Saturday, September 29, 2007

Anatomy of a Hoosier Bin

I call this thing a Hoosier Bin, but I don’t think that’s really very accurate. I’ve only really seen one real live Hoosier Cabinet in my life and it didn’t have a bin like this, that I recall. At any rate, I’ve gotten it in to my head that this was a popular style kitchen bin around the same time the Hoosier Cabinets were popular, so it became a Hoosier Bin in my mind.

I also think that even if there was a Hoosier Cabinet that had a bin like this, this bin is a little more rustic than what would have been on a real Hoosier Cabinet. It’s not that it isn’t constructed well, it’s just that the Hoosier Cabinet I saw had a refined, factory-made look to it, where as this bin has more of a home-made quality to it. It really looks like it was made with hand tools. It also came out of an 1880s house, and I think that may pre-date the Hoosier Cabinet.

Finally, it is made of thick, full-dimensional redwood, which would mean local construction, and as far as I know, there were no Hoosier Cabinet factories in town. This is all speculation, so who knows for sure. It’s sturdy. Its old. I like it. That what really counts.

There are no hinges for the bin. Instead it pivots on the bottom rail of the face frame. The base of the bin has a two piece, concave rail on it. The back of the bin is higher than the front and when you open it, the back hits the back side of the face frame and that its what keeps the bin from falling all the way out. It is not really attached to the cabinet in any way.

The opening of the face frame is actually smaller than the front and back of the bin. There are two notches cut in to the tops of the two sides of the bin. This makes it possible to get the bin in to the opening. You have to sort of put it half way in, then lift it so the top of the face frame slides down in to the notches. You then have clearance for the bottom part to fit in. The front part, with the concave bottom rail, the comes down to rest on the bottom rail of the face frame.

Once it is in place, because the front and backs of the bin are larger than the opening, it can’t fall in to or out of the cabinet. When I first put it together it worked well, but not great. It sort of popped in to place at the very end when I opened it and closed it. It was a bit clunky.

I then added a half round piece to the bottom rail of the face frame. This really solved the problem. Now, the concave bottom of the bin was riding on the convex half round of the bottom rail of the face frame. The operation is surprisingly smooth. I won’t paint the two opposing half round shapes, and maybe even wax them. It should really pivot well when it’s all finished. The bin itself is so heavy (maybe 30 pounds) and the tolerances of the face frame are so tight, there is really no place for the thing to go except back and forth. It’s pretty damn cool.

Monday, September 24, 2007

New Corner Cabinet

Last summer, or when ever it was, I found an old Hoosier style bin cabinet in a dumpster parked out in front of a small 1880s bungalow down the street from me. It was in kind of rough shape but still had some life in it so I snagged and it’s been sitting in my dining room ever since.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but I quickly decided it would make a nice dirty clothes hamper for the downstairs bathroom. As it turned out, the bathroom was too small to incorporate the bin in the room, but I figured I could add the bin to a built-in cabinet just outside the bathroom door in the little mud room.

This solved two problems. First, I would have a place to drop dirty clothes after I came out of the bathroom. As I’ve learned over the last few months, this is a much needed item. I’m a very lazy person at heart, so making the 10 yard walk from the bathroom, through the kitchen, through the butler’s pantry, and in to the proposed laundry room would be too much for me. No, the clothes would, and in fact have, ended up sitting on the floor of the bathroom until I get sick of looking at them, or until guests are expected, which ever comes first.

The other problem solving nature of the bin has to do with the beadboard that will be covering the rest of the mud room. I have a bunch of 9.5 foot long pieces of beadboard that I want to use to cover the walls of the mudroom. It already has a beadboard ceiling and I thought it would be very cool to have a complete room of beadboard.

The beadboard was originally installed in the scullery, which is now the downstairs bathroom. If it was all in good shape it would be just barely enough to finish the mud room. The problem is, it is far from being all in good shape. The scullery had at least two different sinks installed, and what may have been a water heater. This lead to several holes of varying diameters being drilled in to the beadboard.

