Monthly Archives: January 2010

On dental floss

I am Joe Q. Public.  I put my pants on one leg at a time.  I like hamburgers on the grill.  I cry when I watch Old Yeller.  And, like most people, I didn’t used to floss my teeth.  It’s a pain in the hind-end and it’s a bit gross.  I am stubborn though so when my new dental hygienist got on the old, “you have to floss or your head will rot and fall off” train, I decided to prove her wrong.

Clearly, this stuff was invented during the Inquisition

It’s not like I never flossed.  I flossed regularly for the week before I go to get my teeth cleaned and likewise the week afterwards.  With my Invisalign teeth aligners, I am supposed to brush and floss every time I hiccup anyhow, so I had additional motivation to floss like responsible teeth owners are supposed to do.

Dental floss amazes me!

I quickly found that the old-school floss was not gonna work long-term for me so I went in search of new flossing technology.  I found “the floss stick” as I like to call it.  It takes the guess-work out of flossing (did you know there is guess work in flossing?)  No more trying to figure the best way to get your big hairy hands in your mouth just right so you can get your back teeth.  No more accidentally cutting off all circulation to your index finger when you wrap it just a little bit too tight.  No, no, those days are over!  With my new floss stick, I can floss (and floss well) all the teeth in my head…faster than green grass through a goose!

The heads swap out so it isn't gross!

I haven’t yet been back to the hygienist, but I am sticking to my flossing challenge thanks to the flossing stick.  I am sort of torn…in one way I want to prove her wrong about flossing, but in another, I am pretty excited to have good teeth and to get accolades from a near-stranger as she dances around in my mouth.  Only time will tell, but I am sold on flossing now that’s it’s easy (and I don’t have to taste my hairy hands!)

We’re breaking up

Sometimes in life, you try and try to make something work but it just doesn’t.  Sometimes you find things that just aren’t worth pushing.  Sometimes you just have to end it.  We’ve gone to great lengths to fix things or mess with them to make it all work differently, but, at our wits end, we see no other course but to break up…the concrete of course.

I got some more stuff last night to try to fix the low spots.  One thing I got was a new level that would be large enough to span enough distance but no so large that I couldn’t put it crossways in the bathroom (so I got a 2 foot long level).  As I laid it all sorts of ways across the floor, I really started to see just how badly screwed up the concrete was.  No small patch was going to fix this issue.  The only solution in its current state would be to add another level of self-leveling concrete and hope it worked better.  Um…heck no.

Breaking up is hard to do...

Being a stubborn SOB (no offense Mom), I decided that there was no way this floor was going to beat me.  Luckily I have just the tool to remedy the situation.  Several months ago (years if you ask Emily), I started chipping concrete/plaster off of the walls of our office.  For that job, I bought a handful of new cold chisels.  They paid off once again.

The concrete mixer...isn't it cool?

I spent a good bit of time (and yes, more cussing) breaking up the screwed up concrete so I can go about this mess in an entirely different way.  The floor wasn’t too bad to start.  Once I get this concrete removed, I am going to manually level the few spots that aren’t even with regular portland cement or some other floor patch (not sure which yet) and move on.  Call this a $50 education for me I guess.  Education is always money well spent, right?

Well, I hope you can use my experience before you are faced with the same situation…breakups really really suck!

Neil has some thoughts on it too:

Let me level with you

I have been working on our house for…well, for as long as we’ve owned it. It’s a bit of a money-pit fixer-upper and I have enjoyed doing most of the work.  The one thing that makes it all interesting though, is that it is neither square nor level…and not even close.

We have three bathrooms (thank goodness!) and it seems like one is always torn up for one reason or another.  Anyhow, I have been working on the one in the lowest level and am ready to lay tile.  In preparation, I checked the existing floor for low spots, high spots, spotted newts, see spot run, and giant red spots.  Unfortunately, I had several of these.  One can lay tile on a goofed up floor, but the goofs either break tiles or look like someone who knows nothing about laying tile laid the tile.

