5 Years in Our Home

As of this week, we’ve lived in our home for 5 years. 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.


-Installed a new valve on the radiator.

A friend of mine came over and helped me replace the valves on 8 radiators in the house. We replaced 6 of them in July and, a few weeks later, the two others in August. So, there’ll be a bit of repetition here…


-Installed a new valve on the radiator.


-Installed a new valve on the radiator.


-Installed a new wax ring under the toilet.

Everyone I spoke to about this project, including an employee at the hardware store, claimed that this was such a difficult task that it wasn’t worth it unless my toilet was actually broken. They said toilets are phenomenally heavy, I’ll get water everywhere, I’ll make a terrible mess removing the old ring, and it will be really hard to get a proper seal when I’m done.

Turns out, this is all untrue. I removed 95 percent+ of the water from the toilet before I began removing it (get this: there’s actually a way to flush the water out of a toilet). I also removed the tank from the back, which added about 15 minutes to my task, but it meant the toilet was now in two easier-to-lift pieces. The toilet was heavy, but not impossible to lift. In fact, I – by myself – was able to hoist the toilet over the side of our Jacuzzi and set it in there while I worked (that way, any remaining water would simply run down the tub drain). As I suspected, there wasn’t much of a ring remaining, but I scraped it off while wearing disposable gloves and put it all into a plastic bag. The mess wasn’t that bad at all. After reassembling the throne, I dropped in a dye tablet that detected any leaks. There weren’t any. If you need to change out the wax ring on your toilet, let me know, I’m there for you.

-Replaced toiled seat.

Granted, this was a considerably easier task than the wax ring replacement.

-Installed a new valve on the radiator.


-Installed a new valve on the radiator.


-Removed molding from ceiling.

These first three photos show what our ceiling looked like since we moved in, and the other two show us removing the molding:

6 7 8 9n 10






-Installed a piece of sheetrock and several patches and taped and mudded ceiling and walls to fix holes and cracks.

5 1 4 3 2

















These two items are a project that’s still in progress. We hope to get all that mud sanded, and then paint the walls sometime in the next couple of months.

-Replaced all outlets, switches, and accompanying covers from the old, cream color, to the fancier white.

-Installed a new valve on the radiator.


-Installed a new valve on the radiator.


-Replaced the doorbell.

What I mean by this is the actual mechanism, not the buttons on the outside of the house. Here’s what our doorbell system looked like originally:


And here’s what it looked like on February 7th, right after I removed the ugly one that came with the house:


And here’s what it looked like on February 21st. I had to build a frame around the opening so that I had a place to secure sheetrock (since the new doorbell isn’t as large as the old one):


And here’s what it looked like on March 1st. Yeah, it looks worse. That’s because the wall to the right of the light switches needed some repairing, too:


And here’s what it looked like on March 25th. The new piece of sheetrock is installed, and we’ve taped and mudded. And mudded. And mudded…


This picture was taken on April 30th. The mudding and sanding is done. Or, at least, it’s as done as it’s gonna get. All ready for painting:


This picture was taken on May 12th. The wall has been painted, and the light switch cover has been replaced. The only thing left is to hook up the doorbell:


And here’s what it looked like on May 14th. All done! Just in time for Owen’s birthday (I set the doorbell to play “Happy Birthday” that day):


-Installed a new valve on the radiator.


-Installed light in closet.


-Removed accordion door.


-Installed new toilet seat.

-Replaced outlet and light switches and covers.

Again, went from dirty old cream to flashy white.


-Swapped old, rusty, ugly light fixtures for newer models.

I replaced the outdoor light fixture on both our front and back doors on April 22nd. Here’s a picture of the back door’s original fixture, at left, and the new model, at right (the front door’s models look the same):










-Installed wire mesh around chimney.

Okay, not me personally. I’ve actually never been on the roof of my house. But I hired a guy, and he pulled out a large plant that was growing in the chimney, and he affixed a wire mesh around the opening to prevent squirrels from going inside of it (which they were doing).

-Had air conditioner unit serviced.

