February Check-In

I'm going to say that February was the worst month that I've had in a very long time. The main thing that happened is one of my favorite people in the entire world passed away. Short of something happening to my Mom, nothing could hurt as much. Along with my parents, for my entire life, my Aunt Lu was around. I will think of her on every Fourth of July (her favorite holiday) and Christmas Eve because we always went to her house. I often said she was hilariously funny, often unintentionally so. I loved going to visit her to hear about family members I never knew and what her life was like growing up. Since we knew she was sick, my siblings and I all made sure to visit her as often as we could during the month. She always loved to see us and I felt lucky to be there. If I could make people feel a quarter as good around me, as I felt around her, I'd be pretty happy. One of the last things she gave me was the dollhouse that someone made for her when she was a little girl. It has needed some work for a while and she gave it to me to fix it up. But only if I have fun doing it. If it's not fun, I shouldn't do it. I hope that I can get it into decent enough shape that I can donate it someplace where kids can play with it. I know she'd be happy if kids were playing with it.

I don't have too much to report on the rest of the month. I did drive more than usual. My odometer reads 35,572, so I drove 1,289 miles. I've been going to therapy for my knee and I think it's getting better. I need to get more flexible and I think that's just going to take time. So I have to be patient. I need to start watching what I eat better as I've been pretty lax about that. I'll try to do better in March. Lastly, if nothing else, I'm remembering that it's important to spend time with the people who mean the most to you.

Black Friday

Today is "Black Friday", which means that I'm spending it relaxing after hosting Thanksgiving yesterday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I believe yesterday was quite enjoyable for everyone. The wild turkey got deplucked and turned out ok. My turkey breast roast, made out of a bunch of pieces, was good. The roasted sweet potatoes were good. And as always the desserts were finished off without a problem.

I had fun yesterday posting to twitter about all the things I was thankful for. And we ended the evening by introducing my sister's kids to the beauty of Star Wars. Since we normally have a Christmas viewing of Star Wars, I'm not sure what we'll do then. We may have to move on to "The Empire Strikes Back".

Today people will shop, which is a little weird after spending yesterday being thankful for what you have. While I have no desire to "go shopping" ever, I know that I ran out of laundry detergent yesterday. So if I want to wash all the dirty linens, a trip to a store might be needed today.

As I now have three full days over which I don't need to think about work, I have a couple of personal projects that I'd like to take a crack at. One is the letterpress-printed save the date cards for my brother's wedding. I'm hoping my plates get delivered today, though they may not. It would be nice to be able to play around with that today. Another is to build a little project with some of the wood I have in my basement and to try out the milk paint I bought as a finish. Lastly, though it's supposed to rain for most of the day, I'd like to go for a bike ride. It's supposed to be in the 50s today, which will make for a nice ride.

George’s Challenge

My 10 (about to be 11) year old nephew George told me that he has to read 40 books this school year. Each book needs to be at least 200 pages long. He was not looking forward to this and thought that nothing could possibly be worse. Since we are a very competitive family, I told him that it was easy and I could do it no problem. Not only that I could read 40 books twice as long as the ones he was reading. Result of my boast is that I now have to read 40 books by the end of the school year. Each of my books has to be at least 400 pages long. Stupidly, I didn't get the details of his assignment before I agreed to this. After we shook on it, I found out that I don't necessarily get to choose all the books, but that they have to be in some specific genres. So, here's what I have to read this year:

Realistic fiction - 5
Historical fiction - 5
Fantasy - 4
Science fiction - 2
Biography - 2
Nonfiction - 4
Poetry - 2 (shoot me now)
Traditional Lit - 5
Graphic novels - 1
Mystery - 2
Free choice - 8

I have to say that the challenge worked, since as George was leaving he said he was going home to read. I, on the other hand, will be visiting the library soon to get some books. And if anyone can recommend a 400 page or greater book, let me know. I'm going to be looking for ideas. And when I'm trying to get through 400 pages of poetry, I will probably not be someone anyone wants to hang out with. I'll try to warn people in advance.

Making Xmas Gifts Fun

This year I wanted to do something different for Xmas gifts. I hate just buying gifts to buy someone a gift. I want my gifts to be unique and hopefully liked. I decided that I was going to make my own gifts this year. And after watching this video, I decided that I was going to make stationery for people.

The first thing that caught my eye in that video is that the press the guy built is pretty simple. My goal was to build something using only materials I already had in my house. I didn't succeed with this part. I ended up buying a 3' piece of black pipe and some cork. But everything else in the press was found in my basement.

All the pictures that I took throughout the process are here.

The first thing that I knew I needed to do was to buy a plate with everyone's names on it. Since I wasn't sure how long this would take, I submit the order before I built the press. I ordered from Boxcar Press. They have a lot of helpful information on their website for how to submit your design and I didn't have any problems with them. However, my design was pretty much a crapshoot as I didn't know how big the text should be or what fonts might work well. I decided to get two different fonts for everyone, hoping that one of them would work. Then I got started on building the press. The type of plate I got was KF152. This was suggested somewhere on their website, so I went with it.

My first design was basically all wood with one 1/4" steel rod. This didn't work at all as the wood handle was too heavy. Design #1 was quickly dropped. My next design used some black pipe that I had laying around with the steel rod. This didn't work either as the steel rod was too skinny and flexed. Design #3 used two pieces of 3/4" black pipe connected with the pipe clamp. This rotated really well. Now I just needed to figure out how to hang a board on the handle so that I could push down with it to make the print.