Not wanting to look like an amateur, I knew I had to fix unevenness of the floor.  I have never used self-leveling concrete before (I AM and amateur, I just don’t want to LOOK like an amateur), but I knew it was the solution for all of my floor-spot-related woes.  The idea is that one pours a somewhat thin layer of special concrete and then watch in amazement as the concrete covers the floor and dries to a smooth, level surface.  Sounds easy, right?

The blue primer drying

Well, mostly it is.  Let me back up…first I had to paint a primer over the bare floor so that the floor would look more blue.  I am not certain that it really did anything else, but I gotta tell you, it did a great job of making my floor more blue…so, it was a huge success!  The blue primer finally dried (Emily watched as I napped…she wasn’t about to let me sleep a minute longer than necessary…she wants this project done!) and I stumbled downstairs to mix the concrete.

Self-leveling concrete...still wet and almost smooth

Back when we first got the house, we bought a huge stirrer that you use with your drill.  It’s built to mix in a 5 gallon bucket.  We tried omelets a few times but it never seemed to taste right out of the bucket so we use it only for mixing paint and concrete now.  Normally, concrete is mixed in a bathtub or a wheelbarrow or something like that with a hoe and child labor.  The drill-mixer is not usually used for concrete, but the directions called for it specifically (good thing I pre-bought that tool!)  So I mixed a 50-lb bag of the stuff following th directions and then I spread it over the floor.  I had to move it around with a large float I made from old wood scraps.  That seemed pretty reasonable.  I didn’t expect to pour a bunch of concrete out and have it magically float evenly over the entire floor.

Dried concrete...almost level

The next part bugs me a little though.  I smoothed the concrete over the floor and had it pretty smooth.  To me, “self-leveling” meant that the stuff would flow evenly across the surface and sort of absorb imperfections in the floor…the low spots and tiny imperfections and such.  At first, it did appear that it was going to behave.  As time went on, however, it became clear that it wasn’t going to work quite like that.

The tile laid out...just begging to be installed...

I cussed it thoroughly and the floor mostly leveled as it hardened (and it hardened quickly), but it is by no means, perfect.  So, in the next day or so, I am headed back to the home improvement store to get some more self-leveling concrete to patch the few screwed up spots.  Part of my problem may be that I got rapid set concrete (not on purpose) rather than extended set…I won’t make that mistake again.

So let me warn you very clearly…if you ever use self-leveling concrete, be sure you have it pretty smooth/level as soon as you can…I’d hate for you to have to cuss your floor like I did!

It’s weird

It’s weird…last year I had tons of stuff to talk about.  I had projects and ramblings and thoughts (yes, I even had thoughts…but that was last year).  This year, I feel busier than ever but I have nothing to show for it…or nothing interesting anyhow.  My days are consumed by that pesky work thing and my evenings are taken up with kids’ practices of various sorts and the remodeling of our house.

I dig remodeling the house…mainly because of all the money I save and because I can do it right, but it’s so uninteresting.  I suppose I could post pictures of the new board I just installed or pictures of the paint drying, but I think that might not be much fun.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch paint dry (or is it that I like the fumes?), but it’s hard to capture that delight on film.

Although things seem less interesting blogaliciously speaking, I think I am more pleased with the large scale tinkering rather than the small scale tinkering this year.  I sort of feel like an exhibitionist (no comments) sharing all sorts of stuff on here…and enjoying it.  But since I feel like I have less to say, I wonder if I have gotten more boring or if I just ran out of crap to brag about.  Anyone ever feel like that?  I mean, when I go to the Y to exercise, the old men there lead me to think that they are more into “openness” rather than being closed off (for the love of pete…close your towel…or even more importantly, wear one when you sit on the chairs in the locker room reading the newspaper for half an hour), so I don’t think I am all of a sudden getting shy…maybe just boring.

