Monthly Archives: October 2009

Check out my pipes!

We’ve been involved in a years-long home remodel…basically since we moved in to the old money-pit, we’ve been fixing something.  We demolished the office and bathroom in the lower level.  When we did that, we found water issues and that’s really sort of what started our whole foundation project.  So, the foundation is done and working well.  I am pretty much out of excuses so I am back to working on the home project.

Our house was built in 1939.  I think that was before they invented cold because there is absolutely no insulation in our house.  Well, there was no insulation until I started another project earlier in the year.  Still, a too-large portion of our house is uninsulated.  As a part of the lower-level basement and office construction, we are studding out new walls from the existing masonry walls that work as huge temperature conductors presently.  In order to re-stud the walls, I had to move a bit of the bathroom plumbing.  Sweating copper is not too big of a deal, so I cut off the water using one of the many shut-offs we are fortunate enough to have in the water lines.

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(The Egyptians used similar valves in the pyramids!  This old one’s a leaker!)

So, the clues start rolling in as soon as we try to turn off the water.  First of all, the valve had hieroglyphics written on it.  As I turned it, I could hear the old washer inside grinding away.  The water would not completely cut off of course.  It just kept on dripping…not full blast, but dripping.  I was left with no alternative but to cut off the water to the whole house.  That valve is new and worked!  So, I turned off all the water and started cutting out the old pipe so I could hook up the new pipes around the studded out walls.  (jump ahead…once I got everything hooked up, I turned the water back on and the  old valve started leaking out the top…the washers inside had disintegrated indeed….that project will be next on the list!)

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(This pipe is insanely thick!)

Cutting copper pipe is no big deal at all with a handy pipe cutting tool.  They’re cheap and easy and work so well…unless you have ancient pipe.  They made serious pipe “back then” apparently.  My cutter’s blade was not able to cut the full depth of the old pipe.  I got a good groove cut into the old pipe, but had to finish it off with a hacksaw.  Luckily I had room to work!  At first, I wondered if the pipe was in fact copper.  It looks like copper.  It was definitely not steel or iron.  Maybe it was brass but I can’t imagine brass pipes…not as much as I have in my house.

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(This is normal pipe)

Anyhow, I got the old pipe out and the new installed.  I decided to sweat the bulk of the pipe outside away from the dry wood that makes up the interior of my house.  A good plumber might not burn my house down but I had no interest in testing my skills as a good plumber.  So I got all of the fittings and pipe joined outside and simply had to carry the joined pipes inside and make one connection to complete the project.  I could have soldered the last connection, but I found this great “push together” connection at my local big-box home improvement store.  Just shove pipes in each end and they’re joined.  These fittings are too expensive to use everywhere but one connection is within my budget!

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(I love this connector!)

So, the project is progressing nicely, but of course, it’s never as simple as it seems!

What about you…do you have any good home repair stories?  Please tell me I am not alone!  I beg you!

Got my motor runnin’

I volunteer a bit of my time each week at Emily’s school.  There are a number of folks who work with individual kids on numerous topics.  I met a student who is interested in green energy so we are studying green energy topics.  In particular, we are building green energy sources or projects that use said sources.  In other words, we are building a generator like what might be used in a windmill.  We also plan to build a solar battery charger to keep my student’s portable video game system charged.  Part of my goal, of course, is to teach my friend about electricity and windmills and solar power, but a part of my interest is expanding my understanding of the topics as well.

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I remember back when I was in 4th or 5th grade.  We were messing with electricity (and not in the back of the classroom with paperclips and the wall socket) and learning how it works.  I remember one assignment for extra credit was to build an electric motor.  My Grandpa and I spent hours trying to figure out how to make one work.  We tried all sorts of combinations and variations but could never make it spin.  So, as a part  of learning about electricity and generators, I decided we needed first to build a motor.  A motor, of course, is sort of like the opposite of a generator.  Put power into a coil and it will spin.  Manually turn the coil and it will generate electricity.  Anyhow, it seems that building a motor is relevant to learning about generators.  This had nothing to do with my long-standing feelings of inadequacy regarding motor building…no indeed, this was all about educating my student.  It’s about the kids, right?  Ok, so I think it is pretty neat too.

