Hazel was up to pee at about 7:10 so I put on some warm clothes and snuck her out of the house to let the girls sleep in. It was brisk outside. Yesterday was 80˚ but overnight it dropped into the 30s and it was only just beginning to warm up as the sun rose. Hazel and I wandered over behind the school and down the hill to the Junction, where I tied her up in front of the local café and ordered some breakfast and a coffee. I was the second person in the door this morning. Usually there are a crowd of eight or ten people at the tables on their second cup discussing the paper or news on the TV, but today it was empty. It was strange.
We walked back home up the trolley trail and by the time we got home the girls were awake, so we all ate breakfast in the living room and played with the dog for a little while. I then went downstairs and set up a seed starter for three varieties of tomatoes in the hopes that I’ll have more luck this year than I did a decade ago when I tried it on the workbench. I’m going to build a platform for them under one of the basement windows so that they’ll get daily sunlight and hope that a warming pad will regulate the temperature under the plastic properly.
Then I went outside and assembled our new pressure washer, 1/2 of which is my birthday present from Jen. I got a Craftsman gas model on sale—electric pressure washers are crap—and had it clearing green mildew from the garage doors in about a half an hour. I went around to the front steps and cleaned all the green off the Trex, rinsed the siding, and anything else that needed a wash. We get mildew on the front of the house yearly because it faces north, so I’ve rented or borrowed a pressure washer for the past five or six years to clean things up. After I’ve put this one to use this year cleaning the rest of the siding, washing the engine and undercarriage of the Scout, cleaning the back deck, lawn furniture and Finley’s playset, I think it will have paid for itself.
I’ve had trim for the bathroom waiting to be picked up for a week, so I headed into Columbia to grab that before they closed and then circled up to the gucci Giant to stock up on some essentials—a little bird told us that statewide lockdown is imminent. I was able to get most of what we needed, but the paper product and soap shelves were empty (we could use more hand soap but we’re generally OK for now) and the frozen breakfast aisle was wiped out along with all the ice cream. Then I stopped at the liquor store and stocked up some extra beer.
At home we set to work putting it away; one of the first things I did was go to the garage and plug in our old fridge. It took a little to get going, but began cooling itself down quickly after that. Then I stuffed the extra beer and groceries inside. It’s been a pain to fit in the limited space available, but now I’m glad I didn’t Craigslist it like the last one.
After a quick break, I broke out all of my brewing equipment and fired up the burner in the backyard. I’ve had a Shiner Bock knockoff kit sitting in the basement since last fall, and I got tired of waiting for my neighbor to get his act together to brew with me. By 7PM I had it in the carboy and all of the dishes piled on the back porch, but it was time for dinner by that point.
Now I’m settled on the couch in the den with a cold beer in hand, Hazel snoring at my feet—the first time she’s been calm all day—and Fallout 4 loading on the Xbox. Time to relax.
Football is over and now it’s basketball basketball basketball, which is my least favorite time of year. Not because I love football, but because I pretty much despise basketball, and it’s a long couple of months before anybody starts talking about baseball, which is only marginally more interesting than basketball.
I got about five hours up in the bathroom on Saturday and had to do a bit of catching up to see where I’d left things. First on the list was to set the right-side front cabinet in place, level it, and then reset the left side to match the height. Because of the way the walls and floor slope, I had to shim the right side a fair bit to get it to level, requiring the left side to be raised up about 1/2″. Now that all of the cabinets are set, I pulled the toekick skin out of its package and started measuring. Toekick skin is the stuff that goes across the base of the cabinet, from the floor to the section that juts out. Unfortunately what I have is all sized for a flat, level installation and doesn’t give me any extra for overage, so I re-ordered a batch with an extra inch of height to cut down.
I finished the moulding in the closet, shimmed one of the doors out so that it will close properly, mudded the edge of the shower wall, and did a lot of finish work throughout, as well as cleaned up the whole room. Without the countertops, toekick moulding, a strip of cabinet edge finish, and something called scribe moulding to finish off the top edge of the linen cabinet, I’m at a bit of a standstill. All of this is on order—I’m waiting to get the quote back for the countertops this week.
I got the Scout out of the garage and made a dump run on Saturday morning with Hazel. We were able to haul all of the old windows, their weights, and two giant bags of trash out of the backyard, which is a great relief.
On Sunday I couldn’t venture far from the house, as I had the dog and the girls to watch (Finn had a friend over) so I put the dog outside and started cleaning up the basement. I’ve had a pile of lumber on the main section of the floor for months and decided I’d use some of the leftover scraps from the bathroom to build a simple overhead rack for 6+’ lengths. Once that was done the rest of the floor cleaned up quickly.
