Sunday, July 26, 2009

Carefully Laid Plans

Yesterday was one of those days that was timed almost to the minute. The schedule went something like this:

I left for the "Joe" (the nickname we have been using for our rehab house) at around 9:00. On the agenda was to replace a plank in a hardwood floor and then continue dealing with the upstairs bathroom. Deb and Abigail arrived around 10:30 to paint some trim.

Josh was working at the bike shop, and David stayed home. He and his friend, Patrick, were going to try to remove a stubborn crankshaft pulley from David's car.

Deb and Abigail began their cleanup at 1:05 and then left for home at 1:15. Deb had to finish a meal she was making for someone in our church. She had been planning and thinking about this meal for two weeks, carefully collecting and assembling the ingredients over that time. We were planning on delivering the meal on our way to sister Sherry's house in Kalamazoo. Since we had to be there at 4:00 and it was an hour's drive, we needed to leave our house at 2:30 to leave room for the side trip to deliver the meal.

I stayed a little longer to puzzle how to set a square tub into a bathroom that was not quite square. Also, the bathroom is six inches wider than the tub, so something needs to be built to fill in the gap.

Around 1:30 the phone rang. I am not accustomed to carrying a cell phone, so when my pocket suddenly exploded with the Ringtone Concerto, it set me a little on edge.

It was Deb on the phone. The panic was evident in her voice.

"Tim, you gotta come home right now!" she cried.

I had now forgotten about square tubs, drywall, and floor boards. This sounded serious. My mind immediately jumped to the worst. House on fire--no, then she would not be calling from the phone in the house. One or more kids in the emergency room--that's a possibility; I've injured myself more than once trying to fix a car. Also, with teenagers on the road, one of them may have smashed a car.

"What's wrong?" I shot back, still trying to conjure up even worse scenarios.

"David ate the chicken!" she said, almost in tears.

"I'll be home right away," I told her. I re-hung the front door that she had painted earlier in the day, locked up and left for home. With the main ingredient for the meal we had to deliver in a little over an hour now missing, we had to come up with Plan B.

Plan B was very similar to Plan A. Deb had some additional chicken in the freezer that she had all ready to put on the grill by the time I got home. After the chicken was done, she prepared the meal the second time and we were able to deliver it on time and be in Kalamazoo at precisely 4:00. And no one was the wiser (except now, that this story has been broadcast all over the Internet).

David said the chicken was very good. He was casting about the refrigerator, looking for some lunch, when he happened across the chicken, which was set there to thaw. He thought they were leftovers, so they became lunch.

Now that the Big Panic is over with, we had a good laugh about it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Road School

It has been 10 years since one of our first experiences with home schooling. Although we didn't formally begin homeschooling our children until the fall of 2002, we did try a little bit of what could be considered homeschooling on a family road trip in July of 1999. Our boys (then 8 and 5) were at a great age for a family road trip, and they were excited and curious about just about everything, so a road trip to Yellowstone National Park would be great for family adventure and learning.

So as part of the planning for our three weeks on the road, we packed materials for writing a journal, for drawing pictures of what they had seen, various books, also books on tape, and other materials. We planned on buying postcards at each of the stops along the way to document the journey as well.

We had been thinking about this for a year prior to this trip and decided to buy an older motor home and then work the kinks out of before the Big Trip. That way we could hopefully keep the costs down and travel comfortably also.

The ride we eventually got, a tired 1978 Winnebago, turned out to have quite a few kinks, and the summer of 1998 found us sitting by the side of the road more than once with some sort of mechanical failure. But on July 2, 1999, we piled in and hit the road, hoping that we had dealt with most of the major issues.

I kept a journal myself. It is over 30 pages long, in small type, single spaced. Exactly three sentences of this journal described the homeschooling part of our journey. Most of the remainder of this journal is about the motor home. There wasn't a day that went by without some sort of mechanical trouble. Exhaust system troubles, electrical troubles, carburetor problems, vacuum leaks, fluid leaks, broken lug nuts, a broken awning and burned up starters were just some of the challenges that greeted us each day

We had plenty of adventure and family learning, but not in the ways we had expected. Some of the adventures related to auto parts stores, repair shops, and doctors offices. Some of the family learning was on how to keep a motor home on the road using a roll of duct tape. Additional learning was on how to secure things when the vehicle is in motion. A large pitcher full of fruit juice found its way onto the floor when we rounded a curve. Due to a temporary lapse in diligence in securing all items, it was left on the counter when we took off. The juice was greedily absorbed by the '70s era orange carpet, and what the carpet didn't absorb was taken care of by the remainder of the sugar that had flown out of an upper cupboard when a latch popped open shortly before.