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As I looked at electric motor plans, I quickly discovered what Grandpa and I did wrong…it’s all about ease of turning the motor.  Our motor turned pretty smoothly by hand, but there was a great deal more friction than what our set-up could handle.  I found all sorts of ideas on how to make a motor, but I wanted to make something that looked as close as possible to the one that Grandpa and I tried to make…I mean, I wanted one that my student and I could learn from…

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So…here’s what we did.  I bought magnet wire from Radio Shack (now, they are calling themselves “the Shack”…yeah, that’s more hip).  Magnet wire is just copper wire with super thin insulation.  We used a middle weight wire…the green stuff.  The package that The Shack sells has three colors/weights.  We left a six inch tail and then wrapped 30 turns of the wire around a AA battery that we were planning to use to power the system.  We left a 6 inch tail on the other end as well.  In order to make sure the coil stayed together, we wrapped each tail around the bit of coil on each side.  Basically, I just took the tail on each side and ran it through the middle and back out 2 times to hold the coil on each side.

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We bent a few paperclips (you could use any conductor) to hold the coil and put a few magnets between the paperclips.  Since our motor has magnets vertically placed (i.e. not on the side), we had to hold the coil straight up and down with the tails sticking out to each side.  I stripped the insulation off of one tail the entire way around the wire.  On the other tail, I stripped only the top half of the wire.    We hooked a few beads to each tail to dampen vibration (which we learned was necessary).  Regarding magents…I just bought run of the mill magnets at a big-box home improvement store.  Bigger, badder magnets would change the dynamics of the motor for sure!


(or try this version if you have trouble with the one above)

Once we hooked the battery pack to the paperclips, we dropped the coil onto the paperclips and gave it an initial spin.  It quickly “catches” and starts spinning like crazy!  You can imagine, I danced like Brittney Spears…only without the nastiness.  I made a motor!  I made a motor!  I mean…We made a motor!  We made a motor!  No longer am I burdened by 5th grade motor-failure-angst!  We both had a good time just watching it spin and it was educational indeed as it was a perfect segue into generators (I knew it would be!).  Next week, we’ll start tinkering with our first generator.  I am so excited!

Earning a Broken Arm

I love this old picture of Emily when she was a kid.  We call it her “abused baby” period.  Her parents never abused her of course…she did it all herself.  When she was about 2, she climbed out of her crib and, like Isaac Newton, learned the truth about gravity…it works!  Somehow, she broke her arm.  Babies are supposed to have “green” bones that bend and flex.  I hate to think about how her arm must have twisted to break.  Anyhow, along with the broken arm is the skinned up knee.  This picture captures her childhood through junior high as near as I can tell.


We played pretty rough and had a lot of freedom to explore when we were kids.  I sometimes struggle as a parent to know how much to allow my kids to roam.  Off and on, I have been reading Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and it makes me think.  Now, ask anyone and they’ll tell you just how rare it is that I think.  But this book has made me wonder if I am giving my kids enough room to roam and explore and understand nature.  The premise of the book is that kids used to be in touch with nature and outside stuff.  Now, in an attempt to shelter and protect our kids, we have removed them from the natural world we (and our parents before us) loved so much.  It’s where we learned teamwork and problem solving and a good bit more about how life works.  So, I don’t know exactly how far to let my kids roam, but I know they need to do so.  They may get bumps and bruises and maybe even a broken arm.  But a broken arm that is well earned is worth the pain I think.

Where I struggle is with all the “big scaries” that exist out there.  I see the sex-offender list and there are bad folks not far, no matter where we may roam.  Still, I think we (meaning I) need to do what I can to let my kids roam and pick up snakes and turtles and catch fish and see the bats fly around in the fields at night.  It’s important and the only way that they can truly appreciate the world around them I think.

