Sunday, September 30, 2012

More blankets, and other seasonal changes

I've been working all weekend to make up for some time I took off this week. Usually when I come home, Charlie is in the window waiting for me, or already at the back door, or running to the back door when I enter the house.

Not today.

I walked in. Silence. No Charlie.

I even said, "Charlie, where are you? I'm home!" Still nothing.

I was certain he was probably doing something important with his mom and didn't hear me come home. But when I walked into the living room and spotted Michelle sitting by herself, he was not with her. That is when I turned and saw this:

Charlie was snuggled up with the blankets, extremely comfortable.

I like the seasons. The changes are exciting. The difference is almost energy-giving for me. I especially like what fall brings, like:
  • Nebraska football
  • cool brisk mornings followed by mild, calm weather
  • colorful foliage
  • a string of celebrations like Halloween and Thanksgiving
  • and, of course, more blankets.
This approaching fall has also reminded me of how time is changing everything. From the pictures of kids getting older on Facebook; to the wedding of our friends, Caitlin and Talor; to having dinner with work friends for our beloved director who is moving on for a promotion; life doesn't slow down. Except it does slow down for those truly great moments when we make time to have dinner with colleagues, enjoying an evening filled with recollection and laughter. Or celebrating the love and friendship of a new marriage. And even the few seconds we take to enjoy a short moment with a child. It is all very special while also fleeting.

So take a few moments to enjoy a cuddle in blankets or some other special, yet normal, moment of living to celebrate this fall.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: The adjustment

Life has calmed down since my previous two posts. 3 dogs in 1 castle has become comfortable, a routine, a way of living. Of course Ollie and Porter are about to return to their own homes, which, I'm sure, will lead to a bit of an adjustment for Charlie. But for now, we are fairing quite well.

The adjustment period. We've all experienced it at some point in our lives. It's the period of time it takes us to become accustomed to our most recent endeavor. Adjusting can be thrilling, unnerving, or both of those at the same time. Depending on the situation, our outlook, and our ability to be flexible all determines whether or not we emerge from this period successful and well-adjusted or defeated and demoralized. Well, maybe those polarized outcomes are not exactly what happens after an adjustment period, but hopefully you get the point. Some times adjustment periods are dramatic and important. Other times, they are slight moments of fine-tuning.

School presents many adjustment periods like a new teacher, a different class, a new school. At each step of the way there are different rules, expectations, ways of doing things. The greatest adjustments in school come with age, from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. During these times we reconcile what we expect that next stage to be like with what we actually experience.

Changing jobs or beginning a new job. We are the new one who is out of place and does not yet belong. This change contains new co-workers, a different culture, learning the norms of the workplace, and becoming accustomed to new roles in an establishment.

Moving to a new neighborhood, city, state, or country. Or maybe even changing living arrangements like getting a new roommate or living with a spouse.

An addition or loss of a family member, co-worker, neighbor. How do we go on without someone dear to us? How do we adjust to the changes the new person brings to our established living?

Having three dogs in the house took a slight adjustment for all of us. Porter and Ollie clearly are missing their human family. Charlie is not getting all of the attention from his human parents. And Michelle and I are dealing with an entirely new dynamic. My other posts describe the rocky beginnings, especially during the first night, and of course the rolling in poop incident. But the second night was much better. We decided that Charlie would sleep in his bed like always. Porter and Ollie would kennel up. Porter was fine with this arrangement. Ollie voiced his concern with low growls followed by puffs of air from his nose and mouth. For hours. He sounded like a fire-breathing dragon.

Night three, the arrangements stayed the same and no one voiced dissent. The back yard went from a place of constant fighting for domination to a communal space all dogs happily shared. They settled comfortably in the house, relaxing in their surroundings.

The dogs are now enjoying each others' company as they regularly compete for the prize possession, the toy of the moment. Sometimes that is Ollie holding the rope in his grasp as he gnaws at it, growling at the slightest moment of an approaching Charlie or Porter. Other times it is Charlie and Porter circling for the ball... which now has a nice little hole chewed out of it.

Life is like a body of water. The ebbs and flows of the waves can be predictable or uncertain. They can be destructive. Or they can be calm and peaceful.

Or life can be like 3 dogs in 1 castle. The relationships and temperaments must be negotiated. They can be tense and trying. Or they can be unexpectedly content and perfect.

