Woodworking

When I was a kid, my younger brother, Dave, and I would routinely watch Norm Abram build houses and projects on This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop. Our dad probably wasn’t (isn’t) the handiest guy with woodworking tools, but he could certainly build some small projects. But woodworking wasn’t a big hobby around our house as kids. There was just something about Abram’s no-nonsense delivery that appealed to us. Dave and I joked all the time about “cutting a dado” even though we really had no clear idea what that was.

As I got older, I got into making things around the house. I built a workbench in our old basement in Richmond and did a lot projects around the house there. My older brother, Stephen, and I even got back in soldering when we had to fix my old washing machine. When we moved into our current house here in Tennessee, Dave came over and we built a workbench in my garage.

I also got into watching the DIY network, as they had all sorts of low-budget (but great) shows on how to use tools and build projects. Over time, though, the shows got replaced with less informational and more “reality television” style shows. Some of those are ok, but I’m far more interested in learning how to actually builds something in my shop than watching a Mega Deck get built. There are very few, if any, informational shows left on DIY, HGTV, etc.

However, there are plenty of great builders who teach you on YouTube. My nephew Keith, who recently moved to Nashville and brought all his woodworking equipment with him, got me watching Steve Ramsey’s channel Woodworking for Mere Mortals. I also found Bob Clagett’s channel I Like to Make Stuff because of some of his zany projects (like the world’s largest water pistol). There are many others who I’ve also found awesome to watch: April Wilkerson (Wilker Do’s), David Picciuto (Make Something), and Jay Bates (Jay’s Custom Creations) are some of my favorites.

So, Norm Abram is long-since retired (They New Yankee Worksop went off the air nine years ago), but there are loads of no-nosense makers and woodworkers who have great programming available to teach you how to make loads of great projects, no matter your level of experience.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

A couple of years ago, I decided to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on the MLK Day, as I have the day off from work. The federal holiday was intended to be a day or service, but perhaps we can at least start with learning about the man and his beliefs through his most famous letter. I can’t imagine that anyone could read this letter and not come away changed. It is truly one of the finest writings I’ve ever read.

It is a rather long letter (as he even admits to near in its closing). So, if you prefer to spare the hour with a reading, then this video has you covered. The first four minutes are a reading of the letter by a group of clergymen that prompted King’s response. This embedded video starts after that.

I felt compelled to share this as during our parent’s Sunday school class yesterday, one person raised the question “Why does this person even have a holiday? He wasn’t the only civil rights leader.” I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was raising the question in good faith (the talk immediately changed to a slightly different subject, as these group conversations often do). He stated that his children and others had asked it, and I believe he was saying this so he could justify that the MLK Day holiday was because Martin Luther King Jr was a great American and civil rights leader.

That is true, and even in his brief lifetime (I’m now two years older than he was when he was killed), he became a symbol for a movement much greater than himself1. He was a brilliant and courageous leader who believed in the best of the Christian church and of America. This letter is strong evidence of these things. So the holiday isn’t just a memorial to his service, but I believe to all of what he represented. Its to remind us of the ability of people in this nation to be able to move mountains. Its to remind us that complacency and the desire to maintain order is not an American virtue, but the antithesis of what America was founded on. America can always be a better place for all and no one else is going to come do that hard work for us. Some of us will have to give up some privilege. Some of us will lose time and money to the work. Some people have given so much more, as King risked and ultimate lost his life in doing his work.

So that’s why we have a holiday. Not because of what Kind did, or at least not entirely because of it. Also, to remind us of what we have left to do. We have to do it not because we owe it to King’s memory, but because we owe it to every last American. It’s precisely what it means to be American.

  1. I’m basing a great deal of this statement on Rep. John Lewis’ March graphic novels, which are an amazing read, too.

Korean-American Day

My mother-in-law is a Korean-American in the sense that she immigrated to this country from S. Korea as an adult. She’s a naturalized citizen and has now lived in the US longer than she lived in Korea (by a over a decade).

My wife is a Korean-American in the sense that, as you just read, one parent is Korean and the other was an American (of European descent, if that’s relevant).