So, not much in the way of visual appeal here, but at least the unit is super clean (it was really dirty) and it has a brand new motor. Oh, and AC motors are crazy expensive.

-Installed lattice work on south side of deck


This makes a nice barrier between the deck, which has no railing, and the air conditioner. Emmett, for one, likes to jump on the AC, so hopefully this will prevent that. It also provides a bit of protection in case someone (Emmett!) isn’t paying attention and falls off the side. It affords a bit of privacy, too, from those pesky neighbors walking on the sidewalk who insist on saying hello as they pass.

-Installed beams on north side of deck.

Uh, okay, so this might seem a bit odd, but that’s because, like the work in the living room, this too is unfinished. Jennifer and I intend to install the lattice work you see leaning up against our house, but before we do that, we had to put in these 4×4 beams. We did that just this week. so, I’m very confident that this will be completed soon – it’s just that it will happen to fall in the next Home Improvement update I give.

-Removed retaining wall.

As one of the most pressing issues facing our yard, we needed to repair or replace our old retaining wall – the big one that stretches over 75 feet along the length of the south side of our yard and wraps around to the west side an additional 6 feet. This wall was coming unglued and has been slowly leaning more and more toward the sidewalk with each passing year. Really, it’s been a danger to people who walk on the wall. It’s also ugly. We’d also like to put a fence on it, but we can’t do that until the wall is fixed.

Like the lattice work project above (and the living room project way above), this is a project that is straddling two six-month periods. In fact, as I type this, there is a team of professionals working on the bricks right now. Here’s a collage of photos showing the work they’ve done so far:


Here’s the view from the second story:

z-view-from-isla-room2 z-view-from-isla-room1






This project should be completed by mid-month, so expect photos of the completed work in my next Home Improvement update.

-Removed brick from the ground under the retaining wall.

Yeah, I’m not sure why, but under the retaining wall that wraps around the air conditioner unit, there was one square brick at ground level. Removing one brick sounds easy, but it was under three layers of bricks. So, I had to temporarily remove 13 bricks just to get at this one brick.


The brick was in the ground right here, where I circled. I swear I took a before photo, too, but I can’t locate it. I pulled it out in about 20 seconds, and then spent another 20 minutes filling in the hole it left and ensuring all was level before I replaced the other bricks.



-Changed out the old light switch.

At left you can see the old model. Some dirty, nasty, corrugated plate on top of two switches one of which (the one on the left), didn’t even stay up anymore.

At right you can see the replacement. The one on the left now works fine, assuring me that I can turn on the garage’s outside light with confidence! The one on the right, meanwhile, which is for the garage’s inside lights, actually has a nightlight on it so that I can see it in the dark.




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In Which I Listen to Every Song on My Phone

I wasn’t exactly an early adopter of smart phones. Jennifer and I purchased our first cell phones in 2006, after nearly all of our friends and family members had their own. And though she “upgraded” to a smart phone several years ago, I held off until last year.

This spring, I finally availed myself of one of the benefits of a smart phone: having all my music in a portable format. Well, not all my music. Not everything fits. So, at first, I just dropped in a bunch of my favorite songs. Only a few hundred songs.

But then, as I listened to scattered songs from album fragments, I decided I wanted to have complete albums. There are some great songs out there yet, I realized, I had never listened to the album they are from. Maybe the rest of the album is also great. Maybe not.

So I deleted everything from my iPhone, and then began by dropping in the complete albums that I already knew and loved (about 20 albums). There were several cases where I had four, five, or even six tracks from an album on my phone, and this compelled me to ipod-person-green-dancedrop in the other tracks. This brought my total to over 50 albums. Then there were some albums I didn’t own in their entirety, but I wanted to. So I got those. (How I got those is another story entirely.) This brought my total to over 70 albums. Then I went back and filled in the space I had left with truly one-off songs that didn’t belong to any album, or, at least, not any album I wanted. Some of these were live tracks. Others were from albums I had listened to in the past and didn’t think I ‘d really want to hear again.

