Monday, July 3, 2017

The Secrets of Deck Restoration

When Andrea and I bought our house in June 2015, we were fairly naive about home-ownership.  It's safe to say that most of naivety remains intact.  Although it wasn't the most important selling point, we were told the 620-square-foot, wrap-around deck was "new."  Less than 18 months later, the deck looked like this. 

The astute observer might deduce that these are rotting deck boards about six to eight feet long.  Right (rotting), wrong (deck boards) and wrong (board length).  When most people build a deck, they use deck boards.  Instead, my deck is made from some obscurely dimensioned (and possibly pressure-treated) lumber.  Clearly it wasn't water-proofed; we'll get to the stain later.  Although some boards are appropriately sized from six- to eight-feet, more of them range from 10-14 feet long.

I start ripping up the boards one at a time, and a few are removed with almost no problem.  But the longest boards are half rotten.  So while half of the board is practically disintegrating on one end, the other is tightly fastened with (multiple) nails.  (See side picture of some genius nailing three nails into same spot.)  Fastening with nails is a no-no, because they lack the staying power that screws provide.  In climates like Virginia where the summer gets very hot and humid, decks should not be nailed down, but rather screwed.  During the peak of the summer weather, wooden boards warp and curl, especially the long ones.  Since I don't own a crowbar for removing the boards, I innovated a clever little systems that utilized my car's jack to pop them up from underneath.  It took some time to complete, it was worth not having to run to the store in the middle of a project, considering the nearest hardware store is about a half-hour away.

I was blessed this past Christmas with a circular saw and I finally got to use it for the first time here.  After some careful measurements and a trip to the store, I was excited to purchase, cut and place all the new boards carefully into position with almost no problems - a rare feat and moral victory for an amateur deck restorer.  The only snag was that my drill wasn't powerful enough to pierce through the lumber.  So that required another trip a week later to buy what now become my new favorite tool - an impact driver (drill).  For those uninitiated, it's a glorified drill that also has a pounding feature to help stubborn screws into thick wood.  It harbors no prisoners; a moment of broken focus completely buries the screw into the wood.

The after picture was the state of our deck for about two months.  The rains of Spring came and went, along with the business involved with the end of the school year.  Once I finished all my obligations for school, I patiently waited for a handful of sunny, clear days to lay down the stain.  The time between work also gave me time to research stains.  Another fault in my deck was that transparent stain was previously used.  With the intense amount of sun exposure the deck receives on a daily basis, a transparent stain does little, if anything, to protect the wood.  Multiple sources recommended  a semi-transparent stain, which should reduce the warping and curling of the boards

The weather was beautiful here last week.  It was hot, but not humid; perfect conditions for staining.  After prepping the deck on Monday with a solid wash and sweep, I called over two brothers - both students of mine from Carmel - to help me.  They received their first experience of staining wood, while I benefited from the extra man-power I desperately needed to finish pm time.  After three days of working in the sun and drinking peach tea, I couldn't be more pleased with the result.

As a bonus, I reused all the old boards that weren't rotting out into a raised garden bed.  Check out this resourcefulness!

When Andrea and I staked our two-acre farm land almost two years ago, it was sparse and unappealing.  Although the deck still has it's (many) flaws, it looks and functions better than the day we bought the house.  Andrea has also cultivated quite a green thumb and a passion for gardening and landscaping.  We still have numerous projects to finish before the house will be fully transformed into our home.  But in the meantime, we are so thankful for what we have and that we are closer to finishing than when we first started.  I really find a delight and a peace looking at this every day.

If nothing else, I hope you learned something about deck restoration.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Packing and Cat Videos

With the hope and anticipation of moving in about two weeks, Andrea and I finally buckled down and did some packing today.  Even though we only worked through our bedroom and bathroom, it feels like we got a lot done.  It's amazing how much we stuffed inside our closet!  Looking forward to spreading all that stuff out a bit more when we move into our new place.

