Let there be light

Dec 13

I built the patio during the hottest days of the summer, so it’s only fitting that another home project be completed with snow on the ground.

Thanks to about a million hours of work by my dad, we’re finally ready to get a garage door opener installed this week. Here’s what we did:

1) Drilled a hole in the house and ran wiring under the patio steps to the garage. (This was earlier in the summer.)

2) Called the electrician, who connected the line inside the house and installed a new circuit breaker box in the garage.

3) Removed the old garage support beams and added new ones, five inches higher — for proper garage-door-chain clearance.

4) Ran wire and conduit around the garage, so there’d be plenty of plugs and lighting options.

In true Dad Vankat fashion, all of these steps were completed with the highest quality materials and workmanship. Where I was willing to cut corners to save time (and prevent frostbite), he insisted on sanded boards and smoothly filed metal edges.

And of course he was right. It’s a project to be proud of.

Thanks, Dad.

Here’s the unveiling:

Editor’s note: In the video, the light stays on for a couple seconds, then goes dark. It must be said that this is due entirely to a faulty bulb, and is in no way a reflection of Dad’s contractor skills. The garage is sturdier and warmer thanks to his tireless efforts. I’m pretty sure I could live out there if Stephanie ever got tired of me.

Sink mess

Oct 12

The kitchen sink stopped draining two weeks ago. Just all of the sudden.

There had been occasional backups before — a nasty backwash from the dishwasher, or maybe the full basin took longer to drain somedays — but the water always went away after awhile.

Not this time. A giant pool of stale pasta water.

After a couple nights of me trying to clean it out with the pipe snake, and dry heaving under the sink because of the smell, we called a plumber.

The guy came over, took a look, and brought out the heavy-duty tools. He did his thing for about an hour without any luck.

Definitely not a clog, he said, but he’d have to come back to the house another day. He didn’t have the company pipe camera to see what was really the problem, but he also didn’t hesitate to speculate that we had a broken pipe under the basement floor. Would probably cost us a COUPLE THOUSAND DOLLARS to dig up the concrete and run a new pipe to the drain in the laundry room. Oh, and that’ll be $240 for today’s visit.


At this point, we’re terrified. No solution and a giant repair bill looming. Time for a second opinion. But first, an angry phone call.

Stephanie tore into the Aksarben Plumbing people on the phone, arguing that we weren’t paying for their unsuccessful unclogging. They got the message — refunded the all the money (even the fee for the service call) and agreed not to send their guy back with his camera for a second look. (Poor fella wouldn’t have stood a chance after Stephanie had already wasted all of a Friday afternoon with him.)

Next up: Aspen Plumbing, on a recommendation from Steph’s uncle. Their guy drove over the same day, on his own time, and gave us some super-poison-acid stuff to try on the clog. If that didn’t work, we were supposed to call another of his guys to come fix it.

Two days later, the Aspen guy is standing in the kitchen, laughing at the idea that a pipe might be broken in the basement. No way, it’s a clog, he said. After an hour of work, he busted through and we had a fully operational sink once again.

And the guy charged us 85 bucks. Bravo, Aspen Plumbing — cheaper AND better.

Plus, I really wasn’t in the mood to dig up the basement.

A sweet tip

Oct 6

Brought back from a months-long blogging hiatus by an email trick? Well, you gotta start somewhere.

Just learned that you can append your Gmail address with a plus sign or a period and some text to create your own external filter of sorts.

An example probably makes this easier.

In effect, “bvankat@gmail.com” is the same as “bvankat+twitter@gmail.com”, which is the same as “b.vankat@gmail.com”. The email all goes to the same place. The sweet part is, you can use these “separate” email accounts to register for things online, then route the incoming mail based on the address to which it was sent.

Another side effect: Multiple twitter accounts!

Twitter only allows you to sign up for one account per email address. That’s fine. Most people don’t need more than that. But for people interested in additional identities (say, in the newsroom, where we manage multiple multi-user accounts) it was always hard to remember which email address was tied to which account. Not any more.

Granted, this was an extremely nerdy problem. But it’s still a problem.

