Archive for March, 2010

Work Around the Garage

March 30th, 2010 No comments

2010-03-30 Spring has sprung 045

I wouldn’t consider myself to be especially handy.  I can change my own oil, and know how to run a few power tools.  But, these are not indications of how handy I am, but rather point out just how cheap I am.  I refuse to take my car to the shop if it something I think I can figure out on my own (and after 10+ hours, with plenty of busted knuckles, I either get it figured out, or I have screwed it up so bad that I have no choice but to take it in).

Case in point: I broke the steering arm on my riding lawn mower, which effectively meant my wheels were falling off and I could only change directions by kicking the tires while they were moving.  Did I take it to the shop to get fixed?  No.  Did I get someone to weld me a new support arm? No.  Instead, I decided to fashion a replacement out a 2×4, metal brackets, cut washers and .some furniture sliders.

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After a few adjustment, it works like a charm.  Now lets just see if I can get it to last through the summer.

Suspended Shelving and Fold-down Workbench

My most recent project has involved building some shelving and a work bench in the garage.  I needed to be able to get our outdoor gear out of the way, store my tools and have a workbench to complete projects on (the top of the deep freeze just wasn’t cutting it anymore.)

The first piece I completed was the suspended shelving.  I knew I wanted to build it out of plywood and 2x4s (for easy of construction and cost) and I did not want to have massive supports jutting out.  So I came up with a design that utilizes 2×4 cleats screwed to the studs and then a 3/8" threaded rod supporting one corner

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I started by marking the height I wanted the shelf and then screwing in two perpendicular 2x4s.  For my garage, it made sense to hang the shelf 48" from the ceiling.  [NOTE: I should have attached the shorter cleat first to maximize the number of studs it could screw in to.]

I then constructed the shelf itself.  I screwed 2x4s along two sides of 1/4" (2′ x 8′) plywood.  [NOTE: Be sure to leave room for the cleats you previously installed.  I forgot to do this on the short side and had to notch the cleat.]  With someone’s help, hoist the shelf up onto the cleats.  One or two strategic screws should hold it in place while you complete the project.  I waited to install the final screws until I had the rod installed to help support the weight.

Next I installed a 90 degree bracket to help hold things together and to spread the weight distribution.  By drilling a hole through the apex and using a large washer, I was able to provide a good support for the connecting rod.

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I passed the threaded rod through this support and secured it with a large washer and two bolts.  I left roughly six inches below the bolts in case I needed to adjust things.  The rod then passed through the drywall in the ceiling where it was secured to a 2×4 passing over multiple joists.

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Besides being less obtrusive, the main advantage to using a threaded rod to support the shelf is that you can adjust it after installation.  Once the rod was secured on both ends, I was able to use the bolts to ensure everything was perfectly level.  I then cut off the excess bolt.

The only thing remaining to complete the project was to include supports.  I added 3 by tapering a 2×4 down to 1.5" and securing from the top.  These were then affixed to the cleat.  [NOTE: If I had planned ahead, I could have attached these to the cleat before I installed it and it would have resulted in a much more stable design.]

Once I had the suspended shelving complete (and the resulting clutter out of the way), I could turn my attention to building a work bench.  One thing I had to consider was the depth of my garage.  Because things can get cramped, I wanted to be able to have get the workbench out of the way if I needed to.  I decided on a two part design with a permanent section and a folding section.  I built the surface out of the other half of the plywood from the shelving project.

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The permanent section was relatively straightforward.  I built a one-legged frame out of 2×4’s and then attached it to the studs in the wall.  I used brackets to attach the support to the leg.  I then screwed the work surface onto the frame (there is a center support to help distribute weight that is built into the frame).

The drop-down section took a bit more thinking.  I began by attaching a 2×4 cleat flush with the permanent section of the workbench.  Then, along the furthest-most stud, I attached a perpendicular 2×4 to anchor a hinged support.

I built the drop down section out of the remaining plywood with a 2×4 frame.  This time I did not use center supports because the whole section is not designed to support a lot of weight.

I used heavy duty door hinges to support the whole apparatus.  I notched the support cleat as well as the work surface so that it could remain flush with the other work bench. 

