Sunday, January 27, 2008

"I Don't Think We Need a Window at All, Really."

My lovely wife just saved a few hundred bucks and a lot of frustration in the new upstairs bathroom project. I knew I loved her for a reason.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


When last we discussed The Nursery, it looked more or less like this. Then I started scraping and sanding drywall. And scraping. Then sanding. Then putting up more mud, since I'd ruined it . . . . and then scraping, and sanding, and quitting, and wishing I'd never started. Drywall finishing is an art, and I'm not the artistic type. If I can't construct a jig or use a straightedge to make it happen, it'll probably look like I was drinking when I made it. Finally, I just decided that the perfect was the enemy of the good and set out to do it all one more time and then paint no matter what it looked like. Of course, what some of you old hands already knew is that you can't judge the wall by what it looks like without paint or trim, which leads us to the current photos:

This is what the north wall looks like now. The window turned out better than I expected. If you look very closely, you can see that the window is not quite aligned with the trim work. I can see it much more clearly in real life, but no one else has commented on it yet. The choice was between making the window work in the opening or making everything square, and I went with function. Then the choice was whether to skew the trim the same way to hide it, but it seemed simpler to make the trim level and get over it, so I did. The corners aren't perfectly straight, either, and never would have been, so rather than give up on having multicolored walls, I moved the transition two inches or so to the right in each corner. That let me use a laser plumb to make them just right, and you have to look closely to see that the corners aren't square since both sides are the same color. All in all, not bad. My grandpa taught me long ago that the difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional knows how to hide mistakes. Grandpa was a pipefitter by trade, so that might not have been the healthiest attitude for him to have, but it's working for me so far.

Here's the floor, which also exceeding expectations. Way to be, floor! Most rooms in the house started life with really nice hardwood floors, but were covered with cheap carpet at some point. Then, as nearly as we can tell, farm animals were introduced into the house and allowed to lay claim to various portions of the home by urinating and defecating on that carpet. But there are few problems that can't be solved by careful and responsible applications of overkill, so one giant sander later, this is the result. There's actually some patchwork against the far wall, but it blended well and is hard to see in the photo. All these rooms originally had plaster-on-lath walls, which we tore out because A) they were sagging and breaking down in places, and you need to be an artist to repair them, and B) we needed to rewire totally in every room, so we figured we might as well go back to bare studs. Plaster-on-lath involves laying thin wooden lath across the studs, then slathering on layers of plaster "mud" over the framework until a smooth, uniform surface results. This means the walls are thick--tear it out, and your flooring might end two inches out from the studs, so if you just throw 1/2-inch drywall and trim up there, you have a gap. It also means nobody cared much about how square the fronts of the studs were, because they were going to slather an inch or more of plaster on top of them and smooth the plaster. That means that if you just hang drywall on the studs the way you would in a modern house, it will resemble a skate park seen from above. Some spots will be flat, others will gently undulate like the soft green hills of Dear Old Eire, and some may resemble nothing so much as a series of cliffs and ramps.
The upside is that I expect the next few rooms to be a lot easier to finish now that I've done this one.

Here you can see the pocket door peeking out of its pocket. The room really is as small as it looks above, and you can see that the hallway is not huge--it might be 40 inches wide. The pocket doors make this possible. That door is going to be painted blue this morning to contrast better with the green wall--too much of that green is overwhelming.
You can also see the back of some of that plaster-and-lath I talked about above. It's supposed to look that sloppy from behind; the first layer of mud is slathered on and allowed to ooze through the slats to "key" it--that locked it to the wall and made the whole thing pretty solid. The bricks are the chimney that runs through the center of the house. We had high hopes that there could be a fireplace on the ground floor, but it turns out the chimney was built purely for coal. I've been told that when this house was built, it was considered a sign of class to heat one's house exclusively with coal and not wood fires. Anyway, there's no fireplace at the bottom and the unlined chimney is disintegrating on us. This spring we'll install high-efficiency furnace and water heater and then start removing the chimney. That will give us more space in two rooms and a hallway, plus allow us to seal the last opening in our roof. With the bathrooms venting into the attic space with newfangled valves, the roof should last a long time.

