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…

Date posted: October 24, 2022 | Filed under family, photography | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: October 23, 2022 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: October 16, 2022 | Filed under family, history | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: September 11, 2022 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: September 6, 2022 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

Our extended family is pretty amazing. We were invited to a celebration on Saturday afternoon: Karean’s grandmother turned 91, and the family invited us to her party. Mother is an amazing woman; if I hadn’t seen the candles on her birthday cake I would have sworn she’s thirty years younger. We sat on the back deck and picked crabs and laughed and enjoyed every minute of our stay.

I had a successful day at my FIL’s house repairing a bunch of things; first on the list was the hot water line in the guest bathroom, which I’d struggled with two weeks ago and given up on. The fitting was leaking, and I couldn’t get it off with the tools I’d brought, so last week I splurged on new locking pliers and brought a smaller set of vice-grips. In about five minutes I had the fitting off, which was a relief. I replaced it with a Shark-Bite and hooked everything up, and within twenty minutes had the whole cabinet buttoned up and hot water running again. That was a huge relief, because I’d prefer never to have to crawl under the house to access the main water shutoff again in my life.

Next up was the kitchen disposal unit, which wasn’t functioning at all. It’s very new—I don’t recall installing this for him, but I did do the dishwasher fifteen years ago—so it should have been working fine. After testing the power at the switch and to the unit, both checked out fine. I found a manual online and learned that it has a fuse on the bottom. after resetting that and pulling a piece of glass and a metal pin out of the bucket, I got it working and cleaned it up. There were various other projects around the house to tackle, and after some weeding in the side yard, I made a dump run and got the garage cleared out. Then we met with a salesman who gave us a quote on replacing the guest shower; it’s been torn apart for years and could stand to be replaced.

We had to get on the road by six to get Finn back for a good night’s sleep—her first day of school was today—so we said our goodbyes and hit the road. It was a lovely evening for a ride with the top down, but by the time we got home I was exhausted. It took a long time to get to bed and I woke up groggy and tired.

Date posted: August 29, 2022 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

One of the many things Dad left behind in the basement was a collection of cords and wires of all shapes and sizes: specialized computer cables, lengths of romex, decommissioned electrical cords, and other odds and ends. As I went through everything a couple of years ago, I set aside a box and slowly filled it with the collection, keeping the good stuff and tossing the bad. I added two frayed extension cords that dated to back before my birth and a load of TV connector cables from his ad hoc surround system, and threw it in the trunk of my car the last time I was at Mom’s. Today I tossed it into the truck along with a pile of my own wire, a couple of old brake drums and some other scrap metal and took it down to the recycling center at lunchtime. After clipping the ends off the plugs, I wound up pocketing $38 and change for the whole thing; the steel was the cheapest by the pound, but apparently romex is the money item.

In the afternoon the sun was too warm and the day too beautiful to resist; I played hooky at 4 and drove up to the pool to meet Jen and Finn and our sister in law’s family. I went from being Work Guy to Fun Uncle in about five minutes, and spent about two hours splashing in the pool with the kids. We hung out until a lot of the other families took off, and I used my $38 in recycling money to have a couple of pizzas delivered for dinner. All in all, an excellent way to spend a summer evening.

* * *

I put all of my homebrewing equipment on Craigslist a couple of weeks ago and have heard back exactly once, from an obvious scammer. I think I need to post it on Marketplace and see if I get a better response there, as much as I try to stay off FB. Sadly, it is where the best leads come from these days, so I guess I have to deal.


Date posted: August 25, 2022 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

I feel like I earned a Boy Scout patch in carpentry this weekend. We’ve been traveling to my father-in-law’s house almost every weekend since the end of March, and one of the many things on the list of repairs was a set of kitchen cabinets that had delaminated and separated from the wall. The house itself dates back to the late 70’s, and the cabinetry is all original builder-grade material. There were two  cabinets in play: a single and a double-wide connected to each other. The single, on the end, was in the worst shape.

The previous weekend we’d boxed up their contents and got everything ready, so when I arrived on Saturday morning I hit the ground running. After clearing off the counters and making some room, I pulled the Hi-Lift jack off the back of the Scout and braced the single cabinet, then pulled out a mixture of wood screws and nails holding it to the wall. After disconnecting it from the double it popped off the wall pretty easily. Finn and I repeated the process on the double and within about a half an hour we had both on the floor and ready for triage.

