Home Improvement Projects: The Pizza Oven of Doom

So, this actually doesn’t happen all that often, but I’m pretty much completely funned out on the brick oven. Building the vault was just too darn difficult and time consuming to be much fun. Now, I need to A. build the front arch out of regular bricks; B, put on the insulation and chicken wire over that; C. stucco over that; and D. install and stucco around the decorative tiles.

Over the weekend, added the chimney base and the – what do you call that thing? – the slightly smaller front arch that acts as a lip to help the smoke go out the chimney and for the door (ultimately) to fit up against.

Looks like this:

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Front. Those semicircles are pieces of the support for the vault, and are here deployed to block off the opening for the smoke test. 
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Back. While the actual firebox is sealed up using refractory mortar, I went over the outside with regular mortar just to smooth it up some. Probably meaningless, seemed like a good idea at the time. 

We smoke-tested it, meaning we built a small fire inside to see if smoke leaked out anywhere it wasn’t supposed to. Not too bad, a few minor easily plugged gaps.

It will look pretty once it’s all stuccoed and the nice Mexican tiles are installed. This one goes on the side:

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11″ square – large. 

Wish I could find a nice San Jose tile for the back.

Thursday, we all – all four kids + parents + a sweet woman who lives with us, 7 total – leave to drive up to Idaho for the eclipse. We’ll stop in Elko, NV that evening, then leave for the Salmon River Friday. Saturday, we river raft; Sunday we find a church; Monday we drive for an hour or two down near Rexburg to maximize totality. Then it’s down to Salt Lake City to put two of the kids on planes to SoCal for school and a drive to Eli, NV for the night. Then it’s on to Carson City, NV, where we’ll probably sightsee and putter and spend the night. Finally, we’ll take Highway 89 to Highway 4 over Ebbitts Pass and past Lake Alpine – scenic doesn’t do it justice, 8,000’+ up in the forested granite mountains of the Sierra.

I’ll try to get my head cleared.

Pizza! Or Die Trying

Around the TOOL meeting mentioned in the last post, I spent my weekend trying to finish the Pizza Oven of Death in the back yard. See, we’re having all the TOOL families, kids included, over next weekend, and I sorta promised them pizza Here’s where it stands:

That bottom left one is about 1/2 dozen fire bricks from where I had to stop – ran out of refractory mortar around 4 o’clock! Ahhh! Could have finished the vault!

So, I got up at 5:30 this morning and drove to the masonry supply place where I’ve gotten the refractory mortar once before. I did this because they open at 6:00 and morning mass is at 6:30 – so, if they had any, I could grab it and still make Mass – since they close at 5:00 p.m., it’s difficult for me to get there during the week.

It’s hit or miss if they have it on hand – they did not! But you can get it via ebay from Portland, Oregon, which only takes 2-3 days UPS ground (in a 50 lbs container, you’re shipping ground – $20 versus $230 air!). So, after Mass, drove home, hit the internet, ordered another bucket – it should be here Wednesday. I sure hope so, as I need to finish the vault, add a chimney, and then let it dry for at least 1 2 days (If I can stand it!), pull out the support frame (it’s held together with screws so it should come out quick). Then smoke test it – literally – with a small fire, make sure there aren’t any leaks, that the smoke goes out the chimney.  THEN wrap it in ceramic insulation, chicken-wire the insulation down, and stucco over the top – 2 coats at least, probably 3.

So, doing the math: mortar gets here Wednesday. With UPS, that tends to be at 7:30 p.m. If so, I have an hour, an hour and a half daylight, tops, to finish the vault and the chimney – doable. Let it dry until Thursday Friday, then smoke test it. If it passes, then put on the insulation, chicken wire and the first coat of stucco. Second coat Saturday morning; third coat, if necessary, Saturday night. There’s tile and trim to work on while things dry.

Then – yikes! – test it Sunday morning?!? This is insane, right? It should be pretty dry, but the tiny, well-beaten-down sane part of my brain is saying: light a fire before you’ve let that sucker dry for a week? 600+ degrees F? You want it to crack?

If only I’d ordered enough mortar! Then I’d have been done Sunday, and the vault would have had a week to dry! The stucco would have had 4-5 days to dry! It. Could. Have. Worked!

OK – we can bake in the kitchen. We’ve got double stoves, can do 3-4 good sized pizzas at a time.

But I don’t have to be happy about it.

Saturday Update: Suburban Nirvana?

Coffee is a wonderful thing: had a couple cups at about 6:00, got some work in before 8:30 Mass, was starting to drag a bit, then had a quad-shot latte around 10:00, came home and worked until about 2:00, hit the wall and napped until 5 (good thing, too, as it was about 100F at that point) and then laid bricks until dinner. Yay, caffeine!

