I forgot to stick with original title heading through these posts so I’ll have to go back and fix them.

But over the weekend we tackled the basement. We installed insulation on the concrete walls and began stripping the paint off the brick columns.

Our theme for the basement will be a mix of steampunk and Irish pub. The ceiling rafters, pipes, and bare brick will give the open industrial feel we are looking for. Mechanical accents will be added later. For now we’re building out the walls.

Originally we intended to leave the concrete bare or maybe add some paint or even brick overlay, but after some research we decided that it would be best to cover it in order to limit any heat loss or moisture buildup. This will be our TV/family room; I don’t want it to feel dank and basement-like. We will be framing up the walls this next week.

Sheri’s task was to remove a hundred years worth of paint. There are four of these and we want them to be bare brick. We tried several methods to remove grind or sand the paint off, but that turned out to be a bad idea. First, it didn’t work well at all and second, there is a very good chance that there is lead in the older paint. So, we gave up on that idea.

We tried a chemical stripper called, Citristrip. An orange gel that did absolutely nothing to this paint. The paint softened a little bit but not enough to remove it.

However, we had a savior in the paint industry. My wife happens to work for a distributor of chemicals used in paint. And the VP happens to be a chemist. Sheri called him with our problem and he had an immediately solution. Peel-Away from Sherwin-Williams. It is packaged as a kit in a bucket with everything you need. It is white paste that is brushed on and then covered with a special paper. Sheri applied it on Saturday and when she removed it on Sunday the paint peeled off in chunks! I was amazing. The product liquifies the paint, allowing it to be scraped off easily. There were multiple layers of paint on the column and it turned out beautiful. Peel-Away is an amazing product for anyone working with layers of old paint. We really had only one complaint: there is only about half as much special paper as you need to use the entire bucket. I suspect it is a marketing ploy. We’ll need more paste and paper to finish the remaining columns, but now we know how to do it. And the result is amazing.

Yesterday’s coffee
Cold or reheated
Is never quite what we seek

No matter how steaming
Or ‘fixed’ up
It still lacks the warmth and comfort of fresh

Those elements must fume off and dissipate
Leaving a lesser liquid
With all the kick but none of the bliss

What remains is a faded interpretation
Of godly ambrosia
The aroma now dampened and muddy

Yet, still I hold you close
And sip your faded essence
To forego the waste of the perfect cup you were

The first floor of our century house still had all of the charm and most of the fixtures that came new a hundred years ago. We have no intention of changing a thing on the first floor. However, the second floor has been remodeled several times over the years and the charm was missing, so we chose to update the space with new fixtures, carpet and even a second floor laundry.

We pulled the bland boring institutional carpet that was in the two main rooms and found asbestos tiles underneath. I was concerned at first, but after some research found that if I planned to cover them with carpet or other flooring, I didn’t have to do anything with them. It’s called ‘encapsulating’. Basically, as long you don’t plan to disturb them, you can leave them. I love that. Therefore, we left them in place as much as we could.

The problem came when we went to hire a carpet installer. The Lowes installer refused to do the work unless we removed the tile, which I said was never going to happen. I did not want anything to do with that paperwork. As far as I am concerned, that tile will be in the house for another hundred years. Lowes actually tried to play hardball and pressure us into pulling it up, but we found Flooring Galaxy in Brentwood, who said they did that kind of work all the time. Which made sense to me. St Louis is full of hundred year old buildings. There is no way people are pulling out all the asbestos tiles in those buildings. No way. And I was right. Terry and Michael at Flooring Galaxy hooked me up and did a fine job of installation.

BUT – before we could install the carpet I wanted to replace the radiator in the Master bedroom.

The original radiator was a large cast iron beast that took up a significant section of wall. In order to place our bed where we wanted, I would have to move the radiator and the plumbing. All, before the carpet could be laid – I was on a deadline.

Hot water heating technology has advanced far beyond what it was a hundred years ago. Finding a small wall-hung unit to replace the cast iron beast was easy. Replumbing it was a much tougher task. Hundred year old pipe fittings don’t like to come a part. They were also installed when the walls were open and accessible.

The end result was a complete replumb of the heating system for the master bedroom and bathroom. The master bathroom is currently without heat until I can get around to that remodel.

The heating pipes were installed between the floors in the sewer stack access tunnel and were inaccessible unless I wanted to open up the wall – I didn’t. Instead, I purchase two twenty foot sections for 3/4″ PEX and slipped it up through the wall beside the old steel pipe. It was not easy and took a good part of a day to get it in position and connected. I cut off steel pipe and left it in place. Maybe at some point in the future I will have access to remove it. But for now it is a relic for future repairers to find.

