Thursday, 13 August 2015

Backyard Camping

Lately there has been much chatter between online friends about tents and camping and gear and so on. This got me thinking - we take our kids camping a lot, but are they actually camping, or just bumping along. So when I got home tonight, I pulled out our trusty old tent and tossed it in the backyard. Then I told the boys that if they set it up they could sleep out in it.

When they came asking for help, I told them I was eaten by a bear. Here is the progress...

Step 1 - unpacking. No help needed. Fo' Sho'

Step 2: "Dad, he won't do what I say" Too bad. I was eaten by a bear.

Step 3: Assembling poles. The shock cords make this super easy. Even if you're seven and your four year old brother keeps pulling the other end.

Step 4: Assembly. here I had to step in to show him the tent was upside down. After that, feeding the poles through the sleeves was a non-issue. He did it without any prompts.

Step 5: Erection. I had to show him the way the poles fit in the corners, but then he put it up on his own. It was helpful to have a little brother stand on the opposite corner to keep the tent from moving.

Step 6: Getting the fly on took teamwork since the tent is taller than the boys. When they did get it on, it was upside down.

 Hammering pegs in takes loads of work. But he got 'er done.

The little brother helped clip the fly on to the tent.

Time to furnish the palace. I'm not sure how many blankets, sleeping bags, stuffies, pillows etc. are out there. Many trips were made.

And here we are ready for bedtime! I guess this means Mom and I have the house to ourselves!

Thursday, 30 July 2015


On another blog, a challenge was issued to think back through your life, and record the big game-changers. The moments or events, or decisions that brought you to who and where you are, with a focus especially on the positives. Here's my list. I could probably make a second one of the 'Family Game Changers' and I could make a third list of the negative choices, but I'm trying to keep it positive. Some of these were heartbreaking at the time, but lead to positive outcomes...

#1. Being in awe as a kid with Jacques Cousteau and his voyages and discoveries - he was a strange role model, but I began to research and realize in about grade 5 that he was really a normal guy and anyone could have great adventures.

#2. In around Grade 6 doing a class field trip to a local nature centre, and writing down turn-by-turn the route the bus took, then retracing the route a week later on my bike. This was my first time sneaking out of the house and my first 'expedition' that I put together on my own. I remember calling my Mom from the nature centre and her freaking out about where I was (it was a good 20km from home)

#3. Taking the Junior Leadership course in Cadets when I was around 15. Its hard to explain to people who haven't been through it, but this course basically destroys every facet of who you think you are, then forces the kids to rebuild their self image from the ground up - add to the stresses of the course that I was one of the unpopular kids, and you have a helluva tough summer that transitioned me from saying "I can't." to "How can I?"

#4 - At 19 serving a Mormon mission. I am not supportive of the church now. At all. But this experience forced me to question the faith and see through the veneer of "Do it for Jesus" to how a church-business operates. It also fine-tuned my bullshit meter to hyper-sensitive, and gave me an opportunity to develop some really strong persuasion/public speaking skills. I remember sitting on the balcony of our apartment in Dallas GA and mapping out where I wanted my life to be at 20-40-60 yrs ahead. I still reference those notes.

#5 - At 23 - My first child's birth. The incredible weight of responsibility, pure love, and fear that mixed in the room that day was palpable. I have had more confidence and more understanding with the kids that followed, but my first child was an incredible rush of emotion when she was born - mostly because I was so unprepared. I still am, so is she. We're all growing together.

#6 - At 25 - My first divorce. Two things came of this - always have a plan b, and nothing is forever. Even the idea of anything being 'once-in-a-lifetime" is laughable to me. Also, you can't be in control of everything, least of all the decisions of another person. I made a lot of mistakes in that relationship, and likely the biggest was to not see the goals of my partner as being as important as my own. I work hard in my current marriage to make sure this doesn't happen again.