So, stressful week, still have a number of less than pleasant things to do, so, guy that I am, spent the day working around the house. Some trivial stuff like raked and watered the back lawn, watered the orchard I’ve put in in the front yard (front yards are useless – so mine’s got 13 fruit trees in it now, arranged in adorable planters of one kind or another) and a bit of tidying up.

(Now in Year 2 of what will most likely be a 4 year front yard project: got the trees and most of bricks along the walk in; need a wall, walk and fence along the street, a brick planter along the south side, and an expanded front porch. And a ton of clean-up. Among other things.)

But mostly worked on the brick oven. When we last left this insane project, I was trying to add about 12″ of shelf along the front, so that one would have a little space to use to get pizzas and bread in and out of the oven. Concocted an insanely complicated plan to bolt on an oak and Douglas fir butcher block shelf. Eventually realized it had too many ways to go wrong to leave much of a chance to go right. Soooo – poured a little slab using the threaded rod I’d already epoxied into the oven slab as rebar, added some cross pieces and – well, it looks OK:

Got some 6″ and 2″ square Mexican tiles to add a colorful surface, which is why it’s down 1/2″ from the oven floor.

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Some 6″ square Mexican tile for the shelf. 

After finally deciding the shelf issue, was ready to start building the oven! Got almost two courses in:

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Tomorrow, with any luck, I can get the walls up and start building the framework for the barrel vault. The ceramic insulation pads I ordered got here – it’s not enough! Need to order some more. The 11″  square Guadalupana tile arrived for the arch on the side. Need to get done Current state:

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Imagine a little Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine under the arch, with plants in front. 

It’s going to be really cute when I get it done.

And we had dinner out back in perfect California weather: low humidity, nice temperature, light breeze, no bugs.

And then got the killer sunset:

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Looking west across the street. Yay, God! Much brighter and more colorful in real life. 

All in all, a very nice day. For a change.  If I can gt a couple hours of writing in before bed, it will be darn near perfect!

Update: Reading, Writing, Futzing Around

Added a couple more blog post drafts on Important Things – you know, Important Things – bringing the draft total to just under 100. Sheesh. Started writing about how behavioral scientists (whatever that’s supposed to mean) don’t care about brain science, as changing people’s behaviors are all they’re interested in, not how the brain actually works. Um, what? Very Bacon-ish (the British scientist, not the gateway meat): we’re in it for the Domination of Nature, not merely to understand anything. Let’s not get all philosophical here, we got behaviors to change! And how YA fiction provides something to kids sadly missing from their real lives: responsibility for meaningful stuff, especially stuff they *don’t* get to choose. Kids want to grow up, and the dirty little secret is that we choose here and there, but happiness and meaning are mostly found in living out duties we didn’t really choose: to family, friends, country. Kids need that, and YA fiction often provides at least stories of it.

And so on. Got partial drafts on bad philosophy and stupid theories, an attempt to explain supply and demand avoiding the baleful conventions of economics (not as easy as one would hope) and airfleet finance basics that I promised somebody months ago. And about 90 more! Things I thought important at the time!

Anyway, here’s two turntables and a microphone:

A. Reading, among other things, the first issue of Astounding Frontiers, a new publication from some of the people involved in Sci Phi Journal and Superversive stuff in general. About 80% through, need another hour or two. A full review will follow in a few days.

Short & sweet: great stuff, all kinds of fun. The format, at least for the first volume, is a set of short stories followed by the first installments of a set of serials. All the stories are at least good; the first serial is of Nowhither, the next volume following the Dragon-award-winning Somewither from the Tales of the Unwithering Realm books by John C. Wright. As good as you’d hope. You’d better love cliffhangers, though. Old-school serials are the model, after all.

Writing: So, I started to do what I said I’d do – pick a market and submit the recently-finished short story. Aaaand, that proved harder than I thought – while I’m pretty familiar with the old dead-tree markets – Analog, Asimov’s, SF&F – I’m not really up on all the new markets. So I asked myself: does this slight little story work in those old-school markets? Aaaand – IMHO, not really. It’s a gee-whiz story, where a guy faces death and second thoughts. Probably overthinking it (you’re shocked, right?). Other stuff I’m working on might fit better, maybe.

Anyway, I decided to keep looking for a better match. I began at the top of a list I’d gotten off the web somewhere, sorted by how much they pay, and started down, trying to imagine how what I wrote could fit within their guidelines.

Some not-fits were obvious, either from tone or just not fitting the guidelines. I soon became obvious I needed some quick filters to eliminate the obviously not gonna happens: In addition to wild mismatches on the guidelines, ended up crossing off ones who lead with SJW stuff, as it’s hard to imagine them wanting my stuff.

This still left a whole bunch of interesting possibilities. But I’d never heard of these publications, many of which seem to have mushroomed on the web in the last few years. So I find myself reading the sample stories, to get a feel.

