The Lockardugan clan has settled in to a loose daily quar-routine. Hazel gets us up anywhere from 6:30-7 and we drag Finley out of bed. I put Hazel out back for a wee and set the coffee up while the girls get themselves ready, and then we take a mile and a half walk down past the school and back up the trolley trail. I then meet up with a neighbor and Hazel and I do a quick walk down the street with Harvey, his dog, in an attempt to normalize her around other dogs. She’s actually taken to these walks with Harvey, and she’s content to follow behind him (10 feet, naturally) while he does his daily business. She doesn’t jump or whine or bark or strain to be with him, which is definitely progress.
Back at home, we all get our breakfast together and slowly settle in to our individual days: Finley attempts to get her schoolwork done (this is hit or miss), I settle in to my workday at my desk, and Jen alternates between her work, riding herd on Finley, and working on the porch. For me, work has been just as busy as before, so I’m often working through lunch at my desk, which is not how I like things. It’s getting warmer now and the draw to go sit outside in the sunshine is stronger; the trick is getting everyone on the same timeframe to eat together. And I need to order a new picnic table from Lowe’s next week.
I think I’ve eaten better in the last two months than in the last two years; we were eating out much more often than was comfortable, and both the quality of the food and my wallet show the value of making things at home. Jen has knocked menu planning, food delivery, and cooking out of the park.
After we eat together, Finn and I take care of the dishes while Jen lights a fire, and we sit around the fireplace to read chapters of our book together. Hazel works through her evening ya-ya’s and I play possum or rope with her to work some energy out so that she’s not running from window to window whining about the fat bunnies in our yard munching on clover in the twilight. After a few chapters, we talk about our favorite parts of the day, say our goodnights, and when the girls go upstairs, Hazel and I settle into the den where she curls up in the beanbag while I play on the Xbox.
* * *
Wednesday I was troubleshooting a network issue on my work laptop and narrowed it down to the little dongle I’m using to connect up to USB devices and a hardwired network port. (Modern MacBook Pro’s have reduced the number of available ports down to 2 USB-Cs.) From what I could tell the dongle, which was hot to the touch, had failed and wasn’t passing network information through to my laptop. At the same time Finley was having issues with her school laptop (which finally arrived Tuesday evening) so I switched her to her MacBook with a wired connection and then fought our wireless network for about a half an hour before getting completely fed up. Our Airport Express is a refurbished replacement I bought several years ago and it’s been working well up until now, but I think the heavy load of wireless devices on the network has finally revealed its shortcomings.
The Wirecutter reviewed routers in January and I chose their budget recommendation, which will be here sometime on Friday. It’s built to handle multiple loads with band switching, so it should be able to cope with four laptops, two phones, an iPad and any other devices that pop onto our network. With that addition and the new switch in the basement, everything inside the FIOS router should be as modern as possible. I did some sleuthing pre-COVID and realized that said FIOS router is over 10 years old, so I think it’s time to have them update that piece of hardware—maybe next week.
* * *
We’ve been working with the stencil out on the porch for the last couple of days and it hasn’t been going as planned. The stencil itself is a very sturdy piece of plastic, surpassing my expectations, but the floor paint we’re using does not roll through the stencil cleanly—there are lots of blobs and fuzzy edges as a result of the paint curling under the edges and getting trapped between the floor and plastic.
We started considering alternatives, and I thought of a little device I’ve had squirreled away in my Scout stash for a while: a little sprayer that will aerosolize all kinds of paint. I’d earmarked it for stuff like touch-ups and spraying rust inhibitor in tricky spots, but after digging it out of my bins I used it for a test run of the floor paint. The paint flowed pretty freely and it laid down a lot cleaner than the roller, so I sourced a latex paint gun at Lowe’s and picked it up with Hazel right after work on Wednesday.
On the way out of the parking lot, while waiting at the light, a guy in a black sedan pulled up next to me, trap music blaring, and rolled down his passenger window. Over the sound of the beats, he yelled out, “THAT shit is TOUGH!” with a huge smile on his face. The Scout reaches across all boundaries.
Back at home I set up the sprayer and laid the pattern down four times, finding the right pressure and spray pattern through trial and error. When I’d gotten it right, it laid down clean and crisp through the stencil, using much less paint, and looked worlds better. So our next step is to roll black over the floor to set everything back to zero, clean up the edges, and prepare for a Saturday of stenciling.
A couple of months ago I took advantage of a sale offered by Kodak, the folks who digitized four reels of 8mm film from the Dugan family archives, and sent off the remainder of our family film—eleven reels in total. Nothing much happened for a while, but to their credit they sent me an email every couple of weeks with an update. I got an email notifying me they’d started digitizing last week, and with the space of four days I got download links for all of the reels and a box UPS’d back to the house with our film.
Overall, I’m pleased with the results, but I would have appreciated it all more of they’d focused everything better. I understand that there’s grain in the film, and that the light meter on dads camera wasn’t reliable, but I feel like I’m able to get sharper results with his old projector than they did with whatever system they used. I set up the projector in the den while watching football yesterday and waited for darkness to test out the focus: I was able to get a clean sharp image on a simple white background, but when I tried recording it with the DSLR I got very noticeable flicker. They must have some kind of interpolating software to remove that flicker, which could be the reason the images are blurry.
I’ve seen a lot of old film run through image processing software, both to clean up and sharpen the footage; I wonder if any of it is available at the consumer level…
Here’s a picture of the load-in for Bob’s house on Thursday evening. I met up with Christi and Rob and we got a ton of things done—but there is, as always, more to do.