So, it surprised my wife and I to learn that Saturday, Jan. 13th 2018 is the tenth Korean-American Day. This day was picked to honor the original group of immigrants who came from Korea to the US on this day in 1903. We learned about this day from a wonderful story told on Twitter by Gary Lee, who was a former staffer of Pres. Obama. On Lee’s last day at the White House, the president greeted him by saying “An-yeong haas-eh-yeo” (안녕하세요) which means “Hello” in Korean. More specifically, this is the form of hello that shows the level of respect for mutual peers. Though the most common form of hello used, it’s not quite the level of formality that the leader of the free world would use for one of his staffers. And yet it’s exactly the phrase used by Obama (I sincerely doubt this was lost on him, either, knowing his attention to details). If you check out the story, look at the shear joy on Lee’s face at that moment. Let’s appreciate that Obama values and respects other cultures and their contributions in the greatest American way.

So, to my wife, kids, mother-in-law, 해순, and to the 1.8 million immigrants from Korean and their descendants, happy Korean-American day. 감사합니다

My Favorite 9 Photos of 2017

My favorite 9 photos from 2017

A post shared by Jason Coleman (@super_structure) on

Ok, well, it was pretty much impossible to narrow this down to nine photos. These cover at least some of the highlights of the past year. They may not all be the best photos (even of mine), but they certainly cover a lot of what happened over the past 365 days in just nine pictures.

From left-to-right, top-to-bottom:

  • Ainsley looking out over the bow of a Disney Cruise ship last January as we left Miami.
  • Pagodas from an ancient temple in South Korea.
  • Harry and Maggie hanging out on our stairs.
  • Angela, Wyatt, & Ainsley watching the eclipse (well, what we could see of it through the clouds).
  • My finished guitar boost pedal.
  • Me sporting my first bow tie, which my family gave me for Father’s Day.
  • My finished Gundam kit.
  • Angela and the kids on one of several Fall hikes we did with our moms.
  • Hargie being ridiculously cute.

Learning to Weld

Something I had wanted to learn for many years is basic welding. I’m not planning on switching careers or anythingThough you can make an excellent living as a welder and I would encourage any young person interested to learn about that trade.; I just wanted to try it myself. As a structural engineer, I’ve spec’d countless welds on paper. I’ve only ever done very limited metal work (mostly just cutting, drilling, & bolting), and I wanted to get a feel for what it’s like to join metal with welds. I’ve learned from some of my engineering friends, as well as watching Grady at Practical Engineering, that I’m not alone in this interest.

But it’s not necessarily easy to find a teacher for a curious person rather as opposed to a student who is seeking a career. I don’t have a lot of friends that weld, either. But, maker spaces often have introductory courses. So, I found a great “Intro to Metals” course at Fort Houston here in Nashville.

For better or worse, I was the only person who signed up that Saturday, so I got a three hour, one-on-one course from Courtney Daily, who is a local artist who happens to work & teach at Fort Houston. I really recommend checking out Fort Houston for all sorts of classes. Courtney, especially is a great teacher (and, from what I saw of her work, a talented artist and damn fine welder).

Welder (noun): a person who fixes or makes shit you can’t 😋❤️🔥

A post shared by Courtney Daily (@courtdaily) on

Fort Houston Metal Shop

I first made a bunch of really ugly test welds to practice on some scrap. We also practiced cutting & drilling, which though not new to me was (is) still something I had a lot to learn about.

Ugly welds

My little beginner project was to make a frame. I made a rectangle out of 1″ angles. Since we had the extra time, I also got to spend some time grinding it down (which probably took longer than actually welding did, given my work). It ended up looking better than I would have expected for the my first project. I’ll probably find a way to mount some art in it (or maybe use it for a guitar pedal board, though it weighs a lot for that).

Ready to grind
Finished frame
Ground to the core

So, as I was finishing up grinding I made the comment that it looked shiny now, but it’d probably rust over by the next day. Courtney corrected me that the steel would stay fairly polished where I ground it for a long time. Well, it’s over three months later and it hasn’t rusted a bit.

  • Smart welder lady: 1
  • Know-it-all dude: 0

Reminds me I always need to listen & learn.

Berry Smoothie

I really dislike bananas.

