Friday, July 30, 2010

More late-night phone calls

Deborah, Paul and I were sitting around, looking at stuff on the computer, when May called, sounding very flat and small. Allan (my father-in-law; Deborah's, Paul's, and May's father) was in the hospital with chest pains and apparent heart trouble. A little while later, another call came in: he'd had a heart attack, right there in the hospital — they had to revive him twice with the paddles — and was now having emergency surgery. Around midnight, the call went out that he was now out of surgery; they did a balloon angioplasty, put in a stent, and he has some sort of balloon pump to help his much-weakened heart.

And this from a guy who, all the years I've known him, ran everywhere he went, and whose lone vice was peanut butter ("peanut butter goes with anything.")

Please pray for him.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Deborah and May picked up some lovely Indian dresses at the flea market in Shipshewana, and, well, how often do I have the chance to work with two beautiful models?


We live, if not precisely in Amish country, very close to it. Just close enough that you don't do double-takes when you see beards and bonnets at Wal-Mart, far enough away that you still do single-takes.

Shipshewana is about an hour north of us on Route 5. Much of the Northern Indiana Amish and Mennonite communities center around Shipshewana. ("Wana" is apparently the important part of the name — it shows up everywhere: Wana Cyclery, Wana Coaches & Buggies, and according to one wag's handmade sign, Wana Beer.)

It's also a site for some amazingly diverse shopping, in the form of the Flea Market, which claims to be the largest in the Midwest (1050 stalls!), and is just as likely a source of Amish peanut butter (Mmmm....) as imported dresses from India. So, a Wednesday or so ago, we went to visit.

The road shoulders are extra-wide around here for a reason.

Our primary mission that day had been the flea market; Deborah and May concentrated on the clothes that you couldn't find anywhere else, and I kept my eye out for unusual equipment and used tools. Deborah and May certainly found what they were after, and I found some gems, too, like glass cutting bits and an army surplus booth that had insulated boots. I'll have to come back for those, but they look perfect for winter motorcycling.

Birds on the roof of the auction barn.

The old-timey goodness factor is in full effect... some of it done for the tourists, surely, much of it quite genuine.

Bicycles were in abundance. For some odd reason, at least half of them were recumbents — I probably saw more people reclining on their bikes in one day than all the years I lived in California.

Regular or premium for your horse today?

I got a good chuckle at the gas station, as bicycles and buggies lined up for gas — not for the horses, but for other equipment. The local Ordnung (community ordinances) doesn't allow cars, but chainsaws and generators are OK.

The advertising is pretty straightforward.

Yep... Neat Stuff!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Now Accepting New Theories

I give up. I'm out of decent theories about how Mario Kart chooses the winner of a match.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I've got them rear-ended blues

You'll just have to imagine the blues riffs in the background...

Well I had me a day
and I was driving home
down past the drive-in
the B & K., that's the one

Drivin' a gray car
on a gray rainy day
turnin' folks in front of me
Waitin' for my turn

Oh, I got them rear-ended blues
Guy named Lucky 13
Ran the red
and now I got the blues

Well, they sent me the Po-lice
and they sent me the medicos
Now they're sending me nice letters,
those attorneys-at-low

Well, the next day was awful
and the day after was bad
but I'm feeling better now
it's blues, but ain'cha glad?

Paramedic: Are you numb anywhere? Deborah: Yes! I just came from the dentist!

Oh, I got them rear-ended blues
Guy named Lucky 13
Ran the red
and now I got the blues

Well, I got me a mashed-up Fender
to play this trueful tune
'bout my mashed-up fender
gotta fix it soon

Well I'm still drivin'
down those lonely roads
But I feel sorry for ol' Lucky
he sure had a heavy load

Oh, I got them rear-ended blues
Guy named Lucky 13
Ran the red
and now I got the blues

So. Yeah. Deborah had a blues station playing when I sat down to write this post, and the inspiration was there, so I rolled with it. Should I — as Robert Frost famously put it — say it again in worse words?