By installing a built-in corner cabinet to house the bin I no longer need as many 9.5 foot lengths of beadboard. There will be no beadboard behind then bin. I can now pick and chose from the best pieces to finish the rest of the room.

Kitchen on the left and bathroom on the right

As it turned out, the bin really didn’t fit in the mud room all that well either. Calling it a mud room is a bit of a stretch. The room is only 4X5.5 feet. Three walls have doors on them and the 4th has a window. After playing around with it, I decided a corner cabinet was the only way to go. So over the last few days I built the built-in and fixed up the bin. It works very well. Now I can start to put the rest of the beadboard in the room. After that’s all in I can make templates for the marble top of this built-in and the one in the bathroom. And with that, the bathroom will finally be done.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Look What I Found!

I was strolling down the street one day…

Ok, it was 2 days ago. I was walking back from the post office when I see an old grave marker in the bushes right by the sidewalk.

The marker is for Edith E. Walker, Born Jan. 20 1853, Died Nov. 20 1920. That would have put her at almost 68 years old. At first I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I was still 7 or 8 blocks from home and I couldn’t see carrying this thing the whole way. It is pretty heavy.

This section of sidewalk runs right along side an early 20th Century apartment building. It is owned by a notorious slumlord in town and the place is really nasty. The building is built very close to the property line, so there is maybe 2 feet of dirt in-between the sidewalk and the building. There are just a few poorly cared for bushes in the dirt area and the marker was clearly visible.

I walked home and looked in the phonebook for local cemeteries. There are 2 cemeteries in town but really only one is still in operation. The small one, which is owned by the city is only a few blocks from my house, but in the opposite direction of where I found the grave marker. I don’t think they bury people there any more. The other, larger cemetery is about 5 miles away at the edge of town.

I called the larger one and a young woman answered. When I told her what I found her reaction was one of shock, and without hesitation she said something like, “What?!? Well, bring it to us!”. I was encouraged because you never know when you’re going to get someone who doesn’t give a shit. Her reaction could have been something like, “Well, we’re not missing any, so good luck”.

I got in my car – that would be my new car – and drove back to get it. I fished it out of the bushes and drove it up to the cemetery. This is the first time I had been there. The place is called Ocean View Cemetery, and for good reason. It sits on a high bluff a few blocks from the bay and the view is spectacular. The weather was just as stunning that day. Blue skies, low 70s, and almost no wind.

The narrow road winds its way through the bucolic setting to the Sanctuary and main office. The building was the most uninspiring thing there. It is a long, squat, beige stucco building with a flat roof and no windows. It looked like something built in the 50s. I wasn’t sure where I was going and the first door I entered lead in to the sanctuary. Inside, it was very nice with lots of marble, flowers, and soft lighting.

Outside, in front of the sanctuary there were a half dozen private crypts. Each one was maybe 10X12 feet. They were very nice and very ornate. Lots of molded concrete and marble. They looked like they had been there forever. Then beyond that, the graveyard stretched out before me with the bay and the ocean off in the distance. It was very, very pleasant.

I eventually found the main office. There were two woman there and they just flew in to action as soon as I announced I was the one that called about the grave marker. I’m sure this was the most excitement they had seen in a while. One woman came out to my car to look at it…. Did I mention I was in my new car?….Anyway, the other woman started pulling out these old ledgers of death records to try and find out if Edith was one of theirs.

The ledgers are about 3 feet wide and a foot tall. Each one is broken up alphabetically and lists all of the deaths for a given decade. We looked in the 1920-29 ledger under the “W”s for an Edith Walker and she didn’t show. I took the opportunity to scan the “P”s for a Petch and found nothing there, as well. The penmanship was flawless and all written by the same hand. It was hard to believe it was done 90 years ago because it looked like a very nice calligraphy font printed by a high-end laser printer.

When I got back outside there was a guy from the maintenance department there. He had already pulled the marker out of my new car and it was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup. The 3 of us stood there and speculated as to how it could have ended up at the corner of H and 9th.

