One Great Blooming Buzzing Confusion

Let me just say how much I hate living in a house that’s all torn up and full of boxes and dust. This explains the desperate carpentry marathon taking place at the Root Simple compound. I’ll spare you the dull details other than to say there’s been much replication of 1920s molding details that nobody will ever notice as well as weatherizing and floor installation.

We said goodbye to a battered douglas fir floor:

That got replaced by a new oak floor:

Painting prep revealed a layer of ugly 1920s wallpaper:

And I found a pair of safety glasses lost in the bathroom wall in 2002 (along with a dated Home Depot receipt):

When this is all over Kelly and I might just decide to rent out this old house and move into one of the sheds displayed in the Cypress Park Home Depot parking lot:

We’ll be the first parking lot garden hermits.

Getting Ourselves Back to the Garden

Image: Environmental Changemakers

Our cities and suburbs abound in underused, wasted space. What if we transformed those empty, never used lawns and parking lots into gardens and community spaces? This is exactly what the Environmental Changemakers did in collaboration with Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Westchester, a suburb of Los Angeles near the airport.

This past weekend a 10th anniversary party was held to celebrate the collaboration and recognize the leaders of the two organizations, Joanne Poyourow, founder of Environmental Changemakers (and a guest on episode 33 of the podcast) and The Rev. Peter Rood, Rector of Holy Nativity.

The garden has since metastasized from the side of the church’s building to the front and worked its way into the fringes of the small parking lot. A large adobe oven was added and bread and pizza baking events and classes take place on the second Saturday of the month. Recently, part of the front lawn became a community playground.

Many church grounds sit idle during the week. Not Holy Nativity. As Rev. Rood put it to me once, “This is a community center that just happens to have a church attached to it.” While the word “community” gets overused in this case it manifests as a genuine openness to collaboration. Poyourow, not a member of the church, put many years of work into the garden as well as hosting lectures and events.

We have a lot of underutilized space in our communities. Congratulations to Poyourow and Rood for showing us what Charles Eisenstien speaks of, “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” That possible world is right in front of us, here in the present waiting for us to put down our phones and get to work.

Installing Solid Wood Flooring

As part of my quixotic war on laminates, I spent a blissful afternoon installing a solid hardwood floor in our new/old closet. I know laminates have defenders, but I just can’t get behind any material that tries to look like another material. Maybe if they made laminate floors that looked like raw sheets of plywood I could support the idea.

If you want to install your own solid hardwood floor I’d suggest getting an online subscription to Fine Homebuilding just to watch their flooring installation instructional video. This is the second time I’ve installed a wood floor and here’s what I learned:

  • Layout is the hardest part.
  • Rent a pneumatic nailer. The last time I installed a floor I used a manual nailer and learned that driving 1,000 nails takes a toil on your joints.
  • Get a piece of scrap wood and practice using the pneumatic nailer. You can also use this test piece to adjust the air pressure.
  • If you’re installing a pre-finished floor, as I was yesterday, be careful not to bang up the floor as you put it in. Don’t lay hammers or crowbars on the new floor.
  • Let the flooring sit in the house for at least a few weeks before installing. I got a moisture meter to check the flooring material that I also plan on using for future furniture projects. In our case the new flooring was significantly dryer than our old drafty house.
  • Take your time. If a board doesn’t look right pull it up and try another one. Inspect each row after it goes in for defects and nailing mistakes. This isn’t a race and you’re not being paid by the hour.

I’m pleased with the results and I like the fact that sold oak flooring will last ten times as long as laminates. Over the next few weeks I’m going to replace the worn out douglas fir flooring in two other rooms with solid oak.

Let me say how thankful I am for the power of compressed air. That said, some time ago I fell into a YouTube hole, watching old films of early 20th century construction. One of the clips showed flooring being installed with just a hammer at the speed of modern workers with a pneumatic nailer. Then there’s the lost art of plastering but that would be another curmudgeony post . . .

New Sill Plate and Joists

It was one of those weeks when the responsibilities of homeownership left us pining for the carefree life of an apartment or condo denizen. And I’m gonna have to resort to all caps to tell you why.

I spent the last few days replacing a rotten sill plate, the horizontal piece of wood that lies between the foundation and the floor joists. Said job leads to the following all caps admonition: PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT POUR A CONCRETE PATIO ABOVE THE LEVEL OF YOUR FOUNDATION! When that patio cracks and fails, please do not pour another one on top of it. If you attach a deck to your house please hire a professional to make sure that it’s attached with carefully considered and properly installed flashing. Do not allow dirt to pile up against your house. Remember that water has a tendency to move in unexpected ways while simultaneously feeding an army of termites. Out of sight and out of mind, the wood in your house will rot out while you enjoy the high life of barbecues and cheap beers on your crappy concrete patio.

Speaking of professionals, if you live in Southern California be aware that all the well trained tradesfolk are working on Barbara Streisand’s Malibu mansion and are not interested in your tiny bungalow at least until the next, overdue, economic meltdown arrives. The professional I contacted for the sill replacement told me that he was busy for months and proceeded to tell me to do it myself, which is why I found myself wielding two car jacks and a sawzall for the past few days. He also suggested sistering the joists which took up another day that I could have spent doing the things that normally take up the time of glamorous urban homesteading bloggers in the big city such as pondering avocado toast recipes or dehydrating loquats.

After much all caps thinking, I came to the conclusion that we need a kind of time traveling Dr. Who character whose sold mission would be to stop misguided remodeling projects in the past. He’d spend a lot of time in the 1960s and 70s halting bad patio pours, stopping popcorn ceiling applications, preventing stuccoing, and outlawing drop ceiling material.

I’m sure you, my dear Root Simple readers have a few bad remodeling anecdotes to share . . .

Music and Math by Hand

One of the issues of our time that keeps me awake at night is the loss of mnemonic systems, especially ones that make use of the physical world. The more we depend on computers, especially mobile phones, the more we will lose the ability to remember things and do stuff without staring at a screen. My underutilized music degree taught me about the Guidonian hand, a method medieval monks used in the days before musical notation software. The OnMusic Dictionary describes it as,

The first system of learning music developed in the 11th century by Guido d’Arezzo. He assigned each note a name, Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, sol, and La (thus the origin of solfeggio), and designed the system of placing notes on horizontal lines to notate pitches (thus the origin of the staff). The Guidonian hand is another of his inventions, it is a system of assigning each part of the hand a certain note, thus, by pointing to a part of his hand, a group of singers would know which note was indicated and sing the corresponding note.

Here’s a video describing the method in more detail:

Should you want to learn a handy and similar method of using your hands for mathematical calculations there’s a whole video channel devoted to a method popular in India. Please enjoy this room full of kids demonstrating the Indian method:

I distinctly remember, in school, being discouraged from using my hands for math. Now I can’t do anything without Steve Job’s infernal gadget. I wonder if, when we’re finished with our home restoration work, anyone would be interested in a musical and mathematical “non-digital digits” camp for adults at the Root Simple compound? We’ve got to take our skills back from these Silicon Valley memory vampires.