And stepping out and to our left, we can see what's NOT done. :) This bathroom is next, followed by the back bedroom you can see through the doorway in the picture on the left. When those two projects are done, every member of the family will have his own bedroom within a few steps of a full bath. Life will be significantly less crazy . . . I think.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Be There Or Be Square--IGOLD March 11, 2008

(EDIT: The information for folks from the Rockford/Metamora/Normal Route 51/39 corridor has changed! The new info is in red below. If you're a regular reader and you see this notice, please tell the other one.)

Last year, I had to miss the Illinois Gun Owner Lobbying Day (IGOLD) 2001 edition because, well, my bouncing baby boy arrived on that day. On the upside, I already had the day off work, so that was nice. My wife wasn't so lucky; she was scheduled to go to an indoor water park with her class that day, and she'd really been looking forward to being weightless after 8.5 months of pregnancy. But on the bright side, at the end of the day, she wasn't pregnant anymore, so it all worked out for her, too. More or less.

Anyway, I'm taking March 11th off tomorrow and we'll hope things go better this year. Well, better for me, since IGOLD was a resounding success last year. I remember the days when IGOLD was a much smaller affair, but I'm not terribly nostalgic about it. Huge numbers and crushing influence on politicians is more fun than being part of a tiny, indie movement.

See you there! (I'll be the large guy with the red beard.)
IGOLD 2008 is officially set for Tuesday, March 11, 2008

12:00 p.m. Rally at the Hilton, 700 E Adams St.
1:30 p.m. lobby legislators
4:30-7:00 Reception at the State Library
7:00 p.m. Depart for home

Mark that day on your calendar, schedule a vacation day, personal day, whatever you have to do to be in Springfield on that day!! Last year more than 1,500 Illinois gun owners swarmed the Capitol complex lobbying state legislators for firearm owners rights and the need for a Right to Carry law in Illinois.

With the help of sponsors we have been able to charter buses from the locations listed below. Bus fares will be $20 ( or in the case of Champaign/Decatur donations will be accepted) and seat reservations are a must!!! We will be making flier documents available for you to print out and hand out in your neighborhoods, work places, wherever you can to get the word out.

Check in often for updates!

IGOLD 08 Charter Bus Schedule

Advance reservations required for bus seats!
Beginning Monday Jan. 14, 2008 For reservations and departure locations go to or call 815-635-3198

Dundee/Aurora $20
6:00 a.m. Depart from GAT Guns, 14N915 IL RT 25, Dundee, IL ,
7:00 a.m. Pick-up at Fox Valley Mall, 195 Fox Valley Center, Aurora, IL
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Ryan's Steak House, 2730 N Dirksen Pkwy, Springfield, IL, $10 includes meal-drink-tax-tip,

Joliet/Chatsworth $20
6:30 a.m. Depart Gander Mt., 3301 Essington Rd., Joliet, IL (Park at farthest edge near Outback
8:00 a.m. Pick-up Chatsworth, ISRA Headquarters
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Ryan's Steak House, 2730 N Dirksen Pkwy, Springfield, IL, $10 includes meal-drink-tax-tip

North Chicago Area $20
7:00 a.m. Depart Allright Parking at Cumberland Stop, 5701 N River Rd, $3/15 hr, $6/24 hr
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Ryan's Steak House, 2730 N Dirksen Pkwy, Springfield, IL, $10 includes meal-drink-tax-tip,

Chicago South (Englewood) $20
7:00 a.m. St Andrews Temple, 6722 S Hermitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60636
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Ryan's Steak House, 2730 N Dirksen Pkwy, Springfield, IL $10 includes meal-drink-tax-tip

Champaign/Decatur - Donation
8:30 a.m. Depart Farm and Fleet parking lot, Urbana, IL
9:45 a.m. Decatur Sam's Club pick up point
10:30 a.m. Lunch – Ryan’s Restaurant $10 per person
For reservations contact CCRA/GSL (217) 684-2602

Rockford/Mendota/Normal–4 hrs. $20
6:30 a.m. Rockford - Depart CherryVale Mall, 7200 Harrison Ave., park out by Petland Near Bell School Rd.
7:30 a.m. Mendota - Buster's Truck Plaza, Mendota, IL
9:00 a.m. Normal - Pick up at College Hills Mall Park between Target And Von Maur
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Old Country Buffet, 2733 S Veterans Pkwy, Springfield, IL $8.50 include meal-drink-tax-tip, Bus drivers and captains eat free.