Well, enough of my rambling…do you folks like to watch paint dry…or have you seen yourself change as time goes by?

Beekeepers buzz all winter

You’ll never believe it, but some folks sort of look at us beekeepers and wonder if we lost every last ounce of sense that our Mommas slapped into our heads when we were younger…well, that’s how my Momma did it.  Anyhow, we also have a reputation as being a fairly dull bunch.  Wait, I know, it is hard to believe.  So, to prove any doubters wrong, I am here to describe a great winter project that some beekeepers work on to keep the cabin-fever-crazies from setting in…candle making!

Honeybees make beeswax.  That’s how they roll.  Every egg that the queen lays and every ounce of food (honey and pollen) that they gather is stored in beeswax.  They are industrious builders and sometimes become a little over-zealous in their projects.  You see, honeybees like they hives to be orderly.  One huge part of that is “bee space“.  Bees like to have 3/8” space to crawl between frames and throughout the hive.  If they have left, they typically fill it with propolis, a super sticky product they create to patch holes (or spaces smaller that the required bee space).  If the hive has spaces larger than 3/8″, the bees will fill it with burr comb.  Burr comb is just “filler comb” that they use to tidy up spaces and make every part of their hive the proper bee space.  It works great for them and settles their nerves (which is good for beekeepers!), but it makes inspecting the inside of a hive difficult for a beekeeper.  You see, we use those nice frames to keep things straight inside the hive so we can remove the pieces.  Bees don’t see it that way at all and build their burr comb in every direction they feel inclined.

What does that have to do with candle-making you ask?  Beekeepers cannot allow too much burr comb to build up or the hive becomes very difficult to manage without greatly disturbing the bees (by the way, bees have stingers and aren’t afraid to use them!) which is never a good thing.  Each time I get into my hives (once a month…sometimes more often, sometimes less), I scrape the burr comb into a box I carry with me.  Some beekeepers just pitch that comb, but that seems like a huge waste.  I gather it and toss it in a solar wax melter and let the sun add its magical heat to melt the wax (the process, by the way, leaves the wax mostly free of impurities…the wax flows into a collector while the dirt, twigs, etc that I introduce by accident stay in the melting tray.  Similarly, I also keep every bit of wax I remove when I harvest honey (honey cells are capped with wax which must be removed for harvest).

So, finally, we get back to candle-making.  When I get a little stir crazy in the winter, I have a good stash of clean wax that is just begging to be made into candles.  We melt the wax in an old crockpot so the wax heats slowly and does not get too hot.  Wax, as you hopefully have never experienced, is very flammable and if heated too fast or hot, will give you problems.  In my opinion, the only safe way to melt wax is in a solar wax melter or an old crockpot.  So, we add chunks of wax we collected and melted all summer into the pot and wait for it to melt.

Once melted, the wax can be poured into all sorts of molds.  To be sure, there are tons of candle forms that one can spend an entire inheritance on.  I prefer the simple approach though.  We add a wick to a simple jelly-jar or a small decorative jar.  No wax is melted during the burning of the candle and I like how easy they are to store in jar-form.

By the way, pure beeswax is always some shade of yellow. Colored candles, by definition, are not pure beeswax.  Pure beeswax candles are sootless when they burn and are the smoothest burning candles.  Candles made from parafin (most candles) put off black soot and are simply not as pleasant to burn in my opinion.

There isn’t a lot to making candles in a simple form.  Beekeeping is pretty straight-forward, but candle-making is even simpler.  Many beekeepers in your area probably collect wax but don’t bother to make candles.  If you are interested, you may consider approaching them and buying some beeswax.  It’s great family fun and a simple, easy, wonderful gift you can give for any occasion!

