Sunday, December 19, 2010

Basement update [Bryan]

The basement is about half done. Here is an update on the work so far.

First step: Drawing plans and securing permits
We decided to use the space in our basement to create a new rec room and bedroom, adding about 400 square feet of finished space to our home. The complicating factor was a beam that bisects the space, supported by two steel pillars. It made perfect sense to try to hide all of this behind a wall, but this would mean making Nora's future bedroom to be a bit smaller than we wanted (tiny -- about 80 square feet). The codes governing bedrooms are very strict, we found out, and making this an official bedroom would mean adding an "egress window." We figured we could simply call it an "office" and use it as a bedroom, but having Nora trapped down there in the middle of a fire was a frightening thought. So, we decided to bite the bullet and make it an official bedroom. I drew up some plans, paid a lot of money for the building permits ($600), and got to work. Below is a copy of the plans I drew up.

Second step: Waterproofing
We sealed up cracks in the walls and coated them with white, DryLock Masonary Waterproofer. Controversy rages on the Internet about whether this stuff works and for how long. I figured it couldn't hurt and our basement was almost completely dry anyway. Whatever the case, this stuff was really thick and hard to apply and ended up being much more work than I intended. Ellie helped out considerably here.

Third step: Installing the egress window
We had a contractor install the egress window for us. Cutting through the foundation wall is considerably outside my comfort zone and tool capability. That work alone, though, cost $2500, which about doubled the cost of the finishing the basement.

Fourth step: Adding insulation
Once that was in, we added the pink extruded polystyrene insulation to the basement walls. It used to be that people would finish their basement by simply putting up stud walls directly against the foundation wall, insulating the stud cavities with fiberglass insulation, and then covering it all with a plastic vapor barrier. This led to all sorts of problems with mold, I'm told, since the moisture coming from the cinder blocks would get trapped in the insulation areas. Gluing on this pink foam insulation, first, and then building the wall 1 inch away from the insulation prevents this (or so I'm told). The hardest part of this was bringing the pink foam home on top of my car -- let's just say that now I know what not to do. In the picture, you can see the foam and the egress window in the background.

Fourth step: Planning and marking walls
This was fun. I bought myself a blue chalk line and had a great time measuring out the walls, snapping the line, and marking out the future space. It was great to get a first glimpse of what things would actually look like. Below, you can see the chalk outline of Nora's bedroom wall.

Fifth step: Framing

This was the part I was most looking forward to. I love working with wood, measuring, sawing, and hammering. The first step involved a wonderful new tool purchase, my now beloved "powder actuated nailer." This was to nail the bottom lumber plates into the concrete. It works basically like a gun with the nail being the bullet. You put in a powder charge and nail, and then strike it on top with a hammer. It shoots the nail into the concrete with a loud explosion. This was great fun, and even a little scary to use. The most useful tool I had during this process was my miter saw, though, which I received for my birthday a few years ago and never used much. I'm not very skilled with a regular circular saw, so this really helped me make nice, straight cuts. I could have used a nail gun, but hammering and screwing everything together turned out okay.

I was in rapture seeing the new basement world coming together around me. I think the framing looked pretty good in the end. I'm not going to lie, there were some major goofs along the way, and the finished project would never be mistaken for the work of a real carpenter (off plumb here and there, for example). But I had a great time, and only once slammed my thumb. Below, pictures of a finished wall, Nora's closet, and the half wall leading up the stairs (my favorite feature).

Sixth step: Electrical and Mechanical
These were both enjoyable, but for opposite reason. Electrical was interesting because I've never run any wire before. I know now about 20 times as much about electrical stuff as I did before, so it was a major learning experience (having a brother-in-law who knows something about electrical was a big confidence boost here). Running the heating ducts was fun because it took me back to my summers at Christensen Heating and Air Conditioning. In a sense, running the duct work allowed me to reconnected with my past self. Below are pictures of (a) a fairly complicated switch box with two, 3-way switches (one being a dimmer), (b) my canister lighting, and (c) one of my heating ducts.

I'm on drywall now. Stay tuned!

Holiday performances [Bryan]

Three holiday performances, from the most talented (and cutest) children ever to appear on the planet. First, Nora playing "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing."

Second, Andrew singing "Up on the Housetop," complete with sign language actions.

