The Housework Continues

In a few weeks, we’re going to have a new shower installed in our master bathroom. The base of the old (fiberglass) shower had cracked through, so the subfloor may need to be replaced, and the walls were pretty bad too. So the whole thing is going to go.

As part of this, I decided to replace the exhaust fan in that bathroom. It’s a 50 CFM fan and we need at least 93 CFM based on the size of the room, so I bought a 110 CFM fan. After taking the old fan out, I found that it’s just insulation above it with no exhaust duct, and that’s bad.

Knowing that our attic is over-insulated with up to 2 feet of blown, loose fiberglass insulation, I kitted up to crawl through it, all the way to the far corner of the house, and check out what the master bathroom looked like from above. This was my first time going past the attic door, and unsurprisingly, it was quite a challenge. What I discovered was that not only is it hard to get to that spot above the master bath, but there’s nowhere in the roof suitable for venting back there. I had figured that, worst-case scenario, I could run a duct up to the ridge vent, but the ridge vent is pretty far from that fan.

So I need to install some vent hoods, but I’ll need to wait for it to stop raining first. Lowe’s doesn’t have the hoods I want, but I found them from Home Depot and ordered two. Because, of course, our other bathroom isn’t vented either, so I might as well do both at the same time.

And since this means I’m going to be crawling around the attic repeatedly, I’m also going to buy some plywood and build myself a path on top of the ceiling beams. I was able to crawl around balanced on them, but it was tricky and unnecessarily dangerous. I’d really like to not fall through the ceiling, so putting down ~20 of those boards should help a lot.

Having a plywood path will also make it easier to move around some of the insulation. There are some drifts where it’s at least 2-3 feet deep, and other areas where it’s just a few inches. Having a stable platform will make it easier to get up there with a rake or something and push it into the areas where it’s lacking.

I took a few days off this week to do the work and then recover from it, and it doesn’t look like I can get everything done. I can go ahead and put up the fan, but I need to check with our roofing company to make sure that installing the vents myself won’t void the warranty. If it would, I’ll need to hire them to do it. The hoods won’t arrive until Friday, and I’ll pick up the plywood on Saturday.

But that’s alright. Working on the house doesn’t fill me with the dread it once did. I keep doing stuff and not destroying anything, which is encouraging, and I think I’ve got a pretty decent plan that will make our attic a lot easier to work in going forward. Right now, it’s nearly impossible, but building a 2-foot wide platform all the way through (with a few offshoots over some of the rooms) will help a lot.

How can you go exploring with people who don’t trust maps?

April and I watched Behind the Curve on Netflix last night, a documentary about flat earthers and this movement that has really sprung up in just the last 4 years. There are now thousands of people who believe that the earth is flat, and the documentary interviews some of the leaders in the movement, attends their international conference in 2017, and records some of their experiments that attempted to prove the earth was flat.

Like many conspiracy theories (and for the flat earthers, calling it a conspiracy theory isn’t pejorative—they allege that there is a conspiracy perpetuated by all governments, education institutions, and scientists), there is an overlap with other conspiracies. A large number of Flat Earthers also tend to be anti-vaxxers (people who are opposed to giving kids vaccines or getting vaccines themselves), and they tend to reject any scientific finding by anyone but themselves

One segment of the documentary was of an astrophysicist meetup and a speaker was talking about how the scientific community often does a disservice to people who believe in these conspiracies. Because the people who have bought into this are often intelligent and inquisitive, and they have the potential to be great scientists. But either through miseducation, or trauma, or something else, their very healthy skepticism has been turned into a denial of science and a belief in only what they themselves can observe and measure. And even then, as the documentary highlighted, people in these movements will often reject their own measurements if those measurements don’t support their worldview.

That speaker at the meetup said that, rather than push flat earthers and anti-vaxxers and similar conspiracy theorists to the fringes, and just ignore them, we have to engage. But we shouldn’t engage argumentatively. Rather, we should recognize their intelligence and curiosity and say, “Let’s go explore together!” And in exploring together, the hope is that people will find the truth.

But that left me with the question: what do you do when the people with whom you want to go exploring:

  1. Don’t trust the map? They want to make their own map. But they also don’t trust cartography instruments or physics.
  2. Reject anything that doesn’t fit with their conspiracy? Everything you find (reality) that doesn’t fit will be rationalized away.

I thought that the documentary was actually very kind and generous. It didn’t mock, and the scientists interviewed were similarly gentle. They are all educators to one extent or another and want to help people understand the world better.

But none of them could tell us how to engage with flat earthers. Because even when the flat earthers in the documentary did some really neat science experiments, and those experiments proved the earth wasn’t flat by virtue of their own hypotheses and measurements, they then rejected the outcome and did a new experiment. Which also then proved the earth wasn’t flat. So they then invented a new rationalization for why their experiments weren’t aligning with their worldview.