I’m not bragging or anything; just stating a fact. I truly dislike bananas. I always have. I know they’re very good for me and I wish I could eat one. I honestly don’t think I have ever managed to eat an entire banana by itself (that is, not in some other food).

The 2006 Richmond Marathon was the third (and last) marathon I ran. It was exceptionally hot that day, with temps around 80° in November. The last 10k was really rough on me and I knew I was in desperate need of some nutrition after the race. I sat down on a curb in Shockoe Bottom with a banana and a bagel, thinking that the banana was exactly what I needed. I managed to get about half way through it, forcing every bite.

Then it occurred to me: I’d rather risk serious injury or death rather than eat an entire banana.

Like I said, I really dislike bananas. Always have.

Berry Smoothie

None of this changes the fact that bananas are excellent to eat after strenuous workouts or runs. I still know this and I’m quite pleased that I finally found an easy recipe that I enjoy to have after working out. It does have quite a lot of sugar, but you can substitute water/ice for the juice to reduce that by about half.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Apple Juice (substitute with same of ice water or ice or other juice to taste)
  • Medium Banana, frozen
  • 1 cup Mixed Berries, frozen
  • 1/2 cup Vanilla Yogurt

Steps

  1. Pour the juice, berries, and yogurt in your blender cup.
  2. Use a butter knife to slice the skin off a couple of sides of the frozen banana. It comes off very easily, even when frozen & you can just cut off slices into the blender while holding the two remaining sides.
  3. Pulse the blender 5-6 times to chop up the frozen bits.
  4. Blend on high for 40 seconds.

Serves 2 (who am I kidding, I drink the whole thing. So should you).

The best part: The frozen banana is almost undetectable in terms of flavor, smell, and texture. I mean if you get nose right down into the cup, you’ll detect banana; but that’s what straws are for. For people who really hate bananas.

Remembering Maggie

I was talking to my dad last week and I hadn’t realized until he asked about Maggie that I hadn’t written about her here. I guess I don’t write here very often anymore, and it wasn’t the sort of thing I was really looking forward to. As Harry had lived longer and also had a longer, slower decline, I had sort of mentally prepared for some time for his death. Maggie, on the other hand, had been the picture of health up until June, when she started showing signs of what we thought was arthritis. A visit to the vet and some x-rays revealed that it was actually osteosarcoma (bone cancer) on her right, front wrist joint. There’s no treatment for that in dogs, short of amputation. However, for a thirteen year old dog that had already lived past her life expectancy by nearly two years, that seemed like a cruel way to make her live out her days.

So, we gave her medication and tried to spoil her. She continued to manage ok but the last couple of weeks of her life she had extreme difficulty moving about. Her tumor had then grown to softball size and she could bear no weight at all on her left front leg. She did get to enjoy several pounds of deli turkey in order to get her to take her medicine along with canned chicken in her dog food. That dog was always crazy for poultry.

Once we had admitted to ourselves that Harry couldn’t go on and put him to rest, we of course had to then acknowledge the level of pain Maggie had to be in. Could she last a couple of more weeks? We went back-and-forth but after just a couple of days after Harry was gone, she seemed to grow very depressed. Though Maggie and Harry were never quite what you’d call close buddies (they never laid next to one another or showed much dog-sibling affection), I truly thing it upset her when he didn’t come back after a couple of days. They’d never been separated in over 13 years for more than a day (when Harry had a surgery and stayed at the vet overnight). She had just become used to him in the pack, I guess.

She wouldn’t eat much, if anything (not even chicken). She moved about very little. The skin over her tumor began to rupture, either like a bed sore or from the ever-growing tissue destroying her bone. The question very quickly became, can she stay another day?

We decided that though she would hang on as long as we insisted, it would only be making her miserable to do so. So, only four days after Harry died, we took Maggie to the vet to have her put to rest as well. I wish I could tell you it was easier the second time, but I was completely unprepared for how difficult that was. I’d been mentally readying myself for a couple of years to accept Harry’s death but had never really given myself the time to consider losing Maggie so soon, too. You can know something as a fact (such as, “my dog won’t live forever”) but having to face that fact in reality is something entirely different. She passed with us petting her and telling her that she’d been a good dog.

