Two and a Half Years Here

This week marks the 2.5-year mark in our current residence. As I’ve done semi-annually since we moved in, I will hereby provide an update on improvements we made to our home in the past six months.

By the way, if you’re interested, here’s the blog post detailing what we did during the six months prior to these most recent six months.


-Refinished the floor.

Look at that floor! Brand-spankin' improved!

Look at that floor! Brand-spankin’ improved!

Owen’s room didn’t need to be refinished, but it was in pretty rough shape. As an added incentive, the man who came to refinish Isla’s floor charged a minimum 4-hour fee, and since Isla’s room took him less than four hours, we figured it was cost-effective to have him refinish Owen’s floor, too. It looks amazing now, really. We just cringe every time we hear a book or a toy sliding across the floor.


-Refinished the floor.

Here's the floor mere hours after being refinished.

Here’s the floor mere hours after being refinished.

...And here it is a few days later with some furnishings.

…And here it is a few days later with some furnishings.


-Installed floor trim. Jennifer and I cut, painted, and installed these pieces all around the room, including a slightly smaller style in the closet.

-Built the door frame, thanks to lots of help from my brother-in-law.

Here’s a shot looking into Isla’s room from the hallway. Notice the wood frame around the doorway.
Here’s a better shot looking out of her room and into the hallway:
Notice the partially-clad Isla approaching her improved room for the first time.

Notice the partially-clad Isla approaching her improved room for the first time.

Notice how it differs from six months ago when there was no door frame or trim, and the flooring had not yet been refinished:

And notice how that differed from even earlier in time, when there was still carpet:

-Replaced the smoke alarm. The previous one expired.

-Painted the main door…and installed it. You’ll notice, in the picture below, that it’s still missing a knob, even though we already have a fancy escutcheon. Stay tuned.

AA Door knob]

-Installed reducers on floor. If you don’t know what a reducer is, it eases the transition between two rooms with different flooring. Isla’s room has a main door, that lets out into the hallway, and a side door, that opens into the master bedroom. In both places, her hardwood floor meets up with carpet, so I installed reducers. Here’s the one leading from her room into the master bedroom:

Yes, those are my feet. You're welcome.

Yes, those are my feet. You’re welcome.


-Replaced the ceiling fan.

The fan that came with the house lacked any sort of lighting. That was really annoying. Now we have a variable-speed frame, that matches our style better, had a lighting fixture, and even a remote. And I managed to sell the old one, so this was really an improvement in every way.












-Replaced the ceiling fan.

The previous one was ugly and made a noise like it was going to come off its moorings any time we set it to a high speed. I also replaced the wall switch, too, becuase the previous one made noises (electronic; like a doorbell) whenever we turned it on or off. That was really annoying. Why do I need an electronic tone to alert me that I’ve activated the ceiling fan? Weird. Anyway, new fan:

New fan!




-Replaced smoke alarm. That one was expired, too.


-Replaced outlet.

We had one remaining outlet in this area of the basement that still had a tan outlet and cover. In late December, I finally got around to changing it out with a white one to better match the walls.






-Nothing. Too cold and snowy to do anything.



I’ve noticed here that there are a lot fewer improvements made during these past six months than during any other correspondingly similar chunk of time. My guess is that the house is in good shape now, and most things I’m doing to the house aren’t so much “improvements” as “maintaining.” I will make another post like this at the three-year anniversary – especially since I’m hoping to paint the living room, get my daughter’s room a door knob, and fix the yard – but then I think that might be it for these routine posts.

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My Original Three Favorite Songs

A few weeks ago, Owen asked me to name my favorite song.

He asks this sort of question quite frequently. What’s my favorite book? What’s my favorite TV show? What’s my favorite movie? I wish he had asked me these questions twenty years ago, because then I had concrete answers – I had a definite favorite movie, a definite favorite TV show, and certainly a definite favorite song; with the passage of time, however, these things have all gotten muddied. But I guess twenty years ago he wasn’t around, so…fair enough.

A favorite song? That’s particularly tricky. Asking for my favorite song is almost like asking for my favorite TV episode. Sure, there are some great TV episodes out there, but it’s tough to pick out one truly awesome episode – they’re part of a greater whole, right? So, for the most part, while there are albums I consider to be among my favorites, I’m hard-pressed to single out just one song.

Still, I was able to narrow it down to about a dozen hot contenders.

