Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Toast and Sardines

What's life if not the opportunity to learn new things? The seconds tick away, and every moment rushes by with the same potential. But does this mean that I am ignoring the opportunity, that I am squandering the potential, if I engage in some repetitive task, like having toast with my coffee in the morning instead of, for example, toast with okra and coffee or toast with sardines and coffee?

I like my toast a certain way and my coffee a certain way, and the thought of going through every possible configuration of toast and coffee does not interest me. (Actually, I had toast with hot sauce the other morning and it was fine.)

Likewise, with the bathroom project I've had the oppotunity to learn many new things (some of which I will never do again). But now it is time to start the wood work, something that is as familiar to me as toast and coffee. In one way, the excitement is gone--I'm not really worried about making some catastrophic mistake, like watching the ceiling collapse or the pipes explode.

The first piece is the window sill. I have the rough opening now.

And here's the sill piece, just below where it will go.

It will slide into place here. Then I'll put in new side pieces and a new top. Then the frame.

But before I put in the place I will shorten and round off the side and the front edge so that the person doesn't get jabbed in the arm when standing up from the toilet.

Things work out for a reason. The final phase of this project is wood work, which is good because I'm not in the mood to learn anything new right now.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Toilet Cracks, Again

Something very strange happened the other night, something that challenges my concept of the physical world in general and of toilets in particular.

It reminded me of an event about 30 years ago, back when I lived in an old civil-war era house in Arkansas, a house that had barely moved into the 20th century, still burning wood to provide heat for all the rooms except the master bath, which had a small gas space heater. The second bathroom had no heater at all, and it was the room that was farthest away from the wood stove in the living room. In the winter I would warn people not to use that bathroom because they risked getting stuck to the seat.

My landlord owned about 300 acres surrounding the house, and I was permitted to cut my own firewood. I remember those days very well, walking through the woods with my dog Matt to find a big tree that was dying or dead and then cut it down. I'd fill up my panel van with wood, sometimes even the passenger seat in front, so that Matt would run alongside the van on the way back home. He seemed to think that was great fun--I can still see him out there wagging his tail.

For several days in winter I had to wear a jacket inside the house day and night. The house had very little insulation, and the windows were so old and rickety that a strong breeze would rustle the curtains inside.

After one very cold night I found water puddled up on the floor in the second bathroom. The water in the toilet had frozen and cracked the porcelain bowl. OK, I thought, that probably doesn't happen every day but at least I understand how that could happen.

But when Cheryl woke me up at 4am the other morning and told me that the toilet in the guest bathroom had broken and that water was going everywhere, I could not, and still cannot, understand why this happened.

The crack starts at the top of the tank and runs down the side. This allowed water to spill out, causing the float to go down, causing the tank to fill again, then out through the crack again, over and over, until water had run into the master bath and then through the cracks in the wood floor to swamp the kitchen floor below. Thank goodness Cheryl woke up.

What made the tank crack in the middle of the night? I had stored it outside for a while during the project, and maybe I banged it and caused a microscopic crack at some point, like a small windshield crack that finally opens up when you hit a bump in the road. But there was no bump in the bathroom.

Now I need a new toilet...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Aunt's Perfect Mirror

As soon as the sawing and hammering and framing is done, I will be moving my aunt Helen's mirror into the guest bathroom. We have two of her mirrors--the bigger one is in the living room, but this smaller one is the perfect size and color for the bathroom, and I will be proud to have it on the wall.

(To my Aunt Helen: Thanks for sending me the get-well card. I'm feeling much better and will be back to work on the bathroom soon. I hope you all have a very nice Thanksgiving. But mostly, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you!
Love, Fred)

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Prospect of Perfection, Foiled Again

Imagine a pond on a summer day, a perfect plane of green glass, or pretty close to perfect, with no breezes and no ripples on the surface other than the tiny circles of light caused when a dragonfly or honey bee dips his butt into the water.

The watery surface tells a story with two certainties: what is smooth and what is straight. Not absolute certainties, because of the curvature of the earth and quirks of physics that I don't understand, but close enough for carpentry.

Of all of the project work up to this point--the demolition, the plumbing, the framing, the flooring, the tiling--nothing has more potential for success than the work that has finally arrived: the wood work. I'll be framing the window and the door. And I'll be creating a bookcase and shelves. And I enjoy working with wood most of all.

In a normal framing project, we would expect to see virtually flat, pond-like surfaces on the wall, and we'd find some entertainment is finding and compensating for minor imperfections, like a wall that veers off a few fractions of an inch to the east or west for no apparent reason. Ha, ha, we would say, I can fix that.