Patio progress report

Jul 13

It’s been awhile since anyone has seen the progress in the back yard. So here we go.

Last time I shared photos (in November), I had just finished the bottom level and cut blocks to go around the edges. Needed some finishing touches this spring, but it was basically ready to go.

But I wasn’t quite satisfied. Seemed weird that we had a first-class patio, but just a crappy old concrete sidewalk leading up to it.

It needed a set of matching stone steps as an entry way. And while we’re at it, might as well redo the wooden steps down from the deck, which were entirely too steep and narrow.

Get the shovels back out!

Six weeks of occasional work later. It’s getting close. But I always say that.

Planning for two steps. Using stakes for depth measurements.

Broke up the concrete sidewalk with a borrowed sledgehammer. Dug out the area for the new steps. Then remembered another outdoor project we had planned: Run electricity to the garage for lights and a garage-door opener.

So, we dug out a big trench, and ran electrical conduit and wires from the house to the garage. I got to drill a hole in the side of the house! Sweetness.

Rental drill. Giant bit.

My well-dressed helper.

View from the inside. We’re through!

The nearly finished product.

Connecting to the garage.

So now, a simple call to the electrician will give us beautiful lights, power-tool hookups and an easy escape for the vehicle from inclement weather in the garage. Can’t wait.

(Oh man, that’s reminds me of another blog post I forgot to write: We got rid of one of our cars! Stephanie’s working from home a lot more now, so we sold the Jetta to save on gas and insurance. So far, we’re loving it.)

But anyway, back to the patio …

Dammit, I thought I was done having piles of blocks and sand in my driveway!

Filling it up. Rounded corners for added degree of difficulty.

Side view. Also notice that the wooden deck steps are gone. Makes for a dangerous trip to the grill, which is on the patio below.

Top steps finished.

Just gotta add the blocks for the step down onto the patio.

And there’s finally a project deadline. Stephanie’s hosting a bridal shower for Natalie on August 13. Patio will be done. Steps will be done. And we’re hoping the next step of the backyard overhaul is also complete: new fence!

More on that later.

Zo Klesko Vankat, 1996-2011

May 24

What a good dog. Sunday was a sad day for the family.

Uh, where is everyone?

May 21

We’re sitting at home on Thursday night, kinda tipsy on margaritas, and we decide to have a party this weekend.

“Hey, Saturday is The Rapture, let’s have people over to celebrate the end of the world.”

So we drunkenly type out an email, agonize over who to invite and send it off.

“Join us on Saturday a 7:30 if you want. BYOB. We’ll see you if we see you.”

Went out today, bought a bunch of drinks and chips, got the yard and house all cleaned up.

And here it is, going on 9 o’clock. No one’s here.

“It’s weird isn’t it, that no one even acknowledged the email?”

“Yeah, it’s almost like the email never got sent.”

Come to find out, THE EMAIL NEVER MADE IT. Lost in some strange Gmail Bermuda Triangle. (Or was it drunken user error?)

So here we are, all dressed up, with a pitcher of margaritas to drink and a batch of guacamole to eat.

If we drink enough all by ourselves, maybe we’ll decide to throw another party next weekend. You might just get an email from us tonight. Or maybe we’ll find a way to screw it up again.

Not trying to jinx ’em…

Mar 25

The World-Herald’s Dirk Chatelain wondered on twitter today whether a team had ever made the NCAA championship game without beating a Top-7 seed at any point in the tournament. (Kansas could do it this year if they keep winning and Butler beats Florida.)

So, I did some checking with the Washington Post’s amazing bracket database and found that the answer to Dirk’s question, unsurprisingly, is no.

But I also discovered that only three No. 1 seeds have even made the FINAL FOUR without beating a Top-7 seed.

’91 North Carolina beat a 16 seed, a 9 seed, a 12 seed, and a 10 seed.
’01 Michigan State beat a 16, 9, 12, 11.
’08 Kansas beat a 16, 8, 12, 10.

Nerdy, yes. Also cool.

The annual “Man, I suck at picking winners” post

Mar 20

NCAA tournament pool stats after the first weekend:

19-13 in the first round. Good enough for last place.

6-10 in the second round. Good enough for last place.

