Monday, August 31, 2009

Crown Moulding Milestone Party

The crown moulding is up, and Willow was on hand for our milestone celebration. As much as I hate to admit it, I get all warm inside when she gives me a smile and a job well done. What a sucker I am.

The puppy is away for his first day at espionage school (for all I know) with Cheryl, starting classes in French and Urdu and whatever martial arts the little guy needs (I'm afraid to ask), leaving Willow and me alone and back in the routine we had known for years, back before the puppy came into our lives.

So today in the puppy-less silence of this house, Willow is sleeping by my chair. She follows me up and down the stairs, in and out of the guest room, into the kitchen for coffee, down to play the piano, everywhere.

Cheryl and I knew that the puppy would upset the balance of our lives, like a fourth person stepping onto a row boat of three. Things are getting steady now and comfortable, but I worry that I don't pay enough attention to Willow. And for her part, I know that Willow wanted to point out the flaws, one by one, of the crown moulding and to give me a hard time, but today she didn't.

Next I will do the baseboards and then finish the curved area around the door. Getting closer.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I've spent the better part of the last few days watching Ted Kennedy's funeral. While we expect Barack Obama and other politicians to be eloquent and engaging speakers, is it really normal that the young Kennedy children--an array of grandchildren, nieces and nephews--could each approach the microphone with ease and speak with natural grace in front of hundreds of people and TV cameras? Is this a genetic trait, an inherited ability to be poised and polished and cute and charismatic and natural all at once?

I was an intensely shy kid, and I remain uneasy speaking in public today. In school I remember sitting nearly paralyzed after a teacher asked the class to tell us about your summer. Kids got up, one after after, yacking with ease while my heart pounded in my ears. I was not sure if I would be able to speak at all when my turn came. But this was and is just my nature. While I admire outgoing and personable people, I am comfortable with my shyness and would not have things any other way. Besides, there are more than enough loud talkers in the world.

At the burial site, the priest read a letter that Kennedy had written to the Pope just a few weeks ago. In it, Kennedy admits that he had not lived a perfect life but had tried to atone by pursuing, in a literal sense, a Christian agenda: compassion for the poor and sick, and in particular he mentioned his long-time pursuit of universal health care. It was such a simple and sincere letter, and so powerful, that it will surely surface during the upcoming policy debates. (And just now I saw the letter quoted on Meet the Press.)

Interesting that such a charismatic and eloquent speaker might, in the end, best help his cause by something he had written in private.

Anyway, back to work. I've finished sanding and have installed half of the crown moulding. More later.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sanding the Scars

The crown moulding is taking longer than expected, mostly because of the annoying scars on the curved portion of the wood, scars that were created when I pushed the wood over the saw at an angle. Every little imperfect move I made, every breath I took, amplified into gouges and cuts, and these must be sanded out, and some are pretty deep. I can't use the power sander because of the curve, so this all must be done by hand.

I'm not complaining--I love the swish, swish of sandpaper on wood. My problem now is a little CIA-engineered, zen master, secret agent puppy who needs my constant attention. Explain to me how a dog can speak 6 languages, do calculus, send emails, but still cannot resist chewing on shoes, towels, chair legs, table legs, hands, feet, etc. Well, Cheryl won't have to go to school tomorrow, so maybe I can do some sanding.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cutting a Curve

After running away from Home Depot like a little girl Saturday, I went back on Sunday to pick up the wood. (To be honest I went to Lowes so that I wouldn't have another chance encounter with the bearded man.)

I got the wood home and put design on a fast track, focusing first on the curve. Wood workers in the past cut curves into wood by using special curved blades. Today you can quickly create a curve by running the boards over the table saw at an angle.

You might guess that circular saws came into existence with the first power tools, but they've been around since the 18th century when they were used to cut off the thumbs of fornicators. A good knife is probably best for fornicators today.

I lined up my new wood outside and decide to just do it--create my angle cuts and then the curves for my custom crown moulding. This all went quickly enough at first. Then I got to a tricky part and asked Cheryl for some help. Dressed in a black skull-happy-face T-shirt, white Capri pants and a smart-looking dust mask, she looked so cute that I forget why I even needed any help. In fact, I'm pretty sure I didn't actually need help but was just getting lonely outside. It's a good thing she enjoys this sort of work (click on the picture to make it larger).

Meanwhile Willow and Bingo practiced yoga in the living room (with Willow mostly just watching) followed by some meditation and power napping. Nothing was ever said about the unusual man in Home Depot, and the project continues as before, except that I am certain the puppy now has his orders.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First Contact

I should have been suspicious this morning when Bingo, our new puppy, told me that he wanted to ride with me to Home Depot and pick up the wood for my crown moulding. Considering how cozy he and Willow have been lately, I figured he wanted to come along to keep an eye on me, probably to make sure I didn't spend too much money or buy something that was not on my so-called approved list of purchase items. Or possibly, I could hope, the little guy just wanted to get to know me better?

