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September 30, 2014 2:52 pm

Pookah 2001

It was 1995 shortly after my birthday. I was living in Santa Cruz, California with my two unofficial foster daughters. One afternoon when I got home they insisted there was a siamese kitten living under the big bush in the garden. I didn’t believe them.

Pookah 2007

That weekend though, when I was gardening, not just a siamese but also two black kittens came wandering out of that bush before their mom hissed at me and they ran away. There were quite a few strays in the rather “transitional” neighborhood which was still half rubble strewn fields after the Loma Prieta earthquake.


I set about trapping the kittens. Pookah came first. Eventually I also caught one of his siblings, but his mother and the third one disappeared after that. The sibling went to the local no-kill shelter but Pookah stayed.

At first we debated about his name. Bonnie and Brynn advocated for “Velcro” because he liked to climb us like cat trees and hang from his claws as we walked around. I insisted he would shortly outgrow that name, though. I don’t remember who suggested Pookah, but the name came with the story that a Pookah is a spirit of a place, like a rock or a bush. It seemed to fit, so Pookah he became.

We moved from Santa Cruz to San Jose in 1998, then to Sequim, Washington in 1999, which is where the first photo was taken when he was about 5. From there to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where we had two homes, and then back across the country to Seattle, WA where we are on our third home.

Pookah 2007

In every one of these homes he was an avid hunter and became the neighborhood cat in charge. He would be friendly and affectionate to other cats who didn’t contest his lordship, but beat all others to ribbons. If I went for a walk he would always accompany me. When I lived in Sequim and went walking in the woods he would insist on being carried across streams. 

We lost five barn cats in the four years I was in Sequim. There were bald eagles, coyotes, bears, and a cougar on the property so it’s little wonder it was a hard life for a cat. Pookah never got so much as a bad scratch.

This is a cat who routinely chased raccoons off the compost bin and I once watched face down a coyote. He scarcely ate cat food in the summer, preferring to catch rodents. He has kept all my homes rodent free until this one. He prefers squirrels, but eating others when he caught them. He once brought home a rabbit that may have outweighed him. Our yard was always strewn with little bones.


He never would tolerate being an inside cat. I tried at virtually all of my houses, but he would sulk and engage in chemical warfare which always won him freedom of movement. He loved lounging on warm sidewalks and miaowing at passers by for attention. I kept my phone number and address on his collar tag, and he was returned to me regularly in any new neighborhood until all the locals knew him. 

He got along well with other cats in the household, and dogs as well, up to our poodle Caprica. He was so frail by the time she came around that he never put her in her place when she was small. IMG_0572

In 2007 I decided it was time to get a kitten, as he was 12 and it seemed likely that most of his life was behind him. We ended up with two, Princess and Mickey. He doted on the two of them, and eventually taught them both to hunt. Princess, unfortunately, wasn’t so savvy about being out of doors. She was tiny but fearless, and we suspect a coyote was the end of her. She left us in 2012.


Pookah had a way of “stalking” a lap. I could push him out three or four times, and still find him back again without noticing how he got there. I acclimated, and learned to work around him.

Pookah offers to help

He also recognized screens as his natural enemy, and was quite skilled at interposing himself between us and them whenever he wanted attention.


And he loved us. He slept in our beds with us every night in spite of occasional forceful ejections. If we sat on a couch it wasn’t long before he was with us.

Zack and Pookah napping

He’s been slowing down for several years, but this last year has been particularly noticeable. He sleeps most of the time, He has been in progressively more pain from arthritis, stopped grooming himself, and sort of wasted away. In his prime he was about 9 pounds; I wouldn’t be surprised if he were half that now. 

Still, he has continued to sleep with us, jump on counters, and occasionally hunt. I watched him catch a mouse last week in the blackberry brush across the driveway from the house. He has loved this, his last home. He has spent his days following the sunbeams from couch to porch to carpet to chair as they move through the house from east to west. He seems to know where all the best places are. 

Pookah and Mickey

He has never liked the cold, and that has become increasingly obvious as he’s gotten older and stiffer. I am glad he got a last summer. 

He woke us up this morning crying, and could scarcely stand. It became obvious that he has lost sensation in his back end. I have been making him as comfortable as I could through the day. We have an appointment in about an hour to put him to sleep.

Farewell, old man. Good hunting.


Rolling Chair Mat

September 29, 2014 11:44 am

Today’s post will feature our quickie project from the weekend, because the tiling is on a timeout.

One of the little projects that has been malingering around here is making a rolling chair mat for David. Our carpets are super squishy, enough so the chair mats we had cracked immediately when we sat in our desk chairs.

I’m still suffering with carpet and making plans, but we purchased a box of laminate floor months ago for David’s mat, and it’s been buried in his closet. We excavated it last week when I was helping him get things bait more orderly, and it got put on the weekend task list.

