Thursday, October 16, 2014


In the space of five days, Papa (with some help from Uncle Petka) put down the front room floor.  It is about 300sqft of 3/4" red-oak face plywood, cut into 2'-wide strips, with a lap joint on each edge.  It is laid staggered like floorboards, so the edges don't line up everywhere (my biggest beef with most DIY-plywood floors).  The worst part is the transition from the built-up wood subfloor that fills the old sunken living room to the concrete on the slab - the concrete dipped at the curb into the sunken area, and the height of the subfloor was not perfect along the funny bend.

But - it looks good. It sounds like a music hall (over the subfloor) and walks just right.  We aim to paint it with chalk paint and then Varathane over top.  It makes me wince to paint the red oak, but I bought it for hardness, so it will do that job as well under paint as exposed.  All told, I expect this to be about $2.50/sqft, which is better than anything manufactured that is of the quality I want (which started at about $5/sqft).  It will, after all, be the music room, and it needs to complement the harp and the piano well.  I'll take some photos sometime, but my Republic Defy XT camera is really disappointing, as a general rule.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cabinet doors are a success!

Successfully hung one today - and these are a true Mustachian success - homemade Shaker-style doors, hinges from secondhand-building-supply, and a few bits of wood and shim. 

Less successful is the AC unit.  The old one was sliding off the roof, and the options were crane-stand-reattached-crappy-unit or crane+stand+new+unit, I opted for the new unit.  It blows very nice and cold, and the new thermostat seems to read true.  Now we just have to deal with the unexpected cost.

Monday, September 8, 2014

In the new house

Have spent two nights there - found a leak or two this morning in our torrential rainstorm - hooray for summer rains where I can do roof patching in a swimsuit.  No more water ingress after the wet-patch was globbed on to the offending penetration (it was the gas line for the HVAC).

Did find a major crack between the cold-air-outlet duct and the air handler, so we are blowing cold air into the sky - will fix ASAP.  The definition of P remains to be determined.

Much left to do, but now I don't have to drive to the jobsite!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Not quite dead!

Actually, we are cleaning the concrete floors today (lots of construction dust), and we aim to sleep at the house tomorrow night.  It might mess up our church commute... we'll have to see.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Progress and patience

Drawers are installed.  I had never hung drawers before, but now I have.  The Blum Movento slides are pretty slick.

Doors in 3 of the 6 interior frames, hooray.

Need to make cabinet doors pretty soon.

Hoping to move before too long, and finish the job from the inside...shorter commute to jobsite that way.

It's hard to trust God when you feel like you can DO something about a situation.  Then you are reminded (by the sudden death of a friend's son - who came from the same orphanage as our daughter-to-be) that nothing is in your hands.  God our Father holds us in the palm of His hand, redeemed by the Son and kept by the Spirit.  When He requires our soul, our time, our children, our money, our talents, we must hand them over.  And we must hand them over trusting that He gave them, He is taking them, and He will work out His good will in all things.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mom, this one's for you

Republic Wireless gets lots of press (like from MMM), which is well and good.  But for those out there who just want a simple breakdown and instructions (like maybe one's parent(s)), here we go.

If you own a basic Verizon plan, no data, you are locked into a 24-month contract at around, say, $40/month.  Your phone was free!!!!!!!!!! (so what? - that's like free needles).  Your total cost of ownership for that phone/contract pair is $960. 

If you own a Republic Wireless Moto G (linked above), you pay $149 up front, and can choose your plan.  Say you stick with no data, and pay $10/month for unlimited talk and text.  There are no contracts, so a 24-month period is only chosen for comparison.  Your total cost of ownership is $389.

Add data ($30/mo for Verizon, $15/mo from Republic), and it just becomes more obvious ($1440 vs. $749). 

So, mom, if you're convinced, click on the "Republic Wireless" link at the top and (as of today's website format) click on the green "Buy Now" button next to the Moto G ad.  Add one to your cart (8GB version), go to checkout, enter your zip (see, yes, they have coverage where you live, my phone works when we visit), pick the $25/mo plan option, and go from there.  They'll send it to you in a nice box ready to boot and use, you get the credit card set up for autopay, and you no longer have to think about phones - you'll just have one that works.