In this case (as has been the project theme to this point), the adjustments I'll need to take are anything but minor. It's as if the quiet pond had a sudden step in the middle, so that you have to get out of the boat and hoist it up to the higher water to continue on.

Of course, there's a good explanation, and I will place all the blame for this elsewhere. More later..

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hearing Again, and Feeling Better

I am reminded of a night about 30 years ago--can it really be that long?--sitting under my baby grand piano in a stinky nightclub, sitting on some nasty shag carpet on the stage and trying to get a little piezo pickup to attach to the underside of the piano. The piezo, about half the size of a penny, had a wire that lead to my amplifier. I normally used the piezo to amplify my violin. The vibrations somehow get turned into an electric current inside of it (who knows how)...

When my ears finally cleared up yesterday, I was skeptical, but today my hearing is pretty much back to normal. In fact, I'm feeling better all around. In just a short time, no doubt, I will forget about the whole thing and take my health completely for granted again.

The trick to using a piezo on the big bridge of a grand piano is to attach it with just the right amount of pressure; too much and the sound is stifled, too little and the vibrations don't get captured. I sat on the dirty carpet for the longest time, tightening and loosening the piezo under a screw on the bottom side of the piano.

We started playing for the night but I just couldn't tell if it sounded OK. Coincidentally, another piano player was there that night, and I asked him to sit in for a song so I could go into the crowd and listen. For grins he put on my jacket.

I remember it all very clearly. We were the house band at this club, and we'd been there for probably about one year at that time. I had never actually heard the band from off the stage.
But now I could see the band, and I could see someone at the piano, someone wearing my jacket, not me but might as well be me, someone sitting on a stinky stage in a stinky club. And it all hit me.

Thanksgiving is coming soon. I will try to remember to say thanks every day. Thanks that I don't have to sit in that stinky club anymore. Thanks for my health and hearing. Thanks that I have a wonderful wife and family, good friends and happy dogs.

Patience is Hard

I woke up this morning with a gentle ringing in both ears. Nothing new. I've been hearing this same tune for years now--a sound like crickets singing and whistling, and it's loudest in the morning when I haven't had enough sleep.

And lately the whistling is accompanied by a stuffy head, clogged-up ears and fatigue. If I do anything strenous, these symptoms and an extreme fatigue overtake me immediately and persist for the next few days. And then, if I rest, I start to feel myself again. So I've been resting since Sunday, studiously resting, planning my trips up and down the stairs, walking in slow motion. And today my ears have unclogged a little. What a weird illness this is.

As a result I'm just sitting here, staring at the bathroom project, staring at all the projects in the yard (with all this perfect weather), and doing pretty much nothing.

At least I've had time to plan the next step. I'll be putting a new frame on the window. The old frame had water damage and was one of the catalysts of the project--I just hated looking at that cracked and warped frame--so I be putting up some vapor barrier and then encasing the window in pine, overlapping the tile just as I'll do for the doorway and for the shelves I'll be making.

But no more relapses. Just planning for now. And maybe a little grout sealing, as long as I don't push it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Rocking Chair and Teapot

On the weekends I sometimes bring my laptop downstairs to do a little work or some idle surfing. I have a long table next to my rocking chair, the same chair than my grandpa sat in years ago while we watched Tarzan movies and he smoked a pipe there in his living room, which was just a few steps away from the back door of our house. At that time he had a little table, too, populated with some items that captured my continued interest at the time--a mechanical nut cracker (we had some big pecan trees in the yard), a pecan bowl made from the cross-section of a pine trunk, hollowed out and still with the bark attached, the untensils for getting pecans from the shell, his pipe and pipe cleaners, a TV guide, a pencil, and probably a coffee cup. I remember him drinking something...

My side table was messy as usual, with several remote controls, a rag that I confescated from Jam and a stand for my teapot, and this morning it had a tangle of wire for my laptop, all coiled around in a chaotic manner, even though it would just take a minute to neaten things up. I'm not sure why I have such a problem being orderly.

Into the mix of this mess I put down a pot of hot tea and my cup, and not 2 minutes later I picked up the laptop, pulling the wires along and dragging the delicate Chinese purple clay Yishing teapot over the edge and onto the floor, crashing into a thousand pieces.

Cheryl and I drove to St. Pete for lunch and to get another teapot, but of course the store didn't have one. And even the short walk from the car to the store tired me out and caused my head to begin buzzing and my ears to stop up tight, a weird sort of fatigue. Hopefully tomorrow the blood tests will return and we can see what kind of virus I've got. Everything's fine as long as I rest, so the bathroom project sits on hold.

After we returned home Cheryl went back out to do some shopping while I took a nap, and she just returned with a teapot exactly like the one I broke. How cool is that? I'm a lucky guy.