By now, I’ve spent several hours reading stories online from the various publications. Unfortunately, while I did get a few decent stories read, I didn’t end up with much additional clarity. A couple of the stories I liked were so utterly different from what I’ve written that my brain sorta locked up.

And then life got busy. It may calm down for a few weeks, maybe not. Thinking I’ll just look among the PulpRev and Superversive markets for this particular story; others might go elsewhere, need to get my brain around what’s what.

B. Meanwhile, working on some other half (or more) finished stories. With the long daylight hours, I’m tending to work out in the yard until dark or dinner, meaning it’s after 9:00 before I’m in for the night – and, if I’ve been doing physical work, I’m probably tired. Yes, I’m a disorganized sissy with too much going on. Anyway, still need a bit of time to finish the 3-4 in the pipeline. The good news is that I should have a better idea what markets to pursue for them after getting myself caught up on what’s out there.

General experience: when I take a second look at something I’ve set aside for a long while, I tend to like it much better than when I set it down. Obviously need to get over these amateur emotional reactions that keep me from just getting it done. Story of my life, I suppose.

C. Speaking of late daylight hours, been working on the brick oven. When we last checked in, I’d decided to add a little shelf or lip on the oven’s front, changing my mind from when I’d poured the oven slab last summer, and left off the lip in the front.

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While beautiful after a fashion, this whole thing here is frankly insane. Spent hours trying to get it level enough so that the planned wooden butcher block would be level-ish and sturdy enough – and I just couldn’t see it working. Don’t know if any of you have this experience, but at least on projects like this, I’ll get a nagging feeling that it won’t work that eventually stops me cold. Got there on this.  Had to change course. Not getting any dubious vibes on plan D? E? where are we? Yet, anyway. 

Well, after way, way over-engineering it and spending hours (and way too much money!) building this metal angle-iron and threaded rod support system, changed my mind again and decided to pour a little more concrete. Had no confidence in the metal supports – too many things could go wrong, and even if I got it all installed successfully, if somebody decided to sit on it, it might even crack the bricks. So, reengineered. Again.

It should have only taken a few hours total to do this, but it’s been over 100F each of the last two weekends, and even I, home improvement project berzerker, can’t do a lot of manual labor when it’s that warm. So now I’m going to finish it after work, with any luck, before the summer ends. On the positive side: once I’ve gotten the lip finished, the actual oven build should go pretty quickly. Yea, famous last words.

Happy 4th! Weekend Update

A happy and blessed fourth to you and yours. Two thoughts on patriotism: first, *you* are the pater, the father, to your country. Your job is to look after your country. It is not your country’s job to look after you. Second, and related, is something Chesterton said (paraphrasing drastically): that a patriot hopes to be worthy of the great gift of his own country. I would go so far as to say: a patriot, as any father, should hope and strive to be worthy of his own child.

Note that there’s nothing much individualistic about this attitude:  no sane man could hope to take care of an entire nation on his own, but rather should hope to care for the little corner that has fallen to his responsibility, and should seek out the company of good men and women who strive to be responsible for theirs. Together, we try to keep the long-term health of our nation in sight. This is the true meaning of a republic, a commonwealth: we have received our great nation as a gift, and with it the duty to make sure that we can also give it as a gift.

On to the more mundane. The weather today was perfect: low 80s, low humidity, light breeze. We had both brunch and dinner on the back patio under the shade of our massive walnut tree:

For brunch, Younger Daughter made blueberry pancakes with fresh strawberry syrup and whipped cream – red, white and blue. For dinner, fresh guacamole, burgers, tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, home made sweet potato fries. After dinner, we did an hour of Adoration at a local church, then caught some fireworks, then came home to Younger Daughter’s home made Baked Alaska – she made vanilla ice cream with strawberry, raspberry and Macadamia nut brownie swirls – outrageously good.

One of the best 4ths we’ve ever had.

On the Home Improvement front, over this weekend: (This is so ridiculous I’ll put in a break to make it easier to skip over. Really, amateur hour at the hardware store. Fascinating. )

Continue reading “Happy 4th! Weekend Update”

Home Improvement Projects: Mid-stream Update

Had 3 things to do this long weekend:

Replace the toilet tank innards in two bathrooms – 1 down, one to go. This I will get done. Here is the epic jury-rig of the year entry I replaced from toilet 1:

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Starting a couple months back, this shut-off gadget began to fail. First, the refill nozzle inexplicably began shooting water onto the lid, which then dripped to the floor. Solution: cut up the lid from a peanut butter jar and rubber-banded it in place to redirect the spray back down; 2. the float broke off the arm. Solution: using duct tape (camo pattern) and a plastic toy saw that happened to be the right size, taped that sucker right back on. It actually worked, more or less, for a couple weeks! But it’s in the trash now. 

