Here are some pictures of the finished deck!

Looking out the new door:

Looking at the new door from the outside. This is the covered area right out the door. On the left is the privacy screen. We have a child gate here, so that Calix can play safely right outside the kitchen door, and I can watch him!

Calix’s window:

Mama’s coffee nook:

Looking at the east end of the deck:

Looking back from the east end of the deck:

Looking back toward the house from the stairs. The pole keeps you from bonking your head on some low eaves:

Views from the deck:

Going down the stairs to the back yard:

One fancy post cap:

Colin’s chin-up bar:

The deck has been coming along famously in the last couple of months. Here are some pictures from the process.

Digging holes for the feet:

Cutting rebar to reinforce the cement footing into the earth:

Pouring the footings for the posts:

Framing going up:

Decking being laid, and posts for railings going up:

Awning installed, window removed, hole for door being cut:

The door, waiting to be installed:

My temporarily super-crowded-but-protected kitchen:

A working door from the kitchen to the deck!:

Well, I guess I must have taking-care-of-Calix down to feeling pretty manageable, because recently the project management and design parts of my brain have been getting itchy. After casting about a bit for a project, I decided to tackle a dream of ours to build a deck.

If you’ve ever been to our house, you know that we have a pretty ginormous back yard, and we don’t make very good use of it. Meanwhile, the path it takes to go from the house to the back yard is a bit circuitous and ends up requiring just enough activation energy that we rarely do it, even after buying some cheap lawn furniture. My dream has been to build a deck that has an entrance right off of the kitchen.

We’re really lucky that Colin’s brother Owen is a knows-how-to-do-everything and does-it-well kind of guy, and he happened to be available to take on the construction job. He was alsokind enough to spend time looking at the house and talking with me about the goals and some of the potential caveats for the deck.

I spent a lot of time on the deck design, using one of my favorite software programs – OmniGraffle. The first step was to take a bunch of measurements of the outside of the house. A very useful feature of OmniGraffle for this projet was the ability to set a scale for each canvas. So, I could say that my scale was 1 inch = 5 feet, and then I could enter all of my measurements exactly as they were, and they were scaled appropriately for my 8.5 x 11 inch canvas.

Another helpful OmniGraffle feature was the idea of having master canvasses. I built one master canvas to model the area as viewed from above:

The house is on the top left, in black lines. Brown represents fences and other dividers, like railroad ties. In the upper center are steps coming down to the back yard. Covered steps go into the basement. Another set of steps at the bottom of the picture goes to the next tiered section of the back yard. These steps are flanked with trees and a boulder garden area.

The second master canvas models the view when standing in the back yard, looking at the back of the house.

Here you can see the placement of the critical windows. The windows with the best views are the kitchen window on the top left, and the basement office window on the bottom left. Unfortunately, the basement window will probably be partially obscured by the deck, although we took a number of measures to keep the blockage minimal. The upper kitchen window will be replaced with a glass door.

(It would have been really nice to do this modeling using some true 3D design software. But after some investigations, I determined those packages to have too steep of a learning curve for my purposes. I’m very familiar with OmniGraffle from software project management, so I stuck with that.)

Once I had the master canvases modeling the existing house structure, I could design various decks on top of the masters. Since I ended up trying out about 20 different deck designs in the end, it was very useful to be able to tweak the master canvas and have it apply to each appropriate design.

Owen was great and spent a bunch of time going over my designs with me. In the end, we both came to one that seemed just right, and this is the one that is being built as I type!

Below is the view from above:

The kitchen window is replaced with a door, and you walk out from the kitchen onto a small platform with room for a chair. There is a plexiglass cover, so that you can sit on the platform sipping your coffee and watching the rain fall.

The first set of steps leads up to the main deck area. Turns out we had to elevate the deck to make it high enough to walk under. The main area has a built-in bench and enough space for a picnic table.

A single step from the main area leads up to a side extension could have a grill or just be used to throw water balloons onto people coming late to the party.

Steps go down to the back yard. The placement of the steps was one of Owen’s critical contributions to the design. He realized that you need to have a smooth flow between the steps coming to the back yard from the side of the house, the steps going down to the back yard, and the steps going up to the deck. I think the current placement works great.

The side view is below:

You can get a better idea of the levels here, and you can also just barely see Colin’s addition to the plan – a chin-up bar :).

The fencing is horizontal steel cables (Owen’s suggestion), which is going to be really nice because it is basically see-through from the deck to the back yard. On the neighbor-facing sides, there will be privacy fence.

I’m super excited about the plan, and it seems to be coming together well outside so far (well, just the footings are in the ground, but still)!

One time when I was fairly new to Washington, I was backpacking by myself out in the Olympic Peninsula. I kept hearing the strangest sound. I couldn’t figure out what it was, and my only guess was that there was something in the structure of my backpack rubbing against something else. I must’ve taken off my backpack and adjusted it about 4 times when I came around the corner and came face to face with something like this:

A blue grouse! I’ve since heard them a number of times when walking around in the forests in the fall (their call can be heard for miles). I always laugh to think of adjusting my backpack over and over again that first time.

You can hear the call at borealbirds.org

I haven’t looked at my xiebob dashboard in a while, but I just wandered over to see that one of the searches for finding my blog of late has been “how to eat a tranchla whole(no bites)”. Awesome.

Jessica, holding a tarantula

Jessica, holding a tarantula

We finally managed to get up a post announcing the birth of our child, who arrived on February 12. For more, see the Morula Logs – http://morulalogs.wordpress.com/.

Dawkins claims that his target audience for this book is the religious and and the agnostic. His goal for this audience is to make them realize that they have the option of rejecting religion. Unfortunately, I think it’s highly unlikely that anybody who is actually religious would make it more than a few chapters into this book.

Dawkins lays out great arguments for why he refuses to walk on eggshells around religious belief, for why faith shouldn’t be the only thing we exempt from the free discussion and disagreement we insist upon in every other area of our lives. However, our cultural conventions are such that we ARE used to people tiptoeing around belief, and if you’re trying specifically to get religious people to listen to your arguments for why atheism makes sense, it might not be the best time to treat their beliefs with scorn.

While I’m not Dawkins’ target audience, I found this book quiet valuable. As a prominent atheist, Dawkins has had exposure to every possible argument for God’s existence, and he is able to lay each of them out in turn and explain why he thinks they don’t work. Having thought hard about religion all my life, there was little that I hadn’t considered before reading the book, but having everything laid out in an organized, point-by-point fashion was certainly nothing I had seen before.

I found the book deteriorated a bit into random complaining at the end. Despite that, I think it’s well worth reading for anybody who can stomach Dawkins’ highly irreverent attitude about belief. Even those who can’t make it through the entire thing might want to read the section about WHY we shouldn’t have to treat faith so specially. The argument against holding faith in a place of respect is at least as important an idae to come from this book as the actual arguments for why it doesn’t make sense for God to exist.

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