The laminate strips are 48” long, which is a generous size for a floor mat. We decided to cut two down to the right size to fit between his desk legs so he wouldn’t roll off. 38” was the absolute widest, but to make it easier to fit we went with 36”. So first there was marking:

2014-09-28 12.36.50-2.jpg

I like making lots of marks:

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And then using a square to average them out:

2014-09-28 12.39.32-2.jpg

Note that I mark with sharpie. I do this because the kerf of my saw blade is about the same width as a wide tip sharpie. “Kerf” is the term for what gets turned into sawdust when you use a saw to cut something. There is a width to that cut, and it’s important to bear that in mind when measuring and marking to avoid sadness.

So here are the two boards that will become the extension of the mat. Notice also that I only marked one. I’ll be cutting them together, so as to be pretty certain of having them end up the same size:

2014-09-28 12.39.50-2.jpg

Next we set the saw up on a table in the driveway:

2014-09-28 12.45.51-2.jpg

Note the safety glasses, and the fact that I store the saw with the blade lock engaged. Also the saw is well clamped to the table, so it won’t start wandering from the vibrations when I start cutting. 

Plugged in the saw. I like tying the two cords in a knot where they join, so it’s harder to unplug them accidentally when walking around:

2014-09-28 12.45.46-2.jpg

Here’s my flustered assistant after I announced he would be doing the cutting: 

2014-09-28 12.45.53-2.jpg

When I put the flooring on the table I discovered it was just a little too wide for the saw to make it through in one cut: 

2014-09-28 12.47.33-2.jpg

You can kinda see that the boards are stacked, and they extend a little bit past the blade slot in the table. This means I shouldn’t really make that cut if I were following proper safety guidelines, and I wasn’t going to start David out on a chop saw by making a tricky cut. He got to support the long end of the boards, and make some practice cuts on pallet wood scraps instead.

I completed the cut by cutting as much as I could, then rotating the boards and cutting from the other side to complete the cut. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Next up was assembly. This laminate floor is click-lock, which means it doesn’t require glue when used as a floor. That’s excellent in normal situations because it means individual boards can be swapped out if they get damaged, but for our application we need it to hold together when squished by a task chair wheel into a thick carpet. That means we needed to glue.

So we laid out boards:

2014-09-28 12.54.08-2.jpg

Ran a line of glue down the joint:

2014-09-28 12.54.29-2.jpg


and clicked them together by inserting the top board at an angle:

2014-09-28 12.55.25-2.jpg

And then flattening them out:

2014-09-28 12.55.32-2.jpg

Not too much glue, because it can keep the joint from closing all the way. There is too much on the edge here:

2014-09-28 12.54.42-2.jpg

and that leads to glue forcing its way out through the seams, and the boards not fitting properly: 

2014-09-28 12.55.37-2.jpg

We wiped off the excess glue on top, then pulled the boards apart and wiped some of the glue out of the joint, and then they went together nicely. In an ideal situation there would be exactly enough glue to fill the spaces in the joint but not enough to overflow. In practice, with manufactured flooring, less tends to be more. The surfaces are going to fit together pretty tightly such that the glue will make a good bond. Too much actually makes the joint weaker, and creates a noticeable gap between boards.

Having a sponge, clean water, and a towel around is essential. There will be glue going where you don’t want it.

Last up was attaching the chair lip:

2014-09-28 13.08.21-2.jpg

We used the tape measurement to get it pretty much centered on the boards. Note that this particular floor allowed us to install boards cross-wise to each other. I decided this might further reinforce the joins between the long boards, so that’s what we did. 

Then we waited. It started curing on the porch for about 8 hours:

2014-09-28 13.14.16-2.jpg

then was moved gently into place to finish curing overnight. I apologize in advance for the poor lighting and messy state of D’s office, but here’s the mat doing its job: 


David’s happy with it, and it seems completely solid. It’s more attractive than those plastic mats, and *much* less expensive. I believe the box of laminate was about $25. 

I may pull it out and use my laminate trimmer to round off the edges and remove the joint lips. Then again, it seems fine as is, so I may not. I’m pretty confident this will hold up to the job we’re asking it to perform until we decide to afford to replace the carpets with hardwood or laminate.

* * *

For them what wants to know what the tile did wrong, here is the update: 

I was 4 tiles away from done with the project when I broke one. For which there was no spare. I purchases two spares originally, and these are 12×24” tiles so that should have been plenty, but our layout for this room had to make several rearrangements due to Surprise! issues that came up during the construction, so I had ended up with no spare tiles.

Actually, I was about 6 tiles short of what I wanted, but I rearranged the layout to use the leftover travertine mosaic tile from the upstairs bath in a way that would cover the bathroom nicely. And for a bonus I got away from fussy cuts around the plumbing fixtures.