I'm sitting back in the rocking chair writing this with a tangle of wires on the table and a hot pot of tea nearby. A detour, then back to normal.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Otitis Media

We've been off work for so long that Willow could barely contain her excitement when I told her that I would be sealing some grout this afternoon.

I limited my work to the sink and to a section of the floor, keeping it small because I wasn't sure how quickly I'd run out of energy.

My ears appear to be clearing up a bit after my trip to the doctor yesterday--he gave me a big shot in my rear end and a prescription for same heavy-duty steroids. As I stated in my last post, I had already figured out what was wrong--a case of Otitis Media brought on by a viral infection--but I knew not to say anything to Dr. Stine. Better to let him figure it out on his own.

He suspected at first (as I had predicted he would) that this was probably a simple case of too much ear wax, so he started with my left ear, scraping and poking and pulling until the wax finally came out. And not very much wax, he agreed. I suppose it had been in there since Kennedy was president. His face fell a little when I said that my hearing did not improve as a result. Same on the other side.

"I can see you've got fluid in there," he said. "Looks like you might have a viral infection causing this condition, since the antibiotics haven't helped."

"And what condition is that," I asked.

"Otitis Media is the formal name," he said and probably wondered why I seemed so happy with the news.

So I sealed the sink. It's easy because it's flat. I squirted on the liquid on the grout until it would not absorb any more, waited 10 minutes, then wiped it off, and now it's returned to the original color.

Time for a break.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Say What?

Nothing could be more perfect than this day, sitting on the back porch with the dogs and waiting for the next cool breeze to come along and rustle the big leatherleaf fern and cause the big bamboo culms to rustle and rub against each other.

At least I imagine they are rustling because my ears are stopped up, still. I can unstop my right ear by leaning my head to the right about 90 degrees, causing fluid to passing from one place to another in my head--I can hear it go glug, glug, glug, about 3 or 4 times--and my right ear hearing improves. But then it stops up again when I sit up straight.

And sitting here couldn't be more pleasant because sitting is about all I can do. Any kind of physical activity tires me out to such a degree that it reminds me of the time in Tucson when I was determined to chop down a tree with an ax and that I would do it from start to finish without stopping, one blow after another until it was finished, no matter what (even with a dull ax that I could have sharpened first), until after I'd finished about 200 blows of the ax (and tree still standing) I fell to my knees and nearly threw up (then I got out my chainsaw). That's how I felt this morning when I tried, for about 30 seconds, to put some seal on the grout.

I'm on my second round of antibiotics and have just finished taking some steroids and I'm not a bit better. I found the answer online:
Otitis media with effusion
Otitis media with effusion (uh-FEW-zhun), or OME, is a build up of fluid in the middle ear without signs and symptoms of acute infection (pain, redness of the eardrum, pus, and fever). OME is more common than AOM, and may be caused by viral upper respiratory infections, allergies, or exposure to irritants (such as cigarette smoke). The build up of fluid in the middle ear does not usually cause pain and almost always goes away on its own. OME will not usually benefit from antibiotic treatment.
The irritant, in my case, has been all the mortar and grout dust I've gotten in my nose over the past several weeks.

Yesterday Cheryl came down with the same fatigue symptoms, only her ears are fine. And she has to shout for me to hear, especially when I'm outside on a perfect day.

She's yelling something at me now, I think. Ha, ha...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sealing and Calico

Because grout is porous, it eagerly absorbs water. Over time, these damp little cracks between the tiles can become a home for microscopic molds and mildews, and these bastards mess up everything. So I'm soaking the grout in a sealer to help block them out. The down side: even if a do a perfect job, the seal is recommended to be applied every two years. (Are you kidding me?) Oh, and you have a use a brush that's the size of a pencil.

I did a little sealing last night on the walls. The goal is to get the seal to soak into the grout, which is no problem on the floor, but the sealer just wants to run down the wall. So I'll take my time and alternate this with the wood work, beginning with the new frame for the bathroom window.

Also, my favorite fish died yesterday. She was a sweet little fish, never fussing or complaining. I called her Calico because she was the cutest combination of red and white that you can imagine on a Koi (or any other creature for that matter).

Our tradition here is to hold a fish funeral each time one our wet little friends passes into the big pond. In this case the fish cemetery is our bamboo stand, because our bamboo are also very fond of fish. Next year a big bamboo shoot will jump up in this place.

I wasn't sure if the new management would allow me to have any time off for a fish funeral, so I didn't even ask. Facing my act of defiance, and in an attempt not to appear weak and unable to control the workers, the managers decided to actually come to the funeral, as if it was their idea to begin with, and then proceeded to cry and show out shamefully.

A picture of Willow and Jam, and Jam looks like he is crying (or smelling fish)Is there no shame?