Then, of course, since I’m obsessive, I had to make sure all the tracks were perfect. I mean perfect. I made sure I had the correct album cover artwork for every song, the year each song was originally released, and the correct track number for each song. Of course, I also ensured every song title, album title, and artist name was correct and consistent. A lot of the songs I own were listed as being from “So-and-so’s Greatest Hits,” which isn’t exactly true since the song usually appeared on a studio album previously, so I corrected those to indicate the original album they were from. All bands that begin with “The” have “The” at the beginning, while all individuals are last name then first name. I even had to figure out how to get songs, albums, and artists with numerical names to appear first, instead of last, like iTunes and iPhones stupidly do (hint: you have to cheat).

So now I have 1,186 songs on my phone, which would take me three days, 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 12 seconds to listen to. There are 88 music acts in my phone, but several only have one or two songs. Music acts with complete albums on my phone are as follows (the number indicates how many complete albums I have from each artist):

311 (1)
The Beatles (5 – although this includes Sgt. Pepper’s, and I left off the song “Within You Without You,” which I can barely tolerate)
Johnny Cash (1)
Creedence Clearwater Revival (2 – well, this includes Cosmo’s Factory, and I left off the 15-minute song “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” which, I’m sorry, is just too long)
Green Day (1)
Green Tea (1)
George Harrison (1)
Mason Jennings (11)
Billy Joel (6)
Jack Johnson (2)
The Lavone (1)
John Lennon (5 – well, this includes both Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey, two albums that are half Lennon and half Yoko Ono songs. I only included Lennon’s)
Pink Floyd (2)
Simon & Garfunkel (5)
Paul Simon (10)
Bruce Springsteen (1)
Rhett Sutter (2)
Ryan Sutter (2 – well, this includes an EP, which is a very short album, and it excludes the 10-minute outro from Songs of Bo Redoubt, which just has too much empty space to justify the space it uses on my phone)
The Traveling Wilburys (2)
Trumpet Marine (1)
U2 (10)
Brian Wilson (1)

My phone also has every song from The Beatles’ 1967-1970, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicle (again, with one exception), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Déjà Vu, Genesis’ Turn It On Again, Buddy Holly’s 20 Golden Greats, Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, Volume I and II (except for the atrocious “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “While the Night is Still Young”), The John Lennon Collection, Bob Marley’s Legend, Queen’s Greatest Hits, Volume I, and The Paul Simon Anthology, but all of those are compilation albums, so I’m not counting them.

My phone also has 18 songs from  Pearl Jam, 17 from Peter Gabriel, 8 from Roy Orbison, and 6 each from Counting Crows and XTC, but, alas, no complete albums – not even greatest hits albums.

There are more songs from Paul Simon on my phone than from anyone else, at least if you count his stuff with Garfunkel, too, for a total of 171 songs (114 solo, 57 with Garfunkel). John Lennon is a close second with 108 songs from the Beatles and 54 as a soloist, for a total of 162 songs. If I don’t count work from multiple iterations, then U2 is first with 131 songs, and Mason Jennings takes the cake in the soloist department with 120 songs.

So now that everything on my phone is in order, I’ve decided to listen to it all once through. The most logical way is alphabetically by song title, as that spices it up far more than chronologically, or by album or artist title, even though it does make for some odd cuts sometimes.

My experience kicked off this past weekend, with the very sluggish “4th of July,” by U2, which only makes it onto my phone by virtue of me wanting to having the entire Unforgettable Fire album. But then I was pleasantly surprised to hear The Traveling Wilbury’s “7 Deadly Sins,” which I don’t think I’d heard since I was a teenager. Glad I rediscovered that song.

As of this writing, I’m on the letter A. My progress is slowed because I don’t have an easy way to listen in my car. But I’ll update this when I close out with U2, who, coincidentally, are also the last music act in my list, with “Zooropa.”

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In Which I Read a Romance Novel

The least noble item on my Ultimate To-Do list (the list most people call their “Bucket List,” an appellation I despise) is: Read a Smutty Romance Novel.

Last week, I fulfilled that laughable life-long goal. I read Wedded, Bedded Betrayed.


