Quality Deck Craftsmanship


When a contractor begins to heap the promises of the perfect deck, lookout!

One of our projects last year was to replace the wooden deck that extended out from the den and sun room. Just like everything else, when the money for home repairs became  tight, the deck project was the perfect candidate to be moved back and rescheduled.

Meantime and while waiting for a financial break, the once mighty redwood deck planks and rails fell into disrepair, victims of humidity, oppressive heat and the monsoon rain.

We had a break at year’s end when we received some money back from our taxes. We searched online for deck building companies, checked with friends for referrals, checked bulletin board postings at the local laundromat and shopping centers. We even checked with our parish church bulletin for advertisements.

A family-owned construction company based in nearby Santa Rosa county submitted a bid of $1800.00. For a small 15′ x 20′ deck that included railings and a four step stairs, the bid seemed reasonable. The job began with a targeted work duration of four days.

“You’ll be barbecuing on your deck in four days,” declared the contractor’s wife. She beamed as she promised the railings to be all plumb and straight, the planks spaced evenly and secured with aluminum screws.

We took all the promises in stride neither doubting nor rejoicing.

After the first day of work we received a phone call. It was the contractor. “Hey listen,” he said. “I have another job on the other side of town and unfortunately the owner changed his job schedule on us. I have to go and complete that job or I won’t get paid.”


Small, simple deck but built right.

My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief. My wife’s face registered puzzlement. Her arm gestures began to resemble airplane propellers in motion. I signaled to her to remain calm.

“How about the deck job you’ve contracted to do for us? When do we expect you back?” I asked.

“I don’t rightfully know. But I will get it done as soon as I can.” The contractor hung up.

We looked up the other company that submitted a bid for $2100.00, called them up to determine if they were still interested in doing the deck job. To cut a long story short, this second company did excellent work. Quality craftsmanship is their signature. We learned a valuable lesson. Saving a few dollars to get a job done often compromises quality of the finished product. When going over job bids, it is best to go with the average price bid, somewhere between the highest bid and the lowest bid.

Of course the company’s references are a great help specially if they don’t mind you taking a look at the finished product done for them.

String Tied to a Door Knob


“See this here string?” Manuel said. “This is how to pull out a loose tooth.”

One day my cousin Manuel showed me how to pull a loose tooth. He was groaning in pain as he pointed at one of his lower front teeth.

“This one,” he said, “hurts like heck and it’s loose. Got to pull it out.” His face showed some swelling around his lower lip.

We were just poor kids growing up in the barrio. He was eight and I was five. It was a given that older kids had more smarts than younger kids. He was only three years older than me but the rule is the rule.

“Go get a string from your Mom’s sewing room,” he commanded.

“What for?” I asked.

“Don’t question. Just do it.” His tone became more authoritative. He was bigger and stronger than me. I complied.

“Okay,” I managed to utter as I ran upstairs to my mother’s sewing room. “Let’s see, bobbins, thimbles, sewing needles, where are the spools of thread…” I was talking to myself.

“Hurry…” Manuel yelled.

I slid down the stair rail and leaped to where Manuel stood, close to the front door, landing perfectly on my feet. I handed him a spool of white nylon thread. Grabbing the spool from my hand, he pulled an arm’s length of string, and tied one end of it to the door knob. Slowly he tied the other end around his loose tooth.

Everything went slow motion – surreal – starting with Manuel slamming the front door shut, his head following the closing door, his chin pulled forward by the taut string extending farther than the rest of his face, culminating in a tooth flying in the air with some blood splattering. I thought I heard Manuel scream obscenities.

“Lord help me,” I managed to utter as I swallowed hard. “If this is the way to pull a loose tooth, I’d have to keep all mine – firm or loose.” You see, I am allergic to pain.

That was ancient history.

Today we don’t have to improvise and treat our dental needs with such primitive ways. We can go to highly specialized dental treatment places like goodbyedentures.ca and expect nothing less than the best, most modern dental treatment approaches. If you lose a tooth you can have it replaced, or if you lose all your teeth and want dentures, they can accommodate you as well.

My cousin Manuel and I both wear dentures now. I may have to look into this dental group for better fitting dentures.

Winding Driveway Project

windingdriveway3Our neighbor, two doors down the road got busy clearing his driveway. Overgrown weeds and meandering vines had practically taken over certain patches and sections of the gravel surface. The deepening ruts, courtesy of his Ford F-350 monster truck, now brimming with rain water from the unprecedented downpour over the last couple of days practically converted the driveway into a military obstacle course.

Rumor has it that his wife filed a grievance and since her tiny Mini Cooper cannot negotiate the current driveway terrain my neighbor had to do something about it or else. You know how those grievances turned into orders from above go. There’s no known recourse, or a chance for appeal.

I saw him early Monday morning driving stakes to the ground, walking behind a measuring tape on rollers, taking notes on his pocket spiral notebook. I was on my way to the tractor supply place.

“Howdy Mr T – looks like a big project’s about to be launched…” I stopped my truck momentarily to engage my neighbor in conversation.

“Yup,” he said without looking up. He appeared to be preoccupied with numbers. “Heading somewhere?” he continued still not looking up.

“I’m going to the tractor supply place. Anything I can get you while I’m there?” I offered.

windingdriveway4“Nah… I think I’m set.” He finally looked up.

“Looks like you are going to do it. Finally.” I said to him, extending my hand for a handshake. For a while and off and on he and I have talked about him fixing his driveway.

“Well, we’ve had too much dang rain,” he began. “And the Missus, you know, she drives that there foreign-made golf cart they call a car.” He shook his head. He wanted to say more but he stopped – as if afraid to continue, for fear word might get back to his wife and he would then be in more trouble.

“Them things sit way low on the ground,” I commiserated with him. I drive a Toyota Tundra myself so I know about Mini Cooper vehicles. The ones we have locally swish, swerve and weave all over the country roads just because they are small and can squeeze themselves in-between bigger cars. “I think Mini Coopers are a nuisance, don’t you?” I asked him rhetorically.

“So I have to finally cement the driveway – completely,” he said resignedly.

“Who’s doing the job?” I inquired.

windingdriveway2“Oh I looked at Craigslist and contacted this starving students group. They charge the cheapest rates,” he said with a certain air of pride in his negotiating skills.

I shuddered at the thought.

“I see you’ve got this site all planned out,” I continued, craning my neck to look at a spot where the driveway jogs around a water oak tree. “And what are you going to do with that site there?” I pointed at the curb by the water oak.

“Oh that… well, I’ll have reinforced concrete poured there.” He was off to his project.

I drove off feeling a little sad for my neighbor. Crafts people who list on Craigslist often have been known to exaggerate their credentials, their licenses, and sometimes aren’t too reliable to finish the job before they bail.

Maybe my neighbor will be lucky.

My Office… in disarray, failing environmentally

ductfloridahomeGenerally speaking, our house feels comfortable throughout. I contend that here in Florida, we only have three seasons – Winterspring, Summer and Fall. Yes it may get cold in Winter and we may have freezes every now and then but snow doesn’t normally fall in Florida.

Florida Summers, spoiled only by humid dog days in the Southland, are grand and sunshiny bright. Fall arrives as a welcome respite from the out of control heat wave. By and large, we’ve enjoyed living here for the past 13 years.

We installed fans, air conditioning systems, a heated pool and even an emergency generator. Of all the rooms in the house, the master bedroom presents the most balanced climate control. Never humid, never dry, never just plain cold – the ambient temperature remains at a very comfortable range.

ductofficeThe upstairs rooms vary in degrees of feel. Though not overly air-conditioned, like a theater, the room temperatures remain at a constant level of control. The only room that acts up intermittently is my office. Loaded with three, clunky desktop computers, two networked laser printers, a fax machine, old overhead projectors, slide projectors, reel-to-reel tapes from yesteryear, my office resembles a repository movie set in the Harry Potter series. But wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, and I am paraphrasing, “A clean office is indicative of an idle mind” or some such thing. So it comforts me to think that my office in utter disarray presents an image of a fertile, creative and productive mind.

duct-cleaningB4AfterI am proud of my Harry Potter repository office. But there is a problem. It gets warm and humid in my office. I suspect the ducts need cleaning. Either that or I need a bigger portable, stand alone air conditioner. Which I will never get, by the way, because I’ve been told there is no budget for such luxury items. The ducts haven’t been inspected in three or so years. Maybe I’ll talk to duct cleaning folks, like professional duct cleaners from aerosealsolutions.ca/. I wonder how much it costs to have a good total duct system clean-up. With Summer in full blast, perhaps now would be a good time to investigate such a clean-up project.

ductcleanofficeWe’re having a family budget meeting tonight. I will ask the family CFO if this “comfort” project has funding possibilities. I feel good just thinking about it. Maybe we can finally get it done. It’s been a long time coming.

I believe my office can look and should look clean and organized… like this photo at right. I have my task in front of me. First I need to prove my project to sort of “grease the skids for,” or insinuate a budget.

So as not to provoke arguments, “human comfort” could be a good and compelling reason for a clean up. If not, I can always plead “for health reasons”. Couldn’t I?

(All photos courtesy of BING)

This New Technology

KarenMakilCristinaJavier01Almost 90% of our staff volunteers work and reside overseas. Some in Canada, many in the US. We have a member who works in Singapore, another one in Israel and two more based in Italy. Our main high school campus is in the Philippines. The students in our program attend school there. Our Field Team is based there locally in the town of Tagudin, province of Ilocos Sur. As you can well imagine, we use electronic mail as our primary mode of communication.

We also have a virtual classroom set up to give our students online learning experiences. A flurry of online discussions happens weekly and our Internet service provider back in the Philippines is left scrambling most of the time. “More bandwidth,” our Field Team would scream. “Where is the IT department?”

BimmangaGradSmallSASAiMy goodness, an IT department? These guys are very young and are used to smart phones, twitter, social networks. Us older folks are content with pen and paper. My, my, where has time gone. Not a day passes when we get call cut offs, down time because of power fluctuations back in the Philippines. During scheduled corporate meetings, our conference calls sometimes turn into nightmarish sounding conversations. “Unclean, unclean!” is the mantra – not too far removed from the greeting of the lepers of old when coming upon a group of healthy people.

We are still in the primitive stages of Internet technology. Wouldn’t it be grand if we had access to the services of an organization like  http://calitso.com/ so we can begin to clean up our act? This would mean less frustrated volunteers, less disheartened students and a more fluid and smoother communication stream all the way.

Flat Feet

flatfeet1The Navy recruiter set us up to take the battery tests, the first part of the selection and admission process for all Navy applicants. Next came the physical exams. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never had a physical exam before. Stripped to our boxer shorts we formed a line and moved forward between two examiners. One had a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer, and the other an ear inspection flashlight looking gadget with a beak. Progress was slow.

Then we came to the scales, got weighed and proceeded to lie belly flat on a metal table where the technician gleefully took our temperatures using a good old rectal thermometer. At this point I felt abused. Next we went through the cardiac stress tests. An applicant ahead of me was on the treadmill. The doctor instructed the corpsman to increase the slope elevation to 4 with the speed set at 3.5 mph. The applicant began to gasp for air. His breathing became labored.

flatfeet2“Stop the treadmill,” barked the doctor.

“Aye Sir,” replied the corpsman. The treadmill came to a virtual stop.

The doctor checked the applicant with his stethoscope, listening from every spot on the man’s chest, back, sides, and even on his neck. “Breathe!” he said as he moved his listening piece from side to side on the man’s back.

“Heart murmur,” the doctor commented looking at the note-taker assisting him. “Irregular heartbeat on the left ventricle,” the doctor added.

We never saw that applicant again after the diagnosis. The physical exams continued throughout the day, with the line of applicants becoming shorter. I hadn’t noticed but some of the applicants headed toward the locker room to get ready to leave. We surmised they didn’t make it through the physical exams at that point.

flatfeetThe Petty Officer in charge herded us to the foot doctor’s office. “Hello. I’m Doctor Wright Foote. Don’t laugh. I’m going to look at your sole, I can be a heel if you don’t coöperate…” he greeted us with a smile. Some of us looked puzzled.

“Is this the chaplain’s office?” asked one Smart Aleck applicant.

“No we are at the foot doctor’s, I think,” insisted one, not catching the joke. Oh well. It takes all kinds.

We sat down in the waiting room and given permission to read some of the literature and magazines. I remember one medical journal cover that had a feature story emblazoned on the cover:  Medical Foot Solutions. The article presented the results of a study on flat feet and how the condition can have an impact on the safety of seamen serving aboard seagoing vessels. The article talked about the vessel’s pitch and yaw, the rocking and rolling from port to starboard and from fore to aft and how flat feet could be a liability.

flatfeet3Long time ago when I attended grade school, our gym teacher told me

I had flat feet. But that the arch can become better and more pronounced over time as I grow older and my bones develop. The foot doctor, besides tickling my sole and remarking I had good nerve sensitivity, gave me a clean bill of health. I served in the Navy for 20 years and retired from military service.

Natural Remedies for Migraines

HomeBusAs a youngster growing up in the province, folks didn’t have easy access to pharmacies or dispensaries to fill medical prescriptions – least of all, over the counter drugs like aspirin, allergy pills or even vitamin supplements. To my knowledge, the closest pharmacy was in San Fernando city, about 78 kilometers away.

There were public buses for such distances. Of course the well-to-do had their jeeps and cars – some families with their own chauffeurs even, but the peasants either hoofed it, or took the bus. We were members of the peasantry.

HomeBananaAt my grandfather’s house where we stayed, I’d hear my spinster aunts talk about their migraine headaches they suffered from mostly during their monthly cycles. “Here comes this damned headache again. My head’s splitting. Is there any aspirin left in the house?” my aunt Bertha would ask.

“Nope. I think Carlina took the last tablet last month,” replied my aunt Lourdes.

“Then why in God’s name didn’t she say something?” my aunt Bertha bellowed with palpable agitation. “We could have picked some up while we were in Vigan. She always does this!” She hissed.

Homegreen-banana-slices“Hey… why don’t you ask her?” my aunt Lourdes was feigning coolness. Fact is, she was the fiercest among my three spinster aunts. If she had the headache the whole house would be a war zone.

Aunt Laure (pronounced Lah-Ore), who helped with my aunts’ blanket weaving home business walked in. “What’s all the noise?” she queried.

“Ah… Bertha’s having a migraine, and she’s looking for some aspirin. Carlina used the last of it last month… without telling anyone so we could have refilled it. So Bertha sounds frustrated,” my aunt Lourdes explained.

Aunt Laure said, “Not a problem. Haven’t you ever heard of the natural way of curing migraines?”

My aunt Lourdes gave aunt Laure a skeptical look. It was the stink eye – really. I’ve seen my aunt Lourdes give this same kind of look when dealing with the fishermen who manned the family’s fishing boat and nets during negotiations about the volume of the catch.

“Well? Speak, O Wise One of the Ages. I’m all ears.” Her tone sounded sarcastic.

HomeweavingMy grandfather’s backyard was literally a banana plantation. There were at least 20, mature, healthy and fruit-bearing banana trees thriving. I know this because I used to trap young, unemployed spiders that lived in the banana trees for the school campus spider-fights. We always had bananas in the house in all stages of greenness and ripeness.

Aunt Laure took a green banana fruit from a bunch lying by the sink. With a paring knife she cut crosswise a couple of slices (about 3/16th’s of an inch thick). She called out to aunt Bertha. Aunt Laure pasted the green banana slices one unto each temple.

With the green banana slices stuck to her temples, Aunt Bertha went back to her weaving loom and worked the entire rest of the afternoon. We didn’t hear any complaints about her migraine headache.

(Photos courtesy of BING images)