Saturday, April 16, 2016

Simple 2x4 step stool

It has been a while since I posted a project.  And reality is that the winter months are not conducive to woodworking when your shop is either the backyard, driveway, or garage.  And work and life have a way of getting in the way. (ok, and some of my hobby time has been taken by a new hobby, I remember telling someone a year ago that I did not have any room for one of those.)  So, here is one of the easiest things in the world, a step stool made from 2x4.

Diagram of 2x4 step stool
2x4 step stool diagram

What brought this on is that a step stool made by my father-in-law collapsed while we were dealing with a tantrum.  While the shock of the collapse did end the tantrum, we now did not have a step stool for the kids in the upstairs bathroom (which is needed so they can use the sink on their own).  And, to be honest, I had a few purchases over the past few months that needed a workout.

I used a design described in the blog MoreLikeHome.Net that built a stool from a single 2x4 (I think that I've seen this design in response to a contest of what can you make from a single 8' 2x4).  So, went to our favorite Home Depot to get a 2x4 while my son was at a birthday party not too far away.

Speed square and circular saw
A 2x4 full of potential. Yes, the iPad stand is made from LEGO. My folding workbench was project I made just before my daughter was born.

First step, cutting down the 2x4. I had the Home Depot do one cut at 37" (which represents 3 12" steps with a little more to account for the kerf. This also made two pieces small enough to transport in my car.)  Further cuts were made with a 4 1/4" circular saw and a speed square. (A framing square was large enough to measure the cuts and a utility knife was used to mark the wood. Wood was supported by bench cookies, which meant that I did not need clamps for cutting.)

2x4s cut into pieces for step stool
2x4 pieces cut by compact circular saw

Next was sanding all the pieces down.  I have a Ridgid Jobmax multi-tool, and over the winter I bought the Fein Multimaster 4" sanding disc attachment. It is a lot larger than the detail sanding pad that usually comes with an oscillating multi-tool and delays the need for a palm sander. (and doing this by hand takes way too long :-)  )  I sanded everything down using 60 grit paper, with the plan to leave the final sanding for after the project was complete.

Next was assembly.  I used the Kreg pocket hole system (another winter purchase) and 2 1/2" pocket screws (because I was working with 2x dimensional lumber. Note to self: Kreg was delivered with 1 1/2" screws that are meant for 3/4" boards) I used my Quick Grip clamps on the flat part of the Kreg R3 (jr).  My first time using pocket holes. I am a believer.

Using Kreg Pocket Hole system
Kreg R3 Jig with Irwin Quick Grip clamp

Next step: assembling the step stool. I used a corded Jobmax with the right angle drill head to drive in the pocket hole screws. One issue with the right angle head compared to standard pistol grips is that it is harder to control the torque, so my first leg did not go on straight.  Instead of taking the whole thing apart, after I assembled the legs, I put a wood blade on the multi-tool and cut off any overhang and cut down the back stretcher to size.

Finally, I put in fillers into the pocket holes and sanded the whole thing down with the new sanding disc.  I actually did this right and worked my way through three grades of sanding pads. This does make a difference, as the stool is noticeably smoother to the touch than my previous projects using dimensional lumber.

Sanding 2x4 step stool using multi-tool with sanding disc
Fein 4" sanding disc attached to Ridgid Jobmax multitool

A nice quick project. I did not stain it yet (waiting for the weather to warm up). But now that it is in use, I'm thinking about if I will stain it at all.  Certainly the kids like it (it is a lot more stable than what was there before.)

Using the new stepstool
2x4 step stool in action

Some notes:

  1. Tools used
    1. Rockwell 4 1/2" Compact Circular Saw
    2. Ridgid Jobmax Corded Multi-tool
      1. Right angle drill head
      2. Fein Sanding Disc attachment
    3. Kreg Jig Jr (R3)
    4. Framing square
    5. Speed square
    6. Bench cookies
    7. CRKT SpareTool (for marking wood)
  2. My  Folding worktable is getting a good workout. Maybe not as good a a full sized workbench, but much better than any purchased metal and plastic table would be.
  3. The advantage of having the multitool with wood saw blades, I can cut away any evidence of mistakes.
  4. Pocket hole fillers cannot be cut using a multitool saw. Either I sand it or cut it before it is in place. Maybe if I glue in the fillers and wait for the glue to set, it may be amenable to a saw.
  5. I like pocket holes. Much nicer to not have screws showing on outside surfaces.
  6. Mommy noted that the first step is not that deep (made from a single 2x4). But since it is only used to get to the second step, it is probably ok.
  7. Circular saws are a lot faster and more precise than jig saws at going through 2x4. I think a lot of my older projects would have been faster with it. I suppose that the jigsaw was useful as a first power saw with out of nervousness, but I would tell any beginner to start with a compact circular saw that can cut through a 2x4.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Parenting month 65: kindness and confidence

We have always been concerned about T being too shy and quiet in public. Getting into kindergarten was a near thing, not because of his abilities or behavior (preschool staff could testify that was not a problem), but the fact that he had to be able to perform in front of strangers at some point in any assessment. In the end the kindergarten assessment was helped by the fact that the school took a very sane approach to how the assessment was done (observation over a period long enough for him to get comfortable with the setting, and long term assessments by the preschool carried weight), and the fact that he was changing himself (right around the same time preschool staff happily noted he went from a very quiet kid to someone who occasionally had to be told to be quiet.)  But the next step is how he would act as he got exposed to a larger world.

One advantage of not having many scheduled activities for my son is that I get a lot of time with him as he has been growing up. So we get to interact with many people and things. And he loves it. I think even from the beginning all of these outings have been mini-adventures and he got to practice being brave, even though he knew he was not.  As he has gotten older we've been giving him more space to interact with others (and his little sister).

I got your hat!
This is my hat
This month was marked with play dates, a trip to Chicago, and some other events in new spaces. Some anecdotes:

1.  Playing with a couple of older and more rambunctious boys. At one point T told them that they needed to play gentler around his younger sister and be more provident (that is a word that they use at his Catholic school). That got a "what does that mean" type of reaction as they went on their way. We were surprised that he could be so confrontational.

Look, there is a catfish hiding in that log
Can you see the catfish in there?
2. Chicago. We went for my father's 100 day remembrance. There were a couple of times where we stationed him in front of a door to greet people. And he did (in a place where he knew almost noone, and certainly not any of the aunties and uncles who wanted to talk to him). Curtesy is turning into his way of dealing with the big unknown world. And there are worse ways to react.

Helping a friend put on her wristband
Here is how to put on a wristband
3.  At a church event where we were invited by a chinese family who did not know what was going on, he  taught the kids the games and cheered when they won. Later at the Easter egg hunt, once he got his limit, he went around the field helping the younger kids find Easter eggs.

4.  Taekwondo. One of the moms commented that her daughter liked it when T was at class, because her daughter is also one of the smaller ones and T is closer to her size, and because T is controlled enough that he does not threaten to run her over during sparring.

Like a lot of asian american upper middle class suburban parents, we are somewhat ambitious about where we think our kids will be academically (*pause as people who know us, especially my wife, finish laughing*)  But as we learn what some of the practices in our area are like, we also want our children to be sane. When we watch T and how he has grown, we often jokingly ask "can we keep him?", because we realize that while he is still a kid, he behaves much better than we can reasonably expect kids of his age to behave. While in no way we are going to cut back on our quest to keep him academically challenged, we are very thankful that he is turning out kind.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Parenting Month 64: Focus and persistance

The parenting topic that has been on our minds the most this month was what to do about summer. We have not done any formal activities in the past, but we are aware that the other kids in suburbia have been sending their kids to various week long summer camps for art, music, dance, and a whole range of academic and semi-academic camps in addition to the outdoor activity camps. (to be fair, my wife runs one of these, so we probably are a part of that ecosystem, just not from the side of the consumer). But we had not done this with T, instead having mommy school (piano, chinese), daddy school (which involved museums, hikes, and something that had a strong resemblance to playing with LEGO), and grandparent school (swimming) supplemented with taekwondo. But we were aware this whole time that our neighbors (especially the asian ones) were enrolling kids in multiple programs.

So this coming summer, with the end of kindergarten we started looking at what the market had.  We found numerous offerings at various private schools in the area, a couple of colleges had offerings (alas, C-MITES at Carnegie Mellon University is no more), YMCA camps and a plethora of dance, sports, arts and crafts, and general activity camps. But what we noticed is that the majority of these were in one week chunks, and the ones that were longer had a large list of activities that they had planned for their campers. Which means that they will be moving from activity to activity throughout the day.

Our goal was to find activities that would reward focus and persistence (and make sure he got a reasonable amount of outside time!) So this summer will be in three acts. June is mommy and daddy school. July is a series of one week camps (piano, LEGO, and science) and August is decompression/getting ready to go back to school.  Mommy school is piano and chinese (with curriculum!), daddy school is going to be computers (Raspberry Pi and Scratch) and LEGO (simple machines and storytelling). And we are going to continue taekwondo.

Ready for testing
Ready before testing
Other developments. We are starting to note a slightly more rebellious attitude in T (5yr old). Considerable resistance to mommy, grandma, and grandpa (oddly enough, daddy does not get to experience this very much) (And A(1 yr old) is like this too, we actually do not know who is feeding off of whom.)  Some of this may just be the standard testing of boundaries, another may be the fact that he is now picking this up from other kids (peer pressure really did not do anything to him in preschool). I remind mommy that this is incredibly mild compared to most 5 yr old or kindergartners. Of course, this does not help. Neither does the fact that teachers (school and outside) routinely comment about how well behaved T is.
Self defense exercises
Back stance during self-defense testing
Taekwondo is continuing along. He is still quite good for his age. One benefit of going up the ranks is that most of the kids in the middle color belts are a year older than him and better coordinated. So the standard surrounding him is better than him. Another development is that I started taekwondo as well, and once a week we go to the family class together. The general comment is that he is watching me with a big smile the entire time we are in class.  Since he is a few belts ahead of me, he gets a kick about going into teacher mode when we practice at home. We have been getting some training gear from the school because of students that we have referred to them. So our house is generating an overall background noise of martial arts and Star Wars. Mommy is not sure about how that happened in her house.

His sense of sequence still needs work. He essentially has three time periods, past, now, and future. And, consistent with age, all things past tends to get mixed together.

School is still working on finding his level. We are happy that they have continued escalating his reading. The books he is bringing home from the school library are getting harder. Actually, I think that they are too hard, because he discovered the Star Wars section of the library. Fortunately, we have a reasonable amount of appropriate books at home as well as what I read to him.
Round kick during sparring
Round kick during sparring
A is adding willful to being a babbler. And that means she can express desires deliberately and strongly in two languages. I commented that with T we pretty much got a pass on the terrible twos and threes. While A can communicate (which does eliminate a good portion of tantrums), we are not going to get a pass on this one.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Parenting Month 63: Reading is fun

This past month both kids have been progressing in reading. The little one now recognizes upper and lower case letters on a pretty reliable basis. The next thing in line are colors. At the beginning of the month she only identified "purple". Now she knows "blue" "yellow" "red" "green" (which are the colors of her blocks that I carry around whenever we go out).

One of her favorite things to do is to read. There are books mommy reads, and books daddy reads. (unfortunately, she does not have a category of books big brother reads, or this would get much easier on us, he is certainly willing to take part on part of the work). Then, there are books she reads.  This tends to be a lot of fun to watch, and I could watch for hours (mommy would say that she would happily babble for hours as well if we would let her).  She also recognizes that my Kindle holds books, and can identify a few of her favorites that are currently loaded on it.

Reading in a coffee shop
Reading in a coffeeshop. She can keep this up for a while, especially every night before bedtime.
The older one also reads regularly. For him, it is one of the things that he goes to for play. I remember being told that when kids learn to read, the parent workload drops tremendously because it means that kids can entertain themselves. This is the case with him as well (actually, once the little one gets going, she can be left for a while as well, until she decides she really needs an audience again).

One thing we are concerned about is that the reading is getting too easy, especially at school. There was a period where he was coming home saying that every class was too easy. Fortunately, they have been escalating the difficulty level for him and a couple of other kindergarten readers. And they have assigned staff time to do work with him (and the others) to check on comprehension (which has the effect of slowing them down). At the open house tonight, his teachers let us know that he has completed the first grade book series, and he is now on second grade reading material (at a school where the average second grader is a full year ahead of grade level).  He is probably aware that we are concerned that he is not being challenged by reading. This week he came home with a book from the school library (they have one book checked out each week) proclaiming to mommy "I got a difficult book for you." (and it turned out to be way too high level for him)

So, like other things, we are thinking about how mommy and daddy school will keep him progressing outside of school. Of course, daddy school looks a little fishy to mommy, as it involves reading graphic novels (Usagi Yojimbo) and talking about story lines (and activities that look suspiciously like playing LEGO and computer games). But we are in agreement that we don't want him to have the attitude of only doing things that are easy.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Parenting month 62: Culture, community, and raising children

The major milestone this month was the passing away of my father.  As the funeral was in Thailand, I had gone without the kids. We also had a small memorial service in the city where I grew up, so we took a week there.  It is probably the most intensive exposure to Thai culture that my kids have had to date. (My son had gone to Thailand as a infant, so he would have been too small to remember anything.)
Robes for gifts
Robes for an offering
One problem with living in Pittsburgh is a relative lack of diversity compared to other big cities. And one consequence is that there are not many Thai.  One estimate I heard at one gathering that there were about 40 Thai families in the Pittsburgh region. (Not counting students, who are considered transient) and only about half interacted on a regular basis. So we have been essentially raising our kids as Chinese, where we would have a reasonable number of other Chinese kids around for our kids to learn Chinese together.

To prepare for the service at the Thai temple, we subjected our kids to a crash course in Thai greetings and courtesy via YouTube. One thing my son (an introvert) can handle is curtesy, so he picked up on that and handled himself as well as can be expected for a Kindergartener who does not spend time in a Thai environment. He greeting people with a wai, and when it was time to perform his role in the service, he did his part (doing things alongside daddy is also something he can do). My daughter is also well behaved toddler in public, and performed admirably for a toddler girl, presenting a charming and well behaved face to the world.
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Wai before pouring out water
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Watering a tree

The main result of the trip was a lot of time spent with old friends, mostly a mix of Chinese-American and Thai-American families, now with children.  And we talked about the raising of children (and sometimes grandchildren). We talked about choices that we make, our kids personalities, and how they are different and lead to different challenges and opportunities. While I do have conversations about parenting in Pittsburgh with other parents at our kids school, day care, activities, and with others in community organizations I'm active in, the big difference with living in the place you grew up and being part of the mobile generation like I am is that those conversations are lacking in much of the context that comes from growing up in a community.

The conversations I have with other parents tend to be about immediate issues.  Getting in school, participating in activities, dealing with health issues. But the things that I talk with my wife, long term issues of guiding our children's growth in the context of their specific personalities, affinities, and strengths is done just with ourselves. But returning home, the conversations include how the personalities of the children compare to the personalities of the parent (current and past). And the conversations are more long term. How our children's personalities will help or hinder them in the future, and how it impacts how they deal with the world around them. And how to prepare them, not just what can be done now, but over the years to come.

Add caption

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

One year of taekwondo

Our son started Taekwondo soon after he turned four. We have had the fortune to be able to spend a lot of time doing activities with him, and being fairly competent ourselves, but also realized that there were things missing that we (and daycare) were not filling. One, we wanted him to be engaged in something physical and two, we wanted him to be engaged in the world apart from us.  At this point, while he was a very happy, engaged, curious, and reasonably empathetic child, he also was an introvert (not terribly surprising as both parents are as well). In his case it showed as shyness in the presence of new people, and no assertiveness of will (although this may be attributed to lack of attachment in things,) So we were looking for something that engaged him physically and grew his confidence in interacting with others. There are two sales pitches for martial arts for yourg children,  one is that it installs discipline and an outlet for rowdy, physical kids. That was not our problem.  The second is that it installs confidence. That was our goal.