Before you judge me, let me explain. Then, by all means, please judge me. Label me, too. I don’t care.

For over two years, when I was a high-school student, I worked at the public library as a shelver. That meant I took books that were returned, organized them onto a cart, then wheeled the cart out to the shelves and placed the books back in their proper places. The paperback fiction section had its own room and, besides segregating by age group, the books were also separated by genre. The romance section was the largest section, and the majority of the books had a certain uniformity to them. They were just under 200 pages, white and red dominated the covers, and a photo on the cover was usually framed inside a circle or oval and depicted a heterosexual couple just moments away from ripping off each other’s clothing. Lots of skin – the man was often shirtless, and the woman’s dress/skirt/gown featured a slit that went practically to her waist. They were either on a bed, or foregrounded by fireworks, a medieval castle, or a luscious countryside. Their limbs were intertwined, with the racier images skillfully placing the limbs in such a way to cover revealed flesh that, had it been shown, would have landed the book in the porn section instead of the romance section. Nearly all were published by Harlequin Romance.

I loved putting these books back on the shelves. Not, as you might think, because I was a hormonal teenager who liked the pictures, but because they were so uniform in size (and dominated by a few authors) that putting them in order and dropping a half dozen onto the shelf at once was a very speedy, satisfying job.

They were also very popular. It was easy to fill a cart with nothing but romance novels, and there were always middle-aged women standing in the section gobbling up the books – ten at a time, in some cases.

I decided I just had to read one at some point in my life.

But like my insistence that I read A Christmas Carol in mid-December, I likewise had some stipulations. The book had to:

*Be the same size as the once I remembered from my shelver days

*Be published by Harlequin

*Feature a racy photo on the cover

*Have a hilarious title

*Be obtained from the public library

*Be read by me while on a vacation, preferably one featuring a beach

Okay, so on August 11th, I checked out Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed from my local library. From August 15th-17th, I read the book while on vacation at our family’s cabin on a lake. I read most of the book while sitting a few feet from the beach.

The cover wasn’t quite as racy as I had hoped. I wished that woman’s dress was unzipped, or that the guy’s shirt was off. I mean, look at them – you can sometimes see people embraced like that at a mall or a park. Still…it’s not exactly asexual.

The title, likewise, isn’t quite up to snuff. I was hoping for a book title consisting of a pun, such as Inside Her Heaven, or When He Comes, or The Long, Hard Voyage Around the Curves. Okay, I made up that last one. Still…this title did make me laugh.

More than that, I laughed at the other stuff on the cover.

First, notice the blurb directly under the title. It’s from Lynne Graham. Who the hell is she? I don’t know, but there’s also a call-out circle just below it informing me that “Lynne Graham Recommends” this book. Yeah, no shit – I see her blurb right above!

But there’s also more Lynne Graham. Check out the last page of the text:


Right after telling me that the author, Michelle Smart, has some other books I might like, the page then tells me to be sure not to miss Lynne Graham’s 100th book! A hundred books! Holy cow! Oh – and the book is available this month!

Okay, but back to the cover. Here’s the back:


“The man she loves to hate.” God, that’s great.

Here’s the plot: A multi-billionaire breaks into his adversary’s mansion to steal documents that will clear his name and implicate his adversary’s. On the way out, though, he spots Elena, who is gagged and handcuffed to a bed. He rescues her, realizes she’s the daughter or his foe, and says he won’t go public with the information he has just obtained if – and only if – she agrees to marry him, pretend she loves him, and has child.

This is difficult for her not just because she thinks he’s a criminal who hates her family, but also because, despite running the family’s auto business (the European section, at least), she’s been very sheltered. Unlike her four older brothers, she was homeschooled. She was never allowed to leave the mansion. And, though she’s in her mid-twenties, she’s a virgin.

Of course they fall in love.

By about the halfway point in the book, I wondered what, exactly, made this book different than, say A is for Alibi, a book I read in which Detective Milhone falls for a man who has an impressive “knot” between his legs (when she sees him in his briefs), and with whom she has good – not great – sex. Or what made it different than Angels and Demons, in which Professor Langdon ends his romp around Italy and the Vatican by having mind-blowing sex with a Yoga master.

