I got Finn outside on Saturday morning to help change the plugs in the CR-V and it went a million times better than last weekend. I must have got her on a good morning because she was pretty well focused for the whole thing, even when I had to run around hunting for a 10mm deep socket in my various toolboxes—turns out the only one I have is in a cheap set I bought to change the battery on the CR-V in a Columbia parking lot last winter.
It was pretty straightforward, and I talked Finn through the function of an engine and what the plugs do, and we talked about the difference between the Scout’s engine and the CR-V. She’s learning! After the plugs went in we changed both air filters and then scrubbed the engine down with Simple Green.
After a pressure wash, the whole thing looks much better. We drove out to the Gucci Lowes in Columbia that afternoon and Jen was shocked by how different the car drives. The idle is steady and there’s loads of acceleration response. It’s nice to make a huge difference like that in a few hours’ work.
After we got back from Lowe’s I went back out and swapped the plugs in the Scout. We grilled some dinner and hung out together on the porch, which is really turning out nice. There’s a plant hung in the corner, we found some shades for IKEA lamps I’ve had since Lakewood street, and we found a cool metal plant stand for the area next to the front door.
Sunday I was more tired than I was expecting, and the day was hot with high humidity, so I did some minor things on the porch—wired in a USB plug by the table, fastened the five seats of the couch together with metal plates, and touched up some paint. The rest of the day we all spent quietly hanging around; I wound up napping in the air conditioning for two hours towards dinnertime and caught up on some sleep. I feel terrible because I didn’t do anything with Finn or Jen, and the days are creeping by while we could be out hiking or biking or doing other activities; I have to make a serious effort to plan some physical activity for us. The trick is finding something away from other people who have stopped wearing masks.
Given that we’re not really going anywhere these days, the cars have hardly been driven. I think I’ve put more miles on the Scout than the other two cars combined—it’s a miracle the Accord still starts (note to self: go start the Accord.) We took a drive in the CR-V on Friday and I was shocked at how rough it was running at startup. It’s got 130K on the odometer, and we’ve been taking good care of it, but it’s due for some serious maintenance. I had it in for new tires last year and the tech showed me the bushings and lower control arms are worn out in the front suspension. I’m sure there are other issues that need to be handled, but I’m going to start with some super-easy things I can show Finley: the spark plugs and air filters. I’ve never done this in either Honda, as they come from the factory with iridium 100K-mile plugs, but this is long overdue. I’m clearly not used to modern engines because I went hunting for plug wires online to no avail and then realized the CR-V uses coil packs instead of wires.
It rained all day Saturday so I putzed around the house. In the basement, I culled two rubbermaid tubs full of UMBC paperwork and projects to the recycling pile. Given that they haven’t called me in a year to teach and we’re pretty sure classes will be online for the immediate future, I figured it was safe to ditch 9/10 of this stuff; all of those students have graduated and there’s no need to keep a paper trail for any grading complaints. Now I can move some stuff from the office down there to clean up my workspace.
There’s a lot of legacy electronic equipment, cameras, and computer gear I’ll clearly never use again that’s also taking up space. While I like having collections of that kind of stuff, it’s just piling up around here and I need to clear it out from underfoot. I have a hard time doing stuff like this when I hear I might need that ____ someday in the back of my head. There have been more times than not when that packrat mentality has saved me time and money—but there’s only so much room downstairs.
Another thing I’ve been meaning to get to is backing up photos from 2019. They’ve sitting on an external drive on my desk but I’m out of space on the server in the basement and they’ve never been backed up to our Amazon Photo account. I set up a workflow in Lightroom to go through the 2019 catalog and export JPGs of all those files (many of them are in RAW format, which Amazon doesn’t like). Then I uploaded them to Amazon, ready to be catalogued this coming week. It’s clear I need to increase the storage on the basement server as well.
My tastes in beer have moved to the citrusy, which is good because there’s a flood of “hazy IPA’s” on the market. This strain of IPA takes its name not from added citrus (that would be a shandy) but from particular breeds of hops added late in the boil and then in the fermentation cycle, which react with the yeast and add a citrusy flavor without being sickeningly sweet. The shelves are saturated with choice, so I’m going through them as much as I can. My current favorites are Stone’s Tangerine Express and Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing. I’m getting low in the fridge, so I’ll have to go out tomorrow night to restock.
I thought I might be able to get to my homebrew kit on Sunday afternoon, but time just got away from me. Jen has convinced me the new 5-gallon batch I brewed needs to be dumped down the sink, as I don’t enjoy it enough to drink it—which breaks my heart.
I took Hazel on an early morning walk and ordered some breakfast from a restaurant downtown. While the girls slept in I went out to the greenhouse and started planting tomatoes, starting with six healthy cherries up front, then four Chef’s Choice, and six Cherokees. In the back two containers hold a grab-bag of seedlings, and there are four more in pots on the side. This last bit was not by choice, but that’s what happens when Hazel knocks over the seedling tray and they all get mixed up on the floor. Hey, fuck it, they’re all tomatoes.
