Monday, August 14, 2017

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Went on a vacation last week. We were completely cut off from the outside world. No phone. No internet. It was oddly nice. As someone that had to play catch up to the news of the week, I can verify that ignorance is bliss.

While on vacation, I thought of a bunch of possible post topics. Some food related, some on the oddities of a cruise (why are there continuous art and jewelry sales pitches?) and another one that I think a sociologist PhD candidate could use as a thesis topic. But with the news of the day in mind, I’m going to go with something light.

I hugged Andy the Dolphin.

During the time we spent with Andy the Dolphin I also pet him, felt his teeth, held his front fins (it was kind of a dance thing) and fed Andy a fish. There was also a kiss.

Now, if one of my kids intentionally splashed salt water in my face I’d be yelling, “what the hell are you doing?!? Cut it out!” But when Andy the Dolphin intentionally splashes salt water in your face, you just smile and think, “Silly Andy…He’s so cute.” Dolphins could get away with anything.
After you hang out around a dolphin, you spend the rest of the day thinking, “I can’t believe that happened.” It’s been almost a week and I still think it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Pizza Oven Update: Topping off

Hit a milestone over the weekend so it is time for the next wood fired oven update. It was a bunch of long days so it is kind of blending into a blur. I might be messing up the timeline.

First, if you need steel studs I highly recommend BuildingSpecialties (L & W Supply) right off of Route 9 in the Latham/Cohoes area. Very friendly. They answered numerous and most likely annoying questions including a panicked phone call about the washers I used. Just generally nice place. I underestimated what I needed and had to get a few more pieces. They cut them down so they would fit in my mini-van.  They also stock the most sheet rock I have ever seen in one place.

One day after work, my friend Ryan drove up with me to L & W supply and we got a bunch of 18 gage steel studs and track. On the way to my house, we also stopped at Home Depot to grab a few sheets of plywood. All of this sat in my garage while it rained off and on for what felt like an eternity.

I unwrapped the oven and screwed the bottom tracks in for the steel studs. Lots of holes were drilled and probably an excessive amount of TapCon screws (concrete screws) were used. Then the oven got wrapped up again… and it rained again. 

I wanted to start with the easiest wall which was the back.  Just a straight 30-inch high wall. I messed up the gauges of the steel studs. I bought tin snips that said they were good up to 20 gauge. I was using 18 gauge steel studs. Perfect, the snips age good to 20. Except I forgot that gauges go the other way and 18 gauge is thicker than 20 gauge. I gave it a shot. My tin snips were able to bend the 18 gauge steel but not cut it. I don’t have a chop saw so all the cuts were made with an angle grinder. I kind of got the hang of an angle grinder just in time to be done cutting. The first wall went pretty well.

On to the sides. I decided on a 30 inch wall height in the rear and a 48 inch height in the front. The idea was to avoid being able to hit my head on a corner anywhere around the oven. It’s a little close in the back but the higher the back wall is, the higher the front wall gets for the pitch. The chimney also has to be factored in to the calculation. I have 5 feet of chimney and you should have at least 2 feet of pipe above the roof. 

I cut the wall closer to the house. Fit it together. It looked good so I took it apart and did my best to duplicate it for the other side. I fit them both back together to see if they were level-ish to each other. I was going to take them down so the current tarp/canopy covering system still worked, but they looked pretty good so I screwed them into place. It was also clear that I needed some more material that was it until I got the chance to go shopping again. 

My friend Joe stopped by to lay out the wiring. There will be a few outlets in back, a few on the side and a switch for some overhead lights. He also helped me figure out how to frame the front. Brick size limited the depth of the landing so the chimney is in there pretty tight.  After getting the second round of steel studs, Joe came back to help again. He mounted and wired the electric boxes while I cut the pieces for the front. We got the chimney anchor plate installed and then framed up the front.  The anchorage was set up when I built the arches. One thing to note, the bolts, nuts and washers are all stainless steel. You don’t want to heat galvanized metal up (puts off a toxic gas).

Then with some help from my wife and oldest daughter we put together the framing for the roof. My wife had to leave but my daughter and I were able to get the roof from the driveway to the oven with a moving dolly.  During the process, we met our new neighbors. I must have looked like a complete, possibly scary, mess. Great first impression.

I put the strips I used to for the concrete ring around the oven. I picked up a few bags of perlite to dump over the oven as a little bit of extra insulation. The form was to keep the perlite from flowing into the corners. Then the whole family managed to get the roof onto the framing and the concrete board walls went up. (I don't think I took any pictures of just the walls)

Last Sunday morning, we got the front wall mounted.  With the walls done, I dumped in a bunch of the loose perlite around the oven walls. The rest goes on the top as the roof gets installed.