But before I tell you how I did that, and what the results were, let me give you a history of my favorite songs…

In the beginning, there was my Dad. He owned boxes full of vinyl albums and singles. I swear he had, like, every song that hit the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1985: rockabilly, blues, R&B, county, rock, jazz, disco, pop…it was all there. And if that wasn’t enough, he kept cassettes and 8-tracks in his car and the best part about riding in his car was getting to listen to the one-hit wonder collections he’d discovered in the budget bin at Sam Goody. My particular favorite was Wild and Craaazy Hits, which included such classics as “Wooly Bully” and “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?”

However, my favorite songs were the ones we listened to in the house: the ones he had on vinyl.

I can’t offer any valid reasons, but at some point in my preschool and Kindergarten years, I decided upon a favorite song. In fact, I decided upon three favorite songs. This, I suppose, became my first list ever.

My third-favorite song was “Splish Splash,” by Bobby Darin.

I think I just liked the silly idea of a guy unexpectedly hosting a party in his living room, and how he’s just dancing in a towel and everyone else is (I presumed) fully dressed. How did he not know there was a party going on! Better still, he didn’t kick them out, he just joined in (after grabbing his shoes, of course)!

In second place was Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

For some reason, the line about having “a subway token and a dollar tucked inside my shoe” really spoke to me. On at least one occasion, I inserted a dollar bill into my shoe just to see if I could really grok the song. My mom told me to take it out. She cared not for such frivolities.

But my favorite song was “Hair,” by the Cowsills:

This number two hit from 1968 was just sheer fun for me and my sister. My hair, of course, was never allowed to grow past the tops of my ears, but we reveled in the nuttiness of the song nonetheless.

So there you have it, my original three favorite songs, each from a different decade. I think it’s a rather eclectic mix for a five-year old.

That’s where the title of “Favorite Song” sat for years, until, one day when I was in sixth grade, my friend Chris played a song he’d recorded off TV. I immediately tossed aside my stagnant list and bequeathed the title of “Favorite Song” upon this new tune, this tune which had never been in my Dad’s collection.

But that’s for another blog post.

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100 Credits!

I am pleased to announce that, as of this week, I have 100 credits at Hamline University. This is a big deal because one hundred is a three-digit number. That’s it. Other than that, it doesn’t really matter at all.

People, especially my coworkers, frequently ask me questions about my college career. So, in celebration of the big 1-0-0, I figured I would stage this blog post as a Q&A about my post-secondary career…

Q: So, why don’t you have a degree yet?Aren’t you, like, old?

A: Correct, I am old (for a college student). But actually, I already have a degree: I’ve held an Associate’s in Applied Science from Century College since 2002, back when I was merely a tad older than my classmates. My degree was in Laboratory Tehnology, but the degree from Hamline will be in English (with a minor in History).

Q: So you’ve been working on your four-year degree for 12 years now?

A: No, not quite. After graduating from Century in’02, I did not take another college class until the fall of 2009, so there was a seven-year gap there.

Q: Jeez. Seven years! What was your problem, slacker?

A: My problem was four-fold: I was in a religion that highly discouraged any post-secondary education, we had some issues at home to take care in the wake of Owen’s birth, I didn’t live convenient to any college, and I couldn’t afford college.

Q: Oh. So it’s all good now?

A: Well, “all good” seems like a stretch, but all the major issues dissipated: I obtained employment with a company that reimburses me for most of my tuition costs, I left that religion, and I now live in a city with at least eight post-secondary options.

Q: So how many of those credits are from Century, and how many are from Hamline?

A: I racked up 68 credits from Century College. When I first enrolled at Hamline, the transcipt articulator told me that they were going to count 53 of those credits towards my Hamline goal. But I fought back a little bit. First, I convinced them that they should count my two Lab Skills classes from my first year at Century. Eventually, they agreed. This brought my total up to 62. Then, one day, when a new person took over the job, she emailed to tell me that she realized that a math class I took at Century was actually a 5 credit class, not a 4 credit (as they had originally counted it). So, she basically said, “Congratulations! You now have one more credit!” Bottom line: 63 from Century, 37 from Hamline.

Q: Only 37 from Hamline? But you’ve been enrolled there since 2009!

A: True, but I’m only taking one class per semester at most. Or, put another way, I’m only taking two courses (for a total of eight credits) per school year. Sometimes, such as during the 2009-10 school year and the 2012-13 school year, I took one class in the fall and another in the spring. Sometimes, I took a summer class instead of a fall class.

Q: Wait – if you’re garnering eight credits per year, how do you have 37 credits from Hamline? Don’t you mean 36?