#7. - At 27 - Returning to school for Architecture, and coming out with a Civil/Transportation diploma. Nothing has been as large of a game changer as making the conscious decision to chart my course back to school and into a professional career. It was where I met my wife, where I took control of my destiny, and where I excelled for the first time. In the 4 years I was in school there were a lot of 'out-there' achievements that I won't detail here, except to say that I really did some awesome things in those years, while raising a kid, holding a mortgage, and maintaining an honours average, and building a relationship with SWMBO.

#8. Waiting 8 years to marry my wife. It was a long wait, but she stuck it out. And when we did marry, we were firmly set in our relationship, had a good community around us, and were familiar to family. We had an incredible wedding, and our marriage is strong, even if it has rough spots from time to time.

#9. Deciding to give up my dream home in the country for a nice house in the city, and engineering both of our careers to be within walking/biking distance of the office. It’s amazing working so close to home, and is something I have never experienced since leaving grade school.

#10 Going on strike - Last year we were out on strike, and quickly discovered who our friends were and who was like-minded to us. We also got to see just how fragile our household economics were. That lead us to some changes in lifestyle, and eventually to frugal living and saving. Currently we are working hard at building wealth.

The most critical thing I have found is that as long as you are making controlled, conscious decisions and not just going with whatever is easy, then you are going in the right direction.

I'd love to see others' lists. What in your life made you a better person, and how?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Spring 2015 - Life Returns to the Backyard.

I'm going to act all nonchalant like no one noticed that I haven't blogged since, what? February? And I'm going to pretend that everyone is deeply distressed about the space being quiet for so long. But its all pretend.

I'm posting today because the backyard is looking incredibly green and Alive after a very long, very cold winter.

In case you haven't been following along, here is what our yard looked like a couple years back, when we moved in (Taken from the real estate listing - April 2012):

And then a year later, in full construction glory, it looked like this (May 2013):

And after much effort to build retaining walls, put in a new deck, liner and plumbing for the pool, things started taking shape and it looked like this (Oct 2013):

And then last summer things finally started to feel 'right' (June 2014):

So as our gardens emerge this spring, I am happy to see the gaps beginning to fill in, and to have a good sense of what things are going to shape up to be. Its starting to feel like what the back yard was intended to look like. Sure we still have holes where the hardy hydrangeas haven't emerged yet (they are so pokey!) and we need to get more under-story going in a few spots - and I just relocated a lungwort, that's still pouting about it. But overall, the shape is emerging...

I present the spring expectancy for the gardens, 2015 edition.

<Begin Drum Roll Now>

In keeping with tradition, I have not tidied the yard before taking pictures. I mean, why stop when the mess of toys has come to be expected.

First off the Great Weeping Hadrian Wall of Dreams. Its still standing, not showing any hint of movement.  And it looks good too! The orange rope keeps dogs and kids on the lawn and out of the plants.

The railing still (STILL!) isn't in place. This is because I'm suffering through design anxiety. I know the look I want, I just don't know how to get there. And now that the shed is done, I feel like I have to tie the designs together, and they really, really don't jive. Drama. I need to just do it.

See the Jam Jar lights on those poles? They still work after 2 years, so I think I got the wiring all waterproof! Also, 3 X 100 watt bulbs right at the pool does a better job than 1 X 1200 watt bulb mounted to the house 30 feet away.

The day-lilies and iris are putting out massive greenery, and buds are just forming. I think we'll have a flood of colour shortly, but I am getting some root rot in the Iris. I should thin them and look at soil drainage.

Behind the pool, the espalier has jumped up to the top of the frame. Soon we'll reach the top of the fence, and then I'm not sure what we do with it...

The only thing actually in bloom right now are our Iris Siberica "Shaker's Prayer" (Siberian Iris) - I used it in the top pic, and it is a very good plant. Slow spreader, beautiful blooms, impossible to kill. They put out 5 blooms per stalk, and have pretty good staying power for an early plant. The other Iris are coming on soon though, and the peonies are full of buds. I'll have to update with another garden tour in a week or so. We also have a few tulips hanging on but their days are numbered.