While we were working on that, Evelyn was playing with her rainbow rice on the porch unsupervised.  Huge mistake.  She managed to scatter rainbow rice to every single part of the deck, on the deck railings, on the chair, and in between every floorboard.  Basically, it was a rainbow rice explosion.  Looks like I'll be knocking on our downstairs neighbors door tomorrow morning and offer to clean the rice off their deck, too.

Evelyn continues to make her daddy proud with her commitment to swimming.  We really wanted to go down to the pool today because it's been cloudy and "cold" over the last three days.  This afternoon, she made a friend who seemed just a bit older than her - about three years old.  They splashed around and acted like turtles, while Andrea and I sloooowly made our way into the ice cold water.

Something else Evelyn has been committing to lately is watching funny animal videos after bath time.  Usually, she likes watching the cat ones, but she also enjoys the hamsters and dogs also.  Here's her current favorite:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thoughts on my First Year at Carmel

Looks like I'm going to end the school year the same way I started it - packed-up in boxes.  Don't worry though, I'm not looking for a new job this summer, but rather the school is being renovated.

There were so many great things that happened this year at Carmel, between students, and administrators, and swim team, and the math conference, that it all seems so much like a blur now.  Before it all dissipates into the ether, here's my vain attempt to recall the best thing that happened each month.

August - Less than two weeks in Virgina and I'm sitting the library for a week-long staff orientation and teacher preparation.  Learning all the names and faces of both students and staff was initially overwhelming, but as with any beginning it eventually becomes second nature.  Initially, I intimidated myself of the prospect of teaching sixth graders, thinking I wasn't "qualified" to teach children that young.  As it turns out, they were, consistently, one of strongest classes.  Also, after dodging it for four years, I was forces to teach a high school Geometry class, which was exactly as terrifying as I thought it was for the reasons I thought it would be.

September - I finally have some idea of how my schedule works and I'm into a routine, but because many of my lessons didn't transition well from Vestal, I'm writing 20 lessons a week.  Needless to say, I'm writing all my lessons the night before for the day of.  Not ideal, of course, but a necessary evil of being a "first year teacher."  In addition befriending the History and Spanish/Drama teacher who helped move my stuff, I also start forming awesome working relationships with all the teachers, and a close bond with the middle school English/History teacher, who is also in her first year.

October - Math Conference!  My only professional development of the year was a two-day math conference that was hosted in Richmond Convention Center.  While there I attend over eight one-hour sessions about anything you could possibly know about math education.  Bonus: I find out our Dean of Academics at Carmel is also the organizer of the event and is a highly regarded math guru.  Also of note, I am confirmed of my ability to teach in my first (and only!) observation of the year.  My conference with my administrator is incredibly relaxed and informal.

November - Swimming begins and I pretend to coach a starting squad of about 20 swimmers.  Over the course of the season, only about three or four quit at various points throughout the year.  At this point, 75% of my team can tread water and move around in the pool, but you can barely call it swimming.  Writing lessons is becoming easier, and I start actually noticing the different strengths and personalities of my students in general.  The month ends with a Thanksgiving visit from Andrea's family.

December - Only two weeks of instruction before a week of mid-terms.  I write my first (five) mid-term(s) from scratch, and painfully have to re-write most of them because they were too short.  I make note of this so I don't make the same mistakes in May when I have to write finals.  Unsurprisingly, I enjoy a full two-week break for Christmas, half of which is spent in New York, the other half writing lesson plans.  This finally allows me to write lessons a few days ahead of time for the rest of the year, even if it's only a day or two in advance, it makes my life considerably more enjoyable.

January - Compete in two swim meets almost two weeks apart; swimmers are surprisingly confident despite their obvious nervousness.  They crush it.  Most of them don't disqualify during their events - full turns and starts in all - and some swimmers are actually looking fast in the water.  I also address the student body for the first time in a spiritual context during Chapel.  I get so sick-and-tired of my Algebra 2 curriculum that I trash it and use (altered) lesson plans from Vestal.  Best decision I make all year.

