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I took Zachary and Finley snowboarding yesterday, taking advantage of President’s Day and a rare burst of sunny 60˚ weather in our area. We got on the road as early as we could (Zachary stayed the night) and were at the ticket counter by 9:00. Waiting through a long line at the rental counter, we got sorted and were on the slope by 10AM.

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Both kids picked it right back up where they left off in 2019 even though they’ve both grown a foot and their center of balance had shifted. Zachary fell a few more times than he wanted to, but I talked to him about the fundamentals and we did a couple of runs together where we just worked on control, braking, and basic steering. He made it off the hill with some bruises but talking about coming back.

Finley surprised me. She started out needing help getting on the magic carpet lift but ended the day riding it herself with no fear at all, threading through traffic easily. By 1PM we’d stripped down to long-sleeve T-shirts under the warm sun.

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We left at 3PM, tired and happy, talking about returning next year—hopefully I can arrange another trip this year, before Christmas).

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

Christmas snuck up and walloped me on the head this year, and while I was on the floor it ran out the back door and was gone.

Jen prepared a fantastic Advent calendar of fun activities for us, and while I enjoyed them all I’m already missing the leadup to the big day. In some respects, Christmas itself was a letdown; I had more fun doing fun things with the girls—the symphony, ice skating, a cocoa and Christmas light tour, fancy French dinner, egg nog tasting, making cookies with the family—than I did on the day itself. Don’t get me wrong, we all had a great time, and Finn was well feted with gifts. But my favorite part is spending time doing things with the family and finding fun together, even if sometimes we have to force our moody teen to participate.

Jen’s intention was to make a St. Mary’s County Ham and fried oysters for Christmas dinner, so she went to our local butcher and asked for a Country Ham, which is what the recipe called for. This means different things to different people; what she got was a salted and smoked ham in a bag, a dry slab of meat designed to survive a voyage around the Horn of Africa. This is not the correct ham. She read up on this and did her best to make lemonade out of jerky by soaking it for a day, but what we got was a ham that was saltier than anything I’ve ever eaten. Bummed out, we took a vote and decided to ditch the rest of it. For the record, what you ask for is a corned ham.

Last night Jen used a recipe from St. Mary’s County to make oyster breading and fried up a batch for dinner. This was much more successful; we gobbled them up quickly and enjoyed every bite.

* * *

Hazel gave the family a Roomba, after I’d heard lavish praise about it from my sister. I unboxed our new unit and set it up to run on Christmas afternoon (I spent about an hour doing the New Account Signup Dance with iRobot, Nintendo, and several other companies) to clear the floors of pine needles and paper shreds. About 1/2 hour in I was getting worried because it was leaving large swaths of floor untouched and seemed to be interested in returning to the bathroom several times, but when it finally returned to its dock to recharge the floors looked worlds better. I know it’s just mapping our floor and selling the data to various government agencies, but it seems like a good tradeoff while our daughter claims she’s allergic to chores.

* * *

In preparation for a shiny old IH fridge sometime in the spring, I put the garage fridge up on Freecycle with a couple of pictures and waited for someone to contact me. Within 24 hours I had three bites, and then I had to figure out how to get it out of the garage and into the driveway by myself. I cleared a basic path and muscled it down and out of the main doorway, and a man in a pickup truck hauled it away. Now I have to stop myself from filling the big empty space with more crap.

Date posted: December 27, 2021 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

Saturday’s Advent activity was ice skating, which we haven’t tried in three years (has it been that long? jeez) when Finn was 9 inches shorter. We went to the local skate rink during open hours and got some rental blades, then cautiously hit the ice while Mama watched from the sidelines. Finn was all knees and elbows because her center of gravity has changed so dramatically in the last couple of years. We only made one halting loop around the rink before she asked to use one of the skating aids. I followed her around until it looked like she had the hang of her balance, and then we did a bunch more loops by ourselves. After two circles she made better progress and was soon skating by herself; as she built confidence she got better. It was great to be back out on the ice, and this time I didn’t get a pair of skates that compressed my ankles into dust!

