Quarantine blows, and the fact that we’ve been holed up in our house dutifully waiting out the Covid while half the fucking country has decided IT’S PARTY TIME Y’ALL doesn’t make things easier. All of us intelligent science-loving rational folks have been self isolating, driving each other nuts in specific ways only nuclear families can, while the tinfoil morons have bitched and complained en masse and busted heads in the WalMart yelling that it’s their God-given right to wander the housewares aisle without a mask coughing on anybody they please. Two weeks later, they are shocked, SHOCKED when the Covid flattens them and they’re on a ventilator moaning about how they never thought they’d get this thing, not even considering the eighty other people they infected. It’s those morons I’m afraid of.
We can’t vacation like we normally would, we can’t stay overnight anywhere because things are either closed or infected, and we can’t day trip without the dog because she would FLIP OUT if she realized we all had left without her. There isn’t a strong enough dose of Trazadone in the world, and they haven’t perfected the three-day time release yet. Puppy daycare has basically told us thanks, but you don’t have to come back, and we’re keeping the deposit on those other days you already paid for. So Jen compiled a list of things we could do together under those very exacting stipulations and we set about doing them this past week.
First, we checked out Antietam Battlefield two Saturdays ago, which is out on the border of the big part of Maryland and West Virginia. It’s been hot and getting hotter for the past two weeks, so we dialed up the air conditioning and packed a ton of water for the trip. There’s a lot to see on the battlefield without having to go in any of the dog-restricted visitor centers, so we used the hike to tire out the dog. We checked out the Sunken Lane and then drove over to Burnside Bridge, where a short walk down from the parking lot puts you under some leafy trees and in merciful shade. A couple of hours of hiking and sweating were all we needed to feel like we’d seen the place, so we retreated into Sharpsburg for some burgers at the Dairy Queen and hydrated the dog. Then we continued west into Berkeley Springs where we showed Finn where the two and a half of us had gotten spa treatments when she was still a cantaloupe and the masseuses wouldn’t touch Jen for fear she’d spontaneously shoot a baby across the table and knock over their scented oil displays.
On Friday we drove north to the Maryland border to go check out Rocks State Park, a place our friends had taken Finn and I a couple of years ago to see the overlook and the waterfall. We were able to wait out the line at the small parking lot (they are carefully monitoring visitors) and hiked in to the river area. We found a quiet spot downstream and let Hazel approach the water at her own pace; she’s nervous around the river and wanted to take things slowly, so I followed her lead and let her follow her nose in until she was up to her paws. I think she was surprised to find herself that deep, because she would suddenly want to retreat to the bank and sniff it out, and then slowly go back in again. The water was cool and delicious in the humidity so we stayed in as long as we could. Then we found a way to get across the river and hiked up among the maskless morons so that Jen could see it for herself. There’s been a lot of flood activity lately so where the falls were clear four years ago there are several huge tree trunks leaning over the rocks now, which is kind of a bummer.
Saturday we returned to the Sharpsburg area and hiked up the C&O canal on the north bank of the Potomac above Harper’s Ferry. It’s a challenge to find parking in places like this on a good day, and Covid has made it even more difficult. We picked this trail because it’s lightly traveled, and thankfully there were not a lot of people out there. It was even hotter than the previous day, so we hydrated continuously and enjoyed the shady pathway.
On Sunday it was too hot to do any damn thing so I dug our inflatable pool out of the basement, washed it down, and blew it up with the compressor (oh, thank you lord for the wonderful compressor). I switched our water over to unfiltered and filled it up in a sunny spot on the back lawn, and Finn and I jumped in around noon. I’m happy to say I didn’t get out until 3:15, but the price of all that leisure was a bright pink sunburn on the tops of my legs. The rest of the day was nothing but relaxation (and a sunburn-induced nap, if I’m honest).
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.
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.
Finn decided that Nox needed to be walked over the weekend. It’s easier to take his picture when he’s at chest height than when he’s skulking through the front bushes.
As of tonight I’ve got a total of 560 slides processed from a scanned pool of 877, and I scanned another 195 this evening. I pushed through and made it to the end of the carousels, so I can send the scanning equipment back without late charges and store the slides away. It’s been a slog but I feel good about getting it all done, and I’ll have plenty of time to go back and clean up the scans that aren’t perfect.
Oh, and it was my birthday. It was a quiet one. We took a family walk at noon to the local café to get some takeout lunch, and promised we’d be back to support them. It was a brisk but sunny day, and it felt great to be outside with the girls. At dinner, Jen cooked a delicious roast with mashed potatoes (I had seconds) and then we had a flourless torte with three candles for dessert. Finn was worried that I wouldn’t be happy with my birthday, but I told her I had everything I wanted: we’re together, we’re all healthy, and things are OK.