What have been the best and worst adjustment periods of your life? Which of those moments are worth sharing?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: Unfinished business

I didn't sleep well last night. My intentions were the complete opposite. I had a plan. So did Michelle.

We expected Charlie to sleep in his bed next to ours, like he always does. We expected the other dogs to also not sleep on the bed. Sort of. We knew Ollie would probably sleep on the bed with us because he is small and we could handle that. Sure enough, Ollie helped himself up on the bed and was waiting there, trying to snuggle himself under the covers.

Porter took some extra prodding to come to bed. She kept wanting to sneak back into the living room to lay on the couch. Finally she came to the bedroom and I shut the door. And that is when her pacing around the room began. After trying to fall asleep, I got a pillow for her and put it on the opposite side of the bed from Charlie. Charlie liked this new pillow and immediately curled up on it as Porter watched. Minutes of coaching led Charlie back to his own bed and Porter ultimately got on the impromptu one I just made.

At regular intervals throughout the night, Ollie shifted in bed, followed by shaking his head/ears, ringing the tags on his collar. Porter got up to walk the room and paw at the bed. Sometimes Porter would bark, at who knows what.

After a sleepless night for both dogs and humans, the real excitement happened later in the day when Michelle came home from work. Apparently there was unfinished business to accomplish in the backyard from the previous night. I was still at work when I got the text: "Omg. Pretty sure all 3 dogs just rolled on poop! For reals. I think I need to hose them off."

Michelle then started live tweeting the events along with supporting photos:
Rolling in Poop!
In trouble!
Trouble #2
Partners in crime.
Certainly, the saga of 3 dogs 1 castle as been eventful and unpredictable. What's next?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: The first night

Charlie's canine friends, Porter and Ollie, are staying with us for about five days. They have only been here about two and a half hours and some pretty exciting dog shenanigans already have taken place.

When Porter and Ollie first arrived, Charlie could not contain his excitement (well, that is always true when someone comes over) and he ran to the front door, pushing himself out, not moving off of the front step until I pulled him by his collar back inside the house. Once we safely got everyone inside, chase-fest 2012 began.
Everyone was moving too quickly for me to get a good picture.
Porter and Charlie ran from room to room of our very small castle until Charlie saw the toy ball that came with his two friends. Like always, Ollie kept his distance watching the crazy take place.

The ball added an new element to the game of chase and was the obsession for at least an hour. Charlie was not afraid to be the rude host, and snatched the ball away from his visitor. Once he had it in his jaws he would run ferociously about, growling, with Porter right behind him. Charlie was determined to be the dominant one. This was his house. He wanted to make the rules.

But Porter had a plan. She went right to Charlie's box of toys in the living room. No one messes with Charlie's toys and he became immediately concerned about what Porter was doing. Porter executed her plan with extreme precision without a moment of hesitation, sticking her head into the box. Charlie dropped the ball to defend his treasure of toys. And that is when Porter scooped up her ball, and dominated again.

Porter can play fetch endlessly. The slobbered ball was gingerly placed on the edge of the couch. On my ankle. Like the dutiful human, I threw the ball so she could retrieve it.

The ball was the object to endlessly dominate, however Charlie put that out of his mind for a moment when he noticed that Anna, Russ, and Vivi were not going to be staying at the house with Porter and Ollie. As they walked down the front sidewalk to the driveway, Charlie made his loud, whiny, monkey-noises. He was extremely sad the human visitors were leaving so soon.

All returned to normal. Sort of. The dogs drank a lot of water to hydrate from the activity.

Before bed, I took all the dogs outside for fear they would wake me up in the middle of the night to go outside as a result of all the water consumption. Immediately, both Porter and Ollie pooped, marking their spots in the backyard. As they ran off into the darkness, Charlie crept up on what Porter left behind, stretching his neck out slowly, getting his nose ever-so closer. Then he raised his back leg to pee on Porter's poop. I looked over in the dark and Porter was rolling around in the grass. I panicked, worrying she was rolling around in some other dog poop. She wasn't.

Once inside, Porter made herself comfortable.

Ollie found a good spot near the window so he could watch the neighborhood.

All was peaceful the rest of the night. Except for Porter barking at every little noise she heard outside. These next few days are going to be absolutely awesome!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The best things in life

There are many things in life that provide us value and a sense of self-worth: the new job or promotion, the nice bonus check, the position of importance or status, the new house or car. All are good in their own context. The best things in life, though, are the littlest, simplest things.