* * *

I got a text from Brian in the middle of the week asking if I was available for a day’s work on the bus while they had a film crew on site, so I shuffled some plans around and loaded up the Scout. The plan was to get the folding seats mounted and then see how everything else fit into place; in the month since I was out there last the two couches for the rear came in, along with a ton of electrical gear.

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I drove out the night before and stayed in the guest room so we’d have an early start. The weather forecast was in the 40’s so I packed and dressed in layers—bike tights under my work pants, and a fleece over a long-sleeve shirt over a thermal. Even so, in the shade it was chilly. We put a charger on the bus battery to get it started and pulled it out into the sunlight, where I could see just how good the floor turned out. Not one of the squares pulled up—everything laid down perfectly flat and straight.

We quickly got to work, first trimming unneeded hinges from the backs of the seats and cleaning them up with the angle grinder. I hit them with some paint to cover the bare metal.

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From there we started cutting plates for the seats as the owner and film crew arrived—a nice young woman with a simple camera rig who set to work shooting what we were doing. Brian got the metal cut and I crawled under the bus to start setting the plates and hardware. By about 12:30 we had both folding seats mounted in place, and tested folding them down into the bed, which worked like a charm. We then bolted the swivel chair to its base and roughed that into place with the refrigerator to see how much room we’d have for the kitchen area: It’ll be tight but it’ll work. While we were doing that, Matthew was assembling the two couches for the back section, and when his wife and one of their sons showed up we put them in back to see how that would work.

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They were thrilled with all of the progress and now that they can see how things are setting into place it’s easier to see what space is available for what. Brian and I roughed out some ideas for electrical components—we need space for a fuse box, an inverter, and a splitter, among other things—and started sorting out how we’re going to run wiring for lights and sound. By 3:30 we were getting very cold, so we started cleaning up and hit the road home by 4. The Scout wasn’t pleased with the cold but ran like a sewing machine there and back.

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Yesterday was a wash because of a bad stomach bug, but I’m back on my feet and running again. We have plans for a fancy meal at Le Petit Louis in Baltimore tomorrow night, and I figure much like the Wizarding World in 2020 we’ll sneak in just under the wire before Omicron hits hard. And Christmas is just around the corner!

Date posted: December 21, 2021 | Filed under family, friends, photo | Leave a Comment »

I got a text from our old friend Brian H. asking for a little help jockeying cars around in his new garage, and pleased to hear from him, set something up for Saturday morning. He and his wife  bought a house out in the country with multiple garages and a lot more space, and he’s picked up a couple of new projects to play with as well as helping Bennett store some of his fleet.

After walking the dog, I warmed up the Scout in the driveway, looking nervously at the overcast sky. The weather report did not call for rain until late that evening so I waited for the defroster to blow condensation off the windows and set out on the road. Brian’s new spread is in a still-rural part of Ellicott City, and his house is tucked in between a horse farm and a stand of woods. I  passed Heavy D (Bennett’s truck) in the driveway and parked down by a three-bay garage where the two of them stood talking. We stood around and caught up for an hour or so—it’s been several years since I’ve seen Brian—and then I got the tour of the barns. He’s got an incredible setup; lots of room, lots of excellent tools the homeowner left behind, and tons of possibilities.

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Bennett took me out for a ride in his Speedster while the sky was still clear, and we got it out on Rt. 40 to hear the engine wind up. It’s a really nice little car. It’s a replica that was made professionally about 30 years ago, and since buying it he replaced the original engine with a bigger unit built by a VW race specialist. It’s been sitting for a long while so he’s got some work to do getting the carburetors to run correctly, and the brakes need to be gone through front and rear. The gel coat is dull so the red doesn’t shine as much as he’d like, but now that he’s got a warm dry space to store it, he’s planning on buffing out the color and making it shine again. It’s a fucking blast to drive in, and larger on the inside than it looks. However, on our way home the carbs flooded so we sat in a field waiting for them to drain, and limped home on what sounded like three cylinders.