I have 3 of my Elite 8 left. I have 2 of my Four left.

I’m losing to a cat (a real cat) that made his picks based on bird mascots and colors.

My only hope is that Stephanie’s bracket wins (she’s in fourth place) and she throws a couple bucks my way.

It’s in (by a sixteenth of an inch)

Mar 16

It made it by that much.

Our old fridge was fine. It just didn’t have a working ice maker. Or water dispenser in the door. Or an exterior color that matched the rest of our appliances.

But it did work. Milk was cold. Frozen pizzas were frozen.

At a January party, though, Sarah told us they had a nearly-new fridge just sitting in their garage — black, ice maker, water dispenser, French doors — a fine upgrade.

“My husband’s parents bought us get a new one as a housewarming gift,” Sarah said, “so we’re just going to put this one on Craigslist soon if we can’t find anyone to take it. Would you guys want it?”

“How much?” we asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. What should a used fridge cost? What if we charged you $150 and made you take us out for drinks a couple times?”


First step: Will it fit? The old fridge was pretty small and came with the place when we bought our house. I emailed the old owners and asked how they got it in.

“It was here when we moved in,” Tiffany said. “And those doors are narrow. So good luck. Tell me how it goes.”

So, we measured the new fridge and the space in our kitchen. No problem. Then we measured the door frame. Uh oh.

Side door was immediately ruled out. Too narrow. Plus, how would we lift it up the steps in the kitchen? Front door would be our only hope. We could definitely get it inside. But the problem was going to be the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room.

Width of doorframe: 29 inches.
Depth of fridge with doors removed: 29 inches.

At one point, I think we weighed the pros and cons of just leaving it in the dining room permanently.

After another couple weeks of nervous hand-wringing where we officially ruled out having it transported by a moving company (“Two-hour minimum?! All I need is for you to lift a fridge off the truck!”), Dad finally rented a trailer and we drove over to the Hansens’ house, committed to taking it off their hands, but not yet sure what we would do when we got home with it.

We had to unhinge the front storm door, and take off both wooden entryway doors just to get the fridge into the living room. Then the surgery began in the kitchen.

Removed the oven handle. Fridge still didn’t fit.
Removed the oven knobs. Didn’t fit.
Removed the brackets holding the fridge feet. Didn’t fit.
Removed the metal plate covering the back of the fridge. Didn’t fit.

We were running out of options. Our last hope seemed dangerous — removing the cardboard we had installed as padding to protect the wood of the door frame and granite on the countertop. Plus, the whole process was taking “longer than it should,” which is my ultimate frustration with projects around the house. I was getting crabby and impatient. We were removing quarter-inch sheets of cardboard from the edge of the doorway, so of course I was skeptical. It still wasn’t going to fit.

But, a couple furious extra shoves later, the fridge finally hopped over the lip of the kitchen tile and groaned its way through our narrow passageway.

An hour’s worth of deep cleaning later, we had ice cubes crashing into the reservoir and water splashing into our glasses.

No, literally, SPLASHING. There’s something wrong with the pressure to the dispenser. Water is shooting out like a laser.

But that just gives me another excuse to head to the hardware store.

Projects, 2011

Feb 26

With the hope that listing these home-improvement projects in a public space will inspire many motivational, “Is it done yet?” questions from friends and family, I present to you my always-increasing list of “Stuff I’d Like to Do to the House” :

Paint the front bedroom

Paint the bathroom

Install the chandelier in the kitchen, which first requires the conversion of two light fixtures, which first requires the addition of an attic crawl space.

New water line to the kitchen for the new refrigerator. (Also: Transport the new refrigerator.)

Running electricity to the “wine cellar” in the basement, plus a new door. Prerequisite: Stop the leak.

Chisel the paint from the crown molding in the dining room and living room. (Not from my own sloppy painting, of course. I just refused to cover old painting mistakes with new paint.)

Paint the small strip of drywall by the backdoor that I forgot when I originally painted the kitchen.

Paint the basement.

New first floor windows. Eight of them.

New electrical outlets in the living room and on the front of the house.

Outdoor faucet on the southwest corner of the house.