How do you go exploring with someone who rejects what they see? I truly want to know. I feel that this question is central to so many challenges we are experiencing in our world today, and particularly in the USA where anti-education sentiment and science denial are resulting in deadly epidemics and people being put into positions of leadership who reject the findings of 97%+ of climate change scientists.

How do we go exploring with someone whose views on science, politics, society, and how everything works is so different? How do we not push them to the fringes? Because I don’t want to push people away. I don’t think any of us want to marginalize others. But I legitimately don’t know what else to do other than disengage.

What’s Mine Is Yours

Before April and I got married, we decided that we wanted to live our lives fully together. One way that this was represented was combining everything we owned: all of our bank accounts are combined, and we’re each other’s beneficiaries on everything.

I always assumed that this was the default in marriage, but I’ve been meeting more people for whom it isn’t the case. They might have some joint accounts, but other separate accounts. Some couples split up the bills, with one person paying the mortgage and the other paying utilities and for groceries and whatnot. Others stay completely separate and split the cost on everything.

For us, we have everything together. And every account is in Mint.com, and we can both see every financial transaction.

I felt like this was a pretty high level of integration and transparency, but last week we finished putting together our estate plan after several months of talking about it and working through the process. An estate plan is similar to a last will and testament, but because we have a kid, it gets a bit more complicated. Instead of creating a will, we wanted to create a trust.

You can’t leave stuff to a minor, so you have two options. You can leave everything to the people who will become your child’s guardians, or you can create a trust. If you go with the first option and something bad happens, like the new dad is in a car accident and gets sued, the person suing could take all their funds including what you left to your kid. But if you put the money into a trust, then it’s safe; it can only be used for your child(ren).

So we wanted to setup a trust, and along the way we also setup a health power of attorney (POA) and a financial POA so people could make decisions for us if we are incapacitated, and lots of other paperwork. One of the things we setup was a POA for each other, so I can sign things on April’s behalf and she can sign things on mine.

The lawyer told us that April didn’t need to come in to pick up the binder at the end of the process, so she stayed home with a napping Simon. While I was reviewing the documents, I found a minor typo that needed to be corrected, so the paralegal tore out two pages, printed new ones, and we needed to sign them. But since I have POA for April, I could sign on her behalf rather than dragging her into the office.

This was a whole new level of… I don’t even know what to call it. Financial togetherness? Legal entanglement? Our trust is revocable so we can amend or tear it up whenever we want. But when I was driving home with all the paperwork, I had this feeling like we had leveled up. While all our stuff was shared, we still very much had a legal firewall in that I couldn’t sign things for April and she couldn’t sign things for me. That’s important to me: I want her consent on things that affect us and vice versa.

But I know that we’re responsible, and we care about each other, and we won’t abuse this. And it’s kind of neat, because removing that legal barrier then means we have to rely on our love and trust. It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the state of Pennsylvania about Quakers: you can’t legislate morality. And by removing the legislation that prevented us from committing one another to legal or financial agreements, we now have a greater obligation to be moral and ethical with and to each other.

It doesn’t change anything in practice for us. But it did prompt me to reflect on this, and that reflection filled me with happiness. I love that I found someone I can trust and who trusts me.

On 2018

I often do an end-of-the-year blog post in which I reflect on the year that was. These are often very long, and this year I thought about breaking my reflection into multiple blog posts, one per topic area, to make it all a bit easier to digest.

But truth-be-told, I don’t want to. When I was a teenager, or in my early 20s, I blogged incessantly and shared everything with everyone. These days, I just have no interest. If you, the person reading this, and I are close, then you already know everything. If you’re reading this and don’t know, then we’re not close.

And unfortunately, that’s been one of the major challenges with 2018: the number of people I’m close with continues to dwindle. If I’m going to invest my energy sharing thoughts and feelings with someone, I would like that time to contribute towards building a friendship with someone. Blogging doesn’t do that.

I’m not ready to close this down yet. 2019 may bring some interesting things that I’ll want to blog about. But having a purely personal blog is of less and less interest to me.

What can I say about 2018? My job is awesome, my wife and son are awesome, and God is awesome. And I am growing some friendships through our church, which is great. I’m going to try and make some new friends in 2019; if I want to be close with more people, then I need to meet more new people.

I spent 2018 with some great books. I spent time well caring for my wife and now my son. I invested further in our home. I worked hard and continued to build a fantastic team at Adaptavist. I lost 50 pounds of fat. I don’t think I could have spent 2018 much better than I did. It has been a good year.

