Finn and I drove from one end of Baltimore to the other to find an early Christmas present: a full-size bike to replace the awesome but now tiny Diamondback Santa brought in 2015. The bicycle industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, as all the factories in China have been closed and dealers sold out of their stock pretty quickly this summer, but apparently they’re doing a great business fixing and upgrading what people already have. Finn has grown several inches since the beginning of 2020 and Jen’s bike was just too big for her to ride. I considered looking for used bikes but I wanted to get her something she’d have for high school and college, so I thought we’d hit the stores before everything gets completely locked down again.
We started at one store in Ellicott City and got her sized for a Diamondback model that was in stock; the color was an odd earthy mauve and it was several hundred dollars above the price point I wanted to pay. The saleslady was awesome and super helpful, but I figured we might be able to find a bike at a better price elsewhere. We put a hold on it and continued to our local store in Catonsville, which is tiny, just to see what they had. He was completely out, but told us a store in Arnold had just gotten a shipment of bikes in, so we drove down there in the afternoon to check out the situation.
The Bike Doctor had a bunch of shiny new Trek models in stock, and we quickly sized one out for Finn in the parking lot. I hesitated over settling on a small or medium frame, worried that she’d either outgrow a small or never size into a medium, but in the end we went medium and I had the mechanic cut about 2″ off the seat stem so that it would drop enough for her to feel comfortable. (Seat stems are cheap and easy to replace).
This bike is a beautiful red, features disc brakes and beefy 29″ tires with a knobby but not aggressive tread, and weighs lighter than it looks. And, it was $150 cheaper than the first bike. Plus, it’s got lugs for a rear pannier on the frame—something the Diamondback lacked—and should be easy to upgrade.
We got it home and took a ride around the school to get her comfortable with it. She’s still struggling with the size but I think as we practice some more in the spring she’ll grow right into it.
My daughter and her friend somehow decided they wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons a few weeks ago, which got me thinking about where my old books might be.
In 1982, my family moved from blue-collar New Jersey to a town in white-collar Connecticut, and I started at a new school. I went from middle school back down to an elementary, and I was bused in from a remote cul-de-sac on the far side of town. I was pretty isolated until school started (the only other kid on our street was two years younger, and all he ever wanted to do was sit inside and play Pac-Man) but after a rocky couple of weeks I met up with a guy who lived less than a mile from my house through the woods. He introduced me to a bunch of his friends, who lived nearby, and one of the things we bonded over was Dungeons and Dragons. They had an agreement with one of the teachers who let them play in an empty classroom during recess once a week, and they invited me to sit in.
I didn’t understand how the game worked at first. There were dice, and rules, and they gave me a character to play, but I enjoyed using our imagination to solve problems. We played as much as we could that fall, between building forts in the woods around our houses, riding bikes, and playing Pitfall! I enjoyed one of the best Halloweens of my life that year when my friend’s father showed us how to melt the plastic tip of a can of shaving cream to shoot the foam 10′ or more; we roamed in and out of epic battles with older neighborhood boys, using our knowledge of the woods to escape and regroup.
My parents bought me the D&D and Gamma World boxed starter sets that Christmas, and I played on and off until I left for college. The box is long gone but I still have the original Player’s Manual, the first dungeon module, a set of dice, and a well-loved first edition of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It only took about five minutes to dig through a storage bin to find them for the girls. I showed them how to roll to create new characters, and at some point in the next couple of weeks I offered to walk them through their first dungeon to see if they like it. Which means I’ve got to read the DM Guide this week to remember how…
On Monday, we took advantage of warm weather, sunny skies, and a day off from school to hike in Gambrill State Park north of Frederick, which features an incredible 360˚ view of northern Maryland. We’re about 3 weeks too early to see trees changing color, but it was still fantastic to get outside.
My bones are creaky this morning because Finn and I camped out in the Chic Shack last night. Before dinner I built a screen for the second window so we could open them both and have a little cross breeze, and that was just right until about 3AM when the temperature dropped. I put fuzzy blanket over Finn’s sleeping bag (and took a corner of it for myself) and fell back asleep. I would have slept sounder if I hadn’t needed to pee at 4AM, but oh, well.