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The hardest part was trying to align the hinges when attaching the workbench to the wall.  To do this, I attached a 2×2 on the permanent section to help support things then held the fold away bench against the cleat while trying to get it level.  I had someone else go under the bench and mark where the bottom of the hinges were.  I then took a spare hinge and used it as a guide to pre-dill the holes.  From there it was relatively easy to screw the hinges into place. 

The hinges were strong enough to support the workbench temporarily, but I needed to build something more sturdy.  For that, I used the same style hinges and fashioned a simple support out of 2x4s that secured into place with a basic latch.

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When not it use, the support and table top can fold flat against the wall.  I used another latch to secure it in the up position.

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The whole project took about $60 in materials and 10 hours in labor.  I probably could have done it much less time if my miter saw had been working and I had thought through my final design a bit more.

If I value my time at even minimum wage, I doubt I saved much.  But, just like with the home made diaper sprayer we installed, there is just something rewarding about completing a project on your own.

Mikayla takes her first steps

March 17th, 2010 2 comments

These are actually Mikayla’s second steps. She stumbled once on her own, then we stood her up and she took 3-4 steps. Beth and I went nuts. We were able to catch her second attempt on camera.

If you look closely on the left edge of the video you can see me jumping up and down in excitement.

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

2010 NCAA Tournament Picks

March 17th, 2010 3 comments

Here are my NCAA Tournament picks for this year:

Categories: Events, Random Tags: , ,

Do It Yourself Diaper Sprayer

March 16th, 2010 14 comments

Beth and I have been very pleased with our decision to use cloth diapers.  Besides the washing every couple days, the only thing that really requires more effort than disposables is the need to clean the #2 off of diapers.  You can splash them around in the toilet, but most people prefer to use a diaper sprayer.

You can purchase these from a variety of places (see here, here and here).  These generally run about $40.  However, if you are up for it, you can build your own homemade diaper sprayer for $25-30 in less than 30 minutes. Below you will find instructions and a parts list for the method I have used for two installs.

Before you begin, you need to know a bit about basic plumbing and various fittings.  There are several thread patterns used in household settings, a few of which come into play for this project.  Most toilet water lines have 3/8″ OD (outside diameter) compression fittings.  Your standard kitchen sprayer connects with 1/4″ FIP (Female Iron Pipe Thread).  Most toilet connections are either 1/2″ or 7/8″ MIP (Male Iron Pipe Thread).  The tricky part to hooking up a diaper sprayer is trying to get these thread patterns to work together with the fewest adaptors. [NOTE: You don’t need to remember all of this, but it is helpful to know when talking to an associate at a hardware store.]


Here is a list of parts I used to complete the project along with their approximate prices:

  • Standard Kitchen Sprayer with 1/4″ FIP connection – $7
  • 1/4″ MIP Closed Adaptor (converts FIP to MIP) – $2
  • 1/4″ FIP > 1/2″ MIP reducer (also called a bushing) – $2
  • Standard water supply line – 3/8″ OD Compression > 1/2″ FIP (easiest and cheapest way I have found to convert standard thread to compression connections) – $4
  • Add-A-Tee 3/8″ OD Compression (Allows you to add a second supply line to your existing toilet valve without having to shut off the water main) – $6
  • Water Supply Valve (3/8″ OD Compression input and outlet.  This may be omitted) – $8
  • Replacement Water Supply Line (match to your current toilet configuration.  May be omitted if old supply line works with new setup) – $4
  • Teflon Tape (for non-compression fittings) – $1


Parts for the most basic set up should cost just a bit over $20.  I was able to pick up all these parts at my local Lowes (I generally prefer Home Depot, but found for plumbing accessories Lowes has a better selection). The final bill for the setup described here was roughly $32.

NOTE: If these parts are not available, you may have to improvise.  If that’s the case it very helpful to know the specific thread conversions you are trying to achieve (see details above).


  1. Begin by shutting off the toilet water valve, draining the toilet, and removing the old water supply line (keep this handy in case you can reuse it or for reference if you replace it).  You may want a bucket to catch any water draining from the tank.
  2. Connect the adaptor and reducer (bushing) to the kitchen sprayer.  You will want to put Teflon tape around the threads to prevent leaks.
    2010-03-16 Tally 005
  3. Next connect the water supply line to the 1/2″ reducer you just installed.  Again, you will want to use Teflon tape for this one.
  4. Attach the 3/8″ compression valve to the Add-a-Tee adaptor as well as the water supply line you will be using for your toilet to the  (you shouldn’t need to use Teflon tape for this).
    2010-03-16 Tally 008
  5. At this point you should be able to connect everything else up.  Connect the sprayer assembly to the valve and then connect the whole apparatus to your toilet water valve and the toilet.

