Handyman, My life

Because I can: Dressing up the staircase

I’ve been in the process of remodeling our house ever since we moved here at the end of 2012. I’ve painted all the interior walls, tiled half of the downstairs and put laminate flooring in the other half, replaced all the upstairs flooring with laminate, tiled the kitchen backsplash, rebuilt the laundry room shelves, painted the kitchen cabinets… The one remaining eyesore was the carpeted staircase.

As soon as Alicia left for Colombia in May, I tore out the staircase carpeting, patched the wall around it as needed, and painted the walls. I hung plastic at the top and bottom to minimize the dust in the house. You can see the carpet tack strips in this picture, after I pulled them up. Nasty things…


Then I put down laminate flooring on the treads. Across the front edge of each tread goes a piece of bullnose, designed to overlap the laminate. The instructions say to use construction adhesive. I used finish nails as well to make sure the wood stayed down and in place as the glue set up. I also added a trim piece across the front of each tread because the bullnose isn’t wide enough to cover it, and the raw wood was ragged and ugly.


I soon found that the overlap only worked on the edge of the laminate that has a trough to interlock with the next piece. This was a problem at the top, where the bullnose had to meet the hallway flooring, because the flooring didn’t have that edge on the side I needed to use. So I routed a shallow trough along the edge to accommodate the overlap. You can see it at the bottom of the picture. I stained the new cut to make it less obvious.

At the bottom of the staircase are these decorative half-circles on each side. They looked like cakes when I tore off the carpet and they only had the padding. (This picture was taken a couple  of years ago when I was doing the downstairs floors.)


The wide bottom step was an interesting challenge, since I couldn’t wrap the bullnose around the half-circles.


I finally settled on this solution for the laminate: a return on each side to create a frame. It had its technical challenges.


I used the router to create a lip on one edge to accommodate the bullnose overlap. You can see it in this picture. I added a little stain so that the fresh cut wouldn’t be visible.


And the bullnose overhang had to be routed off the bottom of the returns.


The really elegant part of the staircase project is the tile. I tiled the risers to cover the ugly old wood. Since the tiles weren’t quite tall enough, I cut strips from a large tile of similar color to fill the gap. Under the bullnose (above the tiles) you can see a strip of dark wood. That’s actually a trim piece I added, because the raw wood was ragged and ugly.


The bottom step looked really cool wrapped with tile.


I capped the two half-circles with semicircles cut from a large piece of polished travertine, very similar to the tiles. I drew the half-circles with a pizza pan and then used the tile saw to cut or grind away whatever didn’t look semicircular. I had to repeat the process a couple of times until everything lined up.



The staircase looked pretty impressive once the tiling was done, even before I had cleaned up!


The bottom step is the most elegant part. This picture is before the tiles were grouted.


I ought to become a stairway tiling specialist. I haven’t seen anyone else do this kind of thing. I first got the idea watching an old movie on Turner Classics in which a mansion staircase had tiled risers. I applied the idea to my house in Dallas first, with a very different design. I used 2×12 pine for treads and tumblestone for the risers. This picture was taken while I was working on it.

My life


Did you know that a pinched nerve from a strained shoulder and disjointed rib can create pain in the left arm and across the chest that is very similar to angina? And that some chiropractors adjust not just vertebrae but joints? And that a single session with the right chiropractor can make the symptoms go away forever?

Did you know that gastritis can produce symptoms very similar to anxiety attacks? Xanax will let you sleep, but you’ll still feel the weird symptoms in your upper abdomen, you just won’t stress about it. Once you take the antibiotics prescribed for gastritis, the symptoms go away, and Xanax is no longer necessary.

Why are the Kardashians on every internet front page every single day? Who are these people? Why are they important? Don’t tell me, I don’t really want to know.

Why are Florida politics so bizarre? It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Why don’t remodelers do more to dress up staircases? Later this week I’ll show you what I did with mine after I tore out the carpeting.

Why do people buy books about diets based on patently wrong science? The paleo diet may be effective for losing weight, but to explain it in terms of what our distant ancestors ate is crazy. The blood type diet is even more absurd. Currently people are passing around on Facebook a “Middle Ages antibiotic” concoction, as if there were any reason I would want to take my health cues from that time period. I’m waiting for someone to come out with the African Famine Diet. Maybe I should write it myself. It would sell well, and I could contribute the profits to a reputable charity working in that part of the world.