+1, Recommend, Would book a stay again
It’s 4:20 in the afternoon and I’ve just showered after working on Finn’s new fort? House? Vacation property? Think shed?) for the third time in three days. We put walls all the way around to the porch and braced them at the floor and ceiling. Yesterday we drove in to Second Chance and browsed the store to find a pair of reclaimed Andersen double-hung windows that would fit the south and west walls perfectly. Today we cut two holes in the walls and braced everything to set them in place. When that was done (and Finn was napping on the couch) I set up the compressor and sprayed the interior with white Kilz primer to clean everything up.
Now I’m sitting on the couch on the front porch, feeling the breeze blow through the windows, sipping a glass of homebrew, and feeling exhausted but content with the weekend’s accomplishments. The fort project hasn’t been free, but I’ve been able to re-use and salvage a lot of material from the prior iteration and older projects—and to have Finn hug me fiercely and tell me she loves me in the middle of a long day makes everything worthwhile.
On Sunday the heat finally broke and we were blessed with cooler weather and lower humidity, so Finn and I picked up five sheets of T-11 for the walls of her fort. While we were at Lowe’s I looked at cordless drills and impulsively threw one on the cart. I’ve had the same DeWalt 12V cordless since I bought my first house, and it’s been through about six batteries in the span of its lifetime. It still works, it’s powerful, but it’s heavy. I bought an off-brand battery last year to save a little money, and found that off-brand means it’s 70% as good as the name brand, it’s cheaply made, and thus has the annoying tendency to fall out of the bottom of the drill and directly on to my foot. The new one is probably half the size and weight and came with two batteries, Finn and I can work simultaneously and I can throw my corded Ryobi drill with no clutch into the woods, which is where it belongs.
While we were out I stopped in at the Harbor Freight and picked up a $15 angle grinder, as well as a $25 pneumatic DA sander. If I’m going to prep the Scout for a paint job sometime in the spring, I’ve got to get the tools together and start making some progress.
Sunday was, unfortunately, not my best day as a Dad. I was grumpy when I woke up and my attitude got progressively worse until about 3PM, when I dropped something on my foot for the fifth time and had to tell Finn we were packing things in for the day. I recognized that I was getting shorter and shorter with her, and I didn’t want to take my bad mood out on her any more than I already had. I was disappointed in myself because the last couple of weekends I felt like she and I were making awesome progress, she was engaged in what we were doing, and I was doing a decent job of teaching her basic carpentry and building.
Every day is a challenge, especially when we’re closed in together, and I’m vacillating between being outgoing and misanthropic for reasons I can’t pin down yet. I’ve explained this part of my personality to Finn in that I’m like a battery that gets run down, and there are some days when I just need to recharge away from everyone and everything. A modern workday filled with Zoom calls and bouncing from project to project seems to be draining me more that it would at the office, and some days I’m just a blank screen by dinnertime. I look forward to weekends because we get outside and work with our hands, and on days when I’m not being the best Dad I can be, I get very depressed.
To her credit, she is understanding, but she’s also eleven and I want to be the on my A game with her whenever we’re together. Especially when she’s having fun seeing her new fort come together.
We did get the back wall cut down and in place, and it’s actually looking pretty good. Once the walls are all in, we’re going to head down to Second Chance and see if we can’t find some inexpensive used windows to install, as well as a door of some kind—if we can find one that fits.
There’s five gallons of session IPA sitting in the kegerator, slowly carbing until next Saturday, when it should be ready for a first pour. I’m hopeful this will be the first truly good batch I’ve made this year, as the last couple have been disappointments due to brewing methods. In cleaning up the brew stand, basement, and kegerator on Saturday, I was looking askance at the cabinet filled with empty bottles and wondering if I should just recycle them all to clear out space. I’ve kept them with the idea that I’ll eventually brew another Irish Stout or something worth bottling, but in reality I hate bottling and don’t drink stouts enough to be motivated to bother.