We decided to get a bit more aggressive with the redecoration and renovation (kind of a hybrid of the two actually).  I got home one day and Mel had decided to move all the stuff out of Evan’s old room and scrape the popcorn off the ceiling.  So that project was born all of a sudden.

Together, we worked on it and finished on Saturday.  I re-floated the ceiling, the walls got painted (closet too!), the photo-mural got taken down, trim all painted, ceiling fan replaced, and carpet cleaned.  It’s like new now.

I moved the furniture back in although I’m working on a queen-sized bed and so it will eventually get all redone again.

I guess we’ll redo the main hallway next along with the guest bathroom ceiling.  I don’t look forward to doing the master bedroom and bath.

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That attic cleanout completed successfully.  I even went so far as to drag the shopvac up there and vacuum up all the dust and splinters which has probably been there since the house was built.

We took many loads to Goodwill, threw out even more than that, and took 214 pounds of paper to a shredding company.

It’s super-clean now.  Feels good to have that done.

Something about the fact that Evan is on his own now and Erin is in school (but very much mentally on her own) makes us both think that it’s time to clear out the junk. Our house has accumulated about 20 years of detritus that we either thought we might use eventually or were too busy being parents to go through.

That time has come. We have resolved to empty the attic and touch everything in it and decide if it stays or goes. We will adopt a kind of “guilty until proven innocent” attitude and decide that it will be thrown out unless we can come up with a really good reason to keep it.
I got down every box of old paperwork this past weekend and we started going through it and have generated five garbage bags of trash so far.

We’re off to a good start. But it’s gonna take forever.

This fall, I decided that it was time to stop reading up on things and start doing things.  My completion of that constant travel down to Texas, Evan’s full time job, and Erin’s full-time student-ship means that I now can make the spare time to do whatever I had previously been dreaming of.  Since that time I have, in no particular order, done all of the following:
1)    Scraped the popcorn off the kitchen ceiling.
2)    Re-skimmed it.
3)    Put in recessed lighting.
4)    Bought under-cabinet lighting.
5)    Scraped, skimmed, and painted the laundry room and hallway ceilings.
6)    Cut a set of Catan pieces on the FabLab laser cutter.
7)    Made a second set of those as a gift.
8)    Made a wooden box for the above.
9)    Made a laser-cut shape sorting box as a toy-making experiment.
10)    Bought and assembled a Stirling engine.
11)    Made a laser-cut dust cover for it.
12)    Designed some laser-cut Christmas ornaments.
13)    Also drew up the gears and other pieces for another orrery.
14)    Bought the rough cherry lumber for a queen sized bed that will go into Evan’s old room.
15)    Completed a chip separator for my shop vac to make any further woodworking easier to clean up after.
16)    Aquired several miscellaneous woodworking tools and learned to sharpen all my edged tools.
Things are moving along nicely.

Mel is mentally gearing up to start a new job and wanted to take one more little short getaway before she goes into a situation where she has no time off for the foreseeable future.  So we went to Branson.
If you can’t think of anything to do, you can always go to Branson or (if you’re addicted to losing your money) Las Vegas.  I wasn’t terribly enthused about it but that’s because I have no vision.  We actually had a very good time.
Mel found a nice place called “Still Waters” resort where we could have spent all our time without ever leaving the property.  But the package came with tickets to both Dixie Stampede and Silver Dollar City so we actually spent very little time at the resort.
I have been to Silver Dollar City many times; mostly as a kid.  My enthusiasm for it was at a low ebb since all my memories were of running from one scary ride to another (both when I was a kid and with my own kids).  I’m done with rides – I just don’t care any more.  They don’t interest me at all.  But a coworker mentioned that there is a lot to do there that doesn’t involved riding anything.  I had forgotten about all the craftsmen.  And, as it turned out, it was the “Harvest Festival” during which they bring in even more craftspeople for you to watch.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I got to watch and talk to three blacksmiths, three woodcarvers, and a guy who took trees and made them into square beams for building houses.  Not sure what that guy’s description is.  There was also a guy there with a strange little sugar-cane-squeezing mill turned by a mule walking in a circle which was good for a few minutes of entertainment.  The day passed very quickly.
We also went to the Titanic Museum which was pretty fun as well.
When it came time to return home we decided to go home another way.  I had read a couple of years ago about the Ozark Medieval Fortress, a castle under construction using medieval-period techniques but I should have done my homework: they are closed – probably forever due to lack of funds.  We drove up to the entrance but two trees were barricading the road.
I quickly reset the GPS to take me to Eureka Springs.  We made it there in time for lunch and then strolled around a bit until our parking meter ran out of time.  Then I called the number for Old Street Tool; two guys who make wooden handplanes for use in making moldings the old fashioned way.  They don’t really have a storefront; just a shop in the basement of Larry’s home.  They apparently feel that if anybody is interested enough to seek them out, then they probably will enjoy talking to them so he invited me over.  He even volunteered to come downtown and lead me over to his house.  I managed to find it by myself but not without calling him a second time to make sure I was headed down the right track.
It was really fun chatting with a master on the subject of his mastery and I would have paid money for the time I spent with them but they gave me their time freely.  I even got a bit of tutoring on proper technique.
So after littering their floor with shavings, we then headed out – back towards highway 412 which leads homeward.  We got back at 6:30 and Erin arrived soon afterwards for her fall break.  It was a pleasant way to spend a few days.