Thanks to a doctor friend of ours who was coming to visit anyway, our medical bills thus far have amounted to $13 for an extra-large bottle of ibuprofen. The part that leaves me somewhat nonplussed is the response of (a) the insurance companies, plural — even my own insurance company is falling over themselves to help out, even though they're not on the hook for any of this — and; (b) the sudden influx of mail from personal-injury lawyers. I'm getting stuff from all over the state, and nearly all of them portray insurance companies as thieving scum that need to be battled. I am certain that (a) and (b) are related, but the exact mechanics and history of that relationship are beyond my scope at the moment. I don't plan to take any of this up with any lawyers. If nothing else, "Lucky" seems to have enough trouble in his life — if you're running red lights to try to pick up your kids from your ex-wife on time, your troubles may or may not be self-induced, but they're still problems.

On the whole, though it comes down to this: Deborah isn't hurt, other than a few days of stiffness and pain. The other guy walked away. Cars can be fixed or replaced; people can't. I'm glad it worked out the way it did.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Auspicious Career as an Author

I got an email this afternoon informing me that a piece I wrote, Shush will be run on the Drabblecast later this week.

My first published story. All 100 words of it. No money (Even at the "good" rate of $0.03 per word, that's... $3), but still, I'm happy about it. One story submitted, one story accepted; that's a pretty good ratio.

They also asked for a bio. Something to read on the show to introduce the author.

A bio? About me? Golly. How do I sum up all the stuff I do, and still come out brief, interesting, and maybe even humble? (I have a lot to be humble about. Take that as you will.) All I knew was that I didn't want to end it, as so many authors do, by telling people that they live in "X" town with a wife and three cats. Clichés aside, I'd need two more cats.

Here's what I came up with:

By day, Andy pushes pixels and corrals commas as a graphic artist and webmaster for Eisenbrauns, an academic publisher specializing in the ancient Near East. Drabblecast listeners may remember Andy and/or Eisenbrauns from Drabblecast #109, with the Babylon Battle of the Bands Bbardle. Or... you might not—go give it a listen. It's a great story, and an awesome song.

By night, Andy is a husband and father, with three children under the age of seven, and says that treehouses are worth every penny and drop of sweat you put into them.

Andy's other published works include You Know You're an MK When..., a book he co-wrote and published with his then-girlfriend (now wife) about the idiosyncracies of life as the children of missionaries. Between the two of them, they've lived in five different countries, but call Winona Lake, Indiana, "home" ...for now.

Did I succeed? Dunno. You tell me.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

It's a Tree! It's a House! It's a... Treehouse!

July 5, 2010. No, it's not, as rumored, the date Doc and Marty go forward to in Back to the Future II (That'd be October 21, 2015; we still have a few years to find out if we get hoverboards.) Around here, July 5, 2010 was Treehouse Day.

It was one of those ideas that was ready to happen. When Paul asked me my plans for the day off, I admitted the only thing I'd thought of was that it might be a good day to build the treehouse. Turns out that he was calling to suggest the same thing. I've been making plans and accumulating pieces for several years, but everything came together this time.

One of the remarkable things about this project was how little I spent on it. On the actual building day, my total came to $8.05, which included four medium-sized bolts and a chocolate bar I bought to appease Deborah. Nearly everything else was provided by one means or another: old shipping pallets from work, extra 2x4s from other projects, the ladder I'd built for our bed when Deborah was pregnant, and — perhaps most amazing of all — an entire pier's worth of heavy-duty treated lumber that washed ashore during the big flood of '09 which no one would claim, and no one would take away. We're talking twelve-foot 2x10s. The kids' wagon got a real workout that day, bringing that back. It's been sitting under my carport for more than a year, ready and waiting.

Laying out the pieces.

I've been planning this treehouse for a very long time, but when it came down to it, the pieces and the tree itself all pointed to something very different. I knew the general principles of how I wanted to build it, but the specifics suggested themselves as I went along: the width of the pallets, the angle of the branches, the height of the ladder, the amount of good wood on this board. The design I ended up with was much simpler than what I'd set out to create, but left plenty of room for expansion.