With Republic, there are no family phone arrangements with the potential for awkwardness as times change and users may move on.  You get phones one at a time, and they are cheap.  The service is good, the phones are reliable (if uninspired) Motorolas that will do what you want them to do.  It's just a good product (as my past year with them has demonstrated to me). 

You can get phone service cheaper than Republic.  I'm not sure if you can get phone service better than Republic.

Love you Mom.

PS - If you are reading this and are addicted to iPhones, sorry.  You can't use Republic.  If you have a Verizon iPhone, I'm really, really, sorry - you can't take it with you when you leave them (and you still should leave them).  But, even Verizon-locked phones get decent bids on ebay (we sold our old Droids for decent money).  You will want to get an unlocked iPhone, and then go to one of the cheap GSM providers like AirVoice (the Mrs. uses them - satisfied, if not as slick as Republic). There are more competitors in the cheap-GSM-sim-card phone world, and I can't make a discriminating recommendation.  Even a $700 unlocked iPhone plus $10/mo service (again, what Mrs. uses) beats the majors pretty fast.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fascinating Farms

The Economist has an interesting article about data-driven farming.  Tuning crop planting by nanoclimate seems, at first blush, to be an obvious admission that the land must determine the crop.  However, it is very likely that the practical constraints of harvesting require single-species planting, if not single-variety anymore.

Perhaps we are beginning to bring the machines to the milpas.  Or perhaps we will find this merely another step towards the grave of modern farming.  It seemed from the article that the only variable of interest is still yield per acre.  But we are not Japan or Taiwan.  We have lots of acreage.  Maybe we should start looking for a better metric.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


"According to Steve Savage, a Stanford- trained biologist and organic critic who consults for the agriculture industry, “There’s nothing wrong in principal [with the organic production findings] but in general there are the practical aspects of this being scaled up.” He sites issues such as attaining enough cow manure and that many farmers rent their land, which disincentives efforts to build up the soil."  (From

This is the fundamentally anti-Mustachian ethos in agriculture.  It's too hard to do things right.  The long view is hard, so don't take it.  The startup phase of this process daunts me, so I'm not interested.

I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where Marge finds Bart and Lisa watching TV after she told them to clean the yard.

Marge: What are you doing inside?
Bart: Work was hard, so we quit.
Marge: What?
Lisa: (slowly) Hard work made us quit.

The results of this attitude?
(From, with credit to

In case you aren't familiar with this picture, it's the turbidity of water, red being highly turbid, and turbid being the opposite of clear.  The turbidity is largely caused by massive blooms of phytoplankton, which suck up the excess nutrients washed out of the Midwest by the Mississippi river.  Then, like yeast in beer, they overeat and die off, in this case rendering the water hypoxic.  Fish don't like hypoxic water.  Fishermen don't like water without fish.  The booming agrochem industry of the Midwest has severely damaged the fishing industry of the Gulf.

Isn't it a definition of addiction when you recognize that an action is harming yourself but refuse to stop doing it?  Like eating Jelly Belly beans, or using high-chemical-intervention farming methods?

Anyway, sorry to post a bummer, but it's something I think about occasionally, and it does tie in to Mustachianism's call to consider unintended consequences and deliberately moderate consumption, especially in light of the gross waste of America's food supply, between 30-40%.  We could farm with conventional methods at 70% of current capacity and still feed everybody (probably more than they need to eat), substantially reducing chemical runoff that causes the dead zone.  Adoption of responsible farming practices, even if less efficient (which I am not granting), could be entirely ameliorated by reducing waste.

Anyway, hooray for Joel Salatin and his ilk.


This poem is in honor of Mr. Brave New Life and his recent retirement.  I commend him, and seek to follow in his footsteps.  I am still inside the glass, for now.

It's just a pane of glass,
a foot or two upon a side,
it stands, immovable, and
you are still inside.

There is a world out there,
beyond the glass
and down the stairs,
with air, and sunshine,
sometimes rain, it's true,
there's nothing wrong with that.
(What's wrong with you?)

How did you get inside that pane of glass?
Who put you there, and fastened it so tight?
I bet there's red-marked Exit signs!
Just follow them - they'll always lead you right.

Outside there is no roof,
no lights except the Sun,
these things called trees
just grow here! One by one!