I haven’t updated anything since the Fourth of July holiday.  This is getting to be typical behavior now that Facebook is so easy to use from my phone.  And twitter.  But I must keep this up – it’s at least readable later.

After the fourth, things got hot.  There was a period in there where the temperatures soared above 100 (up to 114 at times) for many days.  We stayed inside for the most part where I could mess about in the garage now that it is air conditioned.

I also decided to finally tackle a nagging home improvement project: the popcorn on the ceilings.  People hate that stuff nowadays which is unfortunate since it is so common.  But since we’re trying to complete the kitchen, it made sense to do the ceiling first and work my way down to the flooring.  I took down the old fluorescent fixture and scraped the popcorn off the ceiling.  That was a huge effort and a huge mess but not complicated.  Only then did I order an asbestos test kit and have the stuff analyzed.  Luckily, my house is not one of those that used the asbestos popcorn so I’m good.

I tried valiantly to redo the surface of the ceiling to make it smooth but that sort of thing is a skill that is acquired only after much practice and I never really got it perfect although it looked pretty good.  To complete things (and hide the minor imperfections) I bought some spray-on stuff that you knock down with a trowel.  It gave the surface enough of a random texture to avoid calling attention to the imperfections but not the dust-catching monstrosity of popcorn.  It looks pretty good.

We also decided to replace all the lighting and so bought a bunch of recessed cans which I mounted in the ceiling.  They went in easily but wiring them up was a huge job which was a bad idea to schedule in the hottest part of the summer since it involved getting up into the attic.  Paul came over to help and he ended up doing most of the work since he works outside every day and was more used to the heat.  We wired up the kitchen half of the room and left the dining room half for later in the fall.  So the kitchen now has a new ceiling surface and new lighting.  I also ordered some LED-based lights for under the cabinets.

Next: new counter tops followed by new flooring.

But that will have to wait for awhile to keep the costs spread out.

In the meantime, I also scraped the ceiling of the laundry room which is tiny; barely a closet really.  I managed to refloat that surface with joint compound very well and it looks actually like a real plasterer did it.  It would pass for smooth although I will lightly texture it like the kitchen just to keep things consistent.
I guess I’ll just keep going with this until the whole house is done.  Gonna take a long time.

I replaced my back fence a couple of years ago but I didn’t replace all the fenceposts; most of them were still there and seemed OK. Only a very few were rotted off at the ground. Since that time, a couple more have broken as well as one section that had come loose during a storm. This reminded me of all the little things you learn when you actually do something that are never covered in the books that describe how to do things. It doesn’t matter how much detail a book goes into; that only gets you so far so here are all the things that I learned:

1) You will eventually drop the drill bit you are using. It will vanish into the grass never to be seen again. Since you were just using it, it follows that you will need it again and since it is now missing, you will have to go buy another one.
2) Your drill battery will die mid-way through the job. Plan on this so you can take a break and perhaps go to the hardware store and buy a new drill bit.
3) It’s not so much the air temperature as the sun beating down on you that kills you. Shade is wonderful.
4) When you are cutting wood at eye level or above your head, the breeze will blow just so that the sawdust will drift into your face and eyes. Later when you go inside to shower, you will find sawdust in the bottoms of your pants pockets.
5) Firemen are busy people. There is a fire/ambulance station near my house and as I stood outside for about six hours, I heard a siren at least four times.