We almost didn't make it to Yellowstone. On the long climb up the mountain outside of Buffalo, Wyoming, the transmission began to overheat, and we had to turn around. After the many troubles we had up to this point, we decided to turn around and head for home. The next day found us in the tiny town of Douglas, Wyoming, after two of the rear wheels nearly fell off. The motor home spent the day in the shop, we spent the day in the city pool. The mechanic told us that it could still make it to Yellowstone, so we turned around again, this time coming into the park by the south route instead of through the mountains.

Yellowstone was enjoyable, and our enjoyment was perhaps magnified by the fact that we could hike the trails and leave the motor home behind. The kids got to see Old Faithful, one of their big goals of the trip. We spent a few days in vacation bliss, with campfires, long hikes, cool evenings, and sleeping in all part of the agenda.

The trip home was unbelievable. The 108 degree heat through Nebraska, along with a lack of air conditioning, the noise from the faulty exhaust system and the vibration and rattle of a vehicle well past is prime took a toll on all of us. Any attempts at learning were long forgotten, we were simply focused on covering the next mile. The engine was running poorly, our second starter was showing signs of expiring, and I think I was putting in more and more oil, brake fluid, and transmission fluid at every gas stop.

It was a welcome relief to make it to my brother's house near Des Moines, Iowa. We were able to experience silence and air conditioning for an evening.

We had not made it very far down the freeway the next morning when cars behind us began blowing their horns. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I could not see the cars, because the cloud of smoke we were leaving behind was so thick.

The motor home didn't make it home. We left it in a scrap yard in Iowa. We finished our journey in a rented car. Not much schooling happened, but we did learn a lot. And it really was a memorable trip.

If you want learning and adventure, come join us. It always seems to follow us, where ever we go. The next year we did the simple, tent-camping thing. One of our tents was destroyed by a bear.

If you haven't been scared off by now, my full journal can be had by simply emailing me and requesting it...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How Not to Fix Up a House

After a few months of working on a 130-year-old house, I have spent considerable time fixing up other people's shortcuts. Many of these are simply annoying and cheap, some are downright dangerous. So I've compiled a partial list of the things NOT to do when making repairs to a house.

When the plumbing leaks or the pipes don't fit together right, seal the plumbing with plastic grocery bags.

When you re-wire the second floor apartment, don't bother using electrical boxes to contain the splices. Just let them hang out in the open. That way, when the next owner wants to add some insulation in the attic, he can't due to the fire hazard.

In fact, on some connections, don't even bother using electrical tape or wire nuts.

When you put new laminate flooring in the living room, dining room, and front bedroom, don't bother cutting out the holes for the heating vents. After all, the single vent that's left in the back bedroom will be sufficient for heating the entire apartment, particularly with gravity heat. And just cover up the vent opening in the kitchen floor with a piece of plywood. The tripping hazard that creates is fairly minor anyway.

When new electrical panels are installed, wire about half of the lower apartment's lights and plugs into the upper apartment's electrical panel. This will keep the electricity cost in the lower unit to a minimum.

Use a hollow core door as a main entry door into the upper apartment. A deadbolt in a hollow core door will give a great sense of security.

When installing carpet over hardwood floors, don't bother filling in old heating vents or missing floor boards. Just stuff some extra carpet padding in the holes. This creates a rather unique soft spot in the floor that just begs to catch the unwary foot and send the person attached to that foot crashing to the floor.

Fix broken windows by replacing the glass with plexiglass and glazing them with bathtub caulk. Plexiglass acquires this wonderful scratchy patina over time, making it very hard to clean.

Don't bother using a strike plate for the entry door lock set. A couple of drywall screws will suffice.

If your house sits in a nationally registered historic district, please feel free to modify window locations and install vinyl sliding windows. This earns the undying admiration of the city Historic Preservation Commission and forces the new owner to rip out that nice new shower stall you've just installed because it covers up the original window location.

Allow the front steps to crumble to a point where large weeds grow through the cracks.

Don't bother maintaining the exterior paint. Peeling paint and rotting clapboard siding gives a real sense of age.

If you do any painting, use a sprayer and allow the overspray to collect on the window glass. Don't bother cleaning it up. You can always frame the Notice of Violation letters you get from the city Neighborhood Improvement Department as souvenirs.

If a basement window breaks, just put plywood over it. Over time, when all the windows are boarded up, the 130-year accumulation of cobwebs and the darkness would make this a great setting for a creepy movie. Especially with the network of gravity heat pipes, sagging plumbing, and low-hanging non-functional light fixtures ready to connect with the unsuspecting noggin.

Locate the furnace thermostat six inches from a drafty window.

Locate the only available outlet in a kitchen immediately above the sink. Since there's no counter space around this particular sink, that forces any small electrical appliances to be located IN the sink. This will make for some wonderfully charged experiences.

Dont bother putting a proper plumbing trap under the kitchen sink. Your tenants will appreciate the rich and colorful odors that emanate from the open sewage system.

I'm sure there will be more surprises as this project progresses. Up until now, it has been quite an education.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Were They Thinking?