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From there we looked over the main barn where Brian has his Edsel stored on rollaway carts and his Dad’s old Dodge D-100 in a state of disassembly waiting on some love. The day’s mission was to pull the box off the Dodge and store it in the back of the pole barn, then move the Edsel around to the back so that there’s more room up front for Heavy D to sit next to the Dodge. After a little consultation we got the box up and over on to some sawhorses, and the Edsel slid around back, easy as pie. He’s put the Edsel on hold while he gets the Dodge closer to running, and he’s got his hands full there. The Edsel has a fresh new engine installed and ready to go, and he’s made progress with the body, but there’s a lot more to accomplish.

Meanwhile, his house needs work along with all of those projects, so he’s got his hands full! He took us on a tour of the main floor, which was completely remodeled before the purchase, and then the basement, which holds almost as many horrors as ours did when we bought it. We sat and ate some pizza and caught up some more, and it was great to just hang out and be with friends for the day.

Along about 2:30 Bennett and I got ready to head out, and Brian sent me home with the smaller of the two blasting cabinets he inherited with the house—a beautiful Eastwood side-loading unit with a light and vacuum port on the back.

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I got home at about 3 and did some work around the house before getting a shower and dressed up for our Saturday advent activity: seeing the Cirque Nutcracker at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. We drove in to the city and got to the BSO an hour ahead of time, which allowed us to relax with a drink before the show and people watch. Our seats were high on the fourth level but we could see everything and the sound was perfect. The production is incredible, featuring  acrobats, jugglers and aerialists, and we were all captivated through the whole thing. It was lovely to get dressed up with my ladies and feel fancy for an evening after two years of living in socks and pajamas. As the lights went up after intermission and the first performers came back out, I reflected on just how lucky I am to have great friends and a beautiful family, and how much I’ve enjoyed the leadup to this holiday season.

Date posted: December 12, 2021 | Filed under cars, family, friends, photo | Leave a Comment »

When it comes to carpentry I’m definitely an amateur. Maybe a Pro-Am. I’ve done enough paying work that I maybe could sneak into the union, but I know there are years of tools and tricks I’ve never heard of or seen. Watching my friend Brian work humbles me. He can eyeball up a cabinet or a floor or a section of wall and have it measured out correctly in minutes, and know exactly how to tuck something too big into a place too small with ease. He’s got tools I’ve never seen before rolling around in the back of his truck, and he knows how to use them the way God and the engineers at Craftsman intended. I learn tons of stuff just by watching what he’s doing.

I can mill and frame wood with the best of them. I’ve built mantles and cabinets and toolbenches and all sorts of smaller objects, and most of them have come out square and clean and sturdy. I’ve milled and installed all the moulding in five rooms of this house. If there’s anything I’m professional at, it’s cobbling together some kind of jig out of scrap wood and hose clamps to get the saw or the drill or the router to do what I need it to do; the mantle I mentioned earlier was put together with nothing more than a miter saw, a circular saw, and a shit-ton of backwoods engineering. I bought, disassembled, and jury-rigged a crappy old router stand to mill a 15˚ angle on the thresholds for the bathroom upstairs, and then, having pretty much ruined it for any other purpose, threw the whole thing in the garbage.

Frankly, I’m kind of sick of that shit. I would love nothing more than to have a barn with a dedicated woodworking space, where there’s a large flat clean table to do joinery on, an area with a full-size table saw, miter saw, sanding equipment, and proper lighting. All of my carpentry is done in the basement, tucked behind shelving and assembled on plywood sheets atop an old table. I have to open the basement door to ventilate the dust out of there, and Jen gets pissed when the laundry comes upstairs covered in sawdust (I don’t blame her). The lighting sucks. I’m always tripping over cords or piles of wood or boxes waiting to be reshelved. The truth is, I don’t do carpentry enough every day to warrant this kind of space—but I’d love to pursue that hobby.