Our lawn guy finally showed up after a two week absence, so the house looks somewhat cared for again. When he leveled out the lawn last fall, he used some kind of nuclear-powered seed that grows at five times the rate of the rest of the lawn, so we get patches that are scrappy-looking and full of dandelions and others that grow lush green and higher than the roofline of the house. It’s nice to have him knock things out in 15 minutes, because I get that three hours of my life back.
After picking up breakfast and eating with the girls, I went out to the front porch and tore up the old green carpet, underlayment, and all of the carpet strips and loaded that on top of the treadmill in the back of the Scout. A quick run down to the dump made short work of that stuff. When I got home I was still waiting on the plywood order to be ready for pickup at the Home Depot, so I pulled the pressure washer out of the garage, sprayed the screens from the porch down with Simple Green, and blasted sixty years of nicotine and dust off of them. It was so nasty I could see brown water running off the garage door where I’d propped them up. While those were drying, I showed Finn how to use the pressure washer and we cleaned the gray off of our Adirondack chairs and set them to dry in the driveway. Have I mentioned how much I love our driveway? Or the pressure washer?
Then I figured I’d show Finn how to change the oil in the Accord. I first set up Dad’s wheel ramps but the approach angle of the bumper is too low, and I couldn’t get the tires close to the metal. So we jacked up both sides and set it on jackstands. Once I was underneath I put a 17mm wrench on the bolt but the chuckleheads at Jiffy Lube overtorqued it with an air gun the last time we were there, and I didn’t have the clearance or the confidence to break it loose without stripping the head. GAAAAAAHHHH. On a positive note: the ramps will fit under the CR-V.
By the time I got it back down, the plywood was ready, so Finn and I set out to pick it up. After some confusion about which store it was at, we got it back home and loaded onto the porch for a rainy Sunday installation.
The whole day had been sunny and warm, and our excursion out into the real world revealed all of humanity trying to get out of their houses. All social distancing had broken down; people were out without masks, walking next to each other, oblivious to any of the guidelines. Finn and I played it safe as much as we could, but it was sobering to see everyone disregard the virus so quickly.
After we got home I figured it was time to take the top off the scout because I saw a number of people driving around in their convertibles and I got super jealous. Finley and I headed back out to the garage, and we chatted while unbolting all of the fasteners. I backed it into the garage, and within about a half an hour we had the hard top suspended from the garage rafters so that I could pull it back out and put the soft top on. Then the four of us took a victory lap around Catonsville. I thought I would treat the girls to Krispy Kreme, as I’d promised but not been able to provide fresh beignets at breakfast. Apparently everyone else wanted donuts too, because we sat in line at the drive through for about 10 minutes until I peeled off and we headed to the Dunkin’ Donuts instead.
Sunday morning I was too tired to walk Hazel so I made coffee and let her outside on the run. After getting some breakfast, I went out to the front porch and started cleaning things off in preparation for the plywood. It turned out that they had forgotten to put the construction adhesive in my pickup order, so I had to head back out and get that.
Back at home, the first sheets of plywood went in pretty fast and in about an hour I had four of them glued and nailed down and was cutting down the final piece to put along the side wall. Jen and I decided to go check into paint at the Home Depot and put some test patches down to see what we liked. The whole room looks completely different with the plywood down. It’s clean and neat and once it all gets painted and the quarter round gets put in around the perimeter of the floor it’s going to really tighten up.
We then assembled one of the new chairs to see what that would look like with the paint and I really like what we bought. We were worried about everything fitting in there, but after moving the chair around and roughing things in, I think it’s going to be real nice.
We’re scrambling to tie up loose ends and pack for the trip; with all of the curveballs we’ve been thrown this week it disrupted our plans to get ahead. The tree guys came back on Tuesday and hauled off the large logs they felled, which were sitting in the middle of the driveway. To do this they had to use the big grapple truck, and to get that in the driveway they had to prune one side of the tulip tree way back, so now it looks like someone with half a moustache. There’s a huge pile of chips where the tree once stood, and they ground out all of the roots that were surfaced in the middle of the driveway. When we get back from vacation and it cools off some I’ll have to figure out what we’re doing with that mess, and spend an afternoon spraying the east side of the house in one uniform shade of blue.
It’s also easier to see how shitty the garage looks now. The two sheets of plywood serving as doors have never looked good, so I have to think of some ideas for how to pretty them up. Now that the tree is gone I also want to dig a trench across the driveway to send runoff from the gutters into the neighbors’ yard and not directly into the front of the garage.
Jen texted me Wednesday, in the middle of the 100+ heatwave, to tell me the A/C in the CR-V had died. Given that we’re going to take it on vacation next week, we couldn’t defer this maintenance, but I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap to fix. Our local mechanic agreed to fit us in Thursday (god bless him) and looked it over first thing in the morning. The bill wasn’t cheap but it had to get done, so we pulled the trigger. We got it back last night and it is cool again, thank GOD.