Here’s the difference: The book never looks away from the sex. So often in books and movies, the couple kisses, they lie down in bed, and then we cut to the next scene. Or, maybe we read of them having sex, but were just told they did it (such as in the two examples above). In this book, in which the couple has sex at least four times, every details is provided. Elena’s train of thought – especially during her first experience – never ends. Even once they’re done, and she rolls over fully expecting him to fall asleep, we still follow her train of thought as she’s pleasantly surprise that he gently puts his arm on her waist and snuggles with her through the night.

A very corny, unbelievable story but – since I’ve also read The Old Man and the Sea and On the Road – certainly not the worst work of fiction I’ve ever sat through.

I’ve now moved “Read a Smutty Romance Novel” from the “Things I Want to Do” column to the “Things I’m Glad I’ve Done” column.

I don’t plan to read another Harlequin.

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Ten-Year Birthday

This week marks ten years since Jennifer and I left the Jehovah Witness religion. Of course, they would insist that their religion be called “Jehovah‘s Witnesses” and they wouldn’t like my use of the word “birthday,” claiming that “anniversary” is a better term in this case anyway. But fuck them.

UntitledPart of me thinks it’s hard to believe 10 years have gone by, but I suppose in looking at the changes since then, ten years seems right. At that time – back in 2006 – we owned a home in Big Lake and we had one child. Now we own a home in St. Paul, and we have three kids. And though I still work for the same company, I now work in a different department and have been promoted to a different job.

In the interim, I’m so glad to have had so much more time for things that really matter – leaving the religion has easily freed up an average of ten hours a week, which is sort of like getting an extra day every week! It’s meant more time to be with each other, and our kids, and to work on our house or at our jobs, and more time to just have fun.

Witnesses frequently pride themselves in how busy they are. They somehow make a connection that being busy equates to pleasing God. At the same time, they also point out how wonderful it is that they are “free” from all the stresses of non-Witnesses. They note that non-Witnesses are often busy with work, school, holidays, and other pursuits – and isn’t it great that we, as Witnesses, have “freedom” from those vain time-consumers? Several talks I heard while I was a Witness made mention of Witnesses’ freedom…

* from health-damaging habits (notably tattoos, smoking, and overdrinking – but also homosexuality and premarital sex, which can lead to AIDS and unwanted pregnancies, respectively)

*from money- and time-wasting ventures (notably gambling, but also over-indulgence in entertainment and holidays)

*from faith-weakening texts (notably books by former Witnesses and movies steeped in the supernatural)

*from mind-muddying studies (notably philosophy and biology)

Of course, what Witnesses are leaving out, and what I noticed even back when I was a teenager and a devout Witness, is that people don’t automatically do those things just because they are not Witnesses. And even if they do participate in one or more of these activities, they’re not necessarily indulging to the point of hazard. Really, then, what Witnesses term “freedom” is just forced obedience. Most rational people can see the health benefits in not smoking, for example, but for Witnesses, the choice is already made for them.

So, in the decade since leaving Witness-dom, I’ve noticed that they are right: many of the activities Witnesses forcibly avoid are unappealing or do cause stress. I’ve tried a few cigarettes and I’ve gambled at casinos…and they’re not for me.

Meanwhile, I really don’t care about most holidays. New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, and Independence Day can all just come and go for all I care. In fact, the only participation I do engage in with those holidays is due to my children – when Isla brought home construction paper cut-outs of hearts for Valentine’s Day, I thanked her and decorated with them. Birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, meanwhile, are more to my liking. But they are stressful, and I do spend a lot of time and energy preparing for and worrying about them.

With all the pros and cons of participating in all the activities that Witnesses won’t touch with a 144,000-foot pole, here’s the key difference: They’re not allowed. Doing any of the above things without remorse is enough to get a member evicted from the congregation. So, yeah, even though I don’t care for tattoos, cigarettes, or Valentine’s Day, I’m way happier living in a world where I can make those decisions myself. It’s also wonderful to not have to look down on others because they have chosen something different.