In the 70’s these were built with the cheapest materials possible: particle board shelving, laminate sides, and pressboard everywhere else. They used glue and staples to construct it all, not even bothering with nails, so when the glue finally dried out the staples gave way and the backing board separated from the rest of the box. It’s a miracle the whole thing didn’t fall down under the weight of all the glassware we pulled out.

I’d brought some extra lumber with me, so I got to work re-gluing the wood together with clamps and cutting new backing boards while that dried. When working on the bus with Brian we used his framing stapler—built to shoot 1.5″ industrial staples, not glorified desk staples like the ones they used in 1978—so I’d gone to Harbor Freight and scored one last week. Between that and careful application of wood adhesive, we had the boxes squared tight and sealed in a couple of hours. I then re-hung the double, leveled it to the rest of the cabinets, and attached it to the wall with deck screws. By mid-afternoon both cabinets were back in place and I had the doors re-hung; I had to swap out some hinges from another cabinet to get the middle door to hang correctly. Then I rebuilt one of the drawers next to the dishwasher which had come apart and fixed two bent roller tracks.

Luckily the weather was perfect for a drive in the Scout; because I was laden with tools and needed to go out for supplies while Jen had her Dad out doing errands, we took two cars. We didn’t get on the road until 9PM that evening, but it was a beautiful night to drive home under the stars with the top down.

* * *

On Sunday I tackled Finley’s IKEA dresser, which was suffering from similar problems: it’s designed to be assembled with an allen head wrench but not to stand up to an impatient child. She’d stuffed laundry into the shelves and pushed the fiberboard bottoms out so that the drawers wouldn’t close, and instead of fixing the clothes she just shoved the drawers closed until the tracks bent.

I pulled the shelves apart and ran the fronts and backs through my table saw to open the grooves up wider, then replaced the fiberboard with laminate wood and braced them all with strips of wood and framing nails. I glued and screwed the backs in place (IKEA held them together with ribbed plastic slugs) and straightened out the tracks; upstairs in her room they slid into place like butter. She has now been notified that any further damage to the dresser will result in her immediate destruction.

I spent the rest of the day laying about and relaxing; it was good to take a 2-mile walk with Jen and Hazel, wander the farmer’s market for lunch and snacks, and taking the time to slow down a little.

Date posted: August 22, 2022 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

On or about Jen’s birthday we had a big storm blow through Maryland, and as it left, it took the scorching heat with it. Since Thursday it’s been averaging a beautiful 80˚, with sunshine and a light breeze pretty much all day. Poor Jen has been cranking on work for the last two weeks so we didn’t really get to do much on the day; I did get the family some delicious Indian food from Ananda and a slice of Smith Island Cake from the market down the street, which we enjoyed by candlelight at the table.

On Saturday we had a fun activity planned: Karean and Zachary drove over from Easton and we went to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone live. They project the movie on a huge screen over the stage, minus the music track, and the symphony plays along in time. The effect is stunning. So much fun! And the audience is into it. We had a blast seeing it again—so much so that I want to read the books again.

Sunday we packed up the CR-V (I got the A/C fixed just in time for the heat to break, but that’s timing for you) and headed to Bob’s house to visit and make some more repairs; I got the front hedges trimmed and swapped in a new sink faucet in the powder room. The hot water shutoff is leaking, so I had to crawl under the house to the main water shutoff (I’d like to punch whoever designed that house right in the dick) and then try to unscrew the valve from the pipe, but a combination of the angle, size of the cabinet, the wrong tools, and lack of patience got the better of me. I hung up my monkey wrench and made a note of what I’ll need for the next attempt.

Jen and I boxed up three cabinets’ worth of glasses in the kitchen so that I can pull them off the wall. Two of them have separated at the back, so they’re hanging precariously over the counter. My plan is to get them down onto the floor, rebuild the boxes, and make them sturdier than before. Then we can rehang them and make them useful again (it’s much cheaper than all-new cabinets).

I also tried to get the Chrysler started again, but for some reason that was being balky too. Spraying half a can of starter fluid into the carb got it close but not running, but I don’t know exactly why. I tested it for spark again, and that was fine, but it won’t catch. I think I’ve got to pull the carb off again and see if anything is wrong inside.

Date posted: August 15, 2022 | Filed under Baltimore, family, friends, general | Leave a Comment »

Beachside Jen

Happy Birthday blondie!

Date posted: August 10, 2022 | Filed under family, photo | Leave a Comment »