May 28-
    Yesterday seemed so much like a Saturday, that by the time I remembered it was actually Sunday, I was too worn out to write a journal. So here I am and happy Memorial Day and a huge thanks to all of those that have served our country!
    It's been a pretty busy week, but not all of it I feel like I should go into great detail on. For example, on Tuesday I had a medical procedure that had me on a liquid diet for all of Monday and then had me taking a 2 week dosage of a laxative in 2 hours Monday evening. You can imagine what came next! The procedure was Tuesday late morning and I was a little loopy into the afternoon, so I did not do much more than sit around and be loopy.
    On Wednesday, I got back into the swing of things and built the first project utilizing the assembly table. Ever since we put the bed on the bed stand I built, Grace no longer has a bed frame to help her climb up onto out bed. She was using the drawer pulls at first, but I was afraid that soon she would be too big for them and they would break, so we asked her not to use them, which left her without a way to get up unassisted. So on Wednesday, I built her a little step stool to help her climb up onto the bed. Like much of NASA's work, there was a design flaw in the initial version that caused it to be a bit too tippy from side to side, so I widened the steps and that stabilized it.
    My next project is on hold right now as I await the materials. Ever since we move up here, Nora has had to grow all of her vegetables in buckets, which has worked OK, but by the end of the season, many of the plants are so big that they are crowding the buckets and also are top heavy, so I am going to build her some larger planter boxes for the vegetables. Grace has really gotten into gardening and loves to water the plants, so it will be nice to have some decent sized planter boxes for the girls to grow their vegetables in. With a little luck, I will have them done by next weekend. However, I will not be able to get started on them until Tuesday afternoon and will be out of town all day Wednesday, so that will leave Thursday, Friday and the weekend to get them done. So we'll see!
    The weather has been nearly ideal for growing things up here lately. Temps have been fairly warm (for the most part) and we have also been getting some regular and decent rains. I really feel sorry for the folks in the eastern UP that are impacted by the wildfires, but am also very grateful that we are not in the same boat. Living in the woods really can be a little nerve wracking when things are dry- especially in the spring and autumn with all the dead and dry vegetation on the forest floor. 
    Our woods have greened up nicely, with the trees fully filled out and the bushes and ground cover also greening up the woods and helping to downplay the risk of a wild fire. The girls flower bed is all nice and greened up and we even have some buds opening on the lupine. The lupine blooming is always the sign that summer is here to me. Usually it blooms in early June though. I guess the mild spring has everything ahead of schedule. We even had to swat our first few deer flies on a walk yesterday afternoon. Usually they are not an issue until late June-early July. Hope they do not come on strong too early, they sure make the walks less enjoyable.
    With spring exiting and summer entering, we all did some final spring cleaning today. Even Gracie got involved and was pretty good at mopping the floors!
    Speaking of Grace, she has entered into the "why?" phase of life. Everything we say is answered by a "why?" or "but why?". I am handling each episode differently. Sometimes I just keep going to see who will give in first, me by running out of answers or patience or her with running out of a reason to say why. Most of the time I lose that battle! Sometimes I take the weak way out and just say "because" and sometimes I pull the old double cross and ask "why not?". They why not works pretty good and is actually my trump card right now, so I typically only use it when times are desperate.
    We have also been getting out and playing in the times the weather is nicer. The bugs are not too bad, but also are not totally absent. I am a little fearful that all this wet weather will bring them out in hoards when the temps warm for good. Anyway, today we played on the play ground and she wanted to see how high she could swing on the one swing. So I got her going quite high and Nora took some pics. She said she really liked going so high that her bum came off the seat. I think we have a future test-pilot on our hands. Of course I guess most kids (and some adults) like the feel of zero gravity.
    Well, I think that about covers it for this one. Short but sweet. Happy Memorial Day everyone!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-

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May 20-
    Another week come and gone. Boy, time is flying. For as long as it seemed to take April to pass, May is doing just the opposite. I really cannot believe that next weekend will be Memorial Day weekend- even though it is a pretty early one.
