Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Years

I spent three years of my professional life with the development and testing of the Ares-I J-2X thrust vector control system. My team designed and built the most sophisticated test stand ever attempted. It was a full kinematic, geometric, and electrical simulator of an Ares-I upper stage in flight.

As much as this was a technical achievement, it was a growing experience for me to lead such a wonderful team of professionals. It was this experience that made me think that, perhaps, I'm not half bad at this.

I am in the middle of another, similar project. Oh, the technology is different. The people are different, and present a whole list of different challenges.

We haven't quite replicated the lightning in a bottle that the TVC project had, but we are doing reasonably well - incredibly well from a project standpoint.

But I'm going to need a break after this, too. I pour so much of myself into such projects that I get tired. Tired of the stress, tired from trying to please and not disappoint.

It reminds me of that walleyball tournament my tribe entered. My team was undermanned and over-aged. We just wanted the game to end. But we couldn't not try, and we were able to get off the court quicker by just winning. Then, of course, we'd have another game to play. Each time, it was easier to just win quickly. At the end of the tournament, we got nothing for our trouble other than exhaustion.

I will be profoundly disappointed if there's nothing at the end of this project except an attaboy and another project.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Closet Organizer

My wife has sweaters. Lots of sweaters. A dresser full of sweaters.

And I want to dispose of that dresser. It was my grandfather's and it was a lousy piece of furniture when it was new. Age has not improved it in the slightest.

So the deal was that she would let me throw out the dresser if I made her some shelves in her closet to hold her sweaters. Naturally, I wanted to match the decor of our kitchen and master bath, so it would be cherry with a face frame. Clear coated, to age and color naturally.

It took a week, but it is done now.

I hope she's happy with it.

Edge banding the shelves with cherry strips

Pocket and shelf pin holes done

Installing the top and bottom

Sides installed, finishing the carcass

Face frame installed

Closet shelves installed

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Shifting Gears

I am transitioning myself from remodelling to vacationing. The major project I'm running, at work, is moving from design to construction (starting with demolition).

I am shifting gears.

When this happens, there is that moment of uncertainty. That period of time where you do not accelerate. You coast and prepare for a lurch. That is how I feel now. Right now, my days feel wasted. I try to convince myself that it's okay. I deserve a break. But I don't believe myself. I can tell when I'm lying, because I no damn good at it.

A couple years ago I wrote about being at an inflection point. Things will turn up soon, because they always do. I guess I'm still waiting.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Remodeling Complete


My winter project of remodeling the bulk of our home is complete. Here is how the upstairs came out, with some before and after photographs.

Upper Hall: Before and After

Stairway: Before and After

Master Bedroom: Before and After

I'm already getting antsy, since there's not much more planning to be done for our upcoming vacation. There is yard work and general repairs to do, though. And after our vacation I want to gut and redo the children's bathroom. For now, though, my big project is done and the house looks a lot nicer.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Winter Project

My winter project is almost done.

The goal was to remodel the piano room, family room, office, and master bathroom. That meant new flooring, painted ceilings, walls and base molding, a fireplace, hallways, stairs, and carpeting in the bedrooms.

Much of this work was done solely by myself. I removed the old carpet, painted, installed hardwood flooring, designed and installed the fireplace.

Friday, the carpet comes.

This weekend, we put our bedrooms back together.

Then it is done.

The big project will make way for small putterings. Sarah's flowers. Hope's tomatoes.

I can, also, overplan and fret over our upcoming vacation. Sixty-seven days to embarkation, and counting down.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tools of Winter

There has been some interest of late in getting started making your own bookcases and the like. Simple things that last, but not heirloom furniture.

Woodworking isn't my hobby. Like anything else, it has been a case of monkey see, monkey do. We have all put together pre-made furniture. Heavy slabs of particle board, held together with quarter-turn fasteners.

"Surely, I couldn't do this," we say to ourselves. After all, those parts were factory-made with precision cuts and drilled holes. Never mind that nothing quite lines up right when we're assembling it. We can't do this.

Not that I wouldn't try. Oh, I'd buy some 2 x 4s and screw them together with some drywall screws I had lying around. It would look like hell and fall apart.

Then, I wanted to remodel my bathroom. I wanted one stinking cabinet. Natural cherry, to match my kitchen. One lousy vanity. Okay, maybe some matching shelves. I couldn't find that anywhere. Anything close was thousands. Thousands. I didn't want the whole room to cost that much!

So I started looking, really looking, at my kitchen cabinets. And I thought, maybe - just maybe - I could make one, too. Christmas was coming, so I asked for a couple tools. Soon after, I had my master bathroom remodeled. Walls freshly painted. New toilet and sink. A lovely granite counter set onto a cherry vanity that I had made. On a tile floor I had laid.