This job was fairly straightforward but that doesn’t mean that it will go easily or quickly. In particular, when a fence post has rotted away, you have to either dig out the old concrete lump or just move over a foot or so and dig a new post hole. Having done both at one time or another, I recommend the latter. However you will then be in a position (so to speak) where your rails will meet up at the wrong place. You will therefore have to patch them together with something. That part is easy if you have any wood around at all so I will gloss over that.

I started digging a post hole but not until I had cleared away a lot of vines and stuff from the other side of the fence. A great many people will move into a house and plant stuff right up next to the fence so that when you need to replace the fence or get to it for any reason, you have to fight with a lot of random plant material which has built up because things were planted so close to the fence that nobody could ever get back there to clear things away. That also contributes to rotting. All up and down the fenceline I saw bushes planted no more than two inches away from the fence that were now pushing on it and providing a place for debris to collect rot-inducing moisture.

By this time I was pretty tired from patching another section as well as the ‘gardening’. About eight inches down I hit a layer of what people around here call “hard pan”; a layer of tightly packed clay that is just slightly less hard than sandstone. It does not “clang” when the post-hole digger hits it but otherwise feels just like hitting rock when the shock is transmitted through the handles to your arms. I dug away at it with whatever I could lay my hands on; first a crowbar which was no good. I also tried sharpening the post-hole digger blades with an angle grinder. That is always fun since it generates a shower of sparks but although that helped, it was not enough.

I sat down in the shade to drink some water and think about the problem. As I did I felt a pain in my leg from where my knife had opened up in my pocket and was now stabbing me. I guess I’m glad that I never sharpen that particular knife. It is one of those “assisted opening” type so that you can use it with one hand when the other hand is occupied. Not a switchblade since you have to exert some force to open it – just assisted. It has a safety lock which I had put on but somehow the safety had been turned off and the latch pressed in my pocket by the car keys. Note to self: you don’t need car keys to work in the yard.

It then hit me that I had recently bought a nice set of auger bits. I therefore had my old ones lying around with nothing to do – I had tried to sharpen them before (and had succeeded with some of them) but they were an odd collection of sizes so I had bought new ones. One of them was about an inch in diameter and I could never get it sharp so it hit me that it would still probably bore through clay. It had the old tapered shank but I got it into my drill chuck enough so that it would turn and started boring. It actually worked pretty well; I drilled a series of holes in the hard pan until it was deep enough that I couldn’t get the drill any further. I could then use the post-hole digger to get the loose dirt out. The auger which had previously been blackened by age was now shiny.

It still wasn’t deep enough but that’s all I had. I needed to get it about another four inches deeper but did not have the energy or the tooling to do that so I gave up and put a post into it and concreted it in. I’m a scientist by trade so I’m pretty out of shape – I can only do so much of this so I went in and that was that. I got up Sunday morning and hung the panels back up.

During all this, I discovered that the post next to this one is rotted too. So now I have to do this all over again.
I did have an opportunity to use only my recently acquired-or-refurbished hand tools. Except for the cordless drill that is – I’m never giving that up. I was out early to beat the heat and my wife rightly would like me to avoid waking the neighbors with a power saw so I used my hand saw to cut all the wood that needed to be cut. This worked out great – it’s slower than using a circular saw but not that much slower and the cuts are not much rougher (now that the saw is sharp and properly set) and it was pretty fun. Also quieter which is a big plus in my mind – I’ve never liked loud noises. It’s nice to be able to listen to the sounds all around and there is a lot to listen to besides barking dogs. I heard something that sounded like a duck quacking which I could never identify; other than that, I enjoyed the sounds of nature without having to don ear protection.

Now my upper body is sore – particularly my hands. Time to recover and go at it again since my final lesson learned is that I (and probably everybody else in the world) really need to get outside and be more active. It is silly that digging one post hole would make me so tired. I need to get outside regularly and do something – perhaps set about amending the soil and planting some things that might eventually break up that hard pan.