 This is, my friend, where you and I belong,
where wind and sun can dry our mildew soul,
with God's green earth to till and build upon
as all about us stars forever roll.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Barter and progress

I really don't like money.
I don't like thinking about it.
I don't like keeping track of it.
I don't like paying taxes on it.

So I was really excited that a couple of my piano students were interested in barter.

I have traded a couple of months of lessons for a lot of goat meat, and another student's parent has agreed to bring me a farmer's market style goodie basket from her garden every week.

Here is my first basket... I am especially enjoying the beet kvass that came in the basket.

On another note, we ARE making progress on our new house.
Behold our nearly complete tile job: all that remains is the grout.

It gratifyingly looks just like I imagined.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


One of the rental units I manage for my family had just gotten new tenants in it, when I got a very unsettling message about mold in the shower.  This was two Thursdays ago. 

I went over to investigate, and she expressed her concern that the mold was behind the waterproofing trim (it was a plastic "insert" shower, badly done).  Her concern was justifiable, as it did appear that the trim was really crappy, and when poking at a really fat bead of caulk, it came off in my hand, revealing more black.

Mold is serious business, and it was not my intention to screw around.  I tore out the shower that night, down to studs and block wall, and was able to clean/scrub/disinfect the acrylic shower pan.  The mold had not escaped the shower pan, praise God, so it was not very extensive.  However, once you dig into a plastic insert, you're going all the way.

Unfortunately, she works nights, so I couldn't start work until Saturday afternoon.  After doing all the hardibacker that night, then applying the goop, I was tired and it was 10pm.

Oh, did I mention I had an interview out of town on Thursday, and we were flying at 7am Wednesday morning?  I had a serious fire under me.

Sunday afternoon I cut tile and laid the back wall.  Monday I laid the other two walls.  Tuesday afternoon I grouted, Tuesday night I installed trim and caulked.  At 10pm with my alarm set for 4:50am, I was in no mood to clean grout and thinset out of buckets, and I am afraid I tossed two perfectly good pails and a lot of tile spacers.  Oh well.  I cleaned my tools and rolled into bed. 

With my tile tools still in the back of the van, we made it to the airport and off to the Dakotas on time.  I was rather relieved.

There are a couple of morals of the story.  First, my friend from church who had been teaching me to lay tile at our house is amazing, and let me borrow all his tools on a moment's notice.  Second, a modicum of experience plus urgency can turn into a successful job.  Just being forced to do the job immediately and figure out on the fly how it would work was a most enlightening experience.  I'm an engineer, and I like to know what I'm getting into with a project.  I'll read up, watch stuff, and try to get some experience with a friend before committing on my own.  Not so this time.  I had never worked with thinset (we're using small-format tiles and acryl-pro adhesive at our house).  I had never worked with grout.  I had never cut a tile longer than 6".  I had never tried to put piping holes in 12" tile (cut from the back and rock gently on the saw blade worked for me).

And don't get me wrong, the job is not perfect.  I can see the corners that wouldn't quite align in my mind's eye.  I know where the trim sags a bit.  I still need to do touch-up painting (it's been a busy two weeks).  But it's done.  And I think it should be nice and tight for quite some time. 

Another educational experience.  And I only cracked one tile.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Now & Next

So I've been reading a lot of Raptitude lately.  That's probably why this post exists, and if D.C. has already written it, sorry! 

I struggle with when I am.  It's always my temptation to live in the Next thing, the next job, the next house, the next town, the next meal, etc.  Not that I necessarily act on making all of these nexts a reality - if I did I would be broke.  But they're often when my mind is.  It is rare, except in study, with my family (sometimes) or carpentry, for my mind to be Now. 

This may be viewed by the unreflective as forward-thinking, goal-oriented, a successful mindset.  Where are you going is always on the mind of the students I teach at university.  Kids, I've gone, and then when I was done going, I wasn't sure what I was doing, so I started going again.  In my life that looked like school, job, grad school, new job (where I am now - and must admit I wonder where I'm going next).

But if you think about it, it's actually terrible.  It means I'm almost never interested in what's in front of my face.  This is an awful way to live.  We are always NOW.  There will never be a time when I actually get to live in the Next, because it's categorically excluded from the Now.  All of my plans for what's Next must necessarily become a Now if they are to be realized, and what will I do then?