My first attempts used bolts to sort of clamp two pieces of plywood to the handle. Here I was trying to duplicate the youtube video where his top piece rotated. I tried to use some plain steel hooks and loops to get the same effect. This sort of worked, but the prints didn't seem to be offset much. After talking to a coworker, I increased the length of the handle by screwing another 2' piece of black pipe to the one I already had. This should allow me to press down a lot harder, which I tried to do. Now I ended up breaking one of the pieces of black pipe and bending my hooks that were holding the top plate in place.

This is where I ended up buying a 3' piece of black pipe to use as the handle. Then I also found some conduit clamps that I used to attach a top board to this new handle. As long as the two pieces of wood were parallel to each other when the handle came down, I was good. I ended up not needing to worry about it always pointing down. I then drilled two holes through both boards and put dowels in the top board. This would make sure that the top plate always came down in the same location.

The last step was to get some thin cork that I stapled to the top board. Once I had that installed, I set up some guides to hold the paper in place and made some prints. The press seemed to be working ok. Now it was just a matter of me putting the right amount of ink on the name and pulling down hard, but not too hard, on the handle. After about an hour or so, I was making some decent prints and knew that things would work. It was just going to take a little time for me to get good at it.

Here are some things I learned. You have to roll out the ink to have a very thin about on the brayer. Too much ink makes a mess and the only way to fix it is to take everything out and wash it. I bought water-based ink for block printing, which was a good choice as it cleaned up easily. The one drawback though is that it dried really quickly. I could get, at most, 10 prints at a time before the ink on my glass dried up. Fortunately, since everything cleaned up with water, it wasn't too much of a chore to just clean it all off and start again. This gave me the advantage that I could change colors a lot. I also learned that I have no idea how to mix colors. Pretty much anything I tried turned into brown. So I just stuck with the red, green and purple that I bought. I also bought yellow, but you couldn't see it on the paper. Lastly, the plates can be reused. After I was done printing with them, I'd just wash them and put the paper backing back on. I reused a few names about four times and could probably do some more with them.

I have to say that I was pretty pleased with how everything turned out. I did end up having to buy a second plate because the fonts I picked for a few of the names (Ted, Annie and Shadla) on the first plate just didn't work. This wasn't so bad. I missed a few people on the first plate because I thought I ran out of space. So I got to get them on the second plate. I'd also like to improve on the design so I could do some more printing. I'm not yet sure what I'd do, but I might come up with another good idea.

Vacation!

Drove out to Cape Cod and Boston with my sister this past week. She attended the National Science Teachers Association conference and I just went to hang out. We drove so we could take our bikes and do a little biking while we were out there. We both also signed up for 30 Days of Biking, so we had to ride each day. The drive out was very long, but we had really great weather, which was nice. We were also in Cape Cod in the off season, so there weren't very many people around. The disadvantages were that most things were still closed, but that was ok.

I've posted all my pictures here. I loved the fact that we took our bikes. Boston is a great biking town and I rode all over. Cape Cod was not as bike-friendly, but it had a great long trail that we rode. I was really happy with how easy it was to transport the bikes on the new rack on my car. I plan on definitely doing this again to other places. One of my goals for the year is to ride more and this was an excellent start.

Drywall

Finally got the pictures up from the drywalling party. They are here. I owe my niece Abby a movie for being a fabulous photographer. Words cannot express my gratitude to everyone who came and helped out. I love you all more than you can possibly know. I got most of you to sign the back of one of my cabinets to be a part of my kitchen forever. I'll try to catch those who didn't sign it before I hang the cabinet, but if I don't it's ok. You all are the people who mean the most to me in the world.

cabinet_signatures

Insane

It's been a while since I posted, but not for lack of activity. In fact, I can't remember a time when I have been so busy. Things got so much out of control that I think it contributed to me getting sick earlier in the week. So I decided to take some action and start saying no to some things.

The good news is that the drywall party was great. I am close to a fantastic group of people who all came over and helped me out. I have pictures that I have yet to take off my camera and post. They're coming soon. My brother got me someone to do the taping, so that was finished the week after the drywall was hung. I finished priming everything yesterday and even pulled wire through all the conduit. Yes, I should have painted before I did that, but I'm an idiot and like doing things out of order. I've been looking up dishwashers and stoves and think that I might have to move the outlet for the dishwasher. Not far, but according to the installation directions, it's currently in the wrong place. Shouldn't be hard to move since we didn't put drywall on that part of the breakfast island. It doesn't need it, since it will be behind a cabinet and dishwasher.

Aside from the chaos at home, work was a little intense as well. But things seem to be slowing down now, which makes me very happy. There are a few things I want to learn and I'd like to have a little time to do that. Tonight, I've been reading up on gnuplot, which I think should become my goto plotting program. It really makes nice plots and I think it will be a very useful tool to have in my arsenal.

So, yes, life has been insane of late. But the other thing I've noticed is that I've been really, really happy. I think that's mostly because I can finally see the kitchen coming to an end. And it's not so much that I'll have a new kitchen, which will be nice. But it's the sense of accomplishment that I'm enjoying. I wanted to try to do this, as much as I could, by myself. And I think I've succeeded. Hopefully, I haven't done anything stupid, but you can't fail if you don't try.

Froze My Butt Off

Julie and I did the Santa Hustle this morning. It was under 20 degrees and freakin' freezing. Here's a few pictures I took when I could get my fingers out of my gloves.

Had the beards at the start, but they weren't that comfortable
Had the beards at the start, but they weren't that comfortable
Lots of crazy people with us
Lots of crazy people with us
Fortunately, I brought some extra socks to wear on my hands. Julie needed them for her feet.
Fortunately, I brought some extra socks to wear on my hands. Julie needed them for her feet.
Yay!  We finished!
Yay! We finished!
Note the frost on Julie's hat.
Note the frost on Julie's hat.
Happy I survived!
Happy I survived!