While I browsed through the stacks of pine, Bingo seemed distracted, looking back and forth as though he expected someone to appear. Soon I noticed, through the corner of my eye, a familiar looking man approaching--a bearded man who seemed out of place and too sophisticated for his work cloths and dusty boots, like some actor on his way to a Tennessee Williams play. "Very nice," the man said as he passed behind me.

For quite a while I stood frozen, though I can't say why. maybe it was his voice. Then I left the store without buying anything.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Crown Moulding By Hand

Now that the ceiling boards are in place, it's time for me to take on an unreasonable pursuit: to make my own crown moulding from knotty pine. To give you an idea, here's a scrap piece of crown moulding. It fits at an angle where your walls meet the ceiling, mostly as a decorative effect. Boards like these are made in big factories, while years ago they were handmade by professionals.

The only people who make their own crown moulding today are those insufferable, self-involved, self-deluded boring blowhards who pull you aside and describe (as if you could possible care) all the details of doing such a thing manually instead of just buying it at the hardware store. Not only will I say such things to everyone who comes with 100 yards of our guest room, I will also write about hand-made crown moulding in detail here, because I am so sure that people are secretly fascinated with such things.

OK, mainly I'm doing this because you can't buy crown moulding in knotty pine, and I want it to match the walls. At least I have an excuse.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Public Option

After some tricky cuts around the ceiling fan, it's all clear sailing to the wall. This is still a two-person (or one-person, one-puppy) job because of all the dips and sways in the ceiling, like trying to thread six needles at once. Cheryl helped this weekend, reading her vampire/romance/demon/detective novel on breaks, and things went well.

Today, however, Willow called for a town-hall meeting to discuss health care, meaning that she fielded questions from me and the puppy (Cheryl is absent once again). It wasn't long into the meeting that I began to wonder if the puppy had been set up to disrupt things, probably in collusion with Willow, who would rather give up her Frisbee than support health care reform.

First thing the puppy says: "Is it true that the public health option will mandate euthanasia for humans?" A scurrilous lie, but Willow would not confirm or deny the rumor. It went downhill from there. I was branded a socialist and Nazi for defending universal health care, and the puppy lunged for my throat with sharp puppy teeth, demanding to know where his country has gone (only alive for 12 weeks and already sentimental for the good old days).

Work resumes tomorrow but I am not optimistic.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who's Training Who?

As the bond between Willow and Bingo becomes stronger, I can only guess at what intrigue is set to play out. Clearly the guide dog training is a ruse, but to what end?

In the past, with the other dogs, I had at least some knowledge, some limited awareness of a plan and a mission (like smuggling microchips to foreign spies), knowing that Cheryl and I were just minor players in the drama. Now two dogs are working together in complete doggy secrecy. What seemed at a first a simple power play (a very Willow thing to do to expand her empire) has become clear: the little puppy is smarter than all of us, and Willow is no more than his willing pawn.

I will figure it out. In the meantime I'll play along with the guide dog training (even though I'm the one being trained). The ceiling is coming along, slowly. More later.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Puppy Promotion

With the archway pretty much done, I've started on the ceiling and I've learned that, despite all my preparation and planning, the physical challenge of getting these 8-foot-long floppy boards to stay put while I nailed them to the ceiling was tricky--this was more than a one-person job.

According to original implementation plan from Willow, I was scheduled to spend 55% of my time training the puppy to take my place on this project. Secretly I suspected that the puppy would not be very well equipped for working on the ceiling, and the plan would soon be abandoned (though I remain open-minded on the potential for puppies to do masonry and tile work). On the very first scheduled work day the puppy was a no-show. I went to investigate and found that he and Willow were sequestered in a meeting all morning, laughing and sniffing and nipping each other. By afternoon a new plan was announced: the puppy will be in management training full-time and Cheryl will be helping me as-needed on the ceiling, which is good. I'm convinced, after only the first hour, that Cheryl will be more help than the puppy.

We got about 3 rows up before I dropped the pneumatic gun and cracked the pressure hose, causing a full project stop. I'd been having trouble with the nail gun all day; with one hand on the ceiling I couldn't reach down to pick it up. I tried holding the nail gun between my thighs for a while. Seriously, I did.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Arches and Spain

For the paneling project I need to create a nice curve.

We have several arched doorways in the house, and while they offer visual appeal--some curves in a forest of straight lines--they present some challenges in design and execution for the carpenter and wood worker. Our eyes have the knack of seeing geometric irregularities (like perceiving the difference between a frown and a scowl), so the curve has to be just right.

First I make a rough cut along the straight side and do a zig-zap curvy line around the arch.

Arches were used first underground, in tombs and drains, and then moved above ground to support the weight above the gates and doorways of massive stone buildings. We saw one of these big arched gates in the wall surrounding the town of Arcos de la Frontera in Spain, built by the Moors, who brought the technology and design techniques of the middle-eastern builders of the ancient mosques, long before the Renaissance. Much of this architecture in southern Europe was destroyed by zealous crusaders or converted to early Catholic churches.