This is one of the things that has stalked me my whole life.  What happens when you get what you aimed at?  When you arrive at your destination?  When you finish the project/book/degree?  The only coping mechanism I have figured out is to find another goal and start running again. 

But this is not who I want to be.  It is not how I want to live with my family.  "Well, these little guys are great, but I wonder who the next kid will be?"  It's not how I want to live with my church family.  "Sure, those are great plans, I'm just not sure if I'll actually be in this time zone when you want to do them."  It's no way to save for financial independence.  "Well, the next job will pay better.  The next purchase will be better optimized.  The next lifestyle change will clinch it.  When I'm FI, I'll figure out how to enjoy the little things." 

We are only ever Now.  We intersect eternity and infinity at one spatiotemporal point.  What are we doing about it? 

Obsessing about the derivative of Now is irrelevant if we have no bloody idea what our initial condition is.  (This is for those who remember their basic calc and diff-eq.)

Of course, we are Now but moving towards Next, so it is right to plan, to think ahead, and to be wise in anticipating what may happen.  But when we lose sight of what to do now.  Here.  Today.  to accomplish what we aim at tomorrow, we are not building for the future.  We are imagining the future while squandering the present. 

So I am going to attempt to be more mindful of Now.  To focus on the job at hand.  When I plan, it should begin with Now, and work towards Next (instead of saying "What a nice Next that will be when the sweeping current of time takes me there!").

Now, back to business.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

More Things

Today, we cleaned out closets.  Mrs. & I spent about 30 minutes this morning pulling self-delusions out of the closet and putting them in a (large) box to go to the Salvation Army.  Now, the things we have are neater, more easily seen and accessed, and more likely to be used, which is, after all, the fulfillment of their purpose.

Today, I moved my office fridge.  I've mentioned this before.  It holds my veggies so I can have kickawesome and cheap work lunches.  Lots of people on my floor comment on my lunches.  None have ever replicated them.  Which leads to my point. 

My office fridge had been jammed in the footwell under my desk, next to my computer tower, leaving me with little legroom to my left, and blocking my ability to use my writing area effectively, restricting me to the keyboard/phone area of my desk.  Don't ask me why I set it up like this, I can't give a good answer.  Maybe I felt like I needed to keep my friends close and my vegetables closer.  In a locked office in a locked room in a locked building.  The janitors don't even clean our area, it's that locked (and kinda gross sometimes).  So yeah, maybe a little crazy hoarder mentality creeping in there. 

So I moved it.  It's now in the footwell of the unused desk next to mine.  It's never been occupied.  It won't ever be occupied (at least not while I'm on this team - we're not about to upstaff like crazy).  So why didn't I put it there in the first place?  Can't say, at least, can't give any logical reason.  So now I have legroom (I'm stretching as I write this, and my knee isn't hitting anything - huzzah!).

Why don't we just do the small things that we know are good? They're not hard.  We know we'll like the outcome.  They might take ten minutes (or in my case, 20 seconds).  But we don't.  We bump our knees on fridges and computers.  We eat expensive, microwaveable cardboard and cheez* meals.  We keep doing things we complain about instead of shutting up and thinking and acting and then being pleased with the result.  My salads and fridge-move don't make me a hero.  They damn me for their triviality by pointing to bigger failures.  Occasionally driving to work instead of biking.  Not having this house done yet.  Still having poor handwriting. Not using many of my things well, and still finding myself sometimes wanting more things I know I cant use well.

So let's do things.  Little things, at first, to help us get in the habit of making life better for ourselves, those around us, and ultimately, for the glory of God.  Because we are called to be stewards of our wealth, our time, our talents.  Not hoarders.  Not complainypants.  Not sloths or ingrates.  But men and women who think about how to behave well, to think well, and to speak well.

Well now, off to make a salad for lunch.

*It's not cheese, or even Cheez.  Just cheez.  As in "Oh cheez, man, stop doing that to yourself!"

Saturday, April 19, 2014


They cost money
They require space
Some of them require maintenance
Some are really useful
A few are fun over a prolonged period
Most are not
They can be lost, stolen, or degraded with time
They are irrelevant to your actual identity

So think twice before you buy them.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


An older Raptitude post here. Well worth a read.