The older woman asked where I lived and I told her I owned the big green house at M & 9th. She paused for a second and then asked, “Isn’t there a Vance house right there.” I was impressed. The Vance’s were big wigs in the early history of Eureka. There are a few “Vance Houses” in town and a Vance Hotel (1880s). There was the Vance Mill, etc, etc. I told her the Vance House was at M & 10th and she said, “Oh yes, the Dutch Colonial.” Again, I was impressed. If she had asked if The Petch House was right there I would have been really, really impressed, but she didn’t.

As a side note: The Vance House at M & 10th is where the bottom half of The Frankenstein Hutch came out of. The Vance Hotel is where my 2 medicine cabinets came from.

The maintenance man speculated that the marker was probably the top of a small monument type grave stone because of the way the top was beveled. He pointed out to spot a few hundred yards away were there was a small grouping of monuments. They were all in the 4 to 6 foot tall range. Not really the typical grave stone, but more like small statues. It was hard to tell, but they looked similar to the small private crypts I had passed, so I think they were probably cast concrete with some marble plaques. I’m sure they were over 100 years old.

The maintenance guy went on to explain that this whole area between us and the monuments a few hundred yards away was once filled with these type of grave statuettes. He said it used to all look like The Ferndale Cemetery. It was now all manicured lawn and you could just make out indentations in the ground where grave markers were set a few inches below the level of the grass. All of the monuments, with the exception of the small grouping in the distance were gone.

The Ferndale Cemetery

I asked what happened and he and the woman explained that during the 1950s they ripped out all of the monuments and just set the name plates in the ground to mark the graves. All of the statues were hauled to the back of the cemetery and buried.

I stood there gape mouthed for a second and finally asked why the heck did they do that. There was a brief pause and finally the guy sheepishly said, “It was done for maintenance reasons”. They did it so they could mow the lawn easier. There was a longer pause. We were all thinking the same thing, but nobody said it: What a bunch of narrow minded, short sided, idiots. They ripped out a bunch 100+ year old Victorian grave stones so it would be easier to mow the stupid lawn. Unbelievable.

With that, I wished them luck in trying to find Edith and left.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Card of Death

I heard once that the 13th card in the Taro deck is the Death Card. It supposedly signals transformation, passage, or change of some kind, rather than an actual death. I don’t really believe in any of that crap, but it’s a good metaphor, none the less. My life has been going through some pretty major changes recently. Mostly good.

This seems to happen to me ever 5 to 10 years, even going back to my childhood. I think that most change is for the good – not just for me, but for anybody - and these recent changes are, but it doesn’t always work out that way, and the process can be very stressful. It’s sort of like jumping over a ditch to escape a large dog. If you make it to the other side, you’re in the clear and it’s great. If not, you’re now laying at the bottom of the ditch and you’re easy pray for the dog.

A few months back, on a whim, I applied for a job I saw in the paper. It is completely out of my field when compared to my past work history. This new position is decidedly white collar, where all of my past jobs have been blue collar. Although some might be considered a light shade of blue, I am essentially a high school dropout who has managed to do ok. This new job was a part-time position that would be perfect for a college student who was going to school in this field. In fact, that’s how it was advertised. It wasn’t really an internship, but definitely an entry level position, and not fulltime.

The position was for a database programmer for a company that manages health plans for large companies. About 15 years ago I took up computer programming as a hobby. My brother and I are both self-taught and for a few years we kind of fed off each other in our passion for it. Some of that included database programming. It just something I’ve always liked and I tend to become consumed with it when I’m doing it. My native programming language is Visual Basic, although I do know others to a less extent. With VB, I would be considered a Guru in some circles.

I submitted a “resume” that had not one of my past jobs listed on it. None of my real jobs even came close to proving that I was capable of the work I was applying for. What I handed in was a listing of programs I had written, languages I knew, what I felt I was capable of, and what I had done for others. I also included a CD with a database program I had written for someone else. The interview went well and I followed it up with a few emails. Much to my surprise I got the job. Honestly, if this had a been a real, full-time position I probably wouldn’t have had a chance. The lack of a college degree and no work experience would have probably ruled me out of even getting an interview, let alone the job.