The problem with changing the plans multiple times is that it eventually messes stuff up. I had figured three 4’x8’ sheets of plywood for the roof (a 4 foot, a piece cut to 3 feet, and another cut to a little over 2 feet depending on the overhang) and that adds up. What I messed up was having the roof framing line up at the right spot. Lots of measuring, a little bit of cursing and some work with a circular saw and each of the 3 sheets of ply wood were cut to something’ x 8’ so they hit the framing. There’s a reason everything is supposed to be 16 inches on center. It adds up. Local framing contractors do not need to worry about me stealing their business.

Once two pieces of plywood were on, I quickly realized my plan for locating where to cut the hole for the chimney wasn’t going to work. I had thought I’d be on the one piece of plywood and reach under to locate “centerish” with some help from the bottom. However, instead of being on one piece of plywood, two pieces had to be put up to get past the chimney location. Not sure this makes any sense. I had planned to be working fairly close to the edge of a 4 foot piece of plywood. I could lay on top and reach under. But I needed 2 cut pieces of plywood (about 6 feet up there), so I couldn’t reach around the framing to touch the center of the chimney. Plan B was needed.

We best guessed near center and drilled a hole. As long as the holes were inside the circle that was getting cut out, it didn’t matter how many were drilled. I lowered a string with a screw tied to the end (homemade plumb bob). From that location, we re-estimated center-ish (a few inches towards the front and a just a little bit more to one side. Drilled another hole and tried again – pretty close. I drilled a screw in where I thought center was. Using a string and a Sharpie I marked out a 12 inch circle. Then starting from one of the holes, I cut out the circle with a jig saw. Up came the chimney pipe (a 5 foot length of 8 inch double walled Duravent – outside diameter is 10 inches). Holy shit, it fit.

Dumped in the rest of the perlite and then we got the rest of the plywood on the roof. Snow and ice barrier is usually over the last 3 or 6 feet of a roof line. Since the whole roof is 9’ by 8’ and the barrier is sold in 150 square foot package, we covered the whole thing. After that, I popped the chimney flashing and cap on to the pipe.

Structurally, the oven is done. Topping party!

This Sunday, I wrestled with the fascia. I don’t really know the ins and outs of small building construction. My goal, based solely on earlier indecision, was to leave a 1.5-inch overhang with the plywood around the entire frame. 20/20 hindsight being what it is, I should have shot for ¾ of an inch. To fill this gap I needed a 2xsomething piece of wood which are significantly heavier than 1xsomething. Doesn’t mater structurally, more for installation difficulty.

So I got a bunch of 2x8s (which are actually 1.5”x7.25”), ripped about half an inch off them (the metal roof framing is 6 inches deep and the extra ¾ inch if to make a line with soffit (bottom of the eave). Once they were ripped I used the router and ½ in round over bit to make the bottom edge pretty. Then came the installation.

Each fascia board was clamped into position. Pilot holes were drilled and the widened a little for a counter sink. Each board was then attached with a bunch of screws. I’ll either plug the holes with a little piece of word or maybe a rounded button. I’ve got to decide which looks better.

It was now about 7:00 on Sunday.  I didn’t think putting up the drip edge was going to be a problem. But it was. And I messed it up. Expletives were muttered. OK, maybe louder than a mutter. I got the back piece on and called it day. After some more research and looking at our roof, it appears that no one does drip edge the way I was trying. And I thing bending one piece around a corner was harder with the drip edge I was using. I got the kind that has a 6 in flap so I could get past the steel framing to nail it on. It might work better with the 2-inch kind that could have worked if I built the entire roof out of wood. Caulk will be my friend here. 

Had an appointment Monday afternoon and then went home. Got the rest of the drip edge on and then set up to do the shingles. My wife Amy was cutting them and I was crawling around the roof nailing them on. We were careful to avoid nails going into the steel framing. We got lucky, there was really only one row that was a little too close for comfort. Cut out around the chimney pipe, got the flashing down and then kept going towards the top. (Side note: you can’t get more of an open ventilated area than the top of a roof and I think I caught a buzz off of the caulk around the flashing.) We finished up around 7:30.

There are a few things I want to touch up on the roof but the roof is basically done. Here's the view from an upstairs bedroom

Everything else is finishing work. There’s still plenty to do, most likely in this order...

1. The soffit: going to be a grooved pine with a few lights (once this is done, the oven is truly sealed up)

2. The counter in front - some more concrete and a counter top

3.  Make the outside walls pretty - I’m leaning towards stucco, I might need to extend the opening arch a little.

4. Make the concrete base look pretty- probably some stone veneer or tile.

Parts of this might get put one the back burner. I’m in a spot where I really want to use the oven and ease up on building it. Once the soffit is in and everything is sealed up, I wont have to worry about the weather forecast every time I think about firing the oven up.