    Been busy this week in the wood shop. The last project really was tough on my knees and back with all the bending down and working on the ground. I do have a workbench, but it was not nearly large enough to handle the bed stand. Plus, in many of my projects, I will run out of space on my workbench as I try and finish parts for what ever it is I am building as well as do partial assembly. So for a while now, I have been planning on building an assembly table for the shop. In the thinking out process for that assembly table, I thought about how nice it would be to have it at different heights...Up high when doing most of the assembly, but then have the table height be low for doing work on the top of a piece or even getting it off the workbench and to the ground.
    So an idea came to mind. I have a motorcycle lift that I outfitted with extension wings to make it wide enough to hold a sled or ATV and I thought I could get another one of those lifts and outfit it with a tabletop that would be large enough to serve as an assembly table for woodworking. The problem is, those hydraulic lifts are like $800 and shipping can be another hundred or more. So I started looking into possible ways to build my own and came upon a guy on E bay selling plans to build your own lift. It was done using all steel parts and required welding. I do not weld, not yet anyway, so I decided to just convert those plans into one using wood instead and came up with this.
    It uses an 8 ton hydraulic ram to lift the table from around 8" off the ground to 34" off the ground. That height is equal to the height of my table saw, which will come in handy when cutting 4x8 sheets of plywood by helping me to support the back edge of the plywood while I feed it through the saw. The top is made up of 2 sheets of MDF, with the top sheet having a laminate on it. It is 4 feet 1 inches wide by 8 feet 1 inches long and should be plenty big enough for most of the projects I build in the future and for any that are bigger, then I can always add an auxiliary table to give me the size I need. I was actually hoping to use it today to work on the next little project I have on tap, but think I will be running out steam by the time I finish this journal and will just take it easy the rest of the day.
    The weather has been quite spring-like up here since I last wrote and even the past 2-3 days summer-like. When I last wrote, the trees were still mostly bare and then interestingly enough, overnight last Sunday night, they opened up in an explosion. When I looked out Monday morning, the trees were probably half filled with leaves and spent the rest of the week trying to fill out completely. They are still a little shy of their full summer shade, but the woods are green and are providing a decent shade now.
    We also picked up a bit of rain and have some showers and thunderstorms rumbling off in the distance as I type, but we need lots. We are in the midst of a 9 month drought and things are very dry. It's not that I want things to get real rainy, but it would be nice to have regular rain events this summer and help bring the water levels back to where they should be.
    I took an ATV ride with friends on Friday and we passed a swamp area that was nearly dry. At first I thought that it must just have been drained by either a culvert being put in, or perhaps a beaver dam being torn out, but then we passed 3 more swamp areas that looked the same and realized it was due to the drought and not draining. I also noticed last Sunday when we were at the beach that the big lake was down significantly. Perhaps we will have a summer with good, regular rains and a very snowy winter and help bring those water levels back up.
    Our ATV ride on Friday did bring us to the big lake itself. Temps were in the low 80's, which was nice for riding with shorts and t shirts on, but then we got to the shore of the big lake and things got a lot more chilly. Even standing on the shoreline and not moving on the bikes we all were chilled. So we decided to get in "out of the cold" have a snack and then ride back inland away from the lake.
    Saturday I took part in an all day ATV ride down in the Twin Lakes area. It is a ride that takes place every year in the spring, but I have never been on it before yesterday. I also did not know too many of the folks on the ride, but it did not matter as everyone was friendly and I got to chat with most of them. The day started out great for a ride, but then got a bit warm- for me anyway. Our temps topped out in the low 90's which is pretty warm. Especially when you are out in it all day and also in the sun for most of the day. Our leader did a great job of keeping us off most of the trails that were dusting and we found some good mud holes to get through as well. The final trip did find us on the snowmobile trail heading back to Twin Lakes and that was a total dust storm, but I had come prepared with goggles and a bandana and so I did not have to eat any dust or get it in my eyes, but the rest of me sure was dusty! All in all, it was a fun ride and I'll have to see if my schedule permits me to be on it next year.
