Finley asked me for help putting a proper desk in her fort, so I had her draw me a picture of what she wanted so that we could plan things out. Her idea was elegant and made a lot of sense, and after I suggested a counterproposal we decided to go with her original plan, using lumber and materials we had around the house.
Finn and I hit the store for the two things we needed: a pair of strong hinges and some chain. The key to the desk was that it needed to be collapsible, as space in the fort is at a premium. I cut a crosspiece down and we roughed in the height, and after we picked up a friend who wanted to help, I had them install the hinges and put the chain in place.
Once that was done I cut two pieces of scrap wood and made a simple latch for the stowed position, and voila! She has a usable desk next to the window.
Jen has been bugging me to try smoking some meat since my first abortive attempt in June of 2015, when I turned a chicken into a block of cement. The smoker has been sitting in the garage since then, taking up space, silently mocking me. Fed up with waiting, Jen found a recipe, drove us to the butcher, and kicked me out of the car to go buy some meat. Sunday morning I cleaned out the smoker, lit some charcoal, and rubbed spices into two cuts of tri-tip. Throwing some wet mesquite onto the fire, I put thermometers into each cut, laid them on the grill, and said a prayer.
It’s pretty obvious in hindsight, but cooking meat with a good thermometer changes the game entirely. The smoker did a great job and I was able to get the meat up to temperature right on schedule. I ran out of charcoal so Hazel and I ran to the 7-11 to pick up another bag. They had no matchlite, so I had to resort to lighter fluid. Because I was in a hurry and not thinking, I didn’t set up the new charcoal the way I should have, and I wound up flash-burning my hand pretty good when the chamber full of vapor lit off, as well as ruining a good fleece jacket. Lesson learned.
After four hours smoking, I wrapped the meat in foil and let them get up to final temperature, which took less time than the recipe called for. We had an early dinner at the table with coleslaw and French fries, and the meat tasted absolutely fantastic. I made a Manhattan to go with it. We all ate until we were stuffed, and decided there will be more smoked meals in our future.
After some hesitation, I put Finley’s blue bike up on Craigslist this afternoon. in hindsight I should have done it last year, when people were desperate to get bikes, but for some reason I waited. Ever the sentimental fool, I’m sad to see this one go. It’s the one she learned how to ride on, the one Santa brought her. It’s even the same color as Ox (this was not coincidence). But her legs are almost as long as mine now, and it’s time to find a new rider. I hope it makes good memories for the next little girl who climbs aboard..
On Saturday I re-organized the greenhouse so that the spare table is up front where most of the light will be, and prepared a bunch of bins with soil and fertilizer. The seedlings are on their second day of hardening, so by next Saturday they should be ready to plant. There are seedlings on one tray that are 8″ tall at this point, which is fantastic; I’m much further along this spring than I was last year.
Because I have nothing new to share this week, I leave you with this curly-haired girl helping me bake a cake ten years ago today:
I spent some time on Saturday measuring out the bathroom wall for a mirror and looking over the closet situation based on the designs I’d built, and I think it’s time to order the former and go back to the drawing board for the latter. We’ve got a plan for the mirror which will involve some construction, so I’ve got to find someone who will cut one for us.
The closet is another story. Our current closets are 42″ wide, and we each have one—Jen in the blue room and mine in the back bedroom. They are barely 7′ tall, while the new closet is more than a foot higher (in many old houses around here the closets don’t share the same ceiling height). The doors on the current closets are only 24″ wide, so it feels like you’re reaching in to a cereal box. The new closet is 84″ wide, so we don’t gain any width, but with two large doors, 1′ more depth, and interior lighting, it’ll be a completely different experience.
All of the closet solutions I’ve found want to divide the space into three areas, and after talking to Jen about it, I’d like to split it in half. She wants a rack for long clothes and I want a short rack with shelves underneath. All of the online tools I used don’t offer this, so I’ve got to keep searching for something that will work the way we want.
Monday afternoon we grudgingly put real clothes on, packed the entire family in the car, and drove to the karate dojo for testing. They’ve been doing the best they can with Zoom karate but I know instructing kids remotely is a terrible substitute for in-person training. Finn has been reasonably good about keeping up with it, and when she was done she walked outside with a huge smile and her new blue belt: the next step up!