Good help is invaluable with a project like this.

I had the morning to myself, oddly enough — observed holiday or not, the kids still had swimming lessons, piano lessons, lunch, and nap time, which meant I had a chance to work on it without interruption until early evening. This was excellent, especially since the early stages involved a lot of shifting pieces around and staring off into the distance as I contemplated how things would work together! Paul showed up in the early afternoon, and that made things go much more smoothly. He confirmed my math, helped me thread pallets onto 2x4s, braced boards, measured, and asked his usual insightful questions.

When there's only one of you, you have to get a bit creative if you want to hold a board in place and screw it on. I wound up using a lot of clamps and straps until Paul showed up and lent me a hand.

A good treehouse design takes into account the fact that you are not just building a house, you are building it with a tree — a beautiful, amazing, living thing. Trees grow, and sway in the wind. They get sick if not cared for. They don't appreciate having their circulation cut off any more than you do. When it came down to it, I used the absolute minimum attachment points I could — three — made them rock-solid, and made them so that they could move and grow with the tree.

I used spacing blocks and a flexible design to leave the tree room to grow. I removed the blocks, and I can also back the bolt out later as the tree grows.

I blanched when it came to actually putting the bolts into the tree (these weren't tiny nail-holes!) but all the research I'd done said that this was the best way to maintain both the strength of the tree and the treehouse. I felt awful drilling into the solid walnut (a poem on the experience is here) but the tree had already started to heal by the time I ratcheted each bolt into place. You have to work quickly with healthy trees, as they start sealing themselves around the intrusion right away!

Implements of construction. I wish I'd stuck something in here for size reference; the bolts are about as thick as my fingers (and I have thick fingers!) and weigh nearly a pound each.

Getting everything to work together was an interesting challenge — I didn't have a good reference point to measure from, the terrain sloped a bit, and the trapezoidal frame was playing tricks with my eyes. I finally had to use my level at both ends of the main boards, and across the diagonals, until everything read out as level... and then hoped that nothing shifted while I was drilling the holes for the bolts!

Squaring things up. Golly, it doesn't look right at all...

...but the level says it's right on, all the way around. Trust your tools, trust your tools.

If Daddy can't play on it, can't nobody play on it. That's not selfishness, that's safety! Even with the temporary uprights held on by clamps, the cross-beams support me quite nicely. I jumped up and down on this thing before I let the kids come up!

Perhaps my proudest moment came when I finally had all the uprights in place. Paul and I had both done the math, and came up with the same answer as to where to cut the boards, but I was still apprehensive that we had left some value out of our calculations.... nope. Perfectly level. For someone who struggles with math as much as I do, this was a victory.

Putting on the finishing touches. The upper railing/table/bench came pre-carpeted — originally to protect a boat, but now to protect little ones.

I was screwing down the final boards when the kids came out, still a bit bleary-eyed from their naps, and bemused by the transformation that had happened in the back yard since they had last seen it. They climbed aboard in awe and wonder.

All this happened while we were napping?

OK, we'll let mommy up, too.

Paul had anticipated Treehouse Day well in advance, and had a present for the occasion waiting in his car. What does a tree fort lookout need? Why, a pair of binoculars, of course!

Close your eyes and hold out your hands....

I see you!
(This is my favorite picture of the day. Love the lighting and the expressions.)

The rest of the evening was clean-up. I still need to seal and stain some of the boards, but I'm not terribly worried about it. The nice thing about how I made it is that all the supports are treated wood; the flooring is completely (and easily) replaceable with a new set of pallets.

All this, and friends, too! Ava, from two doors down, became the first guest in the new treehouse.

So this is Stage I. There's more in the works — we need a pulley and basket, some windows, a hose-phone, and there's still that large crate lurking on my trailer, underneath a tarp, promising all kinds of potential. For now, though, it feels wonderful to have this up, and to hear the kids' excited voices. It makes so much work so very much worthwhile!