This weekend I decided I’d put together a frame for the mirror that’s going in the upstairs bathroom. We don’t want to just glue a mirror to the wall, so I’m constructing a frame with wood slightly narrower than the door moulding and beveling the inner edge to accept the mirror. Normally I’d rig up a jig on my table saw and make two cuts per board, but this time I thought I’d use the router and a square removal bit to accomplish the same task. For anyone with a router stand this would be a 10-minute job, but as mentioned I threw out the last stand, so I mounted a fence to the router and did it all by hand, generating a pile of sawdust higher than my knees. And because it was handheld, the results were less than optimal—the inside edge of the bevel was a bit wavy because the fucking bit began to come loose—and I’m a careful guy. But I thought maybe I could salvage what I had, so I kept going.

I also thought I’d use this project as a reason to buy a Kreg jig, which is basically an inexpensive joining tool, and use that to bolt the parts together. The jig is nice but not made for 45˚ angled cuts, so the test runs I did all came out too short or too long and I couldn’t replicate success with any precision. So I started drilling and countersinking screws, but on the first corner the grain of the wood carried the bit downwards and I busted through the front of the frame with the screw. That ended Saturday’s attempt.

On Sunday I bought more wood with Hazel and started on Version 2. In ten minutes I cobbled together a clean jig on the table saw and had three boards down neatly—exactly what I should have done in the first place. Then I set up a jig on some plywood, clamped the frame ends down, and pre-drilled countersink holes on the top and bottoms, where nobody will see them. With a carpenter’s angle and a screw gun I had the whole thing assembled in about an hour. It needs some filler and a little sanding, but it’s clean and ready for a mirror. I’m all about learning new skills and trying new things, but sometimes it’s cheaper and faster to go with what you know.

* * *

Sunday’s Advent activity was a Bad Santa Challenge: we each picked a name out of a hat and had to buy the tackiest gift we could for our chosen person. We decided we’d pick out but not buy anything so that we didn’t drag tacky crap we’d never use home with us. Jen and I figured the best place for this was the thrift store: where else to find the most tacky in the smallest space?

In Laurel we hit the Second Avenue and each had 20 minutes to find our treasures, with an imaginary cash limit of $20. I had Jen, so I immediately went to the tchotchke area and started looking; a woman was putting a 16″ porcelain statue of a nude couple embracing in her cart just as I was walking towards it. Dammit. I looked through that area, then went over to the women’s clothing thinking I could find something super-trashy like I used to in the Saks North Avenue days. But these stores turn over much quicker than Back In The Day and my tack-o-meter isn’t finely tuned; some of the stuff I saw could have been tacky or could have been high fashion. I did a circuit of the store, beginning to panic, and went back to the tchotchke area to discover a huge carved wooden sign saying LIVE LAUGH LOVE over some banal decoration; this is as diametrically opposed to my wife’s tastes as anything I’ve ever seen. I figured I’d hit it big but I was still a couple of dollars under my limit, so I picked out a battered golf driver from the racks of sad sporting goods and hurried over to meet them.

Finn had picked out a hideous birdhouse, a random crime novel, a strange army belt and a moldy 50’s pop music record for me. Jen presented Finn with a strange and frightening porcelain hobo statue, which (when powered by batteries) played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After laughing over our presents, we returned them to the shelves and looked around the store for real. I found a Pelican knock-off case originally created to hold hideous overpriced watches and scored it for $5; the compartments are sized perfectly for camera lenses:

Five minutes with a knife made a comfortable waterproof house for my Fuji rig with the big lens, and the rest of the kit fit neatly inside. Now I just have to spray-paint over the stupid watch logo on the top.