Blossom Deli saved my life

We started indoor soccer at the YMCA this weekend and the kids’ games were spaced just perfectly to mess with the entire day.  Abigail played at noon so, by 1, we were pretty hungry.  We knew better than to eat before the game as the floor needed to stay puke-free.  Anyhow, by 1, we were all pretty hungry so we headed downtown to one of our favorite restaurants.  It’s a local downtown place and lately has been somewhat flaky about when it is open.  We usually hit it on evenings and weekends though it really caters to the weekday lunchtime crowd.  That’s right…you guessed it…they were closed.

Anyhow, we were pretty bummed and more urgently, pretty dang hungry.  We stood in the middle of the street with vacant zombie-like looks on our faces, wondering how we would survive…what we would do to get food…whether we could bear to go on.  Fortunately, my lovely wife, with cat-like reflexes and an eagle eye, spotted the Blossom Deli a few hundred feet away.  If only we could make it the 100 steps to their door-step, surely they would have something they could give us to avert disaster.

Somehow we made it to Blossom Deli alive.  It’s all a little fuzzy, but I sort of think ants must have picked us up and were carrying us to their nest when some heroic patrons rescued us and drug us inside…but I have no evidence of that.  Anyhow, we got inside and…you’ll never believe this….they sell food at the Blossom Deli!

We were seated right away (I think they noticed our pitiful blank faces and feared a zombie attack) and quickly set us up with liquid salvation from the fountain.  Yes, you heard me right…they have a real soda fountain at Blossom!  I wasn’t going to push my luck, but I bet they have a real live soda-jerk somewhere too.  Anyhow, the whole place seems right out of the 1950s.  Inside the place is art-deco floor to ceiling.  A lowered grill sits adjacent to the bar seating and simple tables (like your grandma used to have in her kitchen) were everywhere.  Ours even had a nice, easy rock to it.  I think the only thing missing was a poodle skirt or two.

So, the less creative members of my family ordered hotdogs (all beef as Isaac likes to remind me) while I ordered my usual (see, I am the creative one!).  Whenever I go to a restaurant and I see a Reuben on the menu, I order it.  I am not sure why but I MUST order it if I see it.  So I ordered my “usual” and a cherry Coke.  When the waitress (I bet she wants to be called that rather than a server…it’s 1950 afterall) delivered our drinks, I initially wondered how she would tell my cherry Coke from the others’ vanilla Cokes.  Silly me, it was easy…she just sipped from each straw and knew right away!  Not really.  No, she simply looked at the color.  My cherry Coke was definitely red…and I think that red was either the fantastic cherry flavoring or the color of awesome!

Isaac and I quickly drained our glasses (he declared his vanilla Coke to be the best he’d ever had and he’s had a bunch) and asked for another.  When it finally became clear that we weren’t weren’t about to be hauled off by a creepy guy in black carrying a scythe, I took a look around.  The mirrored walls make the inside look much larger than it really is.  It’s really quite comfortable but cozy inside.  The waitresses gave great attention to everyone and I could see as the cooks prepared my meal…fresh!  Blossom Deli offers a daily blue plate special which I will definitely have the next time we go there.

I am sure we will go to our other “favorite place” again when we see it open sometime…but we now have a new go-to local restaurant in Charleston, WV!  Blossom Deli, not only did you possibly save my life, you nourished my soul (well…at least my stomach!)

I swore…

When we were first married, we declared, as self-righteous, young, newlywed folks often do, that we would live our lives differently than folks who are so busy they don’t have time to sit down and enjoy the good stuff of life.  We swore we would not do what other people do.  When the kids were younger, we had little trouble in keeping their time free for things they wanted to do.  Most of what we did was about what they wanted to do for fun, which happened to line up with the whole “live simply” thing I had in mind.  They played outside on the swings and rode bikes.  It was so simple and perfect.

Of course, they are getting older and are influenced by all sorts of things around them.  They still like to play outside and ride bikes, but now they also want to take lessons…taekwondo and aikido and ice skating and violin and archery and soccer.  We are becoming scheduled.  At first, I was sort of irritated about it and thought that we surely must be ruining our kids by running them all over creation to do this and that.  But now that we’ve been at it for a little while, I look at it differently.  Just as it was about what the kids wanted to do for fun, so it is now.  Fun is just different.