While we were waiting, Hazel started whining and crying at a plastic owl sitting on the picnic table outside the dojo. I walked out to spin it around so it wasn’t staring at her, and the sensei came out to say hi to us and explain that they’re going to have to go back to in-person training soon. We chatted about the realities of teaching during the pandemic, and I understand his predicament—I’m glad they’re still in business, they are a fantastic dojo.
As the weeks go by my attitude on in-person classes has changed. Finn needs to be around other kids, even if it’s highly compartmentalized. The last couple of months have been really hard for us all, but she’s suffering the most. She needs more formalized structure and to be in a different building interacting with different people, not just for her grades but for her sanity. We’ve started talking to her about it, and where we were dead set against it before, we’re trying to explain why we’ve changed our minds. She’s terrified she might get me sick and doesn’t want to be responsible for killing me (which I appreciate) but I think her mental health is worth the risk.
On the way home, to celebrate the belt, we stopped at a Starbucks to try something Jen had heard about: a pistachio latte (decaf, naturally). I was underwhelmed. Coffee changes flavor at different temperatures, so I understand it may have been the wrong temperature when I got mine, but it just never got better. It was a weak latte with some pistachio waved at the cup; hardly worth $4. Their PSL is unimpeachable but I’d rather save my cash for some ice cream instead.
And, an update: I reheated the second half of my latte and then proceeded to spill it all over my desk this morning. Swell.
The seedlings in our basement are already going nuts, which is fantastic, but they’ve already outgrown the trays I bought to hold them. Specifically, the clear domes that go over the soil are only 2″ tall, which is great for getting them started but now they’re all bent over looking for somewhere to continue growing. I bought a set of 7″ domes for the trays in the hope that they will provide more room, keep the heat and moisture inside, and keep curious cats out.
Also on the delivery list: a queen-sized mattress for our bedroom. We bought a Sleep Number bed ages ago, and while it was nice back in the day it’s pretty much used up now. We all tried the Sealy twin we got for Finley and deemed it acceptable, and the return policy from Wayfair is excellent, so I pulled the trigger this morning. It was relatively easy to get Finn’s bed up the stairs by myself because it came packed into a round plastic burrito, and this one will theoretically be packed the same way, so hopefully it won’t be difficult to move myself. And the price was great!
Our Valentine’s Day was quiet but fun; I made bacon egg & cheese for breakfast (one of the culinary foundations of our relationship) and we spent a peaceful afternoon around the house. For dinner, Jen organized a pair of giant delicious steaks, potatoes au gratin, and Brussels sprouts, followed by a fantastic molten chocolate tart with crème fraîche. While she was putting dinner together, a lovely bouquet of flowers arrived for her, and we enjoyed a candlelit dinner together at the table. I love you blondie!
Years ago, when the Judge and his family lived next door, and their well-natured alcoholic son took a shine to me, he walked over an old runner sled that had been sitting in their garage for 40+ years and offered it to us. Flattered, I assured him we’d make use of it. I put it in our garage and waited for Finn to be big enough to give it a try. In the following years, we never had enough actual snowfall to make use of it; there was one good year where we took the kids over to the school with the neighbors but I think that sled was a little too advanced for Finn’s age.
When we got the forecast for this past week, I knew I’d want to get it ready, so I pulled it down from the rafters and brought it into the basement. Years of neglect pitted the runners with rust, but after some focused effort with 60 grit sandpaper, I had them shiny and smooth again. I blew off the dust and used some cheap tealight candles to wax both rails, and she was ready.
Jen wisely pushed us out the door during lunch on Friday to take advantage of the snow we did get. Finn and I drove up to the local community college, which sits high on a hill overlooking our town, surrounded by excellently manicured sledding hills. As it was still a school day, we had the place almost to ourselves. I sat Finn down on the runner, gave her some encouragement, and watched her fly down the slope faster than greased lightning. We gave the plastic sled a few tries but it was no contest; the runner sled was ten times faster. We then got about 45 minutes in before I had to get her back for afternoon class, but every minute of weary trudging back up that slope was worth the exhilaration. Thanks, Howard!
I’m tempted to disassemble it, sandblast all the metal parts, and refinish the wood to clean it up for another 50 years. But maybe I’ll just oil the metal, tighten the rivets, and rub the wood with some teak oil. I like the look of things that have been used for a purpose, and this sled is a work of art as it is.