Date posted: December 6, 2021 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

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Saturday morning the family rose, grabbed a quick meal, and put on warm clothes so that we could help organize and distribute Thanksgiving meals for a church in our neighborhood. As part of the food drive we did a couple of weeks ago, our church partners with others to collect and donate food, and we signed up for another morning of service. We parked front of a long line of idling cars, then walked to the back of the church house where tables were set up and people were busily building boxes of cans and bags of dry goods. Jen and Finn dove into the tent and got to work, and I made myself useful at a pile of boxes along the driveway, stacking and moving things from one place to the next. When the cars started coming in, we all hustled to fill them with food. It was a bit chaotic at the beginning, but the joyful congregation and good cheer kept the mood light and the work easy. The last of 200 turkeys was loaded in a car at 10:40, and the final car drove through at 11:30. We helped clean up as much as we possibly could, then had a slice of homemade cake and some hot chocolate and said our good-byes, happy we’d been able to do some good.

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I headed over the bridge on Sunday morning to put a day’s worth of work in on the schoolbus, which has been sitting patiently in the shed since we stopped work in October. The first job was to unpack the bench seats and do a test fitting to see how they looked. We unpacked one and set it up on the floor of the garage, finally figuring out how the folding mechanism worked so that we could convert it into a seat (they ship flat). We used an angle grinder to take a third folding section of the bed off the back—there isn’t enough room to include it, and they don’t need it with the way we’re organizing the space. Then we hauled it into the bus and sat it in place, making some test holes to figure out where the seat bases will land. When that was done we unpacked the single seat and put that in place to test the pass-through space. It’ll be tight, but it should work.

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Repacking the seats, we sanded the high edges of the floor down, put about a thousand flooring nails in place, and applied leveling mud to the surface to smooth it all out. By the time that dried it was getting dark, so we set up a light and got to work laying floor tile. We started up front and worked our way back, and with Brian prepping the floor and laying tile and me cutting tiles to fit, we cranked it out pretty quickly. Even so, by the time we finished it was 7:30 and while he cleaned up the surface I ran around and threw all the tools in the truck. We then had a minor hiccup when the battery on the bus decided it was too weak to turn the motor over, so we found some jumper cables and started it from Brian’s truck. It was 8PM when we left Rock Hall and 9:30 by the time I made it home to the girls.

Meanwhile, Jen had been at the ER with Hazel for four hours, who had been acting strangely all morning. They were swamped so it took a long time to be seen, but when she was examined and an X-ray was taken, it turned out she is backed up worse than the Long Beach dockyards. They did some, uh, work to help the situation but it’s going to take more long walks and some time to clear out her pipes. So she’s moping around the house with her bonnet and a disturbed look on her face. Here’s to hoping the deliveries start back up again.

Date posted: November 22, 2021 | Filed under family, friends, hazel | 2 Comments »

I was beginning to wonder if I was going to hear back from Kodak about the 8mm reels I’d sent off for digitizing in early July, and while I was sweating my nuts off in a tent in Southern Maryland, I got an email from them. They sent me links to download all four videos, which were all between 500-600MB in size. I was pleasantly surprised with all four of the videos.

Dad had issues with his Super-8 camera back in the day where the light meter didn’t expose the film correctly, so some of the footage is dark, but the folks at Kodak did their best to work with what they were given, and they actually pulled a lot of the detail back out. I think my biggest criticism would be the sharpness of the footage—I wonder if there’s a way I can take the footage I’ve got and put it through some kind of enhancement to pull more detail out.

For the price, it’s fantastic, and when I get these reels back I’ll have to figure out what the next four will be.

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I’ve mentioned my disappearing sunglasses previously, so when my brown pair went missing again earlier this spring, I figured they were gone for good this time and it wasn’t worth writing about. I got along fine with the black pair and actually grew to like them just as much as the brown ones. Yesterday as I was cleaning sand out of the Scout I found the brown ones, having fallen in between the passenger seat and the transmission tunnel; they’d gone unnoticed all summer, even as I was cutting and installing heat matting, thankfully landing lenses up so that the glass wasn’t scratched.