Who watches TMZ? It’s just snarky people standing around snarking while the camera view bounces around dizzily between them. It makes me seasick.

Why is it that blurbs for detective stories by women so often use the word “spunky” or “sassy” to describe the protagonist? It guarantees that I’ll hate the story.


It Never Ends, by Aldemaro Romero and Sammy Cahn

I can’t find lyrics for this beautiful song anywhere online, but I have discovered that they were written by the great lyricist Sammy Cahn, and that the album (Charlie Byrd/Aldemaro Romero Onda Nueva/The New Wave) is available in vinyl on Amazon for $11.79 plus shipping. I can’t find full credits anywhere so I haven’t identified the excellent vocalists, either.

Below the video is my transcription of the lyrics. Let me know if you hear anything different.

It just goes on, it never ends
From dawn to dawn, it never ends
Through dark of night, it never ends
You’re there inside, it never ends
And when I sleep, there is no sleep
No tears at all, although I weep
The dreams I shape take hold of me
There’s no escape, I’m never free
I run and run and when I’m through
I’ve run to you

Down leafy lanes, it never ends
Through summer rains, it never ends
The sound of larks, it never ends
Deserted parks, it never ends
Time can’t erase, cannot dispel
that smiling face I knew so well
It’s always there, as you can guess
to bring despair and loneliness
for those I tried to kiss all knew
that I kissed you

When love was mine, the earth was new
and there were things to see and do
When love was mine, the skies were too
You clung to me and I to you
Now it’s small comfort to recall
that it is better, dear, by far
to once have loved than never to have loved at all

When love was mine, the earth was new
and there were things to see and do
When love was mine, the skies were too
You clung to me and I to you
Now it’s small comfort to recall
that it is better, dear, by far
to once have loved than never to have loved at all
It never ends
Never ends


Mystery song identified

Last year I posted a fragment of a lovely song that a friend in Colombia had recorded from the radio, hoping that someone could help me identify it. My wife talked with the friend today, and it turns out he had stumbled upon the identification of the song. The composer is a brilliant Venezuelan named Aldemaro Romero. The original version is called Quinta Anauco. (A quinta is a type of hacienda.) Romero apparently collaborated with Charlie Byrd to produce the English version, called It Never Ends. I just found a link for the recording!

Following is the English version, followed by a couple of Spanish versions, neither of which does it justice. I need to get Alicia to record it. It’s a gorgeous song.

Heavy-handed vocalist:

Lighter vocals, not as tedious:

Nice orchestral version, no vocals:

My translation of the Spanish lyrics (I’ll transcribe the English lyrics soon):
I discovered you
facing the sun, with the look of love
You were light, you were peace,
with the look of love.
I won your heart, I fell in love
with the look of love.
I gave you a color for your skin
and a new way of loving.
It all began with the look of love.
Your spring awoke with the look of love.
All my tears dried with the look of love.
We learned to love one another with the look of love
and we discovered the truth
that was hidden between us.
It all began with the look of love.
When my love met you
my youth was illumined.
When my love made you crazy
you began to be yourself.
Today, when your pampered craziness is ending
I would trade you my life
for what is left of your love.

Colombia, My life

Glimpses of my father’s legacy

I received e-mails from two of my sisters last week that brought me to tears in my cubicle at work. Both recount conversations regarding my father, who was a missionary in Colombia from 1960 to 1994. The conversations occurred the same week, one in Chicago and one in Medellín.

My sister Mary Beth recently made a trip to our former home in San Cristóbal, a community on the outskirts of Medellín. The house, which my father called Casa Shalom, is now a home for nearly a hundred elderly folks who have been rescued from life on the streets. Mary Beth is developing a sponsorship program for the home’s residents. While there, she attended a church that meets in a former billiards hall in the town plaza. Here is part of Mary Beth’s anecdote:

I was able to approach the head pastor of the church, Ernesto B, at the end of the service, and delivered a pastoral letter of commendation which Dave graciously composed. As we talked, I explained why I was in San Cristóbal, my history in the town, and what I was doing while I was there, and suddenly Ernesto asked me, “Are you Paul G’s daughter?” I said that I was and asked if he had met him. He replied with a big smile that the first 3 years that he was a Christian he had been discipled by Paul G, and that he attended his little church in the city in those years.

The world is a small place, and sometimes we are graced with the opportunity to tie together the fraying ends of our ropes, to see God’s continued work in the places and the people that we left behind. And sometimes we are called back to the place where we started and we are able to see it again for the first time.