A: Ah…I appreciate your sharp math skills. That’s the kind of thing that will get you extra credit. Anyway, here’s the deal: I have 63 credits from Century, which means I still needed to get 65 credits at Hamline. That means I would have to take 16 classes…but then I’d still be one credit short. So I knew at some point I’d have to take a one-credit class. And, in January, I just did.

Q: So now that you have 100 credits, how long until you graduate?

A: That’s a tough question. The smoothest path would be to take seven more classes. If I continue to do two classes a school year, then I’ll graduate in May 2017. But, you know, life can get in the way.

Q: 2017! Jesus Christ! This is taking you forever!

A: I know, god. Get off my case.

Q: Sorry.

A: That’s alright. Here, let me explain – Like I said, my employer reimburses me for most of my college costs, but they have a limit. As it is, I use about 95% of the tuition reimbursement. If I took even one more class in a year, I would easily use all 100%, and I’d then be left with a bill for several thousand dollars for the remaining costs of that third class.

Q: Um, yeah, that’s because you’re going to a super-expensive school. Why not go to Budget University and get this done in a year or two?

A: Because there’s still the problem of time. Attending college requires me to take time away from work, family, or sleep. The last two are things I don’t want to take too much time from; the first one is something I can’t take that much time from, lest I don’t get paid as much. So, since I can’t take more than one class at a time, why not use (nearly) every penny my employer offers?

Q: I see. So you’re basically going to Hamline for free, then? Sweet.

A: Not exactly. I do have to cough up the tuition costs first, and I only get reimbursed after I prove that I passed the class with a B or better. But my company only pays for the actual tution and the cost of books. They do not pay for interest, school fees, or special events I may have to attend. For the last couple years, I’ve been able to use grants and scholarships to keep the costs down even more. All told, I estimate I’m paying about $50 a credit.

Q: Still, that’s pretty cool.

A: Yes. Kind of makes up for my delinquent parents.

Q: So what classes have you taken at Hamline?

A: These:

Year Course Title Course Number Dept.
2009 American History 1607-1860 1300 H
2010 Textual Studies and Criticism 3010 E
2011 American Literatures (to 1860) 1230 E
2011 Women and Literature 3570 E
2012 Introduction to US History 1300 H
2012 Career Development Internship 3990 I
2012 Literary and Cultural Theory 3020 E
2013 Introduction to African-Amer Studies 3100 E
2013 The Night the Hogs Ate Willie 3540 E
2014 Cults in America: Then and Now 1970 H

The column labeled “Dept.” indicates which portion of my degree the class is applicable towards. E stands for English, H for History, and the lone I indicates the internship I took, which is required for the degree. They were all four-credit classes except for the most recent one.

Q: “The Night the Hogs Ate Willie”? Seriously?

A: Yes. Details are here.

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Books I Read in 2013

This is a list of all books I read in 2013. To be eligible for the list,I merely had to finish reading the book this year. So, for example, if a book has 500 pages, and I read 490 of them back in 2012, and finished up the final ten pages this year, it still counts for 2013. Oh, and I’m only counting books that I have read for the first time. A book must have a minimum of 48 pages to qualify for the list.

The column labeled “Reason” provides the reason why I read the book. There are five possible entries in this column:

1. Class. This means the book was assigned to me in a class at my university, and I had to read it.

2. Kids. This means I read the book to my son (and possibly) my daughter.

3. Review. This means I read the book with the idea of reviewing it for our local paper, or with the intention of interviewing the author during an episode of Atheists Talk, or (in one case) because it’s a book I wrote and I needed to check for errors one more time.

4. Work. This means I read the book for my current “day job”.

5. FTHOI. This stands for “For the Hell of It,” because, let’s face it, every once in a while I do read a book simply for my own enjoyment or to learn how to improve on something in my own personal life.

In 2012, I read at least one book with a title from each letter of the alphabet. This year, I didn’t quite do that – no books on this list beginning with J, O, X, Y, or Z. Sigh. On the up side, the 55 books I read this year bring my total number of books to 960. This is great news because, for over twenty years now, I’ve had this goal of reading 1,000 books. Since 1997, I’ve been averaging 47 books a year – so there’s a very real possibility I will achieve this longed-for goal in 2014. Wish me luck!