Then I went and looked at the two kegs of beer in the kegerator. Last I remembered one was empty. I figured it was time to get it out and clean it, so I disconnected everything and lifted them both, and found they both still had beer inside. So I cleaned out the hoses and taps (the taps were disgusting) hooked up the gas, and poured a glass of beer. I’d forgotten exactly why I’d disconnected the grapefruit IPA, and after having only about half a glass, just how powerful it was. Still, it’s nice for sipping.
Then I looked over the road bike. Last week I was able to get the old bars off, the new bullhorns on, and mount the brake levers. But I haven’t been able to get the old brake levers and cables disconnected. Most of the replacement kits I’ve seen have a particular type of cable and housing, with two kinds of barreled tips at the ends of the cable. This bike has neither. It’s so old the cable was custom-cut and threads through the old Dia-Compe brake system. The cable doesn’t even come off the brake levers—it’s built into them. So I cut off one end and removed the front brake lever; now I have to sort out what to do next. I’m resisting the urge to bring it to the bike shop and have them fix it, because there’s no rush and I have to remind myself that this is part of the fun.
Even though beer is off my menu for another month, I brewed my first batch since October at a friends’ house yesterday. He’s the guy I walked through brewing last fall, and since then he’s made a couple more batches. He’s also the father of one of Finn’s friends, so we wrapped an entire day around the opportunity.
First, we picked up Finn’s friend and made our first visit to the neighborhood pool as new members, picking up our passes and staking out a spot under an umbrella. The girls jumped in the water immediately, while we sat back and got some sun. This pool is one of several in town and feels less clique-ish than the others, and we know a bunch of families who already belong, so there should be some built-in opportunities for Finn to find people to play with. The weather was just right and the sun felt wonderful on my skin.
From there we headed home to rinse off, I loaded the truck up with brewing gear, and we headed over to brew beer and hang out. I had an IPA kit I’ve never tried before and my friend had brewed five gallons of butter toffee-flavored coffee for a stout recipe. We set up and got our boils started while the ladies sat under the umbrella on the patio, and we killed the afternoon talking and laughing while the girls had fun together. It was hard to stay away from actually drinking beer, given that we were brewing it and there were two taps open in the kitchen.
I think that beer will taste better at the end of this diet than it has in a long time.
My batch went together really easily; I used one of my Dad’s aluminum pots to boil in, and I found that a good temperature was difficult to dial in at first. (Aluminum heats up faster than stainless steel). Once I sorted that out it was smooth sailing, and I was able to chill it to 70˚ perfectly. I may try the other pot (a shorter, wider one) next time but I’m happy to have a dedicated brew kettle now, and I’m glad it was my Dad’s.
We stayed out on the patio and talked until 10PM, which was lovely.
Sunday I fired up the chainsaw in anger for the first time and started working my way through the rounds next to the woodpile. Most of the smaller pieces are now split by saw and by maul. I’m working my way up to the biggest ones which will take some time to work through, but once they are slivered into shorter pieces they should split with the maul quickly. I also did some maintenance in the greenhouse, sprayed the roof of the garage with moss killer (just in time for an overnight thunderstorm).
What alarmed me was how tired I was at the end of the day, up until I got some dinner in my stomach. For someone who carb-loads as a standard method of operation, I found myself grabbing fistfuls of nuts—we got cashews back on Sunday—but I guess I was burning through those pretty quick. I’m trying to tell myself it’s due to diet and not to low blood count (I’d only had some hash browns, a smoothie, some nuts, and a minimal lunch) but I’m not feeling able to do my normal amount of labor, and that bothers me.
As of Monday night, the word is that I’m not teaching in the fall. I’d been offered a nighttime class way back in February via email but hadn’t heard anything from the department since then, and two chaser emails went unanswered. Annoyed, I asked the woman in charge yesterday before class and she noncommittally told me their enrollment was full and things looked liked they were locked in. Thanks for the update.
Class has been pretty good the last couple of weeks, so it’s a bittersweet feeling. I still enjoy helping the students grow and learn, and I enjoy the challenge of art direction without telling them exactly what to do, but all of the administrative BS that’s been happening leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. Oh, and there’s that pile of grading I’ve got to get through too.