I think 2019 will be better.

Why I Marched For #NobodyIsAboveTheLaw

When I was in elementary school, I learned about our system of government and its checks and balances. I knew that our democracy had its problems, and we have corrupt politicians and whatnot, but I believed in the system. I think of our government as being resilient, and that as our society and people grow and learn and improve, that our countries policies would too. That’s how we expanded voting rights, and improved equality, and so many other things.

I don’t know what I’m going to teach my son. The next few months and years will determine that. But right now, I see our checks and balances being undermined. The highest court in the land is being stacked with pro-Trump justices, gerrymandering has contributed to Republican majorities in federal and local positions, and now the person overseeing the investigations related to our president has been replaced by a person who is avowedly pro-Trump.

Marching probably doesn’t do a lot of good. At least, not in Springfield. But it is better to do something than nothing, and it gives me the opportunity to write about it. If nothing else, I can teach Simon about why we fight losing battles. It is important that we communicate our ethics, morals, and values.

Being Simon’s Dad

Before Simon was born, I had the idea to journal regularly so I could look back and relive some of my thoughts and feelings from that time.

But I don’t really enjoy journaling, and I never did it.

And now, I’ve been thinking that I should write down what I’m learning from being his dad. 5 and a half weeks in, and here we are.

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of “feelings.” Would I feel some mystical bond with my son? Would I be overwhelmed with love? My only experience being overwhelmed with love was as a teenager, and on reflection, that had more to do with hormones than mysticism. We feel so strongly when we are younger, and I’m more even-keeled these days.

I find myself enthralled by Simon. I’ll be putting him into his car seat, or stroller, or bassinet, or just holding him in my arms, and I’ll look at him and lose track of time. I can’t identify the feeling there, but he becomes the center of my universe for a brief moment, and all is right in the world.

My priorities have shifted a bit. Hobbies have less pull on me, while resting is even more precious. Simon is sleeping pretty well, and April does most of the getting-up-at-night, but there’s still a lot for me to do. Having paternity leave is amazing, and I really love that I get to spend so much time with Simon here in these first few months.

One night, while lying on the bed and looking into the bassinet to try and decide if Simon needed his diaper changed, needed burped, or just needed the pacifier returned to him, I had the words “my son” go through my head.

And as I reflected on those two words, I felt strongly that I do not own Simon. He is not mine to do with as I will. I do not own his future; he is not beholden to me. Rather, I am his caretaker and teacher. I will do my best to guide him, but ultimately, he belongs to himself.

I have two follow-up thoughts on this.

First, when I became Christian, my conversion included God returning my soul to me. I know that’s throwing out a weird statement without any backstory, but this blog post isn’t about my story, so my apologies for dropping that and just moving on. What was relevant about that moment in the context of this story is that I had sold my soul, and God returned it to me, and I felt it both physically and spiritually. And my response was to thank God and immediately offer Him my soul. And God refused.

He told me that I was created to be me, and that no one owned me. I choose to be part of God’s family, and God gave us free will, which that never goes away. Similarly, Simon is part of my family, but he belongs to himself.

Second, ownership and debt was wielded against me frequently when I was growing up. My parents regularly told me about how I owed them for all the wonderful things in my life. Things like clothes and food and being taken to or picked up from school. Further, they told me that I was expected to pay them back later. Some of this was joking, but often it was said in moments of frustration or angst, and I interpreted it verbatim.

Consequently, I feel strongly about making sure my son knows that he owes me nothing. He did not choose to be born. We chose him. And we choose him over and over. And my job is to provide for him, and take care of him, and provide the best education and examples for him that I can. I chose that job. He doesn’t owe me for doing it.

We have an election today, and having a child hasn’t changed how I vote. But it has given me a new perspective. I feel like I have a new place to stand when examining the world and I how interact with it. More importantly, it is bringing new depth to my theology.

The most important thing I can do in this life is to be holy like God is holy. My aim is to serve Him, and for a long time I thought/hoped that meant being a good husband and a good father. Over the last month, I have come to feel that deep in my soul. Being a good dad means taking care of my son so he can grow up safe and secure, and from that position of safety and stability, learn about and engage with this world. Becoming holy, and having the opportunity to think about and wrestle with that, is so much easier when you have food and shelter and stability. I speak from experience.

So as a Christian dad, my duty is to give my son the opportunity to learn about God and, hopefully, to choose to follow Jesus and work to become holy like God is holy.

I would give almost anything to make that happen. I can’t spoil him, because that’s not good teaching, but I can build a good home for him.