Your final setup should look something like this:

2010-03-16 Tally 009


Depending on your setup, your access to plumbing supplies and your skill level, there are a few modifications you could try:

  • Omit the extra valve and simply use the main water supply valve to moderate pressure.  This is how we did the first set up.  It works well and saves quite a bit of money since the valve is by far the most expensive part.  Your options then are either a slow filling toilet or a super powerful sprayer.
  • Instead of messing with the closed adaptor, bushing & water supply line, you could cut off the old 1/4″ FIP connector and affix a compression fitting.
  • If you have easy access to the main water line, it may be easier to swap the valve out for one with two connectors.  Some valves have both compression and standard MIP connections.
  • You can use different fitting combinations to achieve the same result.  For instance, it may be cheaper to use a 1/2″ valve instead of a 3/8″ compression valve to moderate your water flow.  Likewise, you may be able to go straight from 1/4″ FIP to 3/8″ compression without using the extra fittings.


I am by no means a plumber, but I found the following procedure relatively simple and only needed an adjustable wrench to complete the project.  The hardest part was figuring out which thread patterns I had and which parts I would need.

After I had wrapped up the install and was writing this blog entry I came across a post which outlines a similar procedure.  Perhaps it will be helpful for you.  Doing this project yourself will not save you a whole lot of money (probably $10-15) but you will have the satisfaction knowing you can make your own diaper sprayer.

Of Authenticity and Friendship

March 16th, 2010 2 comments

no plans, left-overs for dinner, pajamas until noon, marathon board game sessions, 6 hours of Lonsome Dove, dirty diapers, cooking and washing dishes, minor plumbing work, disc golf…

This is how Beth and I spent last weekend.  Pretty mundane and typical.  At first glance seems no different than most free weekends we have.  But, last weekend was incredible as we spent it in Tallahassee with two of our closest and oldest friends Catherine and Dave* and our daughters.

Catherine, Beth, Molly and Mikayla


What was so incredible about the weekend is just how ordinary it was.  There was no evidence of the 5 months that had elapsed since we were last together.  There were no expectations and there was not a need “to be doing something.”  Instead, we just hung out… exactly like we did in high school, and in college, and in our early married lives.

Everytime we get together, it always strikes me how natural things are.  In fact both this weekend and the last time we were together in the Smokies, I had a hard time finding pictures.  I think that’s because there has never been the feeling that what we were doing was “special” as much as it was just a regular weekend together.

Beth and I have many close friends, some of whom we have known for decades, but there is something special about our relationship with the Altmaiers as it epitomizes authenticity and friendship.

*Dave has “retired” his blog, but we are trying to encourage him to start it back.

Proud of my cousins

March 15th, 2010 No comments

We all like to help out worthy causes when we can.  Often that just requires a few bucks, or a text message, or volunteering a couple hours.  Don’t get me wrong, all those things matter, but when someone really gets behind something, and is willing to make true sacrafices, that is when amazing things happen.  Two of my Chicago cousins certainly fit into this later category.

A few weeks ago I received an email from cousin Amy about her participation with a St. Baldrick’s Foundation event.  Basically, participants shave their heads to raise money and awareness about cancer.  A few days later I received another email from my cousin Lauren saying she too was going to participate.

I consider myself a pretty bold person, but I have never been brave enough to shave my head… and I am a guy.  Here, my two FEMALE cousins are willing to shave theirs in solidarity and support of cancer research.  This is especially poignant considering our grandfather, who fought various types of cancer, passed away last year.

Beth and I are very proud of Lauren and Amy and wanted to share what they were doing.  We donated to both of them, and we want to encourage you to consider doing the same.  Here are their participant pages:

Amy after shaving her head.

Let the gardening begin!

March 9th, 2010 3 comments

Most of us have noticed the longer days, warmer temperatures and the insatiable desire to wear shorts and sandals.  Not only does that mean spring is coming, it means we are getting ready for things like weekly disc golf, trips to the farmer’s market, barbeques, and picnics.  It also means the gardening season is fast approaching.