I started this house project because I wanted to feel capable, accomplished, powerful over my environment. Buying a house is a terrible way to do those things, even absent any discussion of whether those things are not, in themselves, terrible.

Why do we want to feel capable?  To pretend to be independent.
Why do we want to be (or look) accomplished?  Pride.
Why to we want power over our environment?  Because we are scared by our finitude.

In all cases, pride.

This house project has been one of the most humbling things I have ever undertaken, because, I suppose, God knew my bad motives going in and is working to eradicate them.

It is never of him who wills or him who runs, but of God who bring the increase.

All that to say, we press on with the house project, but hopefully with a clear understanding of what it is and is not, and why we are doing it.  It will be a nice place for our family to live.  That's the feeling to follow, nothing more.

Also, by way of update, ceilings are skim-coated and primed, working on painting them.  Bathroom 2 should be tiled this Saturday.  That will make a big difference.  Again, I rely much on the help of friends from church, so I really should get over any idea that I am doing anything other than slowly building skills to be used to help others some day.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

DIY Toddler bed

Mr. built this for Jr.'s crib mattress. It is quite cozy, and significantly cheaper than an ikea toddler bed. 
I have plans to paint it, but it looks nice natural, too!

EDIT (Mr.): Full credit should be given to K. Christopherson for the plans (which I modified as necessary - Jr.'s not quite ready to be up on legs, he still slithers out of bed now and then).  Plans are here.

The best quick fix for '80s recessed fluorescent lighting

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Peace, Love, and Oikoculture

I like to prepare food.  I like to eat food.  However, I'm doggone bad at even attempting to produce food.

This should change with the new house.  Our intent is raised bed planters with appropriate vegetables, and the house offers a variety of shade-sun mixtures, so I think we can figure out good places for different plants.  We're not set up for graywater, which is sad to me, but that doesn't mean I can't still use dishwater on the compost, etc.  Stewardship of creation is important, and financially rewarding, too.

So I was excited to see these guys (whom I found from a MMM post comment thread - typically much better than most blog comment threads, which are often toxic sludge).

Their website seems to be drowning in hits right now, so I couldn't get to their blog, but the premise seems to be an automatically-manged hydroponically-fed permaculture station for your backyard.

Now, everybody out there who has read the Foundation trilogy knows that hydroponics aren't the answer when the galaxy's infrastructure is crumbling, but hey, it's morning in America, so let's see how we can swing this thing.  I'm eager to see if they can pull it off, and if they ever need a thermal guy...

(Also, I just made up Oikoculture as a term of art for household cultivation - seems to be a well-suited term to this sort of thing.  It exists on a Spanish-language website where I am not at all convinced they are talking about the same thing, and one English-language cultural-linguistic discussion.  Just to make sure I properly attribute.)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Truth, beauty, and stencils

Master bedroom; it's coming together.

That stencil pattern will be all over the blue wall.

I love the pattern!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pulse Check

Yes, we're still alive, and still working on the house.  This winter we spent an abnormally large fraction of my generously long Christmas break being sick.  It was somewhat disheartening.

Now, thankfully, we are well again, and the work continues a pace... a pace less like a pace-car...more like a man with a pace-maker...

The 2nd bath vanity is all built and painted, ready for install and the countertop deck (we're tiling, so it will be 2 layers of ply with one layer of Hardibacker).

The paintable-waterproofing is up in both the bath areas, 2 coats.

The countertops have their final satin coats!  They are gorgeous, and I'll try to get Mrs. down there with her better phone for pictures.

The ceiling is being skim-coated.  This was a term I had to learn after I thought "texturing a ceiling is hard, painting the post-pocorn-scraped-ugly-thing is easy, let's try that first".  Paint can BE ugly.  But paint can't fix ugly.  So I did more research and found the keyword "skim coat".  That's the one where Mr. can just do it by walking around the house with a 12" knife and wearing out his shoulder.  Ladders are for shrimps (but so are cars, doors, and off-the-rack suits, so we'll call it a tie).

Lots more paint is on walls, and the garage is much less crowded now that I've cleaned out a bunch of the old junk for scrap $$. 

Slow and steady.