Shouldn’t we be doing that for everybody? Not just kids? And not just our kids? As Christians, shouldn’t we want everyone to have their basic needs met so they have the mental and emotional capacity to engage with the Church and meet God? As a Christian, does anyone owe us anything that must be repaid before we begin the work of providing for them physically and spiritually?

When I think about all the good things I want to do for my son so he can become a good person, my mind turns to how we, as a country, all seem to espouse many of the same beliefs. We want to leave the world better for our children. The problem is, I think a lot of us are only thinking about our children, as in our individual children. And if I only think of Simon, then I am not being like Jesus. Jesus didn’t just think of his biological brothers or family. Jesus didn’t just think of his disciples. His commission is for the entire world.

What about building a good home for the children of asylum-seekers who have been separated from their parents? What about building a good home for asylum-seekers coming to the USA? What about building a good home for the homeless? What about building a good home for minorities suffering from systemic oppression?

I’m looking forward to taking Simon with us to vote today.

The two political parties in the USA are not the same. Both have problems, but the Democratic party of today far better aligns with Christian morals, ethics, and values. I will continue to vote Democrat to provide a better future for my son and for everyone else’s sons and daughters.

I’ll also keep reading, because that provides a good example for Simon to follow. And we’ll keep talking regularly, and I’ll hold him when he cries, not because my holding him magically solves everything, but so that he knows that he isn’t alone. And we’ll grow and learn and change, because he is changing every day.

And I hope that we’ll make the future better together.

I just want to brag a bit

We’re about as ready to have a baby as we can be. We’ve actually been preparing in earnest for a few years now, beginning with buying this house and then trading the truck in for a minivan. There were some major renovations that came with the house, such as repairing termite damage to the floor joists and girders, the wall studs and ceiling beams in the front room, some foundation damage from a tree root… and then we had to get a new roof last summer. Oh, and two summers ago I replaced all the power outlets with ones that have covers built-in so kids can’t stick things into them. But this summer has been really baby-inspired.

  • Because the nursery is typically 8-10 degrees colder in the winter, we tore off some drywall with the intent of adding insulation to the exterior wall. It turns out that the wall was insulated, but the termite damage had left a gap between the floor and the wall that went straight into the crawlspace. So we insulated and blocked that up.
  • Put up ceiling fans in the nursery and guest bedroom.
  • We also did some other constructiony things like replacing a rotting wall on the shed, painting the shed, replacing a column on our front porch, and lots and lots of thinning flower bulbs and spreading mulch.
  • April has done a ton of reorganization, cleaning, and furniture assembling (crib, bassinet, shelves, etc.).
  • While exploring the crawlspace to make sure there weren’t any other gaps between the floor and the wall, I found that the ductwork was super damp. The condensation had caused rust, which then led to some small holes in the ductwork. These have now been patched and the ductwork insulated.
  • We had a vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace to help reduce humidity further and prevent insects from burrowing up into the crawlspace.
  • The vapor barrier (sheets of plastic spread across the ground and up the walls of the crawlspace and the piers supporting the house, then sealed with tape and tacked to the walls) made it evident that pipes were leaking. Turns out our entire plumbing system was close to failing, so we had it replaced. The galvanized steel pipes were so full of rust, and metal chunks were flaking off because of the rust. Now we have pex everywhere.
  • Hopefully, the pex will help prevent our pipes from freezing like they have the last two winters. I’ll also be blocking up our foundation vents properly this winter.
  • After all the construction, we had the ductwork professionally cleaned.
  • Our thermostat went out, but I was able to get it replaced under warranty. This came with an extra room sensor, so we now have a remote thermostat sensor in the nursery. We also have a video baby monitor with three cameras that we can put in different places or travel with.
  • Rugs have been shaken and cleaned, floors have been swept, everything has been washed, etc.
  • April has begun preparing freezer meals so that we have around 2 weeks of food that we can just pop into the instant pot or oven without having to do much prep or thinking.
  • We acquired a deep freeze so we have room for freezer meals, etc.
  • After all the construction, we had the house fully treated (crawlspace, attic, inside, outside) for all manner of insects, but mostly spiders.
  • We’re going to a birthing class on Monday nights that has been tremendously helpful and eye-opening. Tomorrow night, we have a hospital tour. Next week, we’ll install the car seat.
  • Our friends and family have been so generous and we now have enough baby clothes for probably the first year and a half, as well as plenty of cloth diapers.

So much of this was possible because of April’s parents, and between the support of our family and our network of friends (which, again, kudos to April… she does such a good job of making sure we stay connected to people despite my inclination to never leave the house or talk to anybody), we feel ready. We feel secure and supported. We know that we have people to catch us and help us. And we’ve learned so much from everyone.

I want to celebrate this. We did good. I can’t wait to meet our baby. We’re about 4-7 weeks away!