accentuate the grain. 

These things look like museum pieces when they get done.  I might just frame one and hang it on the wall.  I can’t get over how beautiful they are. 

In the end, I’m not sure I can lay my hands on enough of this stuff to actually make an entire floor – at least not out of walnut.  It would be pretty easy to lay my hands on enough oak though.  I’m sure I could raid the woodpiles of all my friends and neighbors for a few sticks each and get enough for the job.  But there is also a precision that is required that I haven’t quite worked out yet.  Each of these, to make an entire floor, must be absolutely the same size; otherwise, the tiles would not all line up and the eye would go to those imperfections immediately and be a source of annoyance forever.  I think that by building myself another jig for the table saw, I could solve this problem.  It’s not important that they be any particular size – only that they all be exactly the same size.  I suppose I could also just take all of the tiles and run them through the table saw after they are assembled and take off a tiny bit from each edge – that would force the consistency.  The only design issue to be worked out is to avoid having any teeny tiny pieces that have to be cut since it is a dangerous business to do such things on a table saw and to cut tiny pieces by hand would be only slightly faster than weaving chain maille.  I’ve done that too but would prefer a more expedient approach. 

I also looked into the issue of whether you can glue these things down directly to concrete slabs and the answer is yes if you buy the proper adhesive.  This is a fairly recent innovation so I’m lucky there.  The stuff is pretty expensive but will allow the job to be done easily.  Then there is the issue of how to break up the existing floor and get the concrete smooth.  Perhaps you don’t do that at all, you just trowel a thick layer of adhesive right over the old uneven mortar that was used on the old tiles.  I’ll have to answer this positively before doing anything else.

I’m a gnat’s eyelash away from being able to produce an intricately designed hardwood floor for my entryway.  I’m talking about an intricacy and elegance that you might find in the palace of Versailles.  And all at very little cost – only labor.  That’s pretty exciting.