Last night, we borrowed a friend’s tiller to prepare the garden (FYI – I have another trend going: for the past three years I have broken a belt on a tiller).  As I was breaking up the soil, I realized just how much I love this part of the process; in fact, preparing the plot is probably my favorite part of gardening.  There is just something about putting the sweat equity into a project after several months off.  Plus you get the instant gratification of seeing your accomplishments.  So much in gardening requires patience and persistence; it often takes months for your work to pay off.  Tilling is the one time where brute force actually works in your favor.

2010-03-02 Chef, spaghetti 172 [Garden half way through the second tiller pass.
Notice the asparagus patch in the back right.

But, it’s not just the actual work of prep that I enjoy – it is also what it represents.  In order to till you have to have had several days of sunny spring weather, so the process usually starts right when people are getting spring fever.  Tilling also goes hand in hand with planning.  It is exciting to begin deciding what crops are going to be planted where and what schedule you are going to follow.  While I was tilling, the neighborhood kids were out playing, the birds were swooping into our bird feeder, and the sun was just dipping below the horizon.  I could not ask for a better life.

For Beth and I, beginning the garden holds special significance as it reminds us of the birth of Mikayla.  Last year as we were prepping the garden, we were also getting ready to welcome our daughter into the world.  Three days before she was born, we were planning our crops.  And, as we were nurturing her and working through the challenges of a newborn, the garden was our escape and place of renewal.

Depending on how our plans for Swaziland develop, this could be our last year to garden here for quite a while.  That makes the start of the season even more poignant for us.

We have many hours of work ahead of us in the garden this year, but as anyone who does it knows, you do it because you love it.  We are both looking forward to another year of playing in the dirt.

Technical Note:

For those of you who are interested, I thought I would quickly mention our plans for this year’s garden:

  • We expanded our garden space by about 20% this year.
  • We have already planted two rows of onion sets.  Last year our onions did not do too well, but I think it was because we planted them too late and they were too wet.
  • After we tilled the garden, we covered it with black plastic.  We did this last year to kill the grass and it seemed to work well.  It also helps to keep the ground warm, keeps it from getting compressed, and doesn’t allow early spring weeds to grow.
  • Instead of a regular compost pile, this year we are going to use a home-made compost tumbler.  I will keep you posted on that process with that.
  • We are going to use our rain barrel again, but this year we will raise it up off the ground and possibly try adding a second capture container to it.
  • Here are the crops we have planned: sweet corn, tomatoes (mostly roma, but some larger varieties), peppers (at least green, jalapeno, banana, and chili), broccoli, onions, carrots, parsnips, basil, okra, asparagus, squash and zucchini.

End of an Era

March 8th, 2010 4 comments

I have several running trends in my life:

I have never watched Titanic (in fact, of the 10 highest grossing films of all time, I have only seen two of them).  I have not thrown up since middle school.  I have only paid to have my hair cut once in the last 8 years (for my wedding 5 years ago).  And, I have not been completely clean shaven since I grew my first goatee in 2001.  Well after last week, only 3 of those trends still stand.

2010-02-26 Olympics, February random 104[Last picture with the scruff] 

It all started when I got the itch to change up my facial hair.  I thought Beth would be pleased with this new "edgier" look.  But as you can tell, she was not impressed:

2010-03-02 Chef, spaghetti 008

She was able to convince me that the burnside look went out with with General Ambrose in the 1800s.  So I decided to connect with my days out west when I was fighting fire and sawing down trees:

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Again, you can see that Beth was not a fan.

From here I decided to go with just the standard mustache; however, I looked so much like a child molester that I thought it best not to take pictures… those are not the kind of images you want floating around cyber space.

Normally when I decide to change things up, I shave everything except my flavor-saver / soul patch.  Something about having just a little tuft of facial hair to remind me I am a man:

Project-BG, Davis, etc 022 
[Picture from 2007 with our good friends Cat and Dave…
whom we are super excited about going to visit this week]

But, for some reason, I decided if I was going to shave, I might as well go all out.  So for the first time in nearly a decade, I shaved every inch of my face:

2010-03-02 Chef, spaghetti 168 

Not only does the "baby face" look make me appear younger and fatter, it also is a pain in the butt.  I have to shave every other day and and I am not a fan of that.  One of the main reasons I grew a beard was because I hate shaving so much.

I doubt this look will last long, but since it is a once in a decade kind of thing, I figured I had better document it.