The database programming relies heavily on the VB language, but it is not exactly the same as what I’ve done in the past. I was very, very nervous. Before I was hired I had assured my new boss that I was more than capable of doing the work, and now I had to prove it. For anyone who is in-the-know, we maintain several SQL Servers where the databases are stored and then I link to the tables through MS Access. Within Access I design interfaces and do all of the data mining and report writing.

They had been without a programmer for a few weeks, or maybe months. My boss, who is extremely capable at the database side of it, was able to keep things moving along, but there was a lot of work backed up. For the first month or so I absolutely devoured projects. I was just in the zone. I quickly got a handle on programming in Access and just started flying through the backlog of projects. At the end of my 3rd week my boss calls me aside and tells me they want to bring me on fulltime. Yea!

My predecessor was often talked about in God-like terms for his ability to program. Even so, in a meeting during my second month my new boss suggested that I was even better than him. He was a college boy, and I’m not knocking that at all, but I think the term “boy” does apply here. Apparently he was fresh out of college when they hired him 4 or 5 years ago. That would mean that he would have been about 10 years old when I started programming. I guess there is something to be said for experience. I met him once, and he’s actually a nice guy, and very sharp. I have know doubt he will do well in his field.

I’ll never forget one day, it was like my 3rd day on the job, and I hear my boss behind me say to someone, “I want to introduce you to our new database programmer”. I looked around as if to try and see who this new programmer was. After a few seconds I realized she was talking about me. I was the new database programmer! It’s all very exciting. I mean, I’m basically now getting paid to do what was my hobby. This is one of the few times in my life I can say I love my job. I can say it with a straight face, and without my words dripping with sarcasm.

For the most part, I felt confident with the programming aspect. My real concern was working in the office atmosphere. This is something I’ve never done before. Fortunately, it is a very causal work place. There are maybe 30 people who work in the building and it is a largely a jeans and T-shirt crowd. Although some do dress nicer, I think that has more to do with their nature than the requirements of the job. I really don’t own many nice clothes so I was concerned I would need to go out and buy a new wardrobe. In my second week I was told we were getting an important visitor and that I should dress nice for the day. Not really knowing what to wear I went and rented a blue, crushed velvet tuxedo with a white ruffled shirt. Boy was my face red when I showed up to work wearing that.

Seriously though, I have been asked to dress nice on a few occasions because someone important is coming in. I’ve worn the same 10 year old pair of J. Crew chinos and blue buttoned down shirt 4 or 5 times over that past 3 months. This was also the same outfit I wore to the interview and to my first day on the job. Pretty soon I’m going to need to breakdown and at least buy a second shirt.

While all of this is going on, I’m still working my other job. I’ve been putting in 11 or 12 hour days for the last 3 months. For the first month I was on the job I spent several hours every night after work and on the weekends getting a better handle on the Access programming environment. The pace was getting difficult to maintain, and the more I worked at my new job, the less enthusiasm I had for my old job. That is to say that there was ever any real enthusiasm there in the first place. My old job was never anything more than a means to an end. The end being the work I do on The Petch House. The job was only about 25 hours a week but it had benefits. Namely, insurance benefits. I can’t be crawling around on a 32-foot ladder in a stiff wind without health insurance. I had to keep both jobs until I started full-time at the new job.

So when was that going to be? Well, I wasn’t really sure. The new company is growing and in the very brief conversation I had with my boss at the end of my 3rd week it was put to me as “Later this year”. I think it’s a budget issue or something. I knew they were serious because there seems to be enough work and they’ve already shelled-out to send to a conference in LA for a few days. They also gave me a new computer, laser printer, and they keep telling me to pick out a new chair from the catalog. It seems I have a new career, but when exactly this is going to become a real, fulltime job is a bit of a mystery. More stress.