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Jen and I pulled the trigger on a closet organization system a while back, and it was delivered several weeks ago. The boxes are piled up in the bathroom waiting for me to get started assembling. One of the first things I needed to do was address the outlet left in the closet, which was still hanging out of the wall. It was old enough to date back to the Doctor, and I used that box to jump a line out to install a spotlight over the driveway. During demo I found that it had just been attached to the paneling and nothing behind that, so it was left hanging out of the wall. I found a blue plastic new work box and cut the drywall wider on one side until I could tuck the box flap between the drywall and the wood sheathing behind it, then screwed it in place. Then I did a drywall repair job on the remainder of the opening. With that complete, I can now start measuring and installing racks and MDF for the closet system.

Date posted: August 30, 2021 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

Last night I filled a box with four carefully wrapped, priceless reels of our family history and got it ready to ship to Kodak for transfer to digital video. In all, there’s about 100-110 minutes of footage spread across each of them. They’re going to return a couple of thumb drives and a download link along with my reels, and I’m hoping the money spent will be worth it. I have no idea what quality to expect, but I’m hoping the result will be better than anything I can do myself. Dad tried transferring stuff to VHS back in the day but we all know how that technology made out; I’d rather have this digital so I can update the format if I ever need to.

* * *

After busting my ass in the heat painting the house, I did some organizing on Sunday to go through all of my camping gear and figure out what we’ve got and what we might need. It’s all been spread out across the basement and garage since we went last time, so I feel a lot better about having most of it in one place, ready to go. This time I’m dealing with teens who have been glued to their screens for two years, so it’s going to be a much trickier situation to navigate. Just as I’ve gotten them to detox and see the beauty of real world, it’ll be time to throw all our shit back in the truck and head home. I hope they don’t band together and kill me; my safety is dependent on the fact that they can’t drive a stick.

* * *

As I was working all weekend, I found that I needed to keep pulling my glasses on and off to focus on small details, and I finally got fed up with it. It’s been an issue more and more, and while part of me is still too vain to admit I need bifocals, the time has come. When I do the bus renovation with Brian, I’m going to need a set of safety glasses, so I thought I’d be smart and have a set of progressive lenses built in to them to avoid this issue. But that means I need a prescription. I’ve got an appointment today to have an eye doctor test my reading vision, and I’ve found a place online that will cut me safety glasses for less than a fancy set of designer frames. So we’ll see if I can wear a set of bifocals without throwing up all over myself.

 

Date posted: July 13, 2021 | Filed under family, photography | Leave a Comment »

I took advantage of a break in the hot weather on Saturday to continue painting the house and got a lot more done than I thought I would. First I had to build a leveling platform for the front porch roof, as it slopes down from the front and from both sides, which makes reaching the edges of the second story eaves difficult. I knocked together some scrap wood in the garage, hauled the ladders, compressor, and platform around to the front of the house, and had both edges of the second story knocked out by about 2PM. This included a second (third, actually) coat of white paint on all of the eaves across the front of the house.

Then I moved everything to the back corner and started the complicated ladderwork to get the siding painted there. As mentioned before it’s very tricky because there are three wires that reach the house on that corner, no level ground to place a ladder, and no easy flat surfaces to lean a ladder on. I got most of the siding done with some careful placement before the compressor tripped the circuit for the third time, and I finally realized it was overloaded when the connection between the cord and the extension cord started throwing smoke (and it burned my finger). I’ll have to temporarily unplug the refrigerator and some other small stuff and see if that helps make the compressor any happier.

By the time I finished I was absolutely exhausted. The weather had been nice but all that ladderwork took it out of me, and I was moving a lot of heavy stuff around all day. We ate a quick dinner and then went over to the Gebler’s house for a birthday party for Ruby, who turned 4 (she shares a birthday with Aunt Renie!) where we let Hazel run free in the backyard while the kids played and we drank beer and relaxed. It was after 10:30 and a set of skinned knees when we packed up the car and returned home.

Date posted: July 11, 2021 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

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Date posted: July 4, 2021 | Filed under family, photo | Leave a Comment »