Connecting the new piping to the larger pipe system in the basement was also an adventure. Hundred year old pipe does not like to come a part! I hurt myself and used up my entire collection of pirate words to get it done. There was some cutting and cursing involved.

This was what I consider an advanced home project and it was definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. However, it turned out great and is a huge improvement to the room.

My wife did all of the painting and hated every minute of it! That is worthy of a post in the future.

Our one hundred year old house had a finished basement at several points in its history. The latest iteration included a dropped ceiling, a 3/4 bath and even an Oakland Raiders room sometime after 2016. However, at the time of our purchase it was moldy, damaged and partly gutted. Our project over the last two weeks has been to remove the ceiling and Raider room.

We discovered that the original century-old plaster and lath ceiling was still extant but hidden by the dropped ceiling. Someone had added the dropped ceiling to cover up the heating and plumbing pipes. But it also lowered the ceiling of the room by 18 inches. Removing it will give us a basement with an 8 foot ceiling! We also revealed the knob and tube wiring that still powers the house. Some of it had been added after the original ceiling was installed. There were wires running all over, many that no longer connected to anything.

Our biggest surprise was to discover that we had asbestos pipe insulation on our hot water heating pipes. This detail was not mentioned in the sellers documentation. However, instead of being upset about it, I just removed it. We suited up and pulled it out.

We then pulled all of the plaster and lathe ceiling work down, along with 100 years of dust. It was seriously nasty work. I wanted it all down in one weekend so we could be done with it. The three of us tackled it and got it completely pulled down. A dumpster will be delivered this week and we will spend next week loading it up.

Our new basement will have an industrial theme with a little steampunk bar area. All of the pipes and wires will be exposed and I’m leaving the ceiling bare up to the joists and subflooring above. It’s going to be cool. Trust me.

Inspiration, Finance Manager, and General Labor

My wife and I have not owned a house for many years. First, we relocated and tried to sell a house during the housing crash of 2008. Then we finally had to give up the house after the last renter trashed it and we were still unable to sell it. We then relocated several more times for work. So, we have been renters for the last twelve years.

That ended today. We just closed on a 100 year old house on a half acre in St Louis. This is a long time coming and feels like one of the final pieces of being an adult. I’m fifty-some years old and just now getting around to owning a home. There were good reasons for the delay but it feels good to finally be past that hurdle.

The one good thing to come out of the pandemic for us was the rock bottom interest rates. If you had the money to spend, this was a great time to buy a house. And for once our timing was perfect. We looked at a hundred houses, I think and missed out on several truly amazing places. But I think fate was just holding out for this one to become available. We toured it on the first day it was available and fell in love at first sight. We put our bid on it right then and there.

Our next adventure is remodeling. I’ll be posting about that here also, along with updates on the new humongous yard we have. The wife has been talking about getting some baby goats. I can’t say it’s not intriguing.

I do not believe that things happen for a reason. Sure there are reasons things happen, but there is no overarching plan.

When terrible things happen, people like to say that “things happen for a reason,” as if there is some plan that made this event necessary. I think people want to believe that their lives mean something, have a destiny, a purpose. They want a reality where every action, breeze, or accident is somehow preordained to ensure that something else will happen in the future.

But for that to be true, the end result must be imagined beforehand. There must be a sum or quotient or outcome that everything leads to.

Where      a + b – c = x  

or in life events, 

grandma dying + you losing your job – you changing the neighbor’s tire = Cubs win the World Series

But I don’t believe that life could possibly work that way. I don’t believe that there is an equal sign in my life or anybody’s. Life is not an equation.

There is no destined or predetermined endpoint. How could there be?

If there were actually a god or some kind of universal being planning everything, then free will would not only be unnecessary but impossible. Every single action would be dictated by the plan. At that point, we would just be pawns in someone else’s game. And I refuse to believe in a universe like that. It doesn’t make sense.

Also, that would mean that this god planned the rape, the miscarriage, the war, the disease, the poverty, and the slavery that lead to our lives. I could not in good conscience respect or worship or even believe in such a being.

Life is not an equation with an equal sign. There is no x at the end of it.

Life is more like a + b – c / f * d + 2 … into infinity from day 1 to day n+1. It never equals anything. It never balances, it never sums. It’s life in all its chaotic, unplanned, unfathomable calculus of infinity.

That should be enough.

Life Without a Plan

Word of the Day: Mensch-iness !!

rachelmankowitz

This past week in the United States has been stressful, for everyone, and because my synagogue school students are part of that everyone, I wanted to focus on teaching a lesson that would reassure them, somewhat, that there are areas of their lives where they really do have some control. And, because I love teaching Yiddish words, the lesson for this week was: what does it mean to be a mensch?