Here is my sister Ruth’s response:

Just like your story of talking with Pastor Ernesto: yesterday I took a Colombian YWAM couple to breakfast–they were doing a US road trip as an extended honeymoon. Paulo grew up in Puerto Asís [where we lived from 1962-1967] and was very touched to realize that I’m a daughter of Paul G. He is the son of Cecilia L, whom you and Martha may remember from the night of Claire’s DTS graduation back in 2012. His father was an American in the Peace Corps, not married to his mom, who was not a believer at the time. But she later married a Christian man and they had more children and were involved in the Christian & Missionary Alliance church in Puerto Asís. Paulo does remember visiting the “Hermanos Libres” church once, in the little chapel that Dad built.

When he moved to Bogotá to continue his studies, he became connected to YWAM. He moved to Medellín and helped to launch the YWAM and King’s Kids there, along with Jorge, the current director of training (who is from Pasto [where we lived 1960-1962]). His stepfather was killed by the FARC, so his mom and sibs fled to Medellín too.

At one point finances were especially bad and he was deeply discouraged, thinking about leaving the ministry out of necessity. But he went to a monthly pastors’ prayer meeting, and there was a guest speaker who talked about his early experience in missions, bringing his young family to Colombia, landing in Cali, feeling dismayed by the lack of development, having to live by faith month to month because of no set salary. It was Dad. Paulo was immensely encouraged by Dad’s story. He hadn’t known others in ministry who lived in George Mueller style, believing that God would supply day by day. So it is partly because of Dad that Paulo has remained in the ministry. He currently heads up YWAM’s CentroCom, which teaches graphic design, photography, and videography, and (among other things) produces short videos for TV broadcast on healthy family values.

He remembers Dad’s book and was very excited when I told him I could get him a copy of the 2nd edition.

Movie review

Grumpy movie review: Life of Pi

There are spoilers in this review, but since the movie has been out long enough to make it into Walmart’s $5 bin, I’m not too concerned.

The movie begins with a writer who visits an Indian man in Canada to hear about his experience of surviving 227 days in a lifeboat on the ocean. However, the Indian goes into detail about his life in India before the shipwreck: his name is Piscine, which means “Swimming Pool”; after getting called Pissing in school (it was Pipí in the Spanish soundtrack we used), he memorized the number pi out to a vast number of digits and began introducing himself as Pi; he grew up in a Hindu family but was fascinated by Christianity and Islam as well; he briefly had a girlfriend; his dad had a hotel with a zoo; Pi attempted to hand-feed the tiger, but his father interrupted the proceedings and made Pi watch the tiger kill a goat.

First grump: The Spanish voice-over actor’s fake Indian accent wore on me. It was almost as bad as the “ethereal” voice of the giant Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.

Second grump: The sappiness of Pi’s religiosity. He’s profoundly impacted by a visit to a Catholic church, where he sees the images of the Stations of the Cross and marvels at the idea of the Incarnation and Christ’s redemptive suffering. He begins to worship this God, explaining that Hinduism is polytheistic so he can add one more god without problems. A few minutes later in the film, he’s also struck by the solemnity of a Muslim service, and begins doing the Muslim prayers as well. Oh, how profound, someone who sees beauty and meaning in each of the great religions. Why didn’t they put earlocks and a black hat on him and have him bob and sway at a synagogue as well? Come on. It made me sympathize with his atheist father, who at least appealed to reason in his arguments.

As a result of political turmoil and declining fortunes in India, Pi’s father decides to sell the hotel and take his family and the animals by freighter to North America. The ship’s disgusting cook has no sympathy for their vegetarianism and serves them the same garbage he serves the crew. A friendly Japanese sailor introduces himself as a Buddhist and explains that he survives on rice and gravy because the gravy contains no meat.

Pi goes on deck during a massive storm. The freighter is swamped, and Pi is unable to rescue his family from their flooded stateroom. He does make it onto a lifeboat, however, where he is joined by zoo animals that have escaped from their cages in the hold: a zebra, which breaks its legs while jumping in; a hyena; an orangutan; and the tiger.

The hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan. The tiger kills the hyena and presumably eats all three dead animals, because they disappear after a while. Pi makes a raft of life vests and oars and drifts beside the boat out of reach of the tiger, returning occasionally to get supplies of food (cracker packets) and water. Eventually he ends up training the tiger to keep its distance, and the two learn to share the boat. They survive on fish, mostly serendipitously.