Like walking our dog on a beautiful September evening on the wonderful trails in Lincoln. Charlie was just groomed, his coat trimmed and silky, his ears un-matted, his nails and paws perfectly cut, and a scarf tied around his neck. He was being good that night, not pulling on the leash, heeling next to me the entire time, automatically stopping to sit at intersections like we trained him. Fellow trail patrons wanted to know what kind of dog he was. Others commented or pointed out how cute or well-behaved he was. I was a proud dad that night.

Like having lunch with a great friend and mentor, Elaine, who has recently retired. I lovingly (and sometimes jokingly) refer to her as my second mom. She was a wonderful supporter as I made my way through student teaching. Then I was lucky enough to call her a colleague for almost seven years. Now we are both in different places in life: she still teaching but now in a different setting, me wondering if I'll ever return to the classroom.

Like being an uncle. I love all of my nieces and nephews. They each have unique characteristics, and it is fun to watch them grow from babies into little people and beyond. At each stage of life they discover something new about their world, no matter how simplistic it might be. Last week I spent a short amount of time with Katelyn. She is a little afraid of her uncle Todd. Stranger danger is part of growing up and she is at the age where she is incredibly wary of people she does not see on a regular basis. At first when she saw me she teared up a bit. But then later, as she got comfortable with the newest person in the room, she was OK. When she spotted my shoelaces, she came right over and began to unlace them.
Within seconds, not only were my shoes untied, but Katey was having the time of her life!
She was fascinated with the things. I couldn't believe her intense grip as I worried about whether I would be able to undo the knot she just created.
Katey then looked up and discovered that the leg, which was connected to the shoe, was all part of the scary man. She seemed to have forgotten. We became great friends.
I, Uncle Todd, was proud to be able to pick up and hold an amazingly curious, inquisitive, and somewhat cautious little girl!

Like having an impromptu get-together with friends at our house. Everyone brought their own food. We caught up, sharing the most recent events of the week. We grilled (including chicken nuggets). We enjoyed the company that goes along with great friendship, laughing, commiserating, and playing an exciting game of Hide and Seek with the kids in the backyard. 

Where do you place your focus in life?

I read a post on a great blog the other day posing that very question Foreground vs. Background - Life Refocused. Do we emphasize the foreground or background, or are the two merged together? Oftentimes our focus depends upon state of mind, the moment, our perspective, and even emphasis. So, what are your best things in life? Where is your focus?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Flies are scary

As you may have read in one of my previous posts, I recently have completed a do-it-yourself kitchen update. That work consisted of a partially opened house with no screens. The first time was when I removed the old kitchen door to put in a new one. Half of that day provided a phenomenal opportunity for any insect to welcome them self into our comfortable home we lovingly call "The Castle". The second time hotel insect was open for business was a day-long floor project that required the back door to come off the hinges as my dad and I worked.

Flies love the indoors. I have no idea what is so great about the flavor of the castle's indoor air but it must be something special, and, overly more amazing than outside air.

The castle now has closed doors. And the flies are trapped. This is driving Charlie crazy! His head frantically moves in all directions tracking the flies across the room. He will jerk up from sleep, honing in on them. This is quite the sight to see. In the past I have killed flies that have intruded our living space. Usually when this happens, the files are sitting peacefully on the big living room window and they get squashed with my amazing flyswatter skills, their remains landing on the little ledge at the bottom of the window. Charlie has a favorite spot in that window, where he watches the neighborhood, and will reach over to that ledge, trying to eat the fly carcasses. Now, he will jump off the couch, running after a dive-bombing fly. He will leap up as they whiz above his head. He will even randomly run up to the window to check and see if a dead one might be present in the ledge.

I must say that his obsession isn't entirely irrational. I've been a little like Charlie, obsessed, tracking flies. I started with one flyswatter, then realizing I was inadequately prepared. I would see a fly resting peacefully, but having left my weapon in the other room, the fly would disappear when I returned, knowing I was after it. So, being the evolved, intelligent creature I am, I strategically placed a flyswatter in each room (that's right, I own more than one), leading me to be more elusive, agile. Charlie watches me, his dad, proud. When I don't let him eat the dead flies as they fall to the ground, he looks at me, a little disappointment growing in his eyes.

