Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Wet Blanket

Sometimes I think that it's my purpose in life to be the wet blanket. This isn't always the most fun or popular role to play, but alas, it seems I can't avoid it. Have you seen the video below? It's an extremely popular video of a Minnesota couple's wedding ceremony. Whaddya think?

Here comes the wet blanket: I'm not a fan. Yes it's fun, yes it's cute, yes it's funny, but I also think it cheapens - at least to some extent - the wedding ceremony.

I think this is because the actual meaning of a wedding ceremony has been lost on most Americans, even most Christians. Marriage isn't just a ceremony where vows are spoken and candles are lit. Rather, it is a covenant between two people and God. The husband and wife aren't just making promises of love and fidelity to each other, but also to God. It's an extremely serious commitment, and, as the Book of Common Prayer encourages, is "not to be entered into lightly."

So then, why do we treat the ceremony so flippantly? I've been to several weddings that have begun with some kind of goofy introduction. For example, one wedding I went to had the minister repeating the lines of the priest from The Princess Bride (Mawwige is what bwings us hew togeva today.). Is that really appropriate at a ceremony where two people are going to make a vow before God? The two just don't seem to fit in my mind, and I apply the same reasoning to the above video (not to mention the use of a crazy dance song during a sacred ceremony!). I have yet to perform a wedding in my ministerial career, but I think I can say with certainty that I would not be a part of one that did not treat the ceremony with the respect and seriousness it was due. Nowadays a wedding ceremony seems to be seen more as a formality that people have to go throw so they can get to the party afterwards.

On the other hand, I don't think I'm a prude who would be so uptight as to not allow a little good natured fun (for example, my best man at my wedding was going to give a prank ring to the minister, but chickened out at the last moment). A marriage is a time of celebration, but it is also a time of deep reflection, contemplation, and self examination. I just miss seeing people take their wedding seriously.

OK, I'm done being the wet blanket.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Toilet Adventures

Don't worry - this isn't a post about using a toilet, but rather my adventures over the last three days in my efforts to replace my toilet.

It all started about 4 months ago when I noticed that one of the ceiling tiles in my basement bathroom had some brown spots on it that signify a leak somewhere. I took the tile down and saw what I could see. It looked to me as though water were coming in from the outside. The sewer pipe was right in front of my face, but it didn't show any signs of leaking, so I stuck with my original conclusion. I asked a plumber friend of mine, and he concurred: no plumbing leak.

As the days and weeks passed by, more brown spots showed up on the tile, and then it began to sag. I wasn't sure what I could do if it was a foundation problem, or if the leak was coming in from outside, so I kind of left the leak out of sight, out of mind.

The last two weeks were pretty bad. The tile was really sagging, and it finally broke. Now the actual leak had finally revealed itself. There still wasn't any visible problem with the plumbing, but something above the floorboards was definitely leaking. The wood was wet around the sewer pipe. The toilet was right above where the water was collecting, so I concluded that it had to be a leak in wax ring that seats the toilet to the sewer pipe.

The first thing I did was go and buy a new toilet on Saturday. I splurged and bought the "American Standard" toilet (which, by the way, is made in Mexico - go figure). The guy at Home Depot told me their sales schtick was that the toilet could flush a whole bucket full of golf balls. What can I say, I'm a sucker for good flushing power.

So I got home with the new toilet and proceeded to take the old one up. When I got the toilet up off the floor, I discovered that the flange that surrounds the sewer pipe and holds the toilet to the floor had corroded so badly on one side that one side of the slot that holds the carriage bolt had completely rusted off. And the wax ring was practically non-existent. No wonder I was getting water in the basement.

So I took off what remained of the old wax ring, jury-rigged the new carriage bolt with a wide washer that fit underneath the flange and on top of the floor for leverage, and seated the new toilet onto the pipe. I put the nuts on the bolts and started tightening them down. The bolt on the left side took very well, and tightened up nicely. As I was tightening the bolt on the right side I heard a snap, and the whole toilet went loose. What happened? The flange on the right side of the toilet snapped whe I tightened up the nut! So pretty much all of my work the whole afternoon was for naught. Worse yet, I had no idea how I was going to secure the toilet to the floor with no flange on the pipe. I gave up for the night and went to bed.

A trip to Home Depot the next day solved my problem: they sell a flange that attaches to the floor over the opening of the pipe. So I bought one, gooped up the floor around the pipe, and screwed the new flange to the floor. It worked perfectly. I seated the new toilet onto the pipe and and bolted it down. Success.

My next task was to hook up the supply line from the shut-off valve to the tank. I ran into a problem here, though. The supply coming from the valve was a 1950's model, and the line that new toilets use didn't match the supply. So I decided to just replace the whole valve.

I went back to the Home Depot with the old valve and asked them to match it up. The guy at the store gave me a pressure valve which, unbeknownst to me, was not the kind I needed. I found this out when I went home and tried to attach the valve. It didn't work. So I went back to Home Depot and got a threaded valve and brought it home. This time, it was too big. It was a 1/2 inch, and I needed 3/8 inch. By this time the store had closed so I couldn't go back to get the right size.

So now, Monday comes and I finally get back to the Home Depot to get a 3/8 inch threaded shut-off valve. I hook it up to the water line, and then get out the supply line to connect the valve to the tank. Get this: the line is about 1/2 inch too short! Back to Home Depot. I got home, attached the right line, and the toilet works like a dream. Although I have yet to flush a bucket full of golf balls!