Some 20/20 Hindsight: If I could go back in time, I would have only used the steel for the front wall and wood for the other three and the roof. It’s easier to work with, probably a little cheaper and would have been built faster. No worries about the steel rotting though.

Many thanks to Amy (she was really a huge help), Joe, Lisa, Eric, and Allison for their help with this phase of the construction.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tappan Zee

I like bridges.

Probably more than I should. The average bridge is completely utilitarian but some bridges, well they are amazing and beautiful feats of engineering. I've almost missed exits looking at bridges.

Until recently, people had been calling the currently under construction replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge "The New New York Bridge." I'm not not saying that is a horrible name for a bridge. With 20/20 hindsight I think the New New York name was a pre-set to a name change. Kind of like telling a kid they have 10 more minutes before you leave.

Recently, the New York State Legislature came back for some kind of special session to finish up stuff they didn't get to finish before they decided to take a vacation. One of the things they finalized in this special session was the obviously urgent renaming the of Tappan Zee Bridge to the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

As far as I know, the only person that likes the name is the governor. I haven't heard any positive reaction to the new name. It's just another example of government representatives ignoring their constituents. I get that the governor wants to memorialize his dad (and maybe also wants his name on the bridge as well). My dad passed away too and I bet there would be more enthusiasm if the bridge was just named The Ed after him.

"It's the third exit after you cross The Ed."

The other thing, and there is some irony here, is the history of the Tappan Zee. Do you know why the Tappan Zee Bridge is located where it is? It's 3 miles long (there are places where the bridge could be much shorter) and the ground is complete sludge (there are places where you could easily hit rock).

The bridge is located at that wide, sludgy spot because of political bullshit. The Port Authority controls a 25 mile circle centered at the Statue of Liberty. If the Tappan Zee Bridge was built in that circle, the Port Authority would have gotten the toll money instead of the Thruway Authority. The location of the Tappan Zee bridge is basically as close as you can get to New York City and be out of the Port Authority's reach. It sounds like fiction, but it's true.

So our governor just named a bridge that is essentially a completely overpriced monument to a lack of political compromise after his father. I wonder if he knows.

Doesn't matter. Everyone is still going to call it the Tappan Zee anyway. Just ask the Twin Bridges.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Softball season is in full swing. The weather hasn't been very cooperative but the games are scheduled into mid July. As a result, there haven't really been any food projects or any projects. Just fast dinners and late nights. Although I did get a grain mill I'm looking forward to taking for a test drive and I have begun to amass all the materials for the next part of the oven project. Maybe I get get started on that over the 4th of July weekend. Not sure. Kind of weather dependent. It would be nice if we could avoid rain for 3 days in a row that I had some time. So instead of any of that stuff, I'm going to yammer about satellite radio.

When we got the new mini van, it came with a few months of Sirius satellite radio. I thought it was alright, not amazing, but alright. My favorite channel is Comedy Central (Chanel 95) and the kids enjoy Hits One (1). As my subscription began to run out, that’s when the emails and postcards starting arriving. Sign up now for something like $240 a year. I’ll pass.  As the end of the subscription got even closer, I got a phone call. For $100 plus some taxes and fees, I thought I would be getting a basic subscription for a year that included being able to receive Sirius Radio over the internet. Turns out that wasn’t quite the case. For $100, I got a basic subscription that was just in the van. The internet access is an extra $4 a month, call it $50 a year.

I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have the internet options since I’m pretty sure I was told I would have it, but I have two main complaints about the service. First, while a bunch of it is “kind of commercial free,” a lot of it isn’t. Comedy Central isn’t. They play the same ads endlessly – debt relief, a pillow to stop snoring and shaving razors seem to be the ads of the moment. A lot of commercial free stations play ads for other stations. Personally, I don't care what Don Henley's favorite Beatles songs are, but I could tune in Friday to find out. Plus there’s the other crap. Take Hits One for example. They do a lot of pop culture news reports and they have their own Morning Zoo group but they also play segments about movie releases. I don’t believe getting your movie release information on air is free. Maybe it is, but I doubt it.  So it’s not commercial free even though it says it is.

My second complaint isn’t really a complaint a bout Sirius. It’s Comedy Central. First, they often play a made for them podcast called The Bonfire. If you like it, great. I don’t think it’s funny.  It's two stoner comedians (whose stand up is actually good) desperately trying to making fun of stuff they see online. And when that fails, they make fun of Corey Feldman’s band.  It also feels risky to play any of the comedy stations with the windows down. There are some topics and language that might not be appreciated being heard by a nearby car or pedestrian as you slowly drive through a parking lot. Ever hear KattWilliams or Eddie Griffen do stand up? About every 3rd word is not one I want blasting out of my car windows.