I drove three hours up into the Poconos to look at a crusty truck on Sunday, hoping it would be good enough to drag home, but unfortunately it wasn’t. I was able to make the best of the trip by scooting through the Delaware Water Gap to visit our house in Hackettstown, where I went to elementary school up until the 5th grade. A lot has changed there and much is still the same. First I stopped off at the old house to see how it looks: it’s in good shape!
What strikes me the most is that a lot of the trees I remember are gone. The willow in the front yard I fell out of is long gone. All of the tall oaks in the neighbors’ yard to the east are gone. The house to the north looks like it was completely overtaken with new construction. And the overgrown forest and park down at the end of our street where I played Little League baseball and rode BMX bikes has been leveled and cleared, probably for some kind of new development.
Driving around town was wild. It looks like it’s doing very well—the fact that they have the M&M Mars plant anchoring the town is key. Main Street is busy and all the storefronts are full. My middle school is still standing, and still handsome despite the ugly emergency stairwells bolted to the front of the building. The winding route to my elementary school looks almost exactly the same. All of the buildings on the way still stand, and the path up the hill from the dropoff circle is still there. As I drove out of town I found myself passing the VFW hall where I raced my soap box derby car, the Dairy Queen next to the river where we celebrated little league wins, and the Walmart that used to be a Jamesway.
I’m glad to see the town doing well. Sometimes I wonder how our lives might have been different if we’d stayed there. Hackettstown wasn’t perfect but I have lots of good memories from there.
I’m sitting on the couch in the living room with a very discouraged Hazel curled up next to me, listening to the rain fall outside. She went out for a very quick pee and came right back up onto the porch to be let back inside. The girls are still abed, and Bella is in the hall crying to be let in the bedroom, but aside from that it’s quiet.
I drove down to St. Mary’s yesterday to spend some time with Bob and continue demolition on the guest bathroom. After ensuring he’d eaten breakfast and taken his morning pills, I dragged my tools upstairs and commenced to cutting the remainder of the concrete into smaller chunks I could pry out with a bitch bar. When I’d hauled all of that downstairs I pulled up the tarpaper and surveyed the damage to the subfloor: it was rotten mostly between the toilet and the shower, with some intrusion into the center of the floor. So I cut a 48″x32″ section out of the center, went to Lowe’s for some wood and Panera for some lunch, and fed the both of us. Then I cut the wood down in the driveway, added a port for the toilet pipe, and laid it in with some 2″ screws. With the hole in the floor covered, I finished removing wallpaper and got the whole room cleaned up.
The floor will wait until the shower guys finish their work (they’re cutting everything out and replacing it as part of their contract) and then I’ll piece in the rest of the floor before laying tile board down on top of it. In the meantime I’ve got to clean the walls up, use some mud to smooth them out, and put a coat of paint on them.
After cleaning things up, I packed the truck, made sure Bob had everything he needed, and beat feet for home. It was supposed to rain as soon as the sun went down, but all I hit were some sprinkles 20 miles from home. The truck continues to run smoothly and reliably. I even enjoyed a working heater valve and a headlight knob that doesn’t fall off in my hands anymore. It’s the little things.
Today’s plan is to take things easy. I’ve got a few small things to accomplish around the house but I plan on watching a little football and generally relaxing.
Going back in time, I realize that I’ve either partially or fully renovated five bathrooms in my life. I’ve done everything from demolition to plumbing to laying tile, and I’ve hit many pitfalls and unexpected setbacks with each one. The whore-pink tile in our house in New York was held in place with chicken wire and cement. The floor of the jacuzzi room in that same house collapsed under me while I was demoing it. The bathroom in my rowhome was built with cardboard scraps and kindergarten paste. Almost all of them have featured leaky plumbing, substandard wiring, or rotten wood. Bathrooms are great gaping maws of money and time, and it is never an easy decision to plow ahead with a remodel unless one is independently wealthy and able to live in one of one’s other mansions while the plaster dust flies. I’ve never had that luxury, so I’m used to shitting in a bucket and showering with a garden hose.
It was, then, with some trepidation that I agreed to help my father in law rehab his guest bathroom. His house was built in the late 70’s, with all of the positives and many negatives that implies. The bathroom hosted five teenagers and shows every battle scar—it’s a miracle it hasn’t fallen through the ceiling, frankly. At some point in the distant past he got in there and pulled the tub and vanity out, and then stalled on the project. It’s been like that for years. A few weeks ago he informed us that he’d agreed to have a company come in and quote on a new bathtub, so we were sure to be on hand when the salesman came to look at it. At first we balked on the quoted price, but then deciding it wasn’t a bad idea to have them do the hardest part (the tub and surround), we signed a contract and made a plan to handle the rest ourselves.
I’d already wrapped up a bunch of other smaller projects in the house, so it was easy to pivot to demolition last weekend. I brought a bunch of hammers and chisels and saws, and had chipped all of the tile out in about an hour. Underneath that was a poured slab of 1″ concrete directly on top of the wood subfloor, which was, predictably, rotting. I was able to chip out two sections that had already cracked, but my attempt to cut through the remainder with a fiber-based wheel only created clouds of noxious dust. I backed off and let things settle, then started spraying the walls with wallpaper stripper. By about 4:30 and one run to Lowe’s I had all but two small sections offf the wall and ready for scrubbing.
This coming weekend I’m returning with a steel cutting wheel and an angle grinder, and I hope to have all of the concrete out as well as the subfloor gone. It’s going to make a mess but there’s no other way to make progress, so there it is.
* * *
Sunday was a recovery day, for various reasons. The highlight was waking up slowly and taking the family down to the Farmer’s Market for some coffee, empañadas, fresh produce, and some delicious ginger-cardamom lemonade from the same guy who sold us smoked trout. The girls made a side salad and steamed corn and we had that for dinner on the front porch, under the breeze from the fan, and it was fantastic.