Ok, so I’m thinking November at the latest. I can do November. The extra money from working two jobs will be good so I’ll just work my butt off for another 2 or 3 months. And the money is good. Even at only 20 hours a week my paychecks form the new job are the largest paychecks I’ve received since moving to Eureka 7 years ago. Which, to be honest, is no great feat. Eureka is not known for high paying jobs, and to be honest, I haven't worked a 40 hour week in 15 years.

Unfortunately there were a few complications. Earlier this year I had gotten a new boss at my old job. We got along well at first, but our relationship had been slowly deteriorating. The Monday prior to the Friday when I was offered the fulltime position at my new job, my new boss at my old job called me in to his office and raked me over the coals. As I said, our relationship had really deteriorated and I saw this coming, but still, it was the most humiliating thing I have ever been through. Some of it was deserved, but a lot of it was over the top. One of the things he brought in to question was the full benefits when I was only a part-time employee. We were in there for nearly 2 hours and I was absolutely seething through the whole thing. It took every ounce of strength to keep from walking out the door that very second. I didn’t need the money so much as the health insurance. I can’t be uninsured.

It felt like I was being held hostage by health insurance. When will the good ol’ US of A get its collative head out of its collective ass when it comes to health care in this country? Without health insurance I’m one burst appendix away from being bankrupt. I was now officially miserable in the old job and I loved the new job more than you can believe. Honestly, I feel guilty about my new job. I enjoy the work so much that it just feels odd. I’ve had a lot of miserable jobs in the past. It really didn’t feel right to try and pressure them in to bringing me on fulltime any sooner, so I had to wait it out.

To make matters even worse, through most of this I’m seeing a doctor over some minor medical problems that I won’t go in to. This is the real reason I don’t want to leave the old job just yet. I mean, a broken leg or a burst appendix is always hanging over my head like the Sword of Damoclse, but has anyone actually looked at the cost of a few x-rays these days!? It’s pretty unbelievable what some of these things cost.

As soon as my current medical drama is over with, or at least to a point where it is manageable, I called my insurance agent who wrote my homeowners policy and ask him about short term, catastrophic health insurance. I don’t need drug or doctors visits covered, because I don’t plan on that happening over the next few months. It’s a gamble, but it’s a good gamble. I’m normally very healthy. I just need to cover those unexpected, major problems that may crop up. He says he can write me a 3 month, catastrophic policy for $275. I say fine, let’s do it. As soon as the ink dries I will give notice at the old job and be done with it. The problem is, they won’t cover me because I’ve been to a doctor in the last 3 months. It doesn’t matter if I went in there just to get splinter removed or if I went in covered with boils. No one will write a short term policy for anyone who has been to a doctor for any reason in the last 90 days. Grrrrr! It’s all very frustrating.

So I stick it out at the old job for a few more weeks. I wear two hats at this job. One, I’m an employee and a subordinate of the new boss, whom I don’t get along with. Oh, I should say at this point that he is 10 years my junior and easily a foot shorter than me. In another facet, I am the IT Guy. In this aspect I am a contract employee through a small company I run. And I do mean “small” in the most literal sense of the word. I make as little as a few hundred dollars a month with this business. It did much better at one time, but then I bought this big Victorian home I call The Petch House and…..well, you know all about that. The whole software business sort of took a back seat and I don’t do a whole lot with it these days.

The IT gig with the company is very minor because this is a very minor company. The one real aspect of it is managing a set of hand held computers used by the sales force. There is a desktop application that ties the hand helds in to our accounting software and the whole thing is very buggy. We bought crappy software that came with zero documentation and I’m the only person west of the Mississippi that knows anything about it.

So the day after my managerial reaming by my diminutive new boss I inform him that I will no longer be able to manage the IT duties for the company. This is my shot across the bow to counteract his shot across the bow at me. I tell him he has 6 weeks to find a replacement. I inform him that I will be happy to train the new person on a schedule I decide. At the end of the 6 weeks I can be called upon for emergencies but the new rate will be triple that of the old rate.