Marion $20
7:00 a.m. Depart Sam’s Club parking lot, 2709 Walton Way just west of I-57 exit 54– park at far north edge
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Old Country Buffet, 2733 S Veterans Pkwy, Springfield, IL $8.50 includes meal-drink-tax-tip

Mt.Vernon/Fairview Heights $20
7:15 a.m. Depart Mt.Vernon Walmart Parking lot just west of I-57 at exit 95
8:15 a.m. Depart St.Clair Square Mall locate in Fairview Heights just south of I-64 at exit #12
Park Red Bird Express Parking lot just past the East doors of Dillards and the water tower
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Old Country Buffet, 2733 S Veterans Pkwy, Springfield, IL $8.50 include meal-drink-tax-tip

Quincy- Barry - Jacksonville $20
8:00 a.m. Quincy - Depart Kmart east parking lot, 3701 Broadway
8:45 a.m. Barry - I-72 exit #20 Travel Plaza passenger pickup
9:30 a.m. Jacksonville - I-72 exit #64, Blackhawk Village Inn,
1111 East Morton Road, park near the brick wall & closed restaurant
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Old Country Buffet, 2733 S Veterans Pkwy, Springfield, IL $8.50 include meal-drink-tax-tip

Moline – Galesburg – Peoria $20
7:00 a.m. Depart South Park Mall 4500 16th St, Moline, IL Park across from Long John Silvers
8:00 a.m. Pick up at Sandburg Mall, 1150 W Carl Sandburg Dr., Galesburg, IL Park at the far south end by Bergner’s
9:00 a.m. Pick up at Walmart parking lot, 3315 North University Street, Peoria, IL park in the far lot
10:30 a.m. Lunch at Old Country Buffet, 2733 S Veterans Pkwy, Springfield, IL $8.50 include meal-drink-tax-tip

Bus fares will be $20 with the exception of Champaign/Decatur where donations will be accepted
Advance reservations required for bus seats!
Beginning 1-14-08 For reservations and departure locations go to or call 815-635-3198

Friday, January 4, 2008

Dreams Crushed by Reality are All Over My Internets

Both Marko and Matt have tales to tell. Marko manages to make the death of a dream of prosperity in Africa funny . . . no, seriously, go look and then tell me that there ain't funny.

Matt . . . well, Matt is Matt, and we love him. He, too, had a dream. He dreamed of a world in which a man could sit down and have a potato piping hot from the microwave. And like teh Clintons before him, he found that his dreams could come true if he didn't mind a little collateral damage. It's a heartwarming tale that will make you feel better about all the Nigerian children doing without lolcat macros somewhere out there tonight.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Oh yeah.

Thinning the Herd . . . .

I'm down to three vehicles, two of them currently running. Am I good or what?

My poor old '94 Buick Park Avenue, which served me faithfully as it served my father before me, finally gave up and refused roll one more mile. Even then, the engine ran very well (the 3.8 liter V6 appears to be functionally immortal) but the transmission failed and left me stranded. This, combined with mysteriously non-working windshield wipers, was enough to make me park it. Seriously, people, you don't think about windshield wipers much until they refuse to budge no matter what you do--and then you realize that you're stranded every time it rains. I replaced motors, transmissions, fuses, linkages, nothing worked. I suspect there's a fusible link or something buried somewhere out of sight, but I don't know.