Fiberglass shield, 2nd try – glass & epoxy phases done; need to clean up edges, finish sand & do fancy paint job to meet 13 yr old’s design spec:

Lots of rough work, edges we couldn’t get to stick down properly, but also lots better than the 1st try – nothing that can’t be made perfectly usable with a little work. 12 coats of wax may be overkill, but the darn thing came right off the mold. The Caboose is pleased, which is what matters;

Make some progress on the brick oven. Before I build the walls and barrel vault of the oven proper, I want to extend a lip or apron out maybe 8-10″. This is involving way, way too much planning, hardware and tools, not to mention time.

Here’s a picture of the materials and tools I’ve accumulated so far. I think I’ve got everything:

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Tools are fun – got a nice set of titanium bits to put a few holes in the angle iron (got the set because getting the one 1/2″ bit I actually needed cost about $2 less than the set), a 12″ 1/2″ hammer drill bit and a couple nice files.

Other than that, I am so winging it – setting 4 24″ long 1/2″ threaded rods into the oven slab through the angle iron at about a 30 degree angle, epoxying and concrete screwing the angle iron on the front, attaching the expanded metal strip to both the slab and the angle iron upon which to place the mortar in the desperate hope that a crack won’t open up over time. Then I’ll build a gig out of 2x4s to hold the rods so that I can bend them parallel to the oven floor about 1″ lower, THEN drill 4 holes in my slab of Douglas fir, bolt it on, plane it flat, throw some finish on it (linseed?) and – I can see about 20 ways this could go bad, even apart from eating up hours of time.

So of course, while picking up an 8 oz can at the store, tweaked by back. Whatever odd reach/twist/bend combo that simple act involved unlocked a new pain level. Because this isn’t already way too much, now I’m trying to get by on will power and Tylenol.  Sheesh. Nothing structural, just some useful muscles on my left side that are sore and threaten to sort of lock up if I so much as think about moving funny.  It’ll be fine in a day or two.

Further updates, including details on the shield construction, as events warrant.

 

Updates: Home Improvement Project, Graduation Season

Yes, I still need to review Belloc’s Europe and the Faith (short: it’s good), but, until we get Grandma moved in and stuff moved out – you know, stuff – I’m pretty much time-impaired. And I got stories to finish! Anyway:

A: If Grandma is to move in, it would be necessary to have unimpeded ingress to the house. Thus, I needed to get to a point on the endless front yard brick project (EFYBP? Doesn’t roll off the, um, cerebellum?) where a wheel chair, say, could be rolled up to the front door. Thus, last weekend and this morning were dedicated to laying brick. Here’s where it stands:

(Faithful reader Agellius asked for wider view, to see context – couldn’t really work it, but here’s a bunch of pictures that might help.)

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From the street, driveway to the left.
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From the driveway, featuring the bench between the two planters – fig to the left, citrus to the right.
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Standing on the porch, looking street-ward.
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The porch, with my back to the door. Did herringbone on the porch, 2 straight lines of bricks as transition, then checkerboard transition to the curves matching the planters.

That’s it for now. Needs a planter next to the house, with a pillar in front tall enough to support a hand rail. To the right facing the door will be another short pillar, tall enough to hand a gate off and wide enough to house a mailbox – this will mark the entry to the orchard/garden. Will need a couple steps down as well.

But that can wait – one can now approach the front door without running an obstacle course.

B. Went to the high school graduation of the daughter of dear friends, held in St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, often referred to as “Our Lady of the Maytag”. It is an agitating building:

Image result for St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco:
At least, with beloved Archbishop Cordileone, the homilies are less likely to initiate the spin cycle.

It seems that speakers at events held here are obliged by contract to refer to it as ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely’ – the graduation speakers surely did.

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My daughter, fresh back from 4 months in Europe, including three in Rome, asked: are there any pretty cathedrals in California? And – I was having trouble coming up with any. I’m sure there are, somewhere – it’s a big state – but not in any of the places I’ve lived.

The 1st speaker did a gracious job reminding people that we were in a church, to remain seated, and hold applause until the end of any group acknowledgements. And, for a while, people were pretty good.

But the event wore on. Eventually, graduates got some whoops and hollers; then stomps and shout-outs – and it was open season. My 13 year old son was very distressed by this – as a family, we always find the tabernacle, when possible, and genuflect, and try to keep the yacking down. I was equal parts sorry for him (and us, frankly) but also happy that he took it seriously enough to be made uncomfortable by it.

But what do you expect in a building that requires very little imagination to picture hosting a major appliance vendor’s convention?

C. The above-mentioned daughter, who is an amazing baker and served as Thomas More College’s baker for a semester (and will probably do so again), agreed to make a cake for Diablo Valley School‘s 20 Anniversary Party next weekend. The theme is Disco Tea Party (?!?) so the cake is going to be some sort of disco ball/teapot hybrid.

Sure to be memorable. I will post pictures.