Early in the spring I was excited when some chickadees checked out the birdhouses, but I guess they didn't like them so much. We have no tenants. Its too bad, the boys had a good time making the houses with me. All of our neighbours have commented on a decline in the number of birds at feeders this winter though, so I guess maybe its not just our houses that are the problem. I know the siting of the houses is less than perfect, but I was still hoping.

In the shady corners of the yard, the espalier is a lot shorter - no surprise there. I expect it will catch up eventually. Patience. There were a lot of blooms on the trees this spring, which is a good sign. Now we'll have to see how many were pollinated, and if the fruit sets, and finally, how much damage the squirrels and raccoons do before the fall.

Fingers crossed that they leave us a couple apples.

So all this brings us to the Seuss Tree.

I know its supposed to be a Blue Spruce, and I know they can be a little... quirky? But this? Its got a reverse curve in its trunk. I'm not sure what to make of it. If it grows to maturity it will block the path between the gate and the yard. I think its got to go. I think we're going to end up replacing it with a laundry tree. Maybe I'll write up that project next. Or sometime. I mean, its going on 4 months since my last post, so I wouldn't get too excited waiting for the next one.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Installing Hardwood flooring

This space has been quiet as we've lapsed into hibernation mode, but somehow despite the cold, and sickness and everything else that comes with winter in Canada, we've managed to get a hardwood floor install done in the spare bedroom.

Before starting on this, I got my heart set on doing a picture frame floor. There are some risks associated with stretching yourself into this sort of utilitarian art, mostly that once you start you can't go back, and that whatever flaws come up because of stretching will negate the awesomeness of everything else you do in the project. Nevertheless, I wanted to try, and so we now have a spare room (rarely visited) with a pretty cool floor... and a few small hiccups that will be covered by furniture. Forever.

Months ago we tore up the carpet in this room, only to discover some rot in the subfloor. That took the wind out of our sails and feeling woebegone, I stalled on the project for months. This post picks up where that floor repair left off.

The first step in laying the floor is to prepare the subfloor. In our case that meant finding the high and low spots. We used a 6 ft long straightedge, and made a grid of marks one foot apart. Then with straight edge up on its side, we used chalk to mark where the floor was high or low.

Many online instructions advised raising the low spots by filling with a leveling agent and lowering the high spots with aggressive sanding.

I used my Triton Sander (review here) and sanded down the worst of the high spots, then rechecked with the level and found that the floor was mostly flat. This brought relief since I didn't want to mess with a leveling agent. The sanding kicked up a lot of dust, and the sander really heated up from the aggressive use, but it all worked well.

With the floor mostly level, I started putting flooring screws into the floor to eliminate squeaks and stiffen the floor. At some point, someone before me had done this same task but with nails. I decided to just put a screw between each pair of nails in the floor. I went through a lot of screws. Once I was done, the floor was noticeably stiffer, and silent. If anyone ever lifts this hardwood, they will find 3 different sets of flooring fasteners. I wonder if they will add a fourth.

After all the  screws were in, the high spots were even lower, and the floor was very flat. It was time for Kraft paper. Putting down paper under a floor is an object of some debate. First there is the debate as to what the purpose of the paper is in the first place. Historically, the paper was meant to block out dust and light from seeping through the hardwood into rooms below. There are stories of NY tenement apartments where the pinpricks of light from upper stories filter down through the floorboards, and of sweeping dust "through the cracks" to apartments below.

Today, that really isn't an issue, since most folks have ceilings. Some people claim the paper acts as an airbreak, preventing heating from escaping to upper stories. Some also claim it prevents the hardwood from scraping against the subfloor, creating squeaks. Some say it is a relic of days gone by, and does nothing at all. I have no opinion on any of these ideas, but I had a roll of rosin paper and a roll of tar paper, so I figured what the heck, no reason not to lay the paper since it wouldn't hurt anything. I asked online about the advantages of Tar vs Rosin paper for this, and opened a furious debate. In the end I went with rosin paper since it was the smaller of the two rolls and I hoped I would finish it off and free up some storage space. (I didn't) My helpers were very helpful working the staple gun and very-sharp-knife.