To be sure, I definitely think that kids and parents can become over-scheduled and over-stressed, but I think if the cards are played right (as I hope we are doing), being involved is an opportunity for kids to explore.  It’s not exploring like they did in the back yard, but it is exploring the world in a way.  Taekwondo is taught by a Korean master.  Soccer is coached by a former professional player from the African continent.  They are finding what they like and don’t like but they are also seeing a larger world while they are at it.

When I think about it, I enjoy seeing the kids explore and learn and grow.  We still play together, albeit differently.  We can laugh and talk and enjoy things…just different things than just the back yard.  So, in a way, I sort of long for “just the back yard” but it is thrilling to also be a part of all of us going “out there” too.

So what about it…do you enjoy kids’ activities or is it too much?  What sorts of things do your people do?

Soles 4 Souls

We braved the cold and snow this weekend to go to church as we do most weeks.  We were pretty proud of ourselves for being among the hearty few who risked life and limb to get to the church a few minutes early so I could hit the pile of donuts before all of the kids ran their somewhat less than germ-free fingers all over the pile.  It felt like pretty much every other church service at River Ridge.  I don’t mean to say that church is boring exactly…but it is usually pretty comfortable and predictable.  We do contemporary music exclusively and it is well done.  As KISS says, if it’s too loud, you’re too old…that definitely applies to River Ridge.  But church is comfortable and easy most weeks.

Anyhow, after the singing and such, I settled in to listen to the preacher talk.  I had a belly full of donuts so I felt pretty content.  He gave his sermon which centered around the idea of doing something radical to make a difference.  Now everyone says that in church.  And in most typical churches, if anything at all comes from it, radical means something like clapping to the beat during a song or maybe someone swaying a bit or even giving an “Amen”.

But at the end, the preacher did something a little different (which is typical at our church).  He told everyone about an organization called Soles4Souls which collects new and gently used shoes for people living in impoverished areas who may not have shoes.  And then, he asked us, if we felt so moved, to leave our shoes in the barrels at the outer doors.  No one knew in advance so folks had their normal shoes on (not old clunkers).  His point was that giving your shoes, whatever shoes you had on, was radical at first blush, but in the grand scheme of things, a small gesture for most people.  But the impact it could have in the lives of other people could be enormous.

I had my very nearly brand new tennis shoes on and Abigail had on her favorite cowboy boots.  I have to tell you, at first, I really wished I had worn a different pair of shoes, but as I thought about it, I am pretty glad I wore my new ones.  I don’t care who you are or what you believe or don’t believe, if you take a moment to think about it, giving your shoes away changed a life for the better somewhere in the world and that makes it worth doing.

So, we left our shoes and walked across the parking lot barefoot in 16 degree cold…and we got a lesson, albeit a brief one, in what it might be like for someone if we hadn’t given our shoes.  What seemed so radical at first, really was such a simple thing…

edit:  Some more details

And…we’re back!

So, we’re back and up to date (mostly anyhow).  My Dell server (the last Dell product I will own) that I got 14 months ago died sometime over the weekend.  I had the techs at my company take a look and they just shook their heads and handed me the box of tissues.  RIP Dell piece-of-crap!

Incidentally, I also discovered a great stress reduction technique and took a picture of the “process”.

I feel very tranquil now…

Oh Rats!

freakingoutMy dang server blew up sometime this weekend…I have this old backup up on a clunker machine for now but it is certainly not up to date. The extra hard drive that has a good backup is in the dead server so I can get it back to where we were, but just not instantly…so, for now, sorry for the pain in the butt…we’ll be back soon!

In the meantime, isn’t this a cool picture?  Of course, I, being calm cool and collected, did not freak when I saw my server was toast…my 14 month old Dell POS server was toast.  The motherboard and processor for it are not cheap so I will be replacing it soon with another brand…