I scanned about 300 slides last night after the girls went to bed. I have no idea if this sounds easy or not, but it’s definitely a pain in the lower back. Doing the math, I was averaging 2 slides a minute, with two quick breaks along the way. What I’ve got to do is pull each individual slide out of the carousel and hold it up to see if it’s something worth scanning. Is it people? Is it people we know? Is it a landscape shot? Is it a picture of cars or lawnmowers or random flowers? Is it a duplicate shot of something I’ve seen before—and if so, is it better or worse? When I’ve found two I like, I put them in the carrier, put that on the adapter mounted to the front of the camera, and zoom in to the first slide to adjust the focus. When it looks sharp, I shoot the picture and repeat for the second slide. Then I pull it all apart, turn off Live View on the camera, put the slides back, and repeat the process, going all the way around the carousel.
At the rate I’m going I don’t think I’ll make it through all of the carousels. There are just too many of them and a lot of them are double-capacity, meaning they hold 140 slides instead of the standard 70—Dad used to curse these larger trays because half the time they wouldn’t work in his projectors and get all jammed up. Two trays a night is about all my lower back can handle.
He made some Greatest Hits carousels over the years where he’d pull one or two good shots from an event and put them in a new carousel, so things have slowly been mixed up over time. I’m running into photos that belong in a carousel I’ve already put back somewhere and thus are out of sync; the OCD part of me wants to organize them all and the practical side of me says fuck that, keep scanning, you only have the gear until Friday.
I know I won’t be able to post-process them all before the gear goes back, and that’s fine, because I’ll have plenty of time here at the house to do that. As mentioned before, there are so many variations on film stock and exposure settings that I’m constantly shifting settings around, but Lightroom has some nifty tools to apply settings to a batch of photos (a series of shots taken with the same film stock on the same day in the same conditions, can, with a few slight tweaks, all benefit from the same base adjustments).
I think what’s required is some triage of the last box-and-a-half of carousels to see what’s there and what demands archiving; if the number of carousels is high I might extend the rental for a few days, but if I can jam through the rest in the next three nights, I’ll do that instead.
And in the future, there are a bunch of pictures that are definitely worth doing some precision dust and scratch removal on—today I sent Renie a link to a portrait when she was maybe four; her hair is a beautiful curly mess, Dad got the focus and exposure right, the depth of field is perfect, the light is perfect, and she looks like an angel.
See that truck parked behind us? We drove all the way across the country in that, with no air conditioning, in August.
A giant box was delivered via FedEx on Friday, containing a kit with everything I’d need to digitize slides. I ordered the baseline gear required: a Nikon D500, a 40mm macro lens, and the slide carrier kit, and set it up in the den on Friday night to start fooling around with it.
In about five minutes I was oriented with the camera and set up live view with the viewfinder, but on the first night I stuck with autofocus to see how good it would be. The results were OK; I’d say about one half of what I shot was in clear focus, but the other half was not. The color varies from slide to slide, mostly because Dad was switching film stock pretty regularly—the Kodachrome stuff is rich and clear, some of the Fuji is washed out or shifts to yellow/green on the color wheel, and there are other nonbranded film stocks that veer towards muddy grays and blues.
This makes processing it challenging, because my intent is to always bring each photo back to a normal white balance and exposure—and with Dad shooting a manual camera, the exposure could be all over the place. It’s amazing what kinds of detail I can pull out of a dark slide transfer when it’s shot in RAW format; I’ve been able to resurrect some shots that would ordinarily be past saving. In the 80’s, before he bought a newer Minolta, he was having problems with the light meter on his Konica, and I remember him grumbling about some of the slides we got back before he got it fixed. And, his insistence on either using a giant blinding light bar or facing subjects directly into the sun messed up some otherwise good pictures.
Sharpness is also a challenge, so last night I switched to shooting using manual focus and Live View on the camera to zoom in and correct the shot before hitting the shutter. This resulted in better, clearer pictures, and they were much sharper that was I was getting applying software fixes in post processing. The shots are all 20MP in size, which gives me plenty of data to clean up dust and scratches—and some of these are in rough shape.
I’ve made it through four carousels and a binder so far. I’d estimate that’s about 600 slides of an estimated 4,000, and I’m going to redo half of the 600 now that I’ve got a better focusing system in place. I have to adjust the lighting as well—I’ve got a better, brighter photo bulb I can use to bring out more detail.