The one tip I can offer about laying paper for hardwood is to lay it so it is perpendicular to the flooring. This means that the pieces of flooring won't catch on the seams in the paper.

With the rosin paper down, and the floor leveled, I could finally start laying out the floor. I marked the floor joist locations on the walls, Then checked the walls for squareness. The advantage of a picture frame floor is that the frame eats up whatever out-of-squareness you have in your walls. The disadvantage is that you end up needing to make some very precise cuts and pre-thinking a lot of the layout. It is not a difficult thing to do, but you can't just start slapping down the wood.

Using a stringline, I laid out a 90° corner two strips of wood out from the wall. A trick to be sure things are square is to use a 3-4-5 triangle for your layout. This means that a triangle with sides measuring 3 ft and 4 ft will have a hypotenuse 5 ft long.

A2 + B2 = C2
32 + 42 = C2
9 + 16 = C2
25 = C2
5 = C
Once my string was square, I set to cutting and placing the corner pieces and locking them in. to do this, I got some cheap MDF and laid it in line with the string line. The MDF would act as a guide to lay the hardwood to.

I used a mitre sled to cut all my angled cuts. The trick of a mitre sled is that it has a pair of fences that form a 90° angle. The angle is very nearly bisected by the saw blade, but doesn't have to be right at 45° since the included angle will always add to 90° as long as the fences are kept square. By cutting two boards , no matter what the angle on either side of the blade is, the two boards will always mate flush to form a 90° angle with no gap.

With my corner pieces cut at 90°, it was time to actually start laying hardwood!

Here I made a mistake. I thought that using brads to hold the edge boards in place would be strong enough. I know that you are supposed to use screws, but I thought that brads would be less intrusive and reduce risk of the boards splitting. I was wrong. Trust me, use screws and avoid much frustration. See how nice and tight the corner is up there? See how perfect it is? Well, every board I put in bent the brads and drove that corner out of square, and there was no going back to tighten it up. Lesson learned and an 1/8" gap now lives in that corner. I have a dresser to put over it.
Luckily, working around the closet doors turned out much better.
With the first rows set in place, I started working on the field, which goes pretty quick. Its just a matter of setting boards in place, snugging them up, and whacking the flooring nailer with the big-ass hammer. 

 First row with the floor nailer. Yay, this is fun!

Almost halfway through and the glitter is starting to tarnish

Satisfying corner work looks all professional and stuff.

Regular vacuuming keeps sawdust and debris at bay. Even so, the house is full of sawdust and debris. By this point laying hardwood is no longer fun.
Once I started getting close to done, it was time to sweat over the last side of the picture frame. because I am a DIY guy and not a pro, I found myself in trouble. My layout was off by 1/4" which meant my picture frame would be unperfect. I couldn't put a 1/4" sliver of wood in as the last row of hardwood, so I was flustered, and left off work for a week.
During that week I hung out on a beach in Cuba and thought about what to do.

Inspired by Rum Punch and Cubatas, I returned home to finish the job. First I laid out a bunch of boards to replicate what the corner would look like when it was completed.

With that done, I marked and cut off a board to approximately the right length for the corner. 

I used a scrap of wood behind it to support while I nailed and pinned it in place, Then finished laying in the field.

Being off by 1/4" on the angle gave me enough clearance from the wall that I could maintain my 2 board picture frame, but slide in a 1" board against the wall. The trim would hide the narrow board. I had a good plan and went with it.