I take the jack place and smooth out along the straight portion of the wall.

The streets in Arcos were so narrow that even a small car could barely get through. We drove along through a neighborhood where the windows had ears, sloping walls next to the windows that allowed Muslim businessmen (and teenage boys in love) the ability to call into a house and speak to a female without actually looking at them.

Then I gently chisel away at the curve. Michelangelo started out this way.

As we drove we came to a street so narrow that the rear view mirrors of the car nearly touched the whitewashed buildings on both sides. I had to back up, drive out of the city completely and come in again. Cheryl was so nervous she threatened to get out and walk to the castle (our B&B), even though we had not yet found it, so I had to reel her back in.

The Moors were chased out of Spain in 1492, abandoning Grenada as their last stronghold. Fortunately the Alhambra was not destroyed; Cheryl and I toured it during the day and again at night. Beautiful.

All finished.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chisel and Split

(Overheard by the three witches)
Hark! I am call'd; my little spirit, see,
Sits in a foggy cloud, and stays for me.

The clouds moved in early today, gray and deep, covering the yard and casting the best possible light--an dim orange and rust that suits my eyes--into in the house so that by noon today I was in just the right mind to resume work on the paneling project. Too much sun makes me cranky.

I had left off a few weeks ago on a difficult cut around the window frame, but then we got the new puppy, and I've been working on position papers for the president: on Iran, health care, etc. (though for some reason I haven't heard from him lately). Finally today I was able to put everything aside, take the phone off the hook, put the notebook on standby, and resume the project with a particularly good attitude and with the firm sense that nothing else required my attention.

The task was to remove a section of wood from the left side of the panel so that the panel fit snugly around the irregular window frame. I could have used my noisy table saw or jig saw. Instead I chose a thin chisel to persuade the wood to naturally split along its grain. A quiet approach for a quiet day.

First I sawed across the wood at the start and end points. I then marked out the cut line in pencil. Then a gentle tap and twist with the chisel to start the split, I moved down the wood, and when I could see that the grain took a wrong turn and ran under my pencil line, I found the spot where it returned and then checked it (with a chisel cross cut) to keep the split from doubling back, and then I moved on, nudging the split downstream. Tap, tap, tap. Twist and split. All done in a few seconds. Even a strong wood like oak will gladly split along the grain. Cool.

Next I took my jack plane (my favorite, in-the-zone tool) and peeled off the wood in ribbons just up to the pencil line until I had an silky smooth edge. The board slipped right into place. I'll avoid sweeping these wooden ribbons up for as long as possible--they feel nice under my bare feet.

I had so much fun that I quit for the day. Only one more wall and then I start on the ceiling. Time to walk the puppy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Corporate-style Plan

Since we got the new puppy, I've found it difficult to get work done on the paneling project. Every day is something new: puppy-this and puppy-that. I bought some extra pine boards (enough now to cover the ceiling), but they are sitting in the garage, and the paneling project is going nowhere.

Aware of my shortcomings and (to be honest) still pissed about the new puppy, Willow announced this morning that we will be adopting a more formal, total quality approach to our projects, no doubt a result of her recent seminars in Sarasota. She had that look, something I remember from my previous life as a corporate lackey, that look that says we regret to inform you that some of you will be fired just before Christmas, cold and yet full of empathy and regret, a look that every good corporate manager must master.

It didn't have to get like this. Faced with a complicated problem, a manager inevitably turns to the corporate version of automatic pilot--to implement quality improvement plans, defer to committees, create spreadsheets and graphs, focus on the bottom line, cross-train, diversify, synergize.

Like with the health care problem. Everyone knows that health care is broken. Obama promised to overhaul the system and make it a top priority. You might think that most people would be in favor of a change. The problem is this: health care been broken for a long time. Years ago it was sent into corporate auto-pilot, a swirling process that evolves with a simple rule in this case: increase the profits of those corporations that make money when people are sick. Naturally, such a process provides money for people who can protect the process while it is on auto-pilot. Currently you can see these protectors on TV saying outrageous things in order to derail the new initiatives. Saying that old people will lose their doctors and die under the new plan. Using the language of fear. Speaking with a corporate mouth.

So Willow's plan is this: I will be teaching the puppy how to put up the paneling. The puppy is smaller and eats less than I do--I weigh more than a litter of puppies--so eventually it will be cheaper for the puppies to do all the work (In Willow's plan, eventually there will be many puppies.) When the puppies begin to eat too much, we will trade them in younger puppies. And, Willow added without a smile, Cheryl and I will be eating puppy poop, but probably only for the next 5 or 6 years. Sure it sounded crazy at first, but it's hard to argue with the bottom line.

Follow-up: I gave Willow some treats at lunch and we went for a walk. Time to reach out and compromise...