My current subscription ends in December. Not sure if I'll renew or not. Definitely not at full price. Two bucks a week seems borderline OK, $4.50 seems like too much. Weird how we draw the value lines on some things. I'll take the grain mill over the satellite radio every time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


These days there doesn’t seem to be much that people agree on. Here’s one thing we can all agree on: whoever hurt this dog last fall is a piece of shit.


Because I am currently incapable of committing to having a dog around forever, we’ve been fostering dogs once in awhile. In mid-December, we took in an about 6 month old Comet. When I met Comet, he was shaking. He had just had surgery that attached a metal rod to one of his hind legs to repair a badly broken bone.  In order to get the surgery, the dog needed to be surrendered by the original owners and the bill was picked up by a dog adoption organization. There’s no proof a lawyer would call solid, but I feel confident that piece of shit I mentioned earlier kicked Comet hard enough to snap his leg. I figured the shaking when we met was a combination of cold weather/shaved leg from the surgery, new people and a general lack of understanding of what was going on around him. Looking back, as I reached through a car window to pet Comet on his head, I’m sure the shaking was fear. Comet was completely terrified of me.

I’ve never seen this kind of fear in a dog’s eyes. When I came home, I was greeted with angry barks that felt like they were meant to warn everyone else that the monster was back. Wide eyes waiting for an attack that never came. Tail down, tucked between his legs. I was met with the same behavior every morning too starting the second I appeared at the top of the stairs. As I made dinner, I could hear Comet’s footsteps approach then see him as he kept tabs on my location before trotting away…only to be back about a minute later to check back in on me again.

The piece of shit that hurt Comet was a guy. Sad truth is it doesn’t take Columbo like instincts come to that conclusion. Dog has absolutely no problem with females, freaks out around all males. Here's an absolutely fascinating side note: Comet didn't give a transgender person a second glance. The dog's assessment of her was non-threatening female while he continued to closely watch some nearby males and huff at them whenever they walked past the doorway.

Based on a few other things, I believe that Comet saw this piece of shit hit women too. On Christmas Eve, an uncle raised his arms as he walked towards his niece to give her a holiday hug and Comet went nuts. Attack mode NUTS in making sure he didn't hurt her. Comet has seen stuff. Bad stuff. I think Comet’s injury was sustained while he heroically sacrificed his body jumping into harms way to protect someone from the piece of shit. I also like to think he got a few painful bites in while doing it. He's a protector. I took this picture of Comet protecting my youngest from that stomach bug that went around over the holiday break.

A trainer told me to keep Comet on a leash looped around a belt while I made dinner and occasionally drop treats. Even if he didn’t eat the treats right away, he would know they came from me plus he’d have to watch me not doing anything. It didn’t really work. Comet often ignored the treats and was mostly terrified of being attached to me. Pretty sure there were a few times that my presence literally scared the shit out of him. A weird twist is that if I was sitting down, I wasn’t as bad. Comet actually fell asleep on me a few times. 

But the second I stood up, it was back on. There’s an expression, “If my dog doesn’t like you, I probably won’t either.”  After the first week, I was pretty sure Comet and I were never going to be best friends. But I did not expect the complete and total rejection of a dog to be as demoralizing as it was. Almost all of my offers of friendship were refused. In his eyes, I was just like the a piece of shit that broke his leg. Comet would let me know that. Several times a day. In my own house.  After awhile it just wears you down.

Comet needed to take it easy for 6 to 8 weeks so that the screws in his leg healed. Apparently if the leg is over-stressed, the bone around the screw can shatter and that is a much harder break to fix. Through a miracle, Comet didn’t re-injure the break while he stayed with us. Unless he was sleeping, Comet was moving. And once the leg pain went away, Comet was fast. And a jumper too. Gates were just a recommendation. We had put him in a pen and went out for a bit. When we got home, Comet met us at the door. That little guy cleared a 42 inch tall pen wall with about 2 feet to build up speed for the jump. We returned the pen and got a crate.

After his stay with us, Comet spent a few weeks with a trainer/behavior specialist. He got better with other dogs and people. From there he moved onto a few other foster homes. Honestly, I didn’t know if Comet was ever going to find a permanent home. But a few weeks ago he did. We saw him recently with his new family. They clearly had already fallen in love with Comet. Comet looked happy too. I think he is still a little hesitant around men but his behavior was much more relaxed than when he moved on from our house. Comet smelled my hand and seemed to remember me. No barking or huffing. His tail never stopped wagging and he looked content. The huge eyes that used to be filled with fear were just excited puppy eyes wanting to play.

Good for you, Comet. You deserve it.