I probably went to and from the Home Depot a half dozen times to get all of the right parts. It was a long job, but it's finally done, and I am now free to go numbers 1 and 2 all I want. Indoor plumbing really is a cool thing - even if it takes some time to get it right.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm Feeling Numb

That's the title of a cool U2 song. It's also the condition of my left thigh at the moment.

A couple of weeks ago I started to have some pretty bad back pain, mostly in my lower back. It started pretty suddenly: one day I just stood up from my desk at work and my back was pretty stiff. I didn't think much of it until later that day when I stood up again, and it was even more stiff, plus there was some pain. Things got worse over the following days.

It got so that every time I stood up after sitting down for a time at my desk, I could barely walk because my back was so stiff and sore. And the pain lingered. It would hurt me on into the evenings, and pretty soon it was a regular thing. I finally made the link that my pain was probably associated with the chair that I sit in at my desk, considering that my back was most stiff when I stood up from it. I started sitting in a straight - back chair late last week, and it has been getting better. Until yesterday.

It was yesterday that I finally got around to replacing the toilet in our main level bathroom at home. It had been leaking for a while, and it just needed to be replaced. I had replaced a couple toilets before, so I wasn't too intimidated by the job. I went and bought a toilet, and then came home and pulled the old one out. When the old one was out, I noticed that one of the slots for the carriage bolts on the flange connected to the sewer pipe was rusted out and had broken. hence the leaky toilet.

I jury-rigged the bolt using a washer, and put the new toilet in place. As I was tightening down the bolts, I heard a snap, and the toilet went limp off its mountings. Tightening the bolts broke the flange on the opposite side! Now I had no way of securing the new toilet to the floor. Since it was getting late, I gave up for the day. But when I finally stood up, my back was stiff and sore again. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, leaning over the toilet all day did not do my back any good.

I took the project up again on Sunday afternoon. There were several more unexpected difficulties, but I muddled my way through them (although the toilet is still not fully installed - stupid shut off valve!). During one of my four trips to Home Depot today, I noticed that when I reached in my pocket for my keys, I couldn't feel my leg. I had been sitting on the edge of the bathtub all afternoon again, and my back was pretty sore. And now my left thigh had gone numb! It still is as I write this. My wife thinks I may have pinched a nerve. I called my bro-in-law, who has had his share of back problems, and he thinks my spine is swollen and is pinching a nerve that runs down my leg. Great.

I'm not sure what to do except perhaps wait it out and hope something changes. It's a really weird feeling. I keep tapping it and scratching it, hoping to feel something, but nothing.

I'm feeling numb.

Study: "Lack of Time = Lack of Blogging"

Two kids, a full time job that regularly demands 60 hours a week, a marriage to maintain, and seminary take up quite a bit of time. Blogging's pretty low on the list.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Voting In Minnesota

I think pretty much everybody is glad that this election is over, no matter who you voted for. No, I am not extremely happy that Franken is going to be one of my two senators representing me in Washington, but that's the way it goes.

Although I AM glad that this election is finally over, Norm Coleman was certainly within his rights to have taken it as far as he did. And actually, he didn't go as far as he could have in contesting the results. A lot of people groan when they think about Coleman pushing on to another court for what will probably amount to yet another decision against him. But that's the way the screwed up voting system in Minnesota works. For me, this election has exposed many problems with the way Minnesota conducts its voting process. Here are some of my opinions on how our voting process ought to go:

1) Absentee ballots are too easy to mess with. In order to ensure that only properly cast ballots are counted, only those ballots cast on the day of the election should be counted.

2) Ballots should not be open to human interpretation. If you are too stupid to vote properly, then you forfeit your right to be counted. Don't give me this "My voice wasn't heard" crap. Read the instructions. Follow them. They are simple. Double check your ballot. Make sure you did it right. If you're worried, ask an election judge - that's what they're there for. If you still screw it up, you're a moron.

3) Contesting results takes forever. Under this system, the rules for counting votes are so liberal that it only stands to reason that everybody contest everything the other candidate does in court, which amounts to a ton of time spent counting, recounting, contesting the recount, and then suing for this or that. Nobody can blame Coleman for doing what he did. You would have done the same thing if you were in his shoes.

4) If the race is too close to call, don't do a recount. Recounts are too open to problems of interpretation and voter fraud. One particularly curious thing in the Franken V. Coleman election is that Franken not only erased the deficit he was losing by, but picked up a few hundred votes in order to win. How often does that happen? So a lot of the votes that were given to him were open to interpretation, which as Coleman is stating, is contestable. It's just not a good system to foolow. Rather, have a run off vote, or whatever it was that they did in Georgia. They essentially had a second election. That way, everyone still has a chance to vote, and if you actually care about the election and you aren't just caught up in the excitement of election day, you'll come back and vote for your candidate again.

I'm not speaking from a conservative point of view here. I can handle that Coleman lost. The thing I don't like is the potentially dishonest way that he lost (note: I am not accusing Franken of dishonesty - I'm more accusing the system of being too vulnerable to dishonest people) and the stinking incredible amount of time it took to get a decision. There's got to be a quicker, more accurate, more efficient way to handle voting.