The whole family is on an elimination diet for the next two months in search of any foods that we might be allergic to. For me, it’s more about seeing what my body reacts better to without a gall bladder. This involves going cold turkey on pretty much everything we’re used to eating and (for the adults) doing two days of a “detox” meal plan. What this means is basic homemade smoothies and soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then we go to a limited diet where we can eat some stuff like wild rice, chicken, and some fish. No wheat, processed sugars, caffeine, alcohol, meat, citrus or dairy. Over the next two months, we slowly introduce these things back into our diets every three or four days, checking to see how they affect us.
Jen and I started on Friday and made it through the detox by Sunday; after two days of constant headaches and debilitating joint pain, our bodies had gotten used to the new diet and in my case aren’t missing coffee as much. During chemo and both surgeries I had gone to decaf until early winter, and then I was back on the horse.
We’re now able to eat simple chicken and fish meals until we start introducing other stuff. For me, morning coffee has been the hardest thing to give up, followed by baked products of any kind. I’m a carb fiend so when I need quick energy I go for bread or pastry. Smoothies are pretty good in the morning but they don’t fuel me like a bagel or yogurt & granola do. I also tend to graze during the day, which makes hunger that much harder to ignore; my go-to snacks are things like nuts, which give me a protein boost.
I was invited to brew some beer this coming weekend, which sounds great, but half of the fun brewing beer is drinking beer while you’re brewing your beer. Jen convinced me to go anyway, so I ordered an IPA kit from Northern Brewer on Sunday. I’ve also got two new (used) pots from Dad’s basement that I brought home with me which could be excellent replacements for the oversized Blichmann I bought used a couple of years ago. These are professional kitchen-grade aluminum, which apparently conducts heat much faster than stainless, but they’re both in good shape. I picked the taller and skinnier of the two and scrubbed it out this weekend. I also came home with a leave-in turkey frying thermometer which will come in handy, and Dad’s turkey burner, which looks similar to the one I’ve got. I figure by the time the 4th of July rolls around I should be able to have this new batch kegged and ready to drink, which is good because the grapefruit IPA is just about kicked.
That’s the shower tile as it stands today. Brian is coming back to finish the area down to the floor and around the bench, and then he’s going to grout the walls. Then he’ll lay the floor in and grout that. We have a rough quote on the glass door, which is not cheap, but it will highlight the interior of the shower perfectly as you walk in the door.
Jen and I spent another weekend almost completely consumed by grading student work. We did get out here and there but it wasn’t at all what I hoped we’d be doing, for the second week in a row. We’ve been trying to line up things for Finn to do while we’re busy but it’s hard to stay focused when there are kids running around—who inevitably come to us to help them find something to do.
I’m at the point where I’m doing twice as much work to teach than I did my first semester; as we’ve gotten more involved in refining the rubric and syllabus and have striven to offer constructive, helpful feedback (going so far as to add a third project into my syllabus to give students an earlier idea of how they’re doing) the workload has quadrupled. Jen and I are conscientious about how we grade our work, so we double-check each other’s grading and notes, which adds more time to the process. And Finn sits idly by, bored out of her mind. Saturday was a mixture of rain and sunshine, and even though it was cold and damp we should have been outside hiking somewhere, not stuck inside.
I turned to Jen Sunday night and told her I’m thinking about quitting teaching. Finn’s life is flashing past me, and I’m not spending enough time with her right now. It’s breaking my heart.
One thing we did do as a family is go to see a matinee of How to Train Your Dragon 3. The three of us have been hooked on the series since Finn was old enough to appreciate it, and it was one of the many things we shared with the Morrises (I can’t hear the phrase “DEPLOY THE YAK” and not think of Rob and Zachary). The final movie in the series was good. It hit all of the main plot points and character beats as a good movie should; there were callbacks to the original movie that old-school fans appreciated, it definitely hit us in the emotional core (my family is pretty heavily invested in these characters, after two movies and three TV series) and it wrapped things up in a solid way that felt right.
But it was lacking the careful pace of the first movie, which took time to slowly show us the wonder of the relationship between a boy and his dragon, and how that in turn affected his relationships, as an outsider, with his community and his father. The first movie (I rewatched a bit of it last night as I cleaned up my desk) moved slower, took time to develop the stakes, and also let us breathe. It showed us how wonderful the world it created was, asked us to notice the details, and gave us time to appreciate them. I felt like the new movie was following a producer’s note that simply read, “MORE DRAGONS”. There was so much going on in every frame that it felt hard to keep up with what was happening. The only time I really felt like it was slow enough to let me appreciate the story was at the very end, and if I hadn’t been so familiar with the characters from my previous experience I wouldn’t have cared half as much.