I’ve spent the whole project terrified of breaking a tile. I made sure they were handled carefully, only put down on a mat or on cardboard, and generally sweated from the time a tile was pulled from the box until it was on the wall. Then, during the install, I tapped one with a rubber mallet to help settle it into the mortar level with its neighbors, and it fractured into 8 triangular pieces radiating from the center. 

I spent at least a minute just staring at it and thinking furiously about what to do before I could bring myself to pull the broken pieces off the wall and scrape off the mortar.

When I pulled it away I discovered that there was a joint in the hardibacker that wasn’t level, and where I hit the tile was over the piece that was deeper. The lip between the boards was apparently enough, in combination with the tap from the mallet, to break this tile.

While I was scraping and cleaning up and trying not to cry I came up with a strategy. Plan A was to call the supplier and see if possibly maybe they had more of this tile we had purchased on super markdown closeout. Plan B was to extend the travertine mosaic tiles to cover more of the wall behind the tub. 

I just got off the phone with the supplier and she has one more box she’s holding for me, so phew. I don’t have to make a drastic rearrangement of my thinking. Also, meh. I am so tired of big tiles. But only about four more pieces to attach to the wall, and DONE. I like done. Well, done with the wall. Still have to make the slate vanity counter and the slate window sill and half wall ledge. Anyway. Much progress was made.

Tile will be done soon. Possibly tomorrow, if I can get the layout done today and the grout tomorrow. Then contractors come back. Then it’s a bathroom, and the planned construction on the house is officially complete. 

I call the first bath in the new tub— I’ve earned it!!!

Tile is Hard!

September 26, 2014 9:07 am

I had hoped to be done with the bathroom tiling but, well, I ended up going on two Epic Quests this week to hardware stores to find (1) the specific mortar I’ve been using and (2) the QEP tile leveling system I need to install the large tiles. Each required checking multiple hardware stores, and the mortar ended up requiring a will-call trip to the local distributor.

Each store, of course, had to re-check the shelf when I reported they were out of stock before they checked their computer to determine that Yep! That’s out of stock! Grr. Anyway. Hours were spent, things were found, tiling continued.

Monday I posted this picture:

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I snapped this at one of my breaks yesterday: 

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And here’s the state of the wall at the moment:

2014-09-25 22.09.02.jpg

The wall tile and the travertine mosaic blend more pleasantly in person than in my crappy cell phone camera’s eye. When it’s all done I’ll take out the good camera. The Monday photo above (which was taken in daylight) has a much closer representation of the colors.

The tools and materials are all on top of the tub: 

2014-09-25 18.50.17.jpg

which is what needs tiling next. That will be my job on Sunday. Then (hopefully) grouting on Monday, and we can call the contractors back to finish up!

I found some nice dark grey slate with a rough surface finish that will complement the pebbles in the floor tile. That will be the window sill, the ledge of the wall, and the counter under the vessel sink. I made some test cuts yesterday, and after adjusting the wet saw a bit it was quite happy to cut through them. I ripped the narrow strips that will be placed under the tile where it overhangs whatever surface it’s on. This will all make more sense with photos. 

I’m learning a lot about laying tile. Mostly, it HURTS. Kneeling for hours while wrestling with thick mud is surprisingly taxing. Or, perhaps not so surprising in retrospect, but I hadn’t anticipated the physical toll this work would take.

It’s also wet and messy. I was never the kid who wanted to play in the mud puddles. Ever. I liked building sand castles so long as I didn’t get too sandy myself. The answer to almost every issue in tiling seems to be add more water or add more mud.

I have gone through more sponges on this task than in every other task in my adult life combined. Caustic mud + porous foam = goo. I’ve taken to cutting the sponges in half or thirds, and I pretty much expect them to start disintegrating after one or two uses. And there are few things more tedious than picking disintegrating sponge bits out of rapidly setting grout. New sponges are your friend.

I am developing a fair proficiency at one of the former gaps in my DIY home owner knowledge, and have amassed a set of tools for doing this work. I’m pretty sure I can figure out most any tile layout I want to in the future, and will be much more savvy in assessing how hard a given task will be going in.

Tiling will be in the “Approach with caution” set of home tasks with tasks like cabinetry work and wall modifications, not the “never again” set that includes drywall and roof work, or the “I will never pay someone to do this” set that includes changing out light switches, painting, and minor plumbing repairs and upgrades. (There is also the “too much risk if I eff up” set of tasks that involves significant plumbing and electrical changes, and anything to do with gas.)

Soon, it will be done. One more tiling push, and then the grouting, et voila. I will take a bath in my giant new soaking tub and it will all have been worth it.

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