Third, Stephen singing (more or less) "Once There Was a Snowman," complete with actions. Actually, this is a duet with Ellie, but she asked not to be included in the video. Too bad. She, too, makes a wonderful melting snowman, or snowperson, or whatever.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Family Pictures [Ellie]

A good friend and amazingly talented photographer, Kellie Anderson, took our family pictures for us this fall. (Check out her blog at She's incredible.) We're thrilled with them!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jury Duty [Bryan]

I am currently sitting on the 9th floor of the Franklin County Municipal Court Building. I've been called to serve for two weeks as a juror. At least I think I have -- I've been here three days and I haven't been on a trial yet. In fact, not one of the 75 of us potential jurors has been on a trial. There have been about 300 cases processed since we've been here. All of these cases have been resolved through plea bargaining or other means. Since a jury at this municipal court level only has eight people, I'm starting to doubt that I will serve on an actual jury.

I have mixed feelings about this. Participating in public/civic/political life, including jury duty, is an important part of a complete human existence. I'm not sure my life would be complete if I never served on a jury. I'm interested to see how I would react. (At this point, I should say that the hero of the excellent movie 12 Angry Men is one of my favorite movie characters.)

And yet...this jury lounge is a great place. I have WiFi and all the hot chocolate I can drink (amazingly, they recognize that some people drink something other than coffee). They have magazines here, computers, and movies. Most important, it is actually a great place to work and I think I may actually finally finish my book. Not any needy students,colleagues, children, or wives making requests, after all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

One more week! [Bryan]

One more week until the release of Tron: Legacy. Frankly, I can't see how the actual movie can be any better than the trailer.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Absurdity exposed [Bryan]

Well, we seem to have got ourselves a compromise on tax policy for the next two years. In reaching the compromise, the absurdity of Washington D.C. was exposed in all its glory. Consider that we have recently been having two debates in this country. The first was about how many billions we can cut off taxes, particularly for those who are well off. The second was about how we are going to go about cutting the yearly budget deficit -- we even had a nifty commission and everything. It rarely received much attention in the popular press, as far as I can tell, that these two debates were pointing in opposite directions.

First, the absurdity of the "deficit hawks" was exposed. Many of those same people, Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, who have wrung their hands about any form of deficit spending, are now celebrating the tax cuts that will add $800 billion to the deficit. The next time any of these people pretend to care about short term spending that isn't "paid for" we should collectively laugh. We should all just admit that deficits are a good thing right now.

The absurdity of many of the Democrats was exposed. In fighting so hard for their proposal to let the taxes return to the level of the 1990s for the rich, they were fighting a battle that was only a little bit more responsible, long term, than what the completely reckless Republicans were proposing. They chose a rather arbitrary line to make a stand, and now they look like losers, as usual.

Finally, the moral corruption and intellectual bankruptcy of many on the Right has been exposed. Recently, the Senate Republicans, united as a caucus, sent a letter to Harry Reid saying that they would filibuster literally everything until the tax debate was resolved to their liking. In effect, this meant that nothing could even get a vote until those making more than $250,000 got their extra tax cut. Nothing -- not nuclear weapons treaties (START), not the defense appropriations bill (in the middle of war!), not the extension of unemployment benefits -- would get a hearing. Everything was held until the Republicans saw more money in the hands of the wealthy. It was impressive in its own way, hardball, no-compromise politics at its most extreme. It seems to be the one thing they care about, and they got their way.

Out of all this absurdity, we have a policy that is .... not all that bad in the short term. The key problem right now is still the economy and job growth. Short term, we do need to run big deficits. Short term, many forms of tax cuts are good (a category that does not, unfortunately, include tax cuts for the wealthy that the Republicans were so dogmatic about -- these are very poor stimulus). Interesting how such an inane discourse can produce a outcome that is not all that inane.

Obama caves [Bryan]

I knew it would happen eventually:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – In his latest effort to find common ground with Republicans in Congress, President Barack Obama said today that he was willing to agree that he is a Muslim.

Differences over his religious orientation have been a sore point between the President and his Republican foes for the past two years, but in agreeing that he is a Muslim Mr. Obama is sending a clear signal that he is trying to find consensus. “The American people do not want to see us fighting in Washington,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House. “They want to see us working together to improve their lives, and Allah willing, we will.”

But Mr. Obama’s willing to back down on his claim of being a Christian does not seem to have satisfied his Republican opposition, as GOP leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) today insisted that the President must also agree that he was born in Kenya.

Friday, December 03, 2010

RIP: Leslie Nielson

I was sad to see Leslie Nielson recently died. Nielson's movies were a huge part of my young life. I can't tell you how many times my friends ordered a pizza and watched The Naked Gun and I can't tell you how hard we laughed every time. Same goes for Airplane during my early teenage years. These are two of the dumbest, and funniest, movies ever made.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

More Whitman [Bryan]

Another poem by Whitman (Leave of Grass, 166). As usual, publishing this because this is my blog and I can post whatever I darn well please.

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill'd with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew'd,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring--What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here--that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.