All it took was a way to join two pieces of wood together in a quick and sturdy manner. And all because I wanted what I wanted, but was both impatient and cheap.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Last of the Hickory

Break time is over.

The last bit of carpet to be replaced by solid hickory was in the upper hall. We have decided to carpet the stairs, our daughter's bedroom, and the master bedroom. But the upper landing in hickory will, hopefully, wear better than the smelly carpet I ripped out of there. It, also, allows us to use different carpet in the bedrooms and on the stairs, since the flooring carpet and stair carpet do different jobs.

Anyway, I needed a bit more flooring to do the hall, so I made a trip out to Sheoga in my car. I can fit exactly two cases of flooring between the seat of my Maxima, so I picked up a case of 3-1/4 and a case of 4-1/4 prefinished natural hickory. I, also, picked up a stair nosing.

This job took a bit more time than it looks like it ought, but it is finished.

The next steps is to remove the carpet from the stairs and paint the stair trim.

Then I need to paint the master bedroom.

After that, I need to remove the furniture from the bedrooms and remove the carpet from them, too.

I like to say that the last five percent of the job is half the job. So I'm half done.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Office Remodel

Finally, I am done with the ground floor remodeling. The kitchen was done a couple years ago. The dining room isn't on my list, nor is the lower half bath. I did paint ceiling and walls and replace carpet with solid hickory in the piano room, family room, hall and home office.

It is time for a break.

It is also time for new office furniture, but that is a project for next winter, perhaps.

In a couple weeks I will be at it again, because it is my plan to refurbish the main staircase, upper landing, master bedroom and my daughter's bedroom before summer.

The main need, there, is to replace the smelly carpet on the landing with hickory and to do something about the worn carpet on the stairs. My daughter's bedroom has been recently painted, so it just needs a new floor. My bedroom needs both a new floor and a fresh coat of paint.

The upper bath is a project for another time, and my son's room is already done.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Living Room Remodel

This afternoon I completed the touch-up painting and caulking of the base molding. This room is officially done.

My wife thinks I did a really nice job, which is all the reward I need.

This room took awhile. Before Christmas, I painted the walls and ceiling. Getting the flooring waited until after the holidays. Then it has to acclimate while I trimmed in the fireplace (which took several weekends). I, also, had a custom hickory mantle made for me.

Eventually, I was able to get to the flooring. Solid hickory, same as my piano room.

Most of it went well, albeit slowly since we were using the room and I could only demo as I marched across the room. The only real problem is in the far corner, where the subfloor drops off. I did what I could to level that area, but it is what it is. Uneven floors lead to gaps between boards. Que sera, sera.

The most vexing problem with the family room is that it is uneven. It is well out of square. However, there are a few items that need to be kept aligned. The niche for the entertainment center, the fireplace, and the entryways to the room. The floor can't be "off" in these locations, even if those items aren't straight.

Of course, you never see these things until you start laying lines on the floor with a laser level.

But the floor is in. The trim is back up. The room is done. My wife likes it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


We have always wanted a fireplace in our living room. Our living room isn't very big, but my remodeling project presented a nice opportunity to add one. It, also, allowed me to learn and exercise new skills. I had never installed anything like this before, and the veneer stone presented a challenge.

You see, I am comfortable with laying tile on a floor. Been there, done that - and did it well. Installing large, heavy blocks of colored cement on a vertical surface is different. It's not a precise. It isn't as pretty, quite frankly. Much like the differences between rough and finish carpentry.

I prefer finish carpentry (not trim work, though). I, also, prefer tile work to stone.

So during this task my mood swung from fear, to confidence, to drudgery. Fear of, "can I do this?" Confidence - I am doing this. Quickly supplanted by, "how much longer am I going to have to do this?"

Before I started, but after I wrestled several hundred pounds of blocks into my living room, I started having second thoughts. I could have tiled the surround. Built a wood cabinet. Maybe learned to stucco. When it came time to do it, I just did it.

What I didn't quite appreciate was how dirty the work was going to be. It's bitterly cold out, so I had to mix and clean up indoors. I had to wet saw indoors. I had to chip stones indoors. Concrete dust made my skin rough and my hair like straw. It was all fun, once. The novelty wore off quickly. The second, third, fifth bucket of mortar, and complete clean up, just became work. There was no way out but through. The way to be done was to get done.

Like rough carpentry, I was never quite pleased with the fruits of this labor. I can see the mortar there. That stone isn't straight. I can see the cut line over there. When you've devoted several weekends to something, you don't want lackluster results. You want to Mona Lisa, you need the Sistine Chapel.

What I got was a fireplace.

And a few hundred pounds of leftovers.