I’ve been keeping my eye on Craigslist for a used hitch-mast bicycle mount since I helped Karean get hers mounted on the back of the Benz. She originally had a rack mount we installed the year Rob passed but we quickly realized it was bending part of the window surround. I liked the one she got: it mounted up easily and folded below the bumper line so that the rear hatch can still open. I filed that away in the back of my head and we continued to use the spare tire mount rack I’d bought for the CR-V, but I’ve never liked having all that weight of the bikes and the tire hanging on the rear door.
This week a hitch-mast popped up in Dundalk for a fraction of the list price, so I ran across town today before too much ice collected on the ground. A nice man walked it out of his tidy house and we tested it on the CR-V before I gave him the cash: perfect. Both the Honda and the Scout have hitches, so now we’re better prepared for the summer, and I can carry bikes in the Scout when we go camping.
Update: looks like it’s a Roc 2, made about 20 years ago. It might be tricky to put my Cannondale on this (the top tube is actually 2 tubes that come to a joint at the center) but I’ll find a way to make it work. I’ve already added a hitch lock to my Amazon list.
We’ve recorded Finley’s growth on one of the kitchen moldings since she was a little over a year old and could stand on her own two feet. We’ve been pretty consistent in measuring her height every couple of months since then, but now that she’s a surly tween wandering around the house wiping dirty hands on every available surface, some of the dates carefully pencilled on the wall have been smudging off.
Aware that this record might not be around much longer, I busted out a tape measure last night and put each of the legible marks into a spreadsheet. Then I converted the fractions to decimals and plotted it into a graph. Here’s what we recorded and when:
This basically just backs up what we’ve known all along: she generally has a growth spurt sometime between November and January. Sometimes there’s another one in the summer, but as this data shows it’s not as pronounced. And look at the jump in the middle of age 7 and right after!
Saturday afternoon I did a yearly sweep of my accounts and downloaded all statements into categorized folders, archiving 2020 into one place. Among the records, I’ve got a record of all of our gas and electric bills from the day we bought the house until now, save a period from March 2010 to October 2013, because BG&E doesn’t save stuff that far back. In 2014 past I plotted our energy usage against the average temperature to see what the pattern was.
Looking back at that graph I realize now that I was plotting the wrong thing: I was interested in cost, which made sense back then, but because pricing fluctuates over time it wouldn’t tell the story I’m more interested in now—about any improvements made in insulation. This would be reflected in the total therms or KWh used, which BG&E helpfully includes on their statements (as well as the average monthly temperature). I dug up some further statements and spent a couple of hours plugging data into the old spreadsheet.
What I found was interesting. Apparently our gas usage has trended downwards by about 50 therms over 17 years, which means that some of the improvements I’ve made in this drafty sieve have made a difference. The scary revelation is that our energy usage has trended upwards dramatically by about 250KWh over that same time period—no doubt the spike in daily usage during 2020 did not help that average. But it tracks; there are three people in the house using appliances and devices and air conditioners instead of two, and we’ve added multiple rooms since 2003.
The big takeaway is that we’re still spending more in the winter to heat the house than we do in the summer to cool it, so my continual quest to insulate and weatherproof will continue. I think nine new windows for the upstairs rooms would help with the drafts as well as some other upgrades—I’m looking at you, front and back doors—and eventually a central air unit that would be four times as efficient as four old window units sucking dollars out of the house.
While we’re on the subject of drafty houses, Finley has been working from her fort while she’s in class. The high is around 48˚ and there’s no insulation out there, so I ran an extension cord from the garage and put my shop heater on a plank of wood to try to combat the cold. She used some Christmas money to buy a small laptop stand and a whiteboard at Target, and over the weekend went out to set things up. Back in the summer the neighbors gave us an old carpet which fit pretty well on the floor, so she’s not sitting on a bare wooden plank, but that’s it for amenities. I dusted off our old Airport base station, reset it for bridge mode, and tucked it up above the workbench in the basement. The new router sits in the living room roughly where the old one did, but if I draw a straight line from that to the fort there are two surfaces covered in aluminum siding in the way, which means the signal is shit out there. So the Airport should keep her Zoom game strong.
I’m a little wary of letting her work out there by herself, but we told her she could do it as long as her grades stayed up and her work got done. So we’ll see how things go.