    Other than that, not much else going on up here. Summer seems to be taking a foot hold in the weather department and that is fine by me as Grace, Nora and I are itching to put the swimming pool up!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
May 13-
    To all the moms out there...Happy Mother's Day! Hope you all are being spoiled rotten today. It is a beautiful day here in the Keweenaw and we are on our 3rd day in a row of beautiful weather with more on tap for the next several days at least. Even with the mild winter we had, it's been a long time coming for spring to finally get here and I know that I am very happy it has arrived and so are all the rest of us folks living up here. Snow is a wonderful thing and I love it dearly, but I also need the change in seasons and am growing to enjoy summer more and more. I think a lot of it has to do with Grace being around and how much fun we have with her once the weather turns warmer.
    I am in particularly good spirits right now. The weather does have something to do with it, but I think most importantly, I have been thinking back to the events going on in my life just a year ago. This past Thursday (the 10th) was the year anniversary of me getting to ride in the back of an ambulance for 7 1/2 hours on my way to the Mayo and a year ago today, I was waiting for Nora and Grace to come down to be with me while staring down the barrel of another open heart surgery. So to not be stuck in a hospital bed, looking out the window on the rest of the world going through every day life in good health, is a great feeling.
    I am also one day shy of my 13 year anniversary of moving to the Keweenaw. In ways it seems a lot less than 13 years and in other ways more, but 13 years ago at this very moment, I was extremely busy packing a giant U-Haul truck up with all of my worldly possessions in preparation for the big move on the 14th. I still have very vivid memories of much of that day and the day's that followed. I think the one that is most vivid is going to let Burt and Baileys out to go potty in the early morning, opening the door and smelling the pine in the crisp morning air and almost breaking down in tears to think that I was actually going to be able to experience that same smell of nature every day. I had made it, I had finally arrived.
    Back to present day, it has been a pretty productive week. I was able to finish the stand for the bed. So on Wednesday, I took the bed down and was amazed at all the stuff that had been put under it in the past 6 1/2 years! As I went through it all, I was half expecting to find Jimmy Hoffa. Mostly though, I just found lots of pairs of shoes, some dog toys and dust. When Nora and Grace got home, I was already done with the de-construction and clean up and was in the process of construction. Grace immediately spied a pair of pink fuzzy slippers and just had to have them!
    The assembly of the stand in the bedroom went very smoothly and in less than an hour, it was ready for the top and then the bedding. Before I put that on, I took a picture, just so you all could see the guts of this thing. 7 drawers for as much storage as possible. Here is the finished product. I am very happy with the way it turned out and both Nora and I are happy with the extra storage we have. It also helped to serve as inspiration to swap out the winter wardrobe with the summer stuff for both Nora and I yesterday.
    I have to admit though, that as happy as I was with how it turned out, it was a lot more work than I thought it was going to be! I figured I would just cut up some plywood, make a few interconnected boxes, toss a few drawers into some of the boxes and be done with it. Which I guess in reality, that is exactly what I did, but there are tons of right angles in that thing and it had to be built with each one being perfectly square, or the drawers would not fit properly and would bind. Plus, I decided to go with some fancier raised panel drawer fronts, rather than just some flat ones. So what I thought would be about a 7-10 day process ended up being about 3 weeks, but the net result is a good one and now I am onto my next project, which I will keep under wraps until it is done as it is my own invention. For those that might want detailed plans for that stand, I have to admit I really do not have any fully detailed plans. I have some very rough sketches and 2 pages of messy notes, but no official cut lists. That is usually how I end up building things from scratch. Plan as I go!
    Whenever I finish a project, I like to fully clean and straighten the shop up. While the project is underway, it can get quite messy, but I really love to start a new project with a shop that looks like new as well. So I cleaned and straightened up the shop the end of this week and as I did so, I looked around at all the things I would still love to do with it and wished I could just retire now and disappear into the shop for the next few years, but I guess I will just have to enjoy the anticipation of all that I have, and want, to build in the future.