I've been doing a lot of plumbing work in the basement of our rehab house lately. It seems like old iron pipe tends to gunk up on the inside after many years, causing faucets to run really slow. So many of them needed to be replaced. Yesterday I arrived at one of the water heaters, and the above picture is one of the connections to this water heater. Leaning out of the top at a crazy angle was flexible copper pipe, kinked in two places, several miscellaneous iron fittings, a ball valve that wouldn't open all the way because it hit the pipe, more iron fittings, ten feet of copper, and another twelve feet of iron with a big patch in one spot. It all got replaced with CPVC.

Meanwhile, Deb put the first coat of polyurethane on the living room floor that Josh just finished sanding. Josh spent most of the day with Barabbas (the name given to our big noisy old floor sander), taking all the layers of paint and gunk off the hardwood floor. It's a noisy, dusty, nasty job, but the result is so much nicer than the beige carpet that formerly covered this floor.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fun in the Sun

There's nothing like a big Lake Michigan sand dune on a sunny summer day!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The 4th Tradition

We've had a tradition for the 4th, something we've done for years. This year, Abigail got to participate in the tradition. We will outfit our bicycles with whatever lights we can scrounge up: red lights from the parts bin on the back of the bike, powered by a cordless drill battery, and small flashlights duct-taped to our helmets, and head off to the Grandville fireworks display, about two miles away. Our bikes are packed with a blanket to sit on, snacks, sparklers, and whatever else we think to take along. We usually leave around 8:30pm, and claim our square of grass in the park next to Grandville Middle School, just off the bike path.

Abigail has been looking forward to this for a long time, and for this day she could hardly stand the wait. We heard the question "Is it time to go?" about a zillion times. She wanted to cut everything short so that we could get going. I think all the scurrying around and preparing things only heightens the anticipation.

We had her outfitted with a red blinker light clipped to the back of her pants, which she thought was really cool. She had to show us how it worked many times, turning it on and off and watching it blink.

When we finally claimed our spot on the grass, she wanted to play on the nearby playground for a while. The entire area was crowded and there was lots of noise from people talking, yelling, and setting off firecrackers. It didn't phase her a bit. Having spent time in several big cities in China, I can see why. Crowds are the norm.

She enjoyed her two boxes of sparklers as it began to get dark, but what she really liked were the flexible glow-sticks. These are the things you see people walking around the crowds and trying to sell for way too much money. Deb had found a box of a dozen of them for a dollar at a local store a couple weeks ago and figured they would be a good thing to head off having little girls asking for the overpriced ones on the day of the fireworks.

She soon had them around her neck, ankles, wrists, and waist. She also made sure that I had one, that Deb had one, and that Josh had one. Even after the fireworks started, she was busy rearranging the colors and sizes, making hats and bracelets. Never mind the fireworks, she had seen those before in China. This was something new.

When the fireworks ended, then it was time to move. With our blinkers on and our helmet flashlights on, we headed off down the bike trail towards home. Abigail wanted to play with her glowing bracelets, but needed to hang on to the bike to keep from falling off.

The nice thing about bikes is that we just ride past the snarl of traffic all trying to go home. We can be home and in bed before most people even make it out of the parking lot. Even so, it was nearly 11:30 when we arrived home. Abigail thought that was a hoot. Staying up way past bedtime. And she got to wear her glow sticks to bed.

We peeked in the window a little while later. She was still awake, playing with the glow sticks. I don't know how long it took her to get to sleep, but it was one of those special days when bedtime rules are set aside and the normal routine is broken up for a fun activity.

The trouble is, the next day we had an extended family get-together at a state park, and the day after that was her birthday. She's going to think that all we do around here is party.

Update from Slidell

Following is a note from the leader of David's group:

We have arrived in Slidell! We got to "blow stuff up" tonight as well since all fireworks are legal here ;-) We arrived on schedule at about 4pm and have been enjoying the fellowship already with the body at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. Sunday we will attend the a.m. service, have lunch with the congregation & then some orientation. If time goes well we are planning on a short time at the beach. Monday morning the work in this heat begins... and please DO pray for us as it is definitely hot & muggy!

Grace & peace,

Chris & the team

Friday, July 3, 2009

Slidell Bound

David is currently traveling down to Slidell, Louisiana with our church youth group where he will be helping with Hurricane Katrina construction. They will be there for a week.

After a couple months working for me rehabbing an old house, he gets to travel south and do a lot of the same stuff. Only this time it is in 95 degree heat and high humidity.

Maybe he will like painting more when he gets back.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I LOVE to Paint

"I LOVE to paint," says Abigail. And, indeed, she has been helping with quite a bit of painting lately. She also likes the wages that come with it. Spending money--a rather new concept for her.

We'll see how she feels after she has done as much painting as David. David is less enthusiastic about painting. And it's not improving with experience for him. He likes painting even less than he likes scraping. He and Josh are the lucky ones who get to paint the entire exterior of the building, first with primer, then with the final color.