The IPWhatever is kegged and carbed, and I tapped it on Saturday afternoon. In terms of taste, it’s pretty nondescript. Even after I’d dry-hopped it for much longer than I’d intended, the flavor is still pretty bland. But it’s got a hell of a kick–I never did a final gravity reading on it (because, after I’d fucked it up, what’s the point?) but it definitely hits me when I finish a pint of it. And that’s good timing, too, because the grapefruit IPA is just about kicked.
Our neighbors on the right side, who have been in the house as long as we’ve lived here, recently moved to an assisted living community and put their house up on the market. We were in New York when they held the open house, so we didn’t get to walk through it, but we told a bunch of friends and our brother and sister to check it out. Having walked through the downstairs a few times I didn’t see any huge problems, but everybody we know said it was more work than they were willing to take on. As it turned out there was a bidding war on the first day and it’s going to settlement this Friday. Apparently the buyers have kids a little younger than Finley, and they’ve had several people come by to look at the place, who we can only guess are contractors. I hope they’re normal and we can get along with them.
Here’s where we are with the shower as of today. Brian was in yesterday and made huge progress on the north wall (left side) and begun the back wall up to where the niche starts. It’s really beginning to come together.
We’re getting somewhere between 4-6″ inches of snow right now, so I’m working from home. Jen made some eggnog pancakes and bacon and we all noshed on that for breakfast, and a little after lunchtime we went over to the Elementary School for some sledding. As of 2PM it had stopped snowing, and tomorrow’s forecast is for 50˚ so I doubt there will be anything left when I get home after work.
I finally kegged the IPWhatever I’ve had sitting in the fermenter for four months; I dry hopped it at least a month ago but never pulled it out into a secondary to filter so I have no idea what to expect in terms of flavor. It could taste like shit or it could be the best beer I’ve ever produced; I’ll never be able to recreate it in any case. It’s currently carbing in the cooler, and should be ready to pour by the weekend.
I’m on the couch sipping a cup of coffee while Finn, who has off from school today, sleeps in upstairs. I have off from work today myself, but it’s only most of the day, as I still have to teach tonight. Last week was canceled due to the ice storm so the class is sort of a week behind (I assigned the second project via email so we’ll see how this whole thing shakes out today). Overall it’s going OK this semester, even though they’ve packed my class with 18 students, the absolute maximum–and frankly, about 4 students too many. They did contact me last week about teaching the branding class again in the fall, which would be ideal; I’m tired of this syllabus and would like to mix things up again.
I did sell the other two radios on Saturday morning, which made me a little sad. I had plans at one time to fix and refinish the Philco tombstone, but the reality of the situation is that we just don’t have anyplace to put it. The buyer apparently got the Telefunken set working and mentioned that he specializes in repairing the electrical bits, so I might get in touch with him later in the spring to fix one of the sets I’ve got here. File that under future nonessential plans.
I’ve been learning a lot about my sleep habits with the Fitbit. Namely, even though I lay my head down on the pillow at 11PM and get up at 6:40, I’m only averaging about six and a half hours of sleep every day. Analyzing the data, it looks like I’m going down easy at first, and then bouncing up and down out of restful sleep starting at about 4AM or so. I’ve always worked better at night: my peak concentration hours start at about 8PM and go to 1AM, but I can’t follow that schedule anymore. I’m going to have to train myself to close my eyes at 10:30 religiously to make up for the loss.
Today’s plan is to get some stuff around the house done. I have wood ready for the refrigerator surround ready and want to put that in place first thing. I’ve got to keg the beer that’s been sitting in the basement for the last four months; god only knows what that will taste like at this point. Then I want to measure the greenhouse for new footers and new plastic, and make a plan to refurbish it for a fresh crop of tomatoes in the spring.
I got a little bummer news at work this week; one of my long-time employees is leaving us at the end of November for a great opportunity elsewhere in D.C. She’s been with us for three and a half years, and while I always am aware that no job lasts forever, I’m sad to see her go. She was nervous about telling me, but I assured her I was happy for her, and I wanted only the best for her and her career. At the same time, I was able to get another of my designers switched over from contractual to open-ended employment after over a year with our organization (long story), so we had an upbeat Friday after I gave her the good news. We’re planning a farewell sendoff/celebratory dinner the week after Thanksgiving, and hopefully she’ll keep in touch after she gets settled in the new gig.