A few months after we left the Witnesses, Jennifer and I thought about which of our friends would be most likely to leave the religion. Of course, we wanted nearly all the Witnesses we knew to leave the religion. But we knew many of them never would. We also knew that many of them, even if they did leave, wouldn’t make much of a difference in our lives. Instead, we thought about who was most likely to leave, who would benefit the most from leaving, and whose exit from the Watchtower would cause us the most happiness.

We made a Top Ten list.

After ten years, I’m happy to report we were half right – 50% of the people on our list have subsequently left the religion.

Here’s to another ten years in the world and the hope that those other five friends leave!*



*Not that it would matter that much. Jennifer and I have observed that the religion bound us to people we might not otherwise have been compatible with. So, if they ever leave, maybe we’d just discover we don’t have much in common with them. We’ve also noticed that most of our friends who leave the religion contact us to catch up on old times, then quickly find a new circle of friends.
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Trying to See a Movie

This past weekend, Owen and I went to the theater to see X-Men: Apocalypse at Carmike Cinema in Oakdale. The “showtime” was 7:10. When I purchased the tickets at 7:00, the employee at the box office informed me that I was plenty early since the film didn’t actually start until after 7:30. You know there’s gonna be a lot of ads when employees have taken to warning patrons about the wait!

So Owen and I first peeked into the theater and, seeing plenty of open seats, we decided to walk around a bit and see what else was playing. With 16 screens pretty much everything you’d want to see was there: both sequels and remakes!

But wanting to get a good seat, after about 5 minutes we moseyed back into the theater and took our place. I let Owen pick the seats. Then I sat down to watch the movie.

But before the movie started we were first treated to…
-A Netflix ad
-A hotels.com ad
-An informative segment telling us to locate the exits
-An ad for Ice Age 12: Even crappier than the other 11
-A trailer for Jason Bourne 12
-An American Express commercial, in which Tina Fey impulse buys thousands of dollars at a fitness store, to show that she’s just like a regular person
-An ad for The Runner
-An ad for King of Queens 2: Kevin Can Wait
-An ad for Extra Gum
-An ad inviting us if we’d like to meet new people and kill them (aka, “The Air Force”)
-A Taco Bell ad that’s somehow supposed to entice us with a steak taco for $1.49
-A commercial for Starburst
-An ad for No Man Left Behind
-A State Farm ad in which a kid is riding his bike down the street and, when he lets go of the handlebars, there’s a disclaimer at the bottom that says – I kid you not –  “do not attempt.”
-An ad for Mazda
-An ad for Verizon
-An ad for Geico
-An ad about the ads (which they call “Front + Center”)
-An ad for Chevy
-A reminder to find the exits, which was completely unnecessary since that’s all I’d been thinking about since the last exits reminder
-An ad reminding us that, while talking on our phones during a movie is obnoxious, using our phones to take pictures of the movie is illegal. Because even though talking in a movie is a bigger offense to most people, photographing the screen is a bigger offense to really rich people.
-An ad for Carmike Cinema…the very theater I was sitting in
-Another ad for Ice Age 12: The Squirrel and the Nut is Still Stupid
-An ad for The Secret Life of Pets (think Toy Story meets Bolt)
-An ad for The Suicide Squad
-Another ad for Jason Bourne
-An ad for Star Trek: The Search for Original Scripts
-An ad for Ghostbusters: Original, Evidently, Because Women
-An ad for Coca-Cola set to Queen’s “Under Pressure”
-An ad for Vitamin Water
-An ad for Carmike Cinema…the very cinema I have, by now, sworn to never attend again
-An ad for Coca-Cola which, I’m sure, raised the audience’s awareness of Coca-Cola by 0%
-And an blurb from the actress who plays Storm, telling us that lots of people are required to make movies.
…The movie probably started sometime after that, but it was getting late so we had to leave.

Just kidding. The flick finally commenced at 7:32. Or, at least, the Twentieth-Century Fox logo and an assortment of other financial contributors’ logos commenced.

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