    As mentioned, the warmer weather has finally arrived. Perhaps not for good, but also not just for a few hours at a time. On our morning walk this morning at around 9 am, both Nora and I ended up with jackets off and just t-shirts on and were fully comfortable. The plants have responded to the warmer temps, with most of the trees bursting their buds and leaves starting to open up. The dull and lifeless woods are coming alive again. This is actually about 10-14 days earlier than we typically see the buds open around here. 
    Down by the lake where the climate is a little more mellow, the trees have been opening up slowly for a few weeks and down by the monks place, it looks like full on spring with flowers and trees in full bloom.
    The warmer weather also means that we have been outside with Gracie lots more. She just loves the outdoors and I know both Nora and I are big believers in that kind of activity, rather than TV or video games. Everything in moderation, but I loved playing outside over anything inside as a kid- and still do, and I am happy to see Grace being the same way. Of course, she has not yet experienced a video game yet, but she is fully versed in computers and the games on them.
    With Grace's birthday not until early August, we are in the situation where we cannot really wait for it to come around to give her something to play with outside in the warm months, so this week we got her a pedal bike and she took to it like a fish to water. This morning after our walk, we were in the shop and I looked over to see her setting up a race course with some small race cones that came with the bike. She is really something. Always going full speed ahead and always finding ways to have fun. She has also learned how to steer her electric pickup truck and has been having fun cruising around the yard in it. Maybe a little more practice is still needed in the steering department.
    Today we took advantage of the beautiful weather and headed down to the beach. I don't know who was more excited to get there, Gracie or the pups, but we all had a blast while there. Grace tossed some rocks into the lake, while Huck and Millie did their things. The pups and I have really been getting more exercise the past month or so, ever since my leg healed up again and it really showed today with the dogs. On our last visit to the beach back in March, they both tuckered out after about 20-25 minutes of fetching and today were still going strong after about an hour. I am so happy to see Millie so well recovered from her surgery of 14 months ago and Huck is doing very well too. One of the side benefits to taking the pups to the beach is that they come back all nice and clean. Well, today they decided to forgo that idea by rolling in the sand just before we left!
    Well, I guess that about covers it. But before I go I just want to brag one last time about Gracie (a dad can do that right?). This morning while I was doing my work upstairs in my office, Nora and Grace were in her room playing and I heard all this excitement and them yelling for me to come see, come see. So I went in there and they showed me a drawing of me that Gracie had just done. Not too bad for a child that is still several months shy of her 3rd birthday! She even drew me with a smile on my face!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
May 6-
    Welcome to May everyone. Not sure about you, but I am glad to put April behind me. It is my least favorite month and pretty much always has been. It's the month where we usually lose our snow and are left with a muddy mess. Of course the snow left in March this year and April has not been to muddy, but I just knew that despite the 70's and even a rare 80 back in March would just lead to lots of 40's in April and that was the case. While most of the rest of the Midwest has been enjoying shorts and t-short weather, we are still running around with winter cloths on. I have even had to wear a hat and gloves on the morning walks with the pups. 
    We did have one warm day this week, but it did not warm up until late in the day and was such an insignificant event, I cannot even remember what day it was that it occurred! I guess the bright side to all of the cold temps is the fact that the bugs have been kept at bay. Although that one warm afternoon and evening we had did bring a few blackflies (midges) out. Not the swarms that are likely to appear in another week or so, but even a few are a pain to deal with as they prefer to buzz your head and go for the back of your neck or behind your ears to bite. A few will even be brave enough to fly into your ear or nose. Yes, these are really nasty creatures. Thankfully they only stick around for a few weeks and are gone by the 4th of July- even in the worst of infested seasons.
    We picked up some pretty decent rains this week as well. Thursday morning we had some healthy thunderstorms develop along a warm front. The airport only reported .60", but other stations in the Keweenaw reported 1.5-2.5". My gauge is plastic and thus will break if we get rain and then freezing temps before I empty it, so it is still sitting in the garage and I don't know how much rain we got. Regardless of how much rain we got officially, I am thankful as it is keeping the fire danger low. It would be greening up the lawn, but we have been too cold for that. A few of the trees are starting to pop- mostly the birch and poplar. The maples never open up until the end of May.
    It has been a pretty uneventful week, which given all the events getting ready to unfold in my life around a year ago at this time, I am perfectly happy with uneventful! I have been plugging away at the bedstand, but am not yet finished. The construction is all done and I have some of the staining done. With a little luck, I will be able to finish the staining and finish work early this week and then bring it in and set it up. The completion should coincide well with the changing over from winter cloths to summer cloths and it sure will be nice to have the extra storage!
    The next project will be something for the shop (top secret) and then some planter boxes for Nora and Grace. After that I will probably meddle in the shop a bit, but take some time off from any major projects as I want to rest up for the beginning of a major project that is currently slated to start this autumn.
    As many of you know, the plan has always been to build a new, separate structure that would become our main home to live in. We went back and forth on whether it would a log home or traditional (stick) framed home. The initial plan was for that home to be built about 3 years ago, but life has a way of changing plans. None the less, we are on top of each other now with the pups and Grace and that problem will only grow worse as Grace gets older. So the time has come to get rolling on things, but as much as I have always wanted to live in a log home in the woods, the more I thought about it, the less sense it made to build a totally separate building. First is the cost savings. A separate building would require it's own utilities, including it's own septic system. 
    But the real kicker was the future. What really bothered me was the thought of having to heat and maintain two homes, one of which would sit vacant for about 90% of the year. So my thoughts started going towards the idea of just adding onto the current "cabin". To do so would mean two losses. First, no log home. Because logs settle, you cannot connect a stick framed structure to a log structure, at least without major structural considerations. Secondly, no basement. Because the cabin is built on a slab and that slab is floating a moves a bit with the seasons, we cannot attach the cabin to a structure built on a foundation with a basement. My main reason for wanting a basement was to have a place to put the utilities and have a rec room for Gracie and her friends (and me and my friends!).
    So back in February I asked Nora what she thought about just adding onto our current place rather than building new and she said that she had no problem with that- as long as the addition contained the things she wanted in the new place.
    So that settled, I started to try and envision just how we would add onto the current building. It's not as simple as saying we will bump out this wall and add on here... One side of the cabin absolutely cannot be added onto as that is where the septic system and utilities are. It would also be pretty difficult to add onto the front as that is where the driveway/parking area is that leads to the shops. That leaves the back and the side where the driveway comes into parking area. Other things that complicate an addition is how the cabin was built and the considerations of snow loads and snow drops off roofs. I was really stumped as to how it could be done best, so we called in a pro and he came up, saw the situation, took some measurements and is working on plans for us. 
   While here, he tipped his hand as to what he thought would work best (angle off the current building towards the driveway) and that helped me be able to come up with some ideas. We sent those ideas as well the rest of our wants/needs to him a few weeks after the meeting and both Nora and I are excited to see what he comes up with!
    Our plan is to actually do any driveway relocation work and get the foundation in this autumn before the building season ends. Then next spring we will be about 6-8 weeks ahead of the game if we had waited until then to start everything. The road we live on has spring restrictions put on it and that keeps contractors from being able to come in with the heavy equipment needed to do any earth moving and foundation work. So we would first have to wait for the restrictions to come down, which in an average year is sometime in the second half of May. then get going on the driveway/foundation work, then start framing. Whereas if we get the driveway/foundation work done this autumn, then we can start framing as soon as the weather permits in the spring and will not have to wait for the restrictions to come down to do that.
    So that is why I plan to rest up some this summer as the autumn will provide a healthy dose of work and next year at this time I will have more work than I know what to do with! Like with the cabin, I plan to do a lot of the work myself, but will be getting help with things like the concrete and also the trickier parts of the construction like roofing. Drywall will definitely be subbed out as well and we will be for sure bring any rough sawn wood to a friend with a 4 sided planer to make tongue and groove than do that ourselves! Holy WAH!
    So that my friends is how I turned a journal with almost nothing to talk about into one with a lot to talk about. I have been waiting to play that card for a few months now and am glad the cat is out of the bag, but also will be working without a net on future, featureless entries!
    I don't have any pictures to share with you this week either. I promise I will do my best to have different results for next week!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-

 

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