In no time the whole floor was complete, and now we are ready for baseboards and transitions. I am still deciding whether to continue into the hallway (I hate the flooring out there) or do another bedroom next. I think it will be the hallway, but that is a pricey proposition with all the bullnosing I would need around the stairs. For now I'm focusing on finishing up the baseboards and trim in this room, and patching the drywall in the closet.

In any case - all done - here's to the new floor in the spare room!

Yay Floor!!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Floor Fixing - Preparing for Hardwood

We bought hardwood to install upstairs in our spare bedroom a while back, then the project stalled out when we found ourselves on strike. After that the project moved forward just enough to see the carpet torn out and a rotten spot found along an exterior wall.

The rot scared me off the project for a long time, but I've decided to tackle the hardwood as much as I can, while patching the rot and then I can return to the problem spot as part of a bigger project. This blogpost will show how we patched the subfloor and prepped for hardwood, with the hardwood install following in a later post.

Meet the problem.This is the back corner of a closet. The wall to the left (being attacked by a crowbar) is the rear exterior wall of our house. The wall to the right backs onto the chimney, but is also an exterior wall.

A tiny air gap in the corner of the wall has allowed moist exterior air to come into teh house. Once inside the air is trapped by the vapour barrier plastic, and absorbed by the wall framing and floorboards.

In order to put the brakes on the rot, I needed to block the air infiltration, and in order to fix the floor I needed to replace the rotten plywood.

First order of business is to pull up the plywood and see how invasive things are.

Using just a prybar in the rotten sections, and a skilsaw in the solid wood, I removed the floor from the closet. This made for loads of little rotten wood flakes and some sawdust. It was tough fighting the nails in teh good wood, but the rotten sections just crumbled apart. 

With the plywood out, I used a handsaw to clean up the edges of the hole, and tidied things up. My next step was to stop up the airflow by using some expanding foam to fill in the gaps and holes. I boogered things up pretty good and left it to set up overnight. The next morning I cleaned up the over-flow and took this pic:

There was huge change once the airgap was sealed. Amazing how a detail like this can warm up a room! Ok, a closet. But still...

With the air gap sealed, I turned to installing cleats to mount boards on for the new subfloor to screw into. I found some scrap cedar left over from my shed build this summer, and predrilled holes to accept a 1/4" X 2-1/2" lag bolt. The ledger boards were lagged to the solid framing to give a spot for the subfloor to attach to. This was needed because when I cut away the subfloor, I missed cutting on a joist by about 5".  The cleats would create a shelf for a board to sit on to act as a support to the edge of the plywood where I had cut it away.

My helper started the lags in the cleats...

And then I installed them and the board for the subfloor to sit on.

If you look closely in that pic, you can see that I marked the top of the joists so I would know where the cleats are. This way, I was able to lag through the new board into teh cleats to hold everything snug and tight. The hardest part of this step was getting the board to sit in place and to pull it sug against the existing subfloor. Lag bolts acted as a clamp to pull things up tight. They were removed once everything was set up. 
At this point I was ready to start installing new plywood. Step one was to get a piece of tar paper and lay it into the space. I stapled it to teh floor to prevent it from moving, then using a utility knife, cut out the outline of the missing plywood.

The outline came out messy, but for the mostpart it showed the path I had taken when I freehanded the cut with the skil saw, and the imperfections in the house.

I stapled the template on a piece of plywood and took the whole thing out to the tablesaw. 15 minutes later, I returned with a nearly perfect patch for the subfloor.

When I came in, I found that my helper had marked up a scrap of wood I left out. It made me smile that he had copied my markings and on the opposite side had marked the board the way I mark them to go through the planer.

Anyways, with the patch cut, I brought it up stairs, used a jigsaw to adjust things a little, et voila - a perfect fit!

With things fitting so nicely, I was able to drive a pile of flooring screws into the patch and the surrounding boards to pull everything together , and I have a floor that is solid and ready for hardwood!

I will need to get a long straightedge out and mark high and low spots on the floor, then do some leveling and tightening next, and at last it will be time for hardwood!