In any case, at that point, I had myself a '94 Buick with some rust and some peeling paint. The odometer showed 242,178 miles, and there was very obvious evidence that the car had been rear-ended pretty badly. The windshield wipers didn't work, and every gear except Park functioned as Neutral. There was also a pretty nifty clanking noise from a two-piece heat shield under the body whenever the engine idled. It was time to let it go, but I couldn't in good conscience try to sell it as a driver. I parked it in front of the house more to keep it out of the way of the driveway than for any other reason and contemplated giving it to the local towing/junkyard guys for $50. The engine, wheels, etc. were worth hundreds, but only to someone willing to store the picked-over carcass of a once-proud Buick somewhere on the property. I considered the back yard (Look, kids! New play set!) but I decided we've lowered property values around her enough . . . for now.

Luckily enough, about the time I decided it was time to go hunt up the title and call Wiseman's Towing to take her off my hands, some kid showed up on the front porch. He's got a '94 BPA of his own, and he thought he could use some body parts and maybe the engine. We assumed the traditional Redneck Bargaining Stance (Feet about shoulder width apart, hands thrust into hip pockets to show peaceful intentions but reserving the right to draw a weapon if appropriate, staring at the same spot on the porch floor) and settled on $150. I think $200 was available if I'd been willing to play a game or two, but frankly I wasn't. I just wanted the thing to be in someone else's driveway.

Poor kid showed up with a winch and a flatbed to pick up the Buick today; the wind chill was hovering right at zero, but we got it done. If you've seen or heard any of the following, you might be a redneck:

  • "I can hook the winch cable to the back edge of the hood, right? I don't need a hood and there's no ____ing way I'm crawling underneath."
  • "Hey, you need the air dam? I'm pretty sure you just crushed it."
  • "I've never heard a winch make that noise before."
  • "Probably should have put air in that tire before we tried to winch it up. Lemme grab the compressor!"
  • "Hey, if y'all know anybody wants a Camaro project, you give 'em my number. It's pretty good except the weak-sister V6 and the busted cat and the deer damage."

I am now in the market for something with four doors. A station wagon would be cool, a Subaru Outback or Forester would be ideal, but probably too expensive. I'd like to pay cash for something cheap. Suggestions welcome. The dealer one town over has . . . brace yourself . . . you ready?

A 1994 Buick Park Avenue. Arctic White, yet, or whatever Buick called that color. I was afraid to look for the red interior, but the wheels and the trim level were the same. Were I to purchase it, I think I'd have to name it "Snowball II."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

In Which Don Sets Out to Be Snarky and Ends Up Telling Boring Stories

Not a good idea, buddy.

I'm not saying the officers didn't overreact--I wasn't there, after all. I'm just saying, when the cops come running to the sound of your gunshots, even if you think you're just celebrating a tradition, it would be best if the gun were on the ground when they arrived. Springfield is a city of about 110,000, by the way, and this guy was in the heart of its east side. This is not a guy sending a few into a berm and getting hassled.

And you can stop whining about the kids in the house, lady. There were kids all over the city that night, and the fact that you couldn't see where your buddy's bullets came back to earth doesn't make it OK.

When I was a boy, I had my very own bow. It was a white youth-sized Fred Bear takedown model, probably topped out somewhere between 35 and 50 pounds. We had a target setup made of hay bales backed by mine belt (the rubber belts used on the conveyors of coal mines--bullets of sufficient power punch through this stuff, but the most an arrow will do is stick in it.) One day, I was in the backyard by myself with that bow, and to this day I still don't understand why I did what I did.

What did I do? I recited a rhyme I'd heard on the Bugs Bunny show:

"I shoot an arrow
Into the air.
It comes back down,
I know not where."

Then I raised that bow to as close as 90 degrees as I could and let fly.

That's when I turned around (still not sure what made me do that, either) and looked my father in the eye. He was looking out the window of the garage, and he was clearly displeased.

