As noted in the Scout blog, I spent Saturday over the river at Brian’s house, but I wanted to get home and cleaned up because Finn was at a sleepover that evening and Jen and I could enjoy a date night together. Initially we were a little worried about the sleepover but when we found out it would be somewhere between ten and eighteen girls we knew she’d have someone to hang with (everything is extremely cliquish and temporary right now). Jen and I had a couple of drinks downtown and caught up on a lot of the past week together, which was just what we both needed.
Sunday I was a little hung over (my new hard and fast rule has to be one whiskey-based drink per night and no more) but after some breakfast, coffee, and a trip to Target I was feeling better. The girls came home and immediately went down for a nap—Finn only had four hours of sleep—and I ran out to Lowe’s for dirt and mulch. While I was there I picked up six tomato plants, and when I got home I offloaded the dirt and mulch and got the bins ready for planting. There’s one cherry plant, a roma, two heirloom beefsteak plants and two reds. I’d like to find a couple of Oaxacas and four more cherry plants to fill things out, but there’s still time.
When that was done I set up a rain barrel on the garage to start collecting water and cleaned up the area behind the greenhouse. The second barrel platform needs to be replaced but I didn’t want to run a circular saw under the bedroom window and wake the girls, so I started rebagging leaves and cleaning up the back side of the house. By dinnertime I was tired but had made good progress straightening things up; I’ve got a major dump run to make with all of the castoff foam insulation from the greenhouse and two bags of plastic, and we’re going to cover the front curb with about thirty bags of leaves next week.
Looking over our overstuffed garage, I’ve been puzzling over where to put the old fridge, but looking things over I think I’ve got a plan. If I move two of the old kitchen cabinets to a space over the workbench I can clear a spot out along the back wall to fit it, but I’ve also got to move some Scout parts around and reorganize things.
This week is going to be nuts. Today I’m running into DC to do a runthrough of the event we’re holding on Wednesday, and then I run back to teach tonight at 4. Tuesday I’m on a train to New York City, and Wednesday I’m at the Ford Foundation in the morning to shoot video of Christiana Figueres, then over to Hudson Yards to shoot photos of the event that evening. We don’t have a full slide deck set up yet but I’ve had a friend working on the video presentation to make things look good. I still have to get a contract signed and officially hire a pro photographer to get the key event moments (at the recommendation of my fellow director, who allayed a lot of my anxiety over that responsibility).
Thursday I’m on a train back home and I’ll probably do a little work when I get in. And then I’m headed up to Mom’s house to start going through Dad’s stuff in the basement, organizing and hauling things out of there. That will be a long but productive weekend, I think, and then it’s back to the grind on Monday.
I bought Jen a Fitbit of her own on Friday, and she’s been wearing it all weekend. I think it took a little time to get used to (it’s not as comfortable as a regular watch, but once you’re used to it, it’s not bad) but I think she’s keen on knowing what her sleep patterns are as well as some of the other features. As watches go they are super handy and as much as I like wearing regular watches I’ve noticed that I’m wearing my Fitbit more, just so I can see what my exercise levels are. If I’m to believe the numbers it’s giving me, my Saturday/Sunday steps are more than double my weekday steps, and my overall numbers are much higher—last Sunday I climbed 65 floors when I was installing the greenhouse plastic. I do think it’s a bit confused, because it thinks I climbed 109 floors this Saturday which I know is not true.
Here’s the north side of the greenhouse, right after I started pulling the 15-year-old plastic off the top section. It’s hard to see here, but it was all green with algae and moss and dirt. I’d actually washed it off last spring but the plastic is so old at this point the dirt just built right back up and made it look like crap. I’ve already torn the wall plastic off at this point.
Here’s the side with no plastic at all.
I put the top section on first so that I could get up on a ladder and do the spine, then worked my way down the sides.
This is the finished north side. Luckily the footer here is in decent enough shape that I’m going to leave it alone. I also ripped out all of the foam wall padding left over from the orchid house so that we’re getting 180˚ of sunlight at all times.
Here’s the South side; I actually did this side first thing in the morning, and the sheet they cut for me was so big I was able to use one piece from the spine all the way down to the footer.
After I got the plastic up, I did some reorganizing inside. This year the tables will be in the center to give the plants as much height as possible. I tore out all of the irrigation piping and put the third table along the north wall (left side in the photo above) for storage; I think we’re at the point when metal shelving might be a better solution for all of the pots and gear we’ve got stacked over there. All of this doesn’t look like a lot of work, but my ass was thoroughly kicked by the time I was done.
Next up: replace the footer under the front door with a single piece of wood, rebuild the rain barrel platform, and start buying soil for the bins.
We had a fierce windstorm this weekend which got inside the greenhouse and blew the door open. I wasn’t surprised by this, because the doorhandle had finally broken a few weeks ago and I was waiting to replace it in some dry weather. I had to make two trips to the Lowe’s for supplies but was finally able to get a new handle installed and working. Then I set my sights on cleanup and prep for plastic. First I dumped all of 2018’s dirt out on the mulch pile and stacked the bins. Then I moved everything off the south wall into the center so I could look the footing over.
Here’s the south side of the greenhouse. This is before I started; the footing is the wooden section at the bottom (2″ x 12″ x 20′). There’s a horizontal metal rail bolted to five vertical hoops, which are set in concrete, as far as I can tell. The wood is screwed to the underside of the rail and sits on the ground. The soil from the inside is pushing the bottom outwards, and the rail is warped. Normally the plastic is fitted into a channel in the rail and held in with a strip, but that strip is gone and I’ve had to wrap the plastic around some thin wood boards and staple that to the footing. Ghetto.
Here’s the after shot. This is two new sections of wood connected with a metal strap in the middle. The plastic remains the same because I haven’t replaced that yet.
This is the interior; this is after I moved all the slabs inwards and backfilled the dirt. Next up is to order some U-bolts to secure the footer to each of the pipes for some added stability.
I’m going to redo the front footer under the door next, as it’s made up of several sections of wood that aren’t connected to each other anymore and it needs to be stabilized properly. The back section looks fine, and I’m putting off working on the north side until I absolutely have to because it’s going to be a soggy pain in the ass and I’m not looking forward to that level of excavation–but I know it has to be done. However, knowing now that I can raise the rail upwards means I can adjust the height of the footer, and that’s good news.
Saturday we did a lot of errands, and after getting home we did a bunch of work in the backyard. Finn and Jen worked on shoring up and mulching the rear flowerbed while I looked over the rear of the greenhouse, which had blown out during the last windstorm.
When I’d removed the middle polycarbonate panel last spring I made it very difficult to replace due to the way the greenhouse was constructed: the panels slot into a thin channel at the top and bottom, and are sandwiched in between two vertical rails. Because I couldn’t fit the panel back into the top last fall, I sort of half-installed it and hoped it would stay in place, which it obviously didn’t.
I took the panels apart and reinstalled the two sides with new screws, and then thought about how I was going to work with the center section; ultimately I reinstalled the chickenwire plug and put the panel behind that to hold it in place. The eventual goal will be to cut the middle panel down to an 8×8 square and reinstall the top section permanently, then find a way to put the bottom half in as either a door or a removable panel.
While I had the back walls off I removed the insulation blocks from the south wall, which had been left over from before we moved in. It’s amazing how much more light gets in there now, and it’ll get even better after I’ve replaced the plastic. It also laid bare just how janky the footings are (the wood along the bottom in the picture above), so I’ve got to get on replacing those first when the weather is a little warmer.
Sunday we were invited to brunