21 Dec 2011

2011 Christmas Letter

Submitted by Paul Brown

Holly and I are distributing our annual Christmas letter online rather than through the mail. We appreciate all our friends and family—I'm sorry I don't keep in touch better—so I hope that this is a small way for us to share some of what is going on in our lives.

We wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

31 May 2011

Picnic Table

Submitted by Paul Brown

Our house has a large deck out back, and ever since we moved in, Holly and I had been looking at what kind of deck furniture we could get for the deck so that we could eat outside and have others over and eat outside. We looked at patio furniture, but it was more expensive than what we wanted to pay. As I was starting to think that maybe we could make a picnic table, my brother-in-law and sister built a picnic table for their house. Their picnic table turned out nice and was not expensive, so I determined that I would try to make a picnic table myself.

We were busy enough last summer with house stuff and getting ready for Claire that I didn't want to undertake the project last year, but this spring, I definitely wanted to get something done so we could enjoy eating outside throughout the summer. I worked on putting together some plans based on the design that Sarah and Kevin had used and another site that I found on the internet. I made some changes to the designs based on comments from Sarah and Kevin and adjusted the height of the table top and the bench to get them to match our dining table since that is comfortable for us.

The final design that I came up with is for a 7 ft. long table with a table-top width of approximately 41 in. The table-top height was designed to be 30 1/2 in., and the seat height was designed to be 18 in. I included two diagonal cross-braces to stiffen the table against wobbling length-wise. My original design was sketched out on quad-ruled paper, but for this post, I drew it up in AutoCAD to make it more clear and legible. You can download a PDF of the picnic table design. The drawing includes a couple of views of the table, a list of pieces, and a parts list for a trip to the hardware store. (If you want the CAD file to modify for yourself, feel free to contact me.)

Here is the result (still unstained):

You can see the other web pages referenced above for some ideas for how to assemble the table. What I did is first attach the table top supports to the center board of the table top, taking care to get everything square. Then I attached the other table top boards to the table top supports. The carriage bolts ended up being the perfect width to put temporarily between the boards to space out the table top boards.

With the top assembled, I flipped the top over and attached the table legs. I used clamps to hold the legs in place while I drilled the bolt-holes and installed the carriage bolts. I had some difficulty getting the ends of the legs to stay flush with the bottom of the table top, and this led to the table sitting about an inch lower than designed. It was also difficult to install the nuts on the carriage bolts because the locknuts that I used took more torque to turn on than what the bolt would resist when pounded in, so I ended up having to hold the bolt with vicegrips to keep it from turning. It might have worked better to use a non-locking nut with a lock washer instead so the bolt would be tightened down pretty well before the nut started taking more torque to turn.

After installing the legs, I measured and marked the distance from the bottom of the table top to where the seat supports needed to attach to the legs. I needed help to hold the seat supports centered and level to get them clamped down for drilling the bolt holes and installing the bolts.

With the seat supports in place, the last pieces to install with the table still upside-down were the diagonal braces. These are probably the most precision-fit pieces in the whole table, and surprisingly, they actually fit right in. I guess trigonometry is good for something after all.

Then the table was flipped over to right-side up. It is actually pretty heavy and was not easy for Holly and I to flip it; we probably could have used a third person to help lift and rotate the table. The final items to install were the bench seats. I started with the outside 2x4s and then spaced the other boards inward from there. For spacing between the boards, I used decking screws rather than carriage bolts to get a smaller spacing between the boards.

When the table was all assembled, Kevin took his belt sander to the table to smooth out the corners and reduce the splinters on the wood. We didn't get all of the screws on the table top down quite far enough, so the sander took the coating off the top of some of the screws. With exposure to the weather, these screws may end up needing to be replaced if they show signs of significant corrosion.

25 May 2011

Claire's Growth

Submitted by Paul Brown

When Claire was born, I thought it would be neat to be able to track her growth against the standard growth charts published by organizations like the CDC and the WHO. I tried to find some template spreadsheets on the web, but the few that I found did not really meet what I was looking for. Not to be deterred, I developed my own. It is a little complicated under the hood, probably not that elegant in its implementation, but it works and produces pretty decent results. Below are her growth charts and links to a PDF of the table of measurements as well as the spreadsheet.

Table of Claire's Growth Measurements

Growth Chart Spreadsheet (Gnumeric)

The growth chart spreadsheet was developed originally in OpenOffice.org, but I converted it to Gnumeric to get better export options for the charts. It also turned out that Gnumeric was much faster and was able to handle some data conversion within the charts that simplified the chart configuration considerably. The SVG output of charts from Gnumeric is very nice. I used Inkscape to open the SVG output from Gnumeric, add the drop shadow to the charts, and export to an image file for the web.

I still have the OpenOffice.org version of the spreadsheet as well as an MS Excel version that lacks the BMI data. If you would like either of those versions, let me know and I can share them as well.

13 May 2011

A few thoughts from a new dad

Submitted by Paul Brown

I haven't posted much over the last nine months or so, which might lead one to believe that either I have nothing going on to write about or I am so busy that I have no time to write about what is going on. Neither one is probably entirely correct, but reality is closer to the second than the first. There have certainly been a number of significant happenings over the last nine months, the most significant obviously being the birth of my daughter, Claire.

For lots of photos, videos, and details about what Claire is up to these days, Holly has the goods over at her blog. Here you will just find a few musings from a new father about some things that I've learned since Claire's arrival. In no particular order and of no particular significance, here goes:

Infant carseats are huge. I had no idea how much space an infant carseat takes up until I tried to fit Claire's carseat in our Toyota Corolla. I consider the Corolla a normal sized car, maybe a little on the small size, but certainly a fuel-efficient family-friendly vehicle. But the only way that I was able to get the rear-facing carseat into the back seat was to place it in the middle of the seat and move the front seats considerably forward of where we had normally kept them. Although I have become accustomed to driving in the new seat position, it is rather tight and can be a bit difficult for me to get in and out of the car. If the Lord gives us another child, I don't know how we would fit another carseat in the car. There must be a better solution than "upgrading" to an SUV or a minivan!

I am not as patient as I thought. I used to think that I was a patient person. Hardly anything could get me really angry. My most severe frustration was generally not being able to find something that I knew was around—the more specifically I knew where I thought it would be, the worse. But Claire sometimes drives me crazy! She is (now) usually very happy and content and enjoyable to be around. But when she was just a wee newborn and even still when she is tired or cranky, she fusses around in a way that feels like she is fighting against me, and I respond with anger and sometimes harshness. Fortunately I have grown a lot in self-control and in not getting so easily angered by those situations, but in some ways it makes me dread her getting older and more able to express her rebellion. How will I react when it is not just little baby fussing that I perceive as rebellion but real, defiant rebellion? I hope that by God's grace I will have more patience by that time and will respond by seeking to shape her heart (whatever that looks like) rather than merely forcing her to submit.

Holly is a trooper. I always knew Holly was amazing and appreciated her, but seeing her taking care of Claire and the house has really revealed just how much God's grace has shaped her into a strong and caring woman. She usually has seemingly endless patience with Claire, and even when she gets frustrated is never harsh. Day in and day out Holly deals with spit up and nasty poopy diapers and the volatility of a rapidly growing and developing baby who never has two days quite the same.

Claire is so cute. Just look at her. Enough said. :)

I'm sure there's more that could be said, and probably much that is more important to say, but at least now I've broken the blog silence and said something.

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