He never really talked to me about that particular incident. He demanded my bow, arrows and equipment, and I looked at the ground and handed them over. He escorted me to my bedroom, and I sat down on my bed. Then he left. I considered it obvious, if implicit, that I was to remain where I was, so I did. And that's where I spent every minute of free time for a week. Then it took a few months before I was allowed to touch that bow again. I don't remember how long it was before I could just pick it up and wander out back to shoot by myself again; probably longer than I thought at that time. Dad would have been watching from somewhere whether I knew it or not until he was satisfied that I had learned my lesson. It may sound odd that he didn't lecture me, but then again, maybe he had some notion of what I was thinking; by the time he got to me, I was ready to throw up. A cold ball of icy fear had plopped into the pit of my stomach the moment I released that arrow, and it stayed. What would I do, I wondered, if someone turned up with an arrow wound? And why on earth, I wondered, had I done something I knew was stupid and dangerous and a crime? Was I stupid? Was I a bad person?

Two years later, I was wandering around the old corn field behind our plot and stumbled across an old arrow--one of my old ones--sticking out of the churned earth. Since that day, I've hoped fervently that the arrow I found is the same one I loosed that day. I think it was, honestly, but my mind comes up with reasons it might be something else. The dog could have stolen one arrow and played with it in the field. I could have shot one in the field and forgotten about it. Who knows, really?

You are responsible for every missile you launch, whether you illicitly did something stupid or just upheld a "tradition." Sometimes responsibility exacts a heavy price.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I'm Back! Was That A Great Year, Or What?

Well, here we are on January 1st, 2008. I have not posted since November of 2007. Oops.

No apologies here. Life got in the way of posting, and life is roughly 1,000 times as important as posting, so the choice wasn't very difficult. You know how bloggers all say "I do this for me, not for readers"? Well, I don't say that very often, but I mean it every day. Nothing personal; I'm sure you're nice people or whatever.

I have been reading my blogroll, though, and there's been some good work done. I like Marko's reflection on the past year, for instance. I think I'll give that a shot. What I will NOT do, by the way, is any sort of "Best Of" or "Top Ten" list.

So, on that note, what was the greatest thing about 2008? Well, a lot of good stuff happened. I finally got some progress made on my old house. I like to think the boys gained some maturity, and that was a relief to see. Teaching seems to be getting easier and more natural. Progress has been made in some personal husband-wife matters that I won't discuss with you here.

But the greatest? That was Sean, without a doubt. I'm not just copping out and copying Marko, though you could do worse in life than to watch Marko and do what he does. I've thought this through, you see.
Sean is as incredible to me as your baby is to you. Everything in the world is new to him, and he literally spends half his waking hours laughing and giggling and smiling at things you and I stopped noticing years ago. Every morning, when he and I wake up, I take him downstairs to feed him and let his mom sleep in for a little longer. We feel our way out to the dark stairway, count the steps down to the landing midway, and stop there. Every morning, I pull the filmy white curtain aside and let him look out the dirty window surrounded by chipped paint and peeling wallpaper. The glass is frigid this time of year, and usually, it's dark outside. There's not much out there even when it's light; about thirty yards of bare lawn, and then the backside of the neighbors' plain white house. It's not scenic. Someday there will be a deck on that side of the house and possible a small pool, but right now it's just tired winter grass and a sided house.

He lights up like a sunrise every single time.

I actually started this little ritual by accident. I wanted to show him a deep snowfall one morning, so I pulled the curtain aside and showed him the shimmering white landscape. It really was beautiful, and there was translucent ice hanging off every edge, ledge, branch and gutter as well. The sun was coming up that day, and the effect was a natural light show. Everything was some shade of white, blue, silver, gold, orange or red, and the sun moved so much while we stood there that we could see colors change. Sean flapped his hands randomly and bounced on my arm, squealing and crying out in a way that made me think of someone grabbing a laugh by the tail and spinning it in wild circles. It was kind of a big moment for me.

Later, when the snow was almost gone and the ice with it, I stopped again and pulled the curtain open. "All gone, Sean, see? All gone." I told him gently. I was ready for his disappointment, but it never came. He lit up all over again. This was different! And daddy pulled on the white part and then it was gone and there was all this other stuff to see! Ha ha ha HA HA!