After the fun of hunting wore off, Charlie became more concerned about the diseases the flies left behind. If you know anything about flies they can be fairly gross creatures. So Charlie retreated into his "cage", the kennel he loves when he wants to feel safe and protected, and hid from these filthy creatures that were causing him consternation.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

From inspiration to fruition: The kitchen project

I have owned our house, the castle, since I was in college. When I bought it, the entire thing was very humble, simple, and--let's be honest--kind of run down. I've done my best to class it up over the years, doing small (and sometimes massive) overhauls.

The most recent project has been a kitchen update.

I'm finally sharing how things have been going the last couple of months, along with some hardships and words of advice.

The best part about do-it-yourself projects is that I get to tap into my imaginative, creative side. Taking time dreaming about the space I hope to improve is just as rewarding as doing the work. I've been envisioning what I wanted to do with the kitchen for years, so this part came very quickly. I shared my ideas with my wife, Michelle, and she concurred with everything.

The actual purchasing of materials is fun if you have an unlimited budget. Michelle and I live on a very limited, restrictive budget and, consequently, I've been gathering materials for this project for over a year: ceramic floor tile when it was on sale, an exterior door to receive a tax credit, two cans of free paint with coupons, and ordering the cabinets during a huge sale and opening a store credit account to receive 0% financing to help pay for them over time. The list goes on...

Inherent in the definition of "do-it-yourself" is actual work. I prepared by setting aside some serious time to my kitchen project, even though this type of work was not my first. I worked in stages over several months (utilizing vacations and weekends) since I did not have a large block of time to do everything. I asked friends and family for help along the way. And coerced others (mostly Michelle).

Below is the progress in pictures, along with a little play-by-play of how everything came together.

Demolition is fun. And therapeutic. I ripped the old cabinets out of the wall in less than an hour.
Before picture: These are the old hanging wall cabinets
that I painted white when I first moved into the house.
Before picture: This is another shot of the old cabinets.
Our over-the-range microwave was old and not working so we took it down.
Yes, we lived for a time without a microwave. This was not fun.

I enlisted the help of my good friend, Russ, for this stage of the project.

Words of advice: Houses are not perfect! The ceiling may be crooked so I couldn't rely on measurements from there. I measured the entire room and then left about half an inch from the ceiling. I screwed a 1x4 board (along what would be the bottom ledge of the new cabinets) into the wall and made sure it was level. I then located where the studs are in the wall and pre-marked their location (or since the castle is cheaply built, there were not many studs, causing issues) so I could anchor the cabinets into something solid.

How it was done: Russ and I started with the corner cabinet and then worked our way out. We lifted the cabinets up and set them on the ledge we installed, which ensured the cabinets were level and easy to hold in place. One of us held the cabinets while the other screwed them into the wall.

Anecdotes: Russ gave up a ten-hour day with his family. He's a great friend. Anna and Vivi visited once to check on our progress. We had a craving for high-calorie lunch, leading to an impromptu trip to Wendy's for double Baconators. They were delicious and just what we needed. Luckily, neither one of us sustained heart damage... yet.
The new cabinets: We now have more storage space
because cabinets go all the way to the ceiling.
The new cabinets: The gap at the top is not finished yet.
It's great actually having a microwave.

Words of advice: Paint first! Any mess you make will be covered with a new floor, new molding, etc. If you hate painting as much as I do this makes it slightly more bearable!

Anecdotes: Michelle picked out the great blue color! The walls used to be white. When she first started to pick out colors for our house, we were painting a bedroom. She wanted to have nothing to do with the process. She claimed to not know how to pick. She hated the endless, infinite choices. She made several trips to the store. Now, she is a paint expert!
New paint: the deep blue adds a contrast to the white molding and white cabinets.
We are going to tile the backsplash under the cabinets and
hope to find some blue accent tile to tie the room together.
Words of advice: Be sure the door is level on all sides before securing it. Use spacers in the gaps. Also check that the door opens and closes appropriately.

Anecdotes: I envisioned that Michelle would be a good helper for this project. But we failed. We were unable to lift in the door together. She did make a valiant effort though. My sister, Brandy, came over and we were able to secure the door in place.

The old door.

 The new door.

Charlie enjoyed helping me take out the old door and put in the new one.

My dad came over to help install the flooring. He and I working together made a several-day project a one-day project. Between tag-teaming, planning, and all-around work ethic, we were able to put in one darn good looking floor.

Words of advice: Like everything, be sure to have a plan. If we didn't think through all the steps we might not have realized we had an issue until the end when it was too late and unfixable. When we measured once, we measured a second time knowing after a cut is complete there was no going back. Finally, laying floor of any kind is time-consuming.