Meanwhile the Scout is in Essex for what I’m assuming will be a substantial repair to the transmission while we’re on vacation. All of this happening at the same time sucks, but the fact that the average age of our vehicles is 20 years old means they’re going to need maintenance (this is somewhat tempered by the fact that we put a total of less than 10,000 miles on all three of them yearly.)
I set up the drip hose and timer in the greenhouse Wednesday night so that it runs for 15 minutes every morning at 6AM. We’ve got a bunch of nice tomatoes coming in (and we’ll have to pick a bunch and bring them to the beach) so I want to keep them alive until we get back. I did the same thing last year and it saved everything in there while I was stuck in the hospital, although it all grew out of control in our absence. I also collected one dead mouse from the traps I put out on Tuesday evening; someone was nibbling on two of our low-hanging fruit and I decided it was time to seek vengeance. Also, the tomatillo is gone, because Jen read up on them and found that there need to be two plants to cross-pollinate each other.
Our CR-V is now 13 years old. Far from being worn out, it’s only got 130,000 miles on the engine, and after some careful maintenance, it still looks pretty good. One place its age was showing, however, were the headlights. Our Honda has plastic housings like most other manufacturers, and ours fell victim to the same affliction many others have: they yellowed and fogged over with age. When we drove up to Syracuse for my father’s service earlier this year, part of the journey was at night, and it was frightening how dim the lights had gotten, even with the highbeams on.
Jen has been asking me to get after this for some time, and I did some research for the best possible solution. I bought a 3M kit on Amazon last week, resolving to improve our situation. In about a half an hour, I went from this:
You can really see the before and after difference in the next picture:
It’s really pretty simple. With a standard drill, you start with a fine sanding pad and go finer and finer until you’re wet-sanding the plastic, and then finally you apply a buffing compound to clean up the plastic. Both lenses took me about an hour in total to finish (I went back and cleaned up the right-hand lens after I took the picture above).
Grading is complete, grades are submitted, and all my grading sheets are in the Outbox. The last step is to shoot some pictures of student work and then drop it off at the university.
Stuff I accomplished this weekend, in no particular order:
- Took a load of stuff to the dump; my nostalgia/hoarding filter is extremely thin right now, so I finally chucked a bunch of stuff I swore I was going to save to “use later,” including two of our old kitchen cabinets I had to take off the wall to be able to fit the fridge. Little by little, the basement is clearing out (aided in no small part by a trip to goodwill last weekend). I still need to figure out where to dump the old CR-V hood, two Scout brake drums and a spare steel wheel; the dump doesn’t take car parts of any kind.
- Mulched the rest of the front bed with Jen. This also allowed us to find several of the gladiolus bulbs poking through the soil that we’d planted a couple of weeks ago. Success!
- Ran over to Christi & Glenn’s house to pick up my ladder, which they’ve had in their garage since last fall. While I was there Glenn and I crawled up on their garage and removed about 30 pine boughs from the tree behind it, which were sitting directly on the slate, as well as about 6″ of pine needles stuck in the snow catchers. We threw all the boughs into the yard of the retirement community behind them, who haven’t pruned their trees in decades.
- Replanted a bunch of marigolds from the big pots Finn and I had planted them in to separate singles, and learned you have to pinch off everything past the first two pair of leaves to promote blooms and keep them from getting leggy.
- I was taken down by a stomach ache Saturday afternoon, probably from the sushi we’d had the night before, and had to lay down for a nap until dinnertime.
- Cleaned the gutters over the new bathroom, which were completely filled with helicopters and sprouts from the sugar maple in the driveway. Which is living on borrowed time, because I emailed a signed contract to the tree removal service on Sunday in the hopes we can get it taken down in the next couple of weeks. I’m also hopeful they can drop it and leave the wood away from the central part of the driveway so I can get our cars in and out.
- Fertilized and trimmed all of the tomatoes back. I’ve been using a different method of pollination and it seems to work better; it’s basically just flicking the flowers with a finger for about 10 seconds. I’ve been pretty lethal about cutting stray shoots and old growth back, and the plants are still alive, so that’s a relief. The romas by the door have gone absolutely crazy—there’s at least 14 tomatoes working on that plant alone.
- Took an hour or so with Jen to wrap the grape arbor with netting to try and save as many of the new shoots as possible. This involved cutting half of the old netting away and attaching the new netting to the remainder; picking grapes later in the season will be interesting.
- Rebuilt the edging around the herb bed, which dates back to 2004 or so. One side had collapsed, so we picked up new wood on Saturday and I had the new bed complete by Sunday afternoon.
- Disassembled and cleaned out the A/C units for our bedrooms, which were disgusting. This prompted me to look into ductless air conditioning systems, something that could be a workable, cost effective alternative to heavy window units or rehabbing the whole house for central A/C. The system uses a single compressor outside and relies on thin hoses that go up the side of the house into wall-mounted units in each room. This avoids installing a giant air handler in the attic and a bunch of ducts in the ceiling; while having an appliance bolted to the wall of each bedroom isn’t the most attractive approach, it’s a hell of a lot better than plugging up the windows. If I’m serious about a home equity loan to finish the bathroom, this might be the other thing we spend on to raise our quality of life.