At one point, the boat drifts up to a floating island with edible vines, pools of fresh water, and thousands of meerkats doing that cute meerkat standing-around thing. They rest there for a few hours, but at night when Pi climbs a tree to rest, he discovers a human tooth inside a flower growing in the tree. He also sees dead fish and a dead shark floating in the pond where he had swum and drunk shortly before. He comes to the conclusion that the island is malevolent, and runs back to his lifeboat to escape. The tiger had already returned to the boat at nightfall.

Third grump: So far the movie has been reasonably plausible, if unlikely. Why in the world does it suddenly shift to magical realism? We will find out at the film’s conclusion, unfortunately.

The boat drifts for an unspecified amount of time and washes up on the Mexican coast. Pi jumps out and drags the boat ashore, collapsing on the sand. The tiger leaps ashore and staggers off into the jungle without a look back. Pi is hurt because the tiger doesn’t acknowledge him in any way. His conclusion is that his father was right, the tiger is a beast and was never his friend.

After this, we return to the scene with the writer and Pi in Pi’s home. Pi reports that, as he recovered in a Mexican hospital, two Japanese gentlemen interviewed him on behalf of the shipping company, trying to discover why the ship swamped in the first place. He has no answer to that question, but tells them about his survival experience. They are profoundly skeptical and tell him that they can’t report that to their employer. He tells them an alternate narrative: he was initially accompanied in the lifeboat by the Japanese Buddhist, who broke his legs dropping into the boat; the disgusting cook; and Pi’s mother. The cook killed the Buddhist and used his flesh for bait to catch fish. The cook killed Pi’s mother. Pi killed the cook and survived by eating him. Pi points out that this story also fails to explain why the ship sank.

The writer comments on apparent parallels between the two narratives: the zebra is the Japanese sailor, the hyena is the cook, the orangutan is Pi’s mother, the tiger is Pi himself. Pi congratulates him on his perception and asks him which narrative he prefers. The writer says that the one with the tiger is a better story. Pi responds, “Thank you. And so it goes with God.” When the writer looks at the Japanese men’s report on the shipwreck, he sees that they also opted to report the tiger version.

Fourth and biggest grump: The film rubs our noses in the concept of the relativity of truth. According to Pi, truth is a story, and you choose your own, ideally opting for the best-written one; we can choose to believe the stories of religion or the bleakness of atheism. I have no patience for this kind of pretentious irrationality. If my only choices are either a meerkat-occupied floating island where the flowers hold human teeth, or an unpleasant but at least plausible narrative about people doing horrific things, I’ll believe the latter, even if it isn’t as good a story. As they say, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

Returning to Pi’s father: while I disagree with his atheism, I resonate more with his reason-based worldview than with Pi’s relativism. As a Christian, I am also rational. I don’t believe in Christianity just because it’s a great and powerful story. The Christian story is presented in the Bible as history, with evidence for and multiple witnesses to its miraculous events. Jesus did or did not exist historically, and did or did not do the things recorded about him in the Bible. If he didn’t exist, or if the things reported about him in the Bible are not true, then my belief in him is pointless.


I picked up a collection of stories by Life of Pi’s writer Yann Martel before I watched the movie. The first two stories were somewhat entertaining and moving. The latter two were just weird. My main gripe about all of them was that the writer was too clearly present. It reminded me of a book by Max Lucado that I once tried to read. I only made it through a few pages. It was sappy and pretentious, and Max was also too visible in the cutesiness of the writing. Pretentious, narcissistic writers make me grumpy.

My life

Where my family lived when I was born (more Google Maps)

House on Floyd
My parents actually built this house themselves in the late 1950s, with the help of a carpenter. I’ve never been inside it, other than my first 11 months of life, but it was pointed out to me in my childhood. I can’t really imagine a family with five kids in a place that looks this small, but it may be bigger on the inside, like the Tardis.

Across the street was the Bible Chapel where my family attended. When my folks became missionaries, the Chapel was their sponsoring congregation, which meant vouching for them to the other churches in the network and providing a portion of their financial support. I have many warm memories of the Bible Chapel and our friends there. On Easter Sunday, the church we attend here in Tampa sang an old hymn that brought back the memory of heartfelt four-part harmony in the Chapel, often a cappella.
Bible Chapel
The congregation has since moved to a larger building in another KC suburb. I’m friends with many current and former members on Facebook.