How it was done:  Very carefully. But seriously, generally, laying new flooring is not technically difficult. But, because working with such a large area there are many parts to consider, we had to be diligent and dedicated until the entire job was complete. I set aside several days in case it took longer than anticipated.

Anecdotes: Charlie was a devoted helper on this project, following along with every step of the process until he was blocked off from entering the kitchen.

Step 1 - Lay the subfloor
We screwed down cement board to the existing plywood subfloor so that the ceramic tiles had a solid base to adhere to. We alternated the direction of the cement board so that our cuts were staggered. I do not have any pictures of this process.

Step 2 - Cut the tiles
Cutting ceramic tiles can be a difficult step because they can chip, crack, or break in the process. Dad was the master of this part of the project. You can use a diamond blade on a saw, a wet saw, or a tile cutter. Our friends Jeralee and Mike lent us a tile cutter that was great. We just scored the tile and then it broke along the line. For other more difficult cuts, Dad used a diamond saw blade.
Tile cutter. Investing in this tool is recommended!

Step 3 - Lay the tiles
Again, this is not difficult, just long and tedious. Thinset is used to adhere the tile to the cement board. Word of advice, buy the pre-mixed kind. It costs three times as much but saves a lot of extra work. Since I was doing this the low-budget way, I had to mix my own. It came in a powdered form, then I added water, and stirred. To get the right consistency, I sometimes had to add more mix or water. This takes forever! Once, mixed, we took a trowel to spread an even, thin layer of thinset onto the cement board. I set the first tile based upon our marking and measurements. Then I lightly tapped the top of the tile to make sure it was an even, secure fit. We worked in small sections because the thinset dries and adheres to the tile quickly and we did not want to (or were able to) pull them up. Dad and I had a system: one person would cut tiles (since this took more time and measuring) while the other worked on laying tile. Investing in a bag of spacers helps keep accurate gaps between tiles.

Using spacers while laying ceramic tile.

Step 4 - Grouting
After all the tiles were put down, I waited to make sure they set properly. This required staying off of them for at least 24 to 48 hours before continuing the final work on the floor. I waited a day.
Ceramic tiles setting without any grout.
I returned the bag of ready mix grout to the store after the horrible experience of trying to mix my own thinset and bought pre-mixed sanded grout. I'm glad I did. Grouting takes patience! Playing loud music while working makes the process much more enjoyable. A rubber float (or economy float) is necessary to work the grout into the crevices between the tiles.

To grout, I held the float at a 45-degree angle to fill the cracks. Then, holding the float at a 90-degree angle I smoothed it out. It's OK to get some grout on the tile, but I discovered the hard way it was better to be less messy. Again, it was best to work with small sections at a time.

Then, I cleaned up the excess grout with a sponge and bucket of water. This step was more painstaking than grouting. Here is how this should have worked:
  • Give the grout about 30 minutes to an hour to set before clean up.
  • Lightly move the wet sponge over the tile to bring up the excess grout. 
  • Rinse out the sponge in the bucket of water and repeat. 
  • Regularly dump the water and refill. 
But since I didn't clean up the grout as I went, I ran into serious trouble! I grouted the entire room and then went back to clean up later. It took forever because I had to scrub the excess grout off of the tiles. It took serious pressure and scraping to remove all of the grout. Michelle was awesome in helping with this step. If I ever grout again, I will stop to clean up a section before moving on to other parts of the room. I let the grout cure for about a week. 

Step 5 - Sealing the grout
Finally, the last step is sealing the grout. I purchased an applicator and ran it along the grout lines. Then I let the sealer sit for two or three hours before reapplying. It took several applications because the grout is porous. I could tell when it was sealed as the later applications took longer to dry.
Grout sealer and applicator.

After sustained effort, the finished project is definitely something we can enjoy. We broke in the new kitchen by hosting Michelle's parents and siblings over for food and the Nebraska game against UCLA. The game was disappointing. The kitchen was perfect.

During each step of the remodel, Charlie was the perfect helper, right next to me each step of the way. I kept telling him about how much he would like the updates. He was the final inspector. First, he crept into the room, looking at me from around the refrigerator.
Then, he did a quick walk around the room, testing how the texture of the new floor felt on the bottom of his feet.
Finally, he went over to his spot and drank from his water dish. All was right in the kitchen again. Charlie approved.