This did not go over well. I should say that I have always gotten along well with the owner of the company (remember, he gives me full benefits for a part-time job) and this is the only reason they got 6 weeks to find a replacement. The owner is out of the country while a lot of this is going on. Just when I thought my relationship with my new boss couldn’t get any worse it took a nasty turn.

Since the owner was out of the country, either my new boss did not feel he had the authority or he didn’t feel capable to hire a replacement for me. As the clock ticked he saw that he was going to need to learn the system and he started to ask (Demand?) that I train him. I was suddenly very busy and scheduled training that was inconvenient for him. This did not go over well at all. Our relationship deteriorated to the level of 8 year old boys fighting over a toy. It came down to a childish battle of will where he was trying to impose an authority over me that he didn’t have. Remember, as the IT guy I’m not his employee.

I came in to the office one afternoon and he was sitting in front of the computer I normally use. He had the desktop software loaded. He had a notepad ready to take notes. He told me I needed to train him on one of the modules of the software. I told him I had a prior engagement and I would be available anytime between 6 and 7 am and I needed 24 hours notice. With that, I turned and walked out of the office. I could hear him grinding his teeth behind me.

The next morning we had a knock-down drag-out argument about the whole training thing. He went ballistic and so did I. Later that afternoon I wrote him a letter informing him that I would not be training him at all on any of the systems in the office. (In all of my written correspondence with him I am nothing but perfectly professional). I quoted several of his emails to me outlining why I would not be able to continue a working relationship with him, and I paraphrased some of his more insulting comments to me in our most recent argument.

The next day he catches me as I’m about to leave for a sales call. He drags me in to his office. He has his Bible with him. He accuses me of libel and demands that I give him a written retraction of my letter. While this is going on, the production manager and the head of the maintenance crew are also in the office. The production manager is the man that gave me the curly redwood fence posts over the summer. We’ve always gotten along very well. In fact, I’ve always gotten along very well with almost everyone I’ve worked with there.

I listened to my bosses diatribe for a less than a minute and then said, in response to his demand for a written retraction, “That won’t be happening”. I then turned to the production manager and told him it’s been a pleasure working with him. He wished me luck, and I walked off the property. I bought $300 a month insurance policy to hold me over until my 90 day, doctor-free period is over. In October I can get the $100 a month limited policy, and maybe by November I'll be fulltime at the new job.

The best part is, two weeks later the system at my old job starting having problems. They quickly hired a new guy and brought me back in to train him. Because the 6 weeks had elapsed my new fee was now being charged. The new guy is one of these hired gun tech people who is probably charging even more than my new fee. The whole thing was so stupid.

This was, without question, the most bizarre working experience I’ve ever had. To celebrate that the whole thing was finally over I went and bought a new car. Well, actually, it’s a 2003, but its new to me. I really tried to buy one that day that I walked off the job. I just really liked that juxtaposition of walking off a job I’ve held or 5 years and then buying a new car. Unfortunately it took another week to find that car I wanted.

I bought a VW GTI VR6. Picture a small, blue rocket ship with power-leather-heated everything. I’m keeping the Boss 1971 Ford F-100 Custom Camper Special for dump runs and what-not, but it’s no longer my daily-driver, and it’s about time. I bought the car, not only to celebrate the ending my last job, but also because of finishing the last major project on The Petch House. There is still a lot to do, but bathrooms, kitchens, plumbing, wiring, and other big expensive projects are out of the way. It feels good.

So, if all of that weren’t enough there was actually something else going on that I really don’t want to talk about on such a public forum as my blog. There is another reason why I haven’t been writing on the blog so much lately. Don’t let your imaginations run too wild, because its not like I was knocking over liquor stores and on the lamb for the last 3 months. Maybe someone will let me do a guest post on another blog and I can tell that story as well.

I’m not quite to a point where I can begin to do regular postings again, but I do want to start writing at least something. I really miss the blog. And I have been getting some stuff done on the house, despite my chaotic schedule and my psychotic boss. I do have blogging material, I just need to get some sort of rhythm back to my life.