My kids may not be able to roam quite like I did (and I am certain I never roamed like my grandparents did…were their parents crazy?!), but I think there is room for them to explore and still be safe.  Who knows, someday they may even earn a broken arm like their Mom…

So, what do you think…do you ever consider the freedom your kids have or what you had when you were a kid?  How do you let kids roam and explore?

Toothless Wonder in WV

WV has a lot of bad statistics associated with it.  We deserve some of the bad press, but I think I have an explanation for one problem in the state.  You see, WV leads the nation in tooth loss. Apparently some 43% of folks in WV aged 65 or older have had all of their teeth removed.  It’s not widely known, but belts are outlawed in WV.  Older folks typically obey the law.  So, a person faced with a sealed beer bottle and no belt buckle with which to open it will naturally turn to the bottle opener God gave him.  Tooth loss among WV’s older folks simply a matter of the anti-belt lobby which is so strong here in WV.

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(Abigail came up with the post title, by the way…)

Among younger folks, I have a harder time explaining tooth loss.  My daughter lost (i.e. I pulled) another tooth last night.  She’s lost 5 teeth since March,  Only 1 of those has been replaced by a new adult tooth.  So, Abigail is nearly toothless here in WV.  What could possibly be causing such change in her?  Surely she isn’t getting older on me.  No, there must be something else going on here causing young people to lose teeth…

The Aporkalypse is now!

The end is nigh!  The end is nigh!  The Aporkalypse has struck our house!  Isaac was diagnosed with swine flu today.  He started complaining of a headache and his fever really hit last night.  He is a pitiful thing…and all the squeals and oinks in his sleep…it was such a rough night for all of us.  Anyhow, he went to the doctor today and was diagnosed.  All the doctor did to diagnose him was go to this site.  I would definitely encourage you to diagnose yourself.  If I had known how simple it was, I would have saved the co-pay.  I believe they gave him some pills and some sort of oinkment.  Hopefully that will clear things up and get him back on all 4 hooves again soon.  Meanwhile, the rest of us are trying to be extra cautious about hand-washing and so on.

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I was studying up on the subject here since Emily told me of Isaac’s diagnosis and it turns out that the swine flu could be a threat to every single person in the United States.  I am so glad I am married!

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I think it is too late for Emily…she seems to have crossed over to the other part of the barn-yard!

Ok, so I don’t mean to make light of the bad things that have happened to folks who have contracted the swine flu.  We’re going to keep an eye on each other and just do our best to get through the illness.  Wash your hooves folks!

Housekeeping in a beehive

I wrote a bit on this topic over at Not Dabbling in Normal today.  Have a read over there if you get a chance.  So, in general, bees are well into preparing for winter by October.  They gather as much pollen and nectar as they can and they have begun to clean the hive and seal the cracks.  Bees make this amazing stuff called propolis which is much like super glue and caulking…only stickier.  It is made from a concoction of tree saps, wax and bee magic.

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In large areas, bees often fill in gaps and cracks (they are particular about bee space…the only like open spaces of approximately 3/8 of an inch) with burr comb.  Burr comb is basically just large chunks of “free form” honeycomb.  Smaller cracks however, are usually filled in with propolis.  Bees don’t typically freeeze to death in the winter but drafts and moisture can definitely kill.  They take this preparation very seriously.

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I guess it is sort of bad, but we always sort of enjoy another part of housekeeping that bees do.  Male bees serve only as breeders for virgin queens in the early spring and summer.  During the fall and winter months, they do no work in the hive, but rather consume precious food.  Female worker bees are practical and toss the males from the hive.  Male bees are larger than females but, (and no comments here) the females are far tougher.  Females are hardened by work (in a non-Clint Eastwood or Sly Stallone sort of way) and have nasty stingers.  Male bees do not have stingers.  They are lovers, not fighters, remember?    So, as the females drag the males to the edge of the hive entrance, we like to pick up the doomed males for careful inspection.  Though they are bound to die, we like to observe and handle them as we ponder on the marvels of nature.

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Bees are a tough lot, but their simplicity and practicality are sort of beautiful, in a strange sort of way…