I know what you're thinking, Dear Reader.
"Yeah, Don loves his baby. Don thinks his baby is cute. Q'uelle surprise."

Well, yeah, I do. But Sean has changed our whole family for the better, and I think he may have affected Kane and Donovan more than anyone else.

For those who don't know, Kane and Donovan are twins who came to our family when they were six years old. By that time, they had been passed from their mother to her grandmother, and from her to their great-aunt and uncle--my in-laws. Their mother was just incapable of caring for children; she was buffeting back and forth between her addictions, and there was no time for a home, children, a job . . . it just wasn't happening. When the boys were removed, they went to their great-grandmother, who worked herself to the bone trying to make things right. Unfortunately, she was up against too much. The boys by that time had grown for two years with no parenting. They'd lived out their infant years in a place where children bit each other and fought for food on the floor, where rats ate on the table, where babies and toddlers would be locked in closets for hours. They spoke their own language, and Kane was tiny, with severe learning disabilities and terrible vision. It was too much for her. The boys went to her daughter, my mother-in-law, about a year before we married. She, too, did her best, but she and her husband were at a time in their life when they thought they'd be driving their classic car along Route 66, not raising twins with severe problems. They'd raised their kids and gotten them off to good starts in the adult world, and doing it again was just too much. Reluctantly, they gave up. But they had limped along until Melissa and I were married and had just moved into a house, and we remembered wishing we could take the boys back when the in-laws took them. Then, it had been impossible; the state wouldn't have allowed it. Now, though . . . . well, we came together at last.

The reason for all that tiresome exposition is to explain this: when we first found out that Sean was on his way, we had no idea what to expect from the twins. We expected the usual jealousy, of course, but both boys have great difficulty with relating to other people, especially with sympathy and empathy. We just weren't sure what was coming, and it scared us. As the months of pregnancy went by, a clear division became apparent: Kane was excited and just wished the baby would be born right now. Donovan intended to pretend that there was no pregnancy, no baby, and no change in his life. Everyone else could act excited, but he was having none of it. He refused to look at sonograms, for instance.

When Sean was born, Kane banished all thought of jealousy. He wanted to hold this baby, and feed this baby, and teach this baby to skate. He and this baby were going to be best friends if only it would hurry up and grow up.
Donovan refused to hold the baby. When the family visited in the hospital room, he tried to get each and every visitor to come to the other side of the room and pretend to be eating at a restaurant. He would be the waiter, writing down their orders. No mention of the baby would enter the game, because of course, there was no newborn baby in the restaurant!

So what happened? I'm not sure. Time passed. Sean began to show signs that he recognized some people. He began to make faces that looked like smiles. Donovan watched us feed Sean, and saw how Sean stared up into our eyes with total attention as we held him cradled in our elbows. He watched his brother holding Sean, propped up on pillows in our softest recliner, and at some point, although I didn't see it happen, I'm sure Sean smiled in Donovan's direction.

Whatever happened, one day Donovan asked out of the blue to hold Sean . . . . and he did. When Sean finally got fussy, Donovan asked for a bottle of breast milk as if it were the most natural thing in the world . . . baby brother is hungry, Donovan will feed him, what else could you have been expecting . . . so we brought one, and that's just what he did.

Now, let's look at the family today. Both Kane and Donovan constantly pester us to hold the baby, play with the baby, bathe the baby, change the baby's diaper . . . . it goes on and on. It's enough to make a person get impatient, but it's all love, all the time. Kane and Donovan are the fierce Protectors of the Sean, the Guardians of the Giggle, Praetorians to the Poopiest of Poopy Pants. Sean is the one person they love without reservation. Without doubt, they love Sean far more than they love Melissa, and more deeply than they're capable of loving me. Sean is the one person in the world who never judges them and never finds them wanting. He is the one person in the world who is ecstatic to see them no matter what. He laughs at every joke, every face, every silly dance they do, and he thinks the tenth time is far funnier than the first. He gives them true unconditional love, and they return it in an endless feedback loop. Sean has made them important and loved. He made them big brothers.