Mensch is a Yiddish word, from German, meaning “human being,” or a person of integrity and honor. The opposite of a mensch is an unmensch, a person treating others cruelly and without compassion, as opposed to the word ubermensch (Nietzsche alert) which is usually translated as “the superman,” someone who is superior to other humans. The word Mensch has gathered a lot of associations in American culture (bearded, male, Jewish) but it really means a person who is…

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Have you ever found yourself glued to the television or following a particular news story, your attention laser-focused on the outcome of the event? Focused as if your life depended on the result or even as if you could influence it? It’s this last belief that I want to address.

It all began with a genuine interest in the dumpster fire that is our president. I then found myself refreshing the news site every few moments to ensure that I had the newest and freshest updates. Events were moving so fast that I couldn’t afford to turn my attention to other things because my attention was needed! The end result required me to stay focused.

Or so I believed. So we all believe to a certain extent.

Some scientists believe that humans have an innate tendency toward religion. I think that it is less about a higher being than our collective ability to influence the world around us. Essentially, an inherent faith in the power of belief or a belief in the power of faith.

However, I believe that this instinct is more a group focus than a religion. We believe that our attention on an event can influence that event. I call this the Attention Effect. It is similar to the Observation Effect in Quantum Mechanics, where “the mere observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon.” The Attention Effect is the belief that “the focused attention of the observer on the phenomenon can influence the phenomenon.” Not only can we change the phenomenon by observing it but can consciously change the result.

“We must have Faith” is another way of saying this. But rather than focusing our attention or faith on a diety to influence events, we have sidestepped the need for a diety with belief in our own ability to directly control events.

The secularization of society has redirected our faith away from religion to other outlets. The news cycle, the drama of social media, sports, the stock market, and currently, in my case, politics need our attention and influence to move in our favor. We have convinced ourselves that we can nudge the events by watching by paying attention.

In my case, politics is much like watching sports. I couldn’t afford to miss a single play because the entire game may hinge on that one moment. I needed to Pay Attention! Because of the Attention Effect!

Rather than a diety, society has turned our superstition to other things. Our institutionalized faith is now focused on the news cycle, sports teams, politics, or a celebrity’s love life. Our attention has been siphoned off, bottled, and monetized. And, yet, still has no effect on events. None…Nada…The same nothing as always. But marketing and capitalism have conspired to give us the warm fuzzy feeling of participation and accomplishment. But it’s illusory. Yes, we participated in a cultural moment, but that moment will ultimately be lost in the static of every other cultural moment.

The hours I spent focusing my attention did not accomplish, influence, or earn me anything.

In the meantime, my novel isn’t finished, I have not mastered German, I still can’t play Crazy Train, and all my goals of youth, of last year and even yesterday are unaccomplished, sacrificed on the altar of attention. If Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci or Shakespeare had had access to the internet, we wouldn’t have the masterpieces they created because they would have been too distracted to do the work. Their attention would have been needed, nay demanded elsewhere.

So, the next time you find yourself glued to the television or the internet for no constructive purpose, TURN IT OFF. Turn it all off and walk away. Get some work done. CREATE!!

I have a particular fondness for fall. I love the smell of the autumn air and the crisp chill of the mornings. Yes, I also enjoy Halloween and football and pretty leaves and Thanksgiving and all the other stuff. But none of those really hold a candle to my favorite fall activity… snuggling!!

After months hot sticky summer nights where the AC just barely registers, where you can’t get any more naked but yet still wake up in a pool of sweat, and where I get banned from touching my wife because I’m walking furnace, the return of sweater weather is like the return of the sun to the Arctic. The long months of being shunned and alone on my side of the bed are gone, and I again become the best, warmest, most snuggly-wuggly husband in the world.

Yes, folks, I said snuggly-wuggly.

Once the chill air of autumn starts wafting fragrantly through our bedroom windows, I become the space-heater and home hearth that my spouse loves and cherishes. Under a pile of comforter, she burrows into my chest as if she could crawl right in, and I bask in the glory of being the torch that keeps her warm. I’m like a cozy, romantic fireplace you can hug.

She calls me her Huggy-Buggy-Muggy Bear, and I am fine with that. As far as I’m concerned, the Goddess can call me anything she wants.

Yeah, I love fall. Cause I’m warm.

IMG_4854

Scotland 2018

I took this photo on a trip to Austria years ago and it’s always been one of my favorites. Just a loyal dog waiting patiently for his owner.

What a great dog!

This would never be my dog. My dog would have run away or followed me into the store or taken off into the store without me. Anything but what a good dog would do, such as this very good dog is demonstrating.

I don’t have a dog, but if I did, he would be an asshole. That’s just the kind of dog parent I am.