Knife hand strike
Knife hand strike in Songham 2
We went to a relatively new school that was part of the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) . The impact of being fairly new are that it was still fairly small and it had not generated any black belts yet, so the first benefit was he got a lot of individual attention.  The first times he went he looked but did not do anything, which was expected. The school staff spent a lot of individual time with him talking to him and getting him comfortable. In the meantime he observed what was happening.  Eventually, he got onto the floor and started participating.

The first benefit we saw was increased confidence. Taekwondo represented a set of skills that he could learn and be competent in, and his attention span helped greatly here. He dealt with the instructors and interacted more freely with the other kids than he did before.   A few months in, he had an interview with a prospective kindergarten, and he warmed up to the staff much easier than he had to any other adult (e.g. Day care staff) before. (He usually took 3 months to warm up to new day care staff, either new hires or for when he moved rooms). The curtesies of the school have helped him navigate everyday life in interacting with adults.
Bowing before forms
Bowing before testing
The second benefit was concentration and focus, T always had a good attention span, his day care noted that he was a child who stayed in place while the chaos of preschoolers moved around him from activity to activity. Taekwondo added a long term focus onto this, coupled with his natural attention span, meant that the forms and patterns were something he could develop competency in. So, in contrast to the usual criticism of youth Taekwondo as being merely moving limbs, he learned to put power in his moves. And having an object of focus has helped in his usual shyness and tendency to freeze in public view.

jump front kick in line sparring
Jump front kick while line sparring

The other thing we are looking at in the school is how the older kids are like. Once we figured out that T liked this, and we were in this for the long term, we wanted to know who would be influencing him. In a martial arts school, this would mean the kids who reach black belt and become assistant instructors themselves. We have had some interaction as some of the teens have started assisting with classes. But my real interaction has started when I started taking Taekwondo myself. The classes are small, as it is only  two years old, but you see the teens supporting one another, and also you see the older ones, who are approaching the black belt ranks, taking seriously the role of encouraging the others, it was a different experience to have a group of teens providing encouragement to an adult (me) in my first month.
Line sparring
Line sparring

One other thing that we are looking forward to is that as the years go on, he will know people in his life who have taken this path before, and unlike sports heroes, these are people he knows in the flesh. In addition to Masters level black belts he will meet in the course of his training, he knows people with black belts or equivalent in various disciplines, and people who compete at the highest levels. So the people he sees on YouTube or in other media are real people, and represent something that can be realistically aspired to.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

21 questions to ask a child about daddy

T (5 yr old) decided that it was wakeup time. Note that today is a Saturday, and this was his school day wake up time.  So I decided that if he was going to wake up, he would (1) eat breakfast and (2) play 21 questions (

1.  What is something daddy always says to you?
I don't want to play that game

2.  What makes daddy happy?
Not fighting with T. (Note: fighting refers to the morning routine of waking t up, eating breakfast and getting to school)

3.  What makes daddy sad?
Fighting with T.

4.  How does daddy make you laugh?
Tickling T

5.  What was daddy like as a child?
Crawl a lot. When you (daddy) was really little you did not know how to walk.

6.  How old is daddy?

7.  How tall is daddy?
51 inches (T is 40 inches)

8.  What is daddy's favorite thing to do?

9.  What does daddy do when you're not around?
Working or doing ATA (Note: taekwondo)

10.  If daddy becomes famous what will it be for?
I don't know

11. What is daddy really good at?
Pushing LEGOs together

12. What is daddy not very good at?
Playing piano

13. What does daddy do for his job?
Type letters

14. What is daddy's favorite food?
Turkey (Note: Thanksgiving was last week)

15. What makes you proud of daddy?
When daddy draws in the lines

16. If daddy was a cartoon character who would he be?

17. What do you and daddy do together?

18. How are you and daddy the same?
We are both boys

19. How are you and daddy different
I (T) am short and you (daddy) are tall

20. How do you know daddy loves you?
Daddy reads to T

21. Where is daddy's favorite place to go?
ATA (taekwondo school)