As reported here, the Scout meetup went well. What didn’t meet with success was my visit to the alignment shop to install caster correctors; after waiting across the street at a Starbucks for three hours I walked back over and was told the mechanic tried for two hours to get the spindles off my steering knuckles with no success. Rather than break my truck, he backed off and told me he wasn’t charging me anything, which was solid of him. At the meetup I talked to another friend who had the same work done, and he referred me to a older mechanic in Dundalk who loves Internationals and may be able to help me with the situation. I’d much rather drive to Dundalk and work with a greybeard than a 22-year old tweaker at a 4×4 shop, which is what I was faced with before.
On Saturday evening Jen and I met up with a cancer buddy, a real nice lady who we met in during radiation treatment at Hopkins. She was in for radiation on her larynx and our schedule overlapped for the whole time I was in treatment, so we got to be waiting room buddies. We’ve all connected on Instagram and she’s recovered stronger than I have. We met up at the Guinness brewery and she gave us big hugs and we sat at the bar and caught up. So far we’re both one year clear and we celebrated with some dinner and laughs. It’s inspiring to see other people kick cancer’s ass and keep moving forward.
The shelf project is going well; I’ve got fronts and sides glued and tacked on to the MDF. Now I’m sorting out how to hang the hangers on the wall with the most support possible; what I’ve got are T-shaped brackets with two holes on either side, about 4″ apart. That’s enough to anchor one screw into a wall stud, but the other screw–4″ away–will be going into plaster and lathe. I don’t feel comfortable with that yet. I did buy a cheapo Harbor Freight drill press so that I can drill the holes in the shelves straight and level, but the bracket question still needs to be solved. [Sips beer and thinks…]
Speaking of beer, I tapped my session grapefruit IPA on Sunday evening, and…it’s not bad! The hops are definitely stronger than the real recipe but balanced out with the grapefruit, this isn’t a bad beer at all. And it’s great to have something on tap again.
Jen is always a tricky woman to buy Christmas presents for. She really doesn’t want for much, at least, not in the way of stuff, so it’s hard to find just the right thing for her every year. I’ve taken to writing down gift ideas in February so that I don’t forget them in November. Two years ago I was super-romantic and bought her a 40 gallon fish tank to replace the yard-sale sourced starter tank she was working with. She was surprised and it went over well, I think. Last year sucked ass but I was conscious enough through pain meds to buy her a couple of items from Emily McDowell, including a tote bag emblazoned with the words “Groceries and Shit” in beautiful hand lettering.
This year she’s asked for several house-related things, including some shelves for the living room. We’ve had a blank wall in there for years, waiting for some mystery artwork to appear, but she’s sick our shrine to emptiness and asked me to make something to mount to the wall to put stuff on. I looked around Amazon and found some invisible hangers for shelving, and Sunday Finn and I hit the Home Depot for supplies. We got a sheet of 1″ MDF and cut it down to 4′ x 4.5″, then glued and double-stacked four sheets for two shelves. Next I’ll be cutting down a 3″ furring strip and mounting it to the front for a slipguard. When the mounts come in I’ll drill holes and set them up staggered on the wall so that there’s some space on the end for something tall.
Another thing she’s asked for is if we can finally finish the woodwork in the office and den. Sometime between the installation of the front porch windows and the big side window, Lowe’s/Home Depot stopped carrying the equivalent cap molding to our windowframes in stock. This is somewhat short-sighted, because I’d wager EVERY HOUSE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD uses this same cap molding. I’ve looked into setting up a router jig and making it myself, but I’d probably spend several thousand dollars on the jig and I’d honestly much rather have a finished bathroom. I found a woodworking shop over in Glen Burnie who I’ve been told can make this molding for me, and hopefully it won’t be too expensive, because I need 65+ linear feet of it.
I spent a little time kegging beer last night. My intention was to get the grapefruit IPA in the cooler, but for some inexplicable reason I transferred the session IPA and added grapefruit extract to that instead. So it’s going to be an intense batch of beer. I doubt it’s ruined but now I’ve got to figure out what to do with the base beer for the original grapefruit batch–it’s probably a lot milder than the session, so it won’t be as good on its own. Looks like I might wind up with two grapefruit batches instead of one, unless I decide to dry-hop this batch for flavor.
I spent a good chunk of the weekend grading my first class project. Friday night I reviewed work, looked over their files, and filled out a checklist for each project. Saturday morning I fed that into a spreadsheet which averages the score from the checklist and converts that to a letter grade, and from there I adjusted up or down based on attendance. Saturday evening I filled out most of the comments at the bottom of each grading sheet (because what are grades without feedback?) I built this system after realizing how time-intensive grading is during my first semester, and it’s paid off really well.