Of course, Maggie maybe wasn’t the best dog when she first came to live with us. She was big and crazy. Imagine a hyper little terrier dog that runs around barking. Now imagine that becoming over 50 lbs. She’d attach the mail and the only reason she passed obedience training is because Pet Smart really won’t fail a dog. She outweighed Harry by two times, so playing tug of war was really more dragging him around until his neck got too tired to play.

But Maggie grew into being a great dog. She got a lot calmer, which comes later to terriers but it does eventually happen. She enjoyed going for walks and became my evening walking buddy. She’d let Angela pet her and would paw at Angela should the petting cease for even a few seconds. And on her last day, despite all the pain of her cancer and bones, she hobbled out our front door and followed the kids to the bus stop to give them a goodbye. She’d never done that before, but was determined to get into one last piece of mischief, I guess. They gave her a big hug each before they got on the bus.

So, now, a few weeks later, we’re still learning how to deal with a house that is a bit quieter than we’ve really ever known it. The boxes containing their ashes sit beside one another, by their collars, on a low shelf. Not really touching one another, but close enough they’d know they weren’t alone. Just like our two dogs spent most every day.

How Maggie Plays Fetch

In Memory of Harry

It is with sadness that I write that today our good friend & dog, Harry, died. He had begun to decline more rapidly over the past couple of weeks. Angela and I were on either side of Harry when our vet put him to sleep, just as he had slept in the middle of our bed for so many years. There comes a point when our love of keeping our pet near us is overcome by the desire to let him have the rest he deserved.

Our children had been able to say goodbye this morning before getting on the school bus. Harry spent part of his last night back in our bed sleeping, albeit restlessly, between us. I finally gave in to spoiling him with treats of human food. Even I couldn’t resist that begging face forever, I suppose.

So, to my friend who has slept at my feet everyday at work for nearly a decade now:

Harry, you were as loyal and wonderful of a friend as we could have ever hoped for. You were a giant personality in a small size; without fear but friendly to everyone you met. Especially when they happened to be a lady. You really liked the ladies, you old dog. You were a good dog, though, and I honestly cannot think of a better thing to say about anyone.

Where ever you are now, there aren’t any vacuum cleaners, thunderstorms, or smoke detectors with dead batteries to bother you. And there are many wonderful things to sniff and pee on. Sometimes those are the same things. And, if it is true that all dogs go to heaven, then surely you can see Angela at every moment of the day which will make your short nub of a tail wiggle with joy. She always was your favorite human or anything, right pal? Being able to watch her all day would truly be your greatest wish, I’m sure.

I want to say thank you again for all the years of companionship and love you showed Angela, me, and our family. It is a mystery to me how such a large heart fit into your little body. But thank you for being our dog and our friend through everything. It’s just hard to grasp that your life spanned most of the time Angela and I have been together. You’ve been there since near the beginning and were such a huge part of our building a life together. We’re better off for having had your in our lives. I think you would feel the same way.

Harry Scouts Out The Backyard Scene

Harry is survived by his adoring human family, Angela, Jason, Ainsley, & Wyatt along with this big/little sister, Maggie, the Airedale. If I’m being honest, though, part of what makes this post even more difficult is knowing that Maggie isn’t really in good health, either. Knowing that today was just the first part of losing our pets is particularly heartbreaking. But I’ll write about Maggie another day.

Shiny Bowie

My kids love the Moana soundtrack and who can blame them? Lin-Manuel Miranda is amazing. So back in February I introduced them to the Hamilton soundtrack. Turns out, there are a lot of kids who love Hamilton (despite the not-at-all-age-appropriate material in many of the songs).

So, given that music linking success (I’m getting burned out listening to Hamilton every day), I decided to try my luck with some other music. My son loves the Moana song Shiny which is sung by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame.

The song has a definite David Bowie feel, somewhat influenced I think by Flight of the Conchords Bowies in Space.

So, anyway, I figured he might be interested in some classic David Bowie. So, I let him listen to both Changes and Fame on the way back home this evening. He seemed to enjoy them (well, at least he didn’t ask to listen to anything else), so who knows maybe I can get them interested into a lot of different kinds of music. That will definitely save me from getting burned out on just a small handful of songs.