1776 294 McCullough, David  FTHOI
11/22/63 852 King, Stephen  FTHOI
2013 Saint Paul Almanac, the 398 compilation  FTHOI
Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 288 Ferling, John  FTHOI
Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, the 176 Pilkey, Dav  Kids
America’s Hidden History 312 Davis, Kenneth C.  FTHOI
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic 304 Ellis, Joseph J. FTHOI
Artist View, an 134 Videen, Arthur  FTHOI
As a Man Thinketh 56 Allen, James  FTHOI
Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream 244 Ehrenreich, Barbara  FTHOI
Black, White, Blue: The Assassination of Patrolman Sackett 252 Swanson, William  Review
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex 320 Roach, Mary FTHOI
Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam, a 74 Ibrahim, I. A.  FTHOI
Brothers and Keepers 252 Wideman, John Edgar  Class
Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede 192 Denton, Bradley  FTHOI
Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers 224 Pilkey, Dav  Kids
Dark Day in the Deep Sea (Magic Tree House #39) 116 Osborne, Mary Pope  Kids
Deliverance at Hand!: The Redemption of a Devout Jehovah’s Witness 340 Zimmerman, James Review
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, the 448 Larson, Erik  FTHOI
Doggy Dung Disaster & Other True Stories: Regular Kids Doing Heroic Things Around the World, the 176 Sundem, Garth  Kids
Elephants of Style, the 240 Walsh, Bill  FTHOI
Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be 56 Loxton, Daniel  Kids
Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy, the 314 Gerhardt, Michael J. FTHOI
Good Night for Ghosts (Magic Tree House #42), a 116 Osborne, Mary Pope  Kids
House at Pooh Corner, the 180 Milne, A. A.  Kids
Human 512 compilation  FTHOI
Inferno 464 Brown, Dan  FTHOI
Infidel Body-Snatcher and the Fruits of His Philosophy: The Life of Dr. Charles Knowlton, an 264 Allosso, Dan  Review
Intersex and Identity 216 Preves, Sharon E.  Review
Killing Lincoln 336 O’Reilly, Bill / Dugard, Martin  FTHOI
Knight at Dawn (Magic Tree House #2), the 72 Osborne, Mary Pope  Kids
Let the Specter-Detecting Begin (Ghost Hunters #1) 186 Enderle, Dotti  Kids
Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations, the 306 Berlin, Ira  Class
Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, the 330 Winchester, Simon  FTHOI
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks 304 Jennings, Ken  FTHOI
Mercy, a 198 Morrison, Toni  Class
Night of the Ninjas (Magic Tree House #8) 74 Osborne, Mary Pope  Kids
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void 334 Roach, Mary  FTHOI
Psycho 208 Bloch, Robert  FTHOI
Return to the Hundred Acre Wood 204 Benedictus, David  Kids
Revivalism, Social Conscience, and Community in the Burned-Over District: The Trail of Rhoda Bement 182 Altschuler, Glenn C. / Saltzgaber, Jan M.  Class
Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot 104 Pilkey, Dav  Kids
Road Less Traveled, the (25th anniversary edition) 318 Peck, M. Scott  FTHOI
Seventh-Day Adventists and the Civil Rights Movement 200 London, Samuel, G.  Class
Sleepy Hollow Sleepover 138 Roy, Ron  Kids
Survival Schools 312 Davis, Julie L.  Review
Treasure Island 276 Stevenson, Robert Louis FTHOI
Twelve Years a Slave 172 Northup, Solomon  Class
U.S. Presidents: The Oval Office All-Stars! (Basher Books) 112 Green, Dan FTHOI
Unstrung Harp, the 64 Gorey, Edward FTHOI
Vacation Under the Volcano (Magic Tree House #13) 84 Osborne, Mary Pope  Kids
Voice-of-the-Customer Marketing 252 Roman, Ernan  Work
War of the Worlds, the 238 Wells, H. G.  FTHOI
White House White-Out 138 Roy, Ron  Kids
Women, Race & Class 276 Davis, Angela Y.  Class
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What I Did During My Holiday Vacation

When I left work on Friday, December 20th, it was to be ten days until I returned to work. In between, I had nine days of no work, and almost no travel. Judging from the conversations of my co-workers, most of them travel for the holidays, beit an hour drive into Wisconsin, or across country.

I’m happy to report I don’t have to travel for the holidays. Unless I’m leaving to go to a state I’ve never been to before, then I don’t want to go anywhere. In fact, I did so little traveling for the holidays that, after returning home from my in-laws’ on Christmas Eve, I went a full five days without getting into a car. It’s not that I didn’t go anywhere – I ventured to the gas station on Xmas Day, then to a pizza shop on Friday, then made a quick dash to this local grocery store for aluminum foil – but all those trips were purely of the walking sort. My streak was finally broken this morning, Monday, December 30th, when I hopped into my carpooler’s vehicle.

