Handyman, My life

Upgrading the whole-house water filter system


Our whole-house filter got clogged several months ago and I was unable to replace it because the housing was jammed. I set the water system to bypass it temporarily, which means we have been using straight well water for everything except drinking (we have a Brita tank in the kitchen). But recently my wife has been complaining about white clothes turning yellow in the laundry, so I decided I had better fix the filter.

The purple item in the photo is the main filter, very fine (several microns). The two smaller blue housings are sediment filters, to clean most of the dirt and minerals from the water before it gets to the purple filter. I used to have only one sediment filter, but it would get clogged up within a month and bring our water pressure way down. Today I added the second one (on the right), and installed the purple housing where the old jammed housing used to be. I use the two faucets occasionally to run water backwards through the filters and blow out some of the sediment.

So, water comes in from the bottom right, goes through the two small blue filters, and then through the purple filter before going back into the ground. If you look sharp, you can see that I took this photo before setting the valves to route the water through the filters.

I’m sure this is the most thrilling post you’ll see today.

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.