February - Swim season ends, but discover that they won't leave me alone now.  They show up to my room constantly and lovingly annoy me before school, during school, and after school.  My focus now turns back to academics in full.  With extra time, I finally learn how to maximize my free periods (where possible) and really enjoy a month of (relative) normalcy.  Also, didn't have school for a week because it was too cold/snowy.  For NY readers: We had about 12 inches of total snow this winter and the temperature bottomed out in (positive) single digit degrees.

March - After teaching Math 6 through Algebra 2 for almost an entire year, I realize that very similar lessons are taught to different levels - especially Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2.  This saves me from writing entire units, which is great for this year.  But this also upsets me because I feel like if something is taught well, I shouldn't need to teach it again.  I get permission from the Dean to restructure the entire Upper School Math curricular to cut the slack - a process that will probably take about two to three years to complete.  The finished product will be awesome.

April - The air is finally getting warmer and it's clear that the school is in "end-of-the-year" mode.  I go on my first field trip (ever! as a teacher) where I spend most of the time in the medical station with a student who almost passes out (to his credit, it was a rather gory reenactment of a civil war emergency operation).  At the end of the month, a small collection of teachers start meeting every morning in the Commons to watch students - a job that is usually done by only two teachers on a rotating basis.  It becomes the highlight of every one's morning and continues into final exams.

May - Teacher appreciation week was the most phenomenal outpouring of parent-student cooperation that I have ever seen.  I became the life of the sports banquet because of a stupid, dry joke about how the program would have been "sunk" without the help of my assistant.  I learn my lesson from mid-terms and write my final exams extra long with no additional edits.

It was a great year, and I think next one is going to be even better!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: The Art of War

Thought it would be fun to read this ancient classic of wartime and strategy.  For those unaware, there are many, many different translators of the title, and from what I gathered reading the "expert reviews" on Amazon, no one is seems to be satisfied with any of them.  So instead of making a decision, I just asked for The Art of War for Christmas and let the gift-giver.  On Christmas Day, I ended up with Sun Tzu's "The Art of War: The New Illustrated Edition" translated by Samuel B. Griffith, and I wasn't disappointed.  Griffith clearly spent a good amount of time deeply meditating on the purpose of the text and utilizing previous and the earliest translations by ancient Chinese scholars.

Apart from the beautiful presentation of the book itself (illustrations, silk cover, etc.), Griffith provides a lengthy but engaging introduction that investigates the book's origins, disputed authorship, and description of the era of ancient China that book was written in.  Throughout the text, he relies, refers and comments of other translators where appropriate.  He humbly states agreement when necessary, and provides sound reasons for disagreement, without taking away their respect.  As I was reading, I felt that I was always given a choice to which translation seemed accurate according to the context.  If you are interested in reading a different translation, and want to see the differences between them, here's a website that should help explain them all.  Despite the "odd language choices," I still thoroughly enjoyed his insights, and found it to be a proper blend of traditional and modern language.

As for the text of "The Thirteen Chapters," the proverbial writings are elegantly simple.  Through a general's analysis of justifications of war, ranks and respect, and methods of attack and defense, the written chapters are extremely applicable to those in leadership position.  I've known of translations to be geared towards business, but I could plainly see the teacher-student interaction being emphasized as well.  Really, any superior-subordinate relationship could be strengthened through the principles of discipline and reward written in the Art of War.

It's a short read if you just want to tackle The Art of War itself, but the introduction provided a fuller appreciation of the work as a whole.  The footnotes and additional included commentary added to the experience of reading this treatise for someone who knows very little about ancient China or warfare itself.  It is evident in the translation that Griffith's experience and study of modern military operations has added a unique view of the text.  I'll concede that no translation is perfect, however it is clear that this volume has provided a depth that a discounted version may lack.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, January 9, 2015

Pictures from the Holidays 2014

As some of you know, the holidays is especially busy for the Kovac Family.  In a bit over two months, we celebrate Thanksgiving, Andrea's birthday, Evelyn's birthday, Christmas, New Years, our wedding anniversary, and my birthday.  So by the time it's all over, we're happy to have it done with.

Here's some select shots of the holidays... mostly of Evelyn.  Enjoy!


And here are some around Christmas time...