So, apart from mundane errands, what does a person do with nine days off of work, including six days (21st, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th) of no car travel? Glad you asked.

I made some more headway on Isla’s room. First, Jennifer and I hung this shelf:

We hung it crooked the first time, which is immensely frustrating, because it’s nearly impossible to correct a shelf that’s a half inch from being level. I drilled a new hole (sufficiently far from the first one), then had to spackle the first hole, sand, re-spackle, re-sand, then paint. Then, at last, the shelf was ready to be hung.

Speaking of shelf frustrations…I hung this shelf in Owen’s room for, like, the fifth time:

The shelf is from IKEA so, needless to say, it’s a complete pain in the ass. The shelf kept pulling away from the wall. I always screwed one side of the shelf into a stud, but the shelf is less than a foot across and, let’s face it, studs are not that close together. So one side was always anchored into nothing more than sheetrock. I devised what I’ll call “Plan E” this time: L-brackets! Look closely and you’ll see the shelf is now bracketed to the wall. I pulled out leftover paint and brushed a coat onto the brackets so they’re not that obvious. Let’s see how well this holds. “Plan F” will consist of sawing a shelf-sized hole into the wall and wedging the shelf into the hole so that it’s only protruding about an inch.

I also lathered a few coats of polurethane on Isla’s door frame:

Sorry the frame is so dark, but when I took the picture, there was this brilliant light entering her room from this enormous ball of supercharged plasma not more than eight light-minutes from the window. Anyway, trust me, the frame is now poly’d. Also, see that piece of wood and those screws sitting on the floor to the left of her door? Those are the reducer (a threshold that seques from the hallway’s carpeting to her room’s wood flooring) and the parts for the door latch, respectively, which I installed later, after the planet turned away from that ball of plasma.

Jennifer and I hung her door last night, too. She still lacks a doorknob, though, but at least now we can close the door when she’s sleeping to give her more quietness.

I built and painted this book shelf for Isla’s room, too:

 The wood and screws were leftovers from previous projects, and the paint, as you can probably tell, is leftover from painting the room’s trim. I actually ran out of paint but, thanks to my skillful arrangement of dolls, you can’t tell from this photo. Regardless, how awesome is this? A free wood book shelf! My nerdy kids hand-selected the books to place on the shelf (Isla actually owns approximately quadruple the number of books you see here, but most will remain in the toy room for now.)

And as long as we’re discussing cost-effective handiwork, now’s a good time to show you that I built this:

Yep, now Owen has a pencil holder, named Osz, on his desk.

And, as long as the polyurethane was out and about, I slathered a couple coats on some Xmas ornaments from yesteryear. Jennifer creates an Xmas ornament from a cross-section of each year’s tree. Here’s an example:

The one you see here is the newest one – this slice of wood is all that remains from 2012′s tree. Anyway, it’s got polurethane on it, so hopefully it will last for years to come.

In the woodworking department, I also made significant headway on a gnome house for Isla’s room. I don’t have a picture to show you here, ’cause there’s not much to see yet. But here’s the deal: You know those access panels to get to the plumbing behind tubs? Well, our access panel happens to be in Isla’s room. So, I figured, why not cut a hole in it and build a little house behind it? Jennifer ordered a really cool gnome door, and I’m cutting a hole to the matching size. Behind this door will be a carpeted, full lit, 12×12 gnome house. I hope she appreciates how awesome her room is going to be. But, since she’s a kid, she probably won’t.

Jennifer ordered this 8×10 of our daughter at Minnehaha Falls this past autumn, and Owen’s third grade pictures arrived, so we framed them. I had to unearth the frame for Isla’s picture from our basement (where we have a surprising smattering of dry goods). The frame for Owen’s picture was already in the dining room, ’cause it had his second grade photo in it. It was just leaning agains the wall, though, so this week, I took the opportunity to hang them on the wall. Like Isla’s shelf (see above), I initialy hung her picture incorrectly. Thankfully, I fixed it, and now there’s an extra hole in the wall (but at least this time, it’s covered by the frame).

I also kept up with snow shoveling, washed lots of dishes, imported some videos from digital tape onto an external harddrive, and worked on my model car, as you can see here:

Also in this photo, you can see Owen working on one of his Xmas gifts, which is amazing, because most of his gifts this year came with a label that read “Mom & Dad: This is mostly for you to ‘help’ with!”

Jennifer and I also managed to watch episodes of Six Feet Under, Grimm, and Breaking Bad.

I read this book:








And this book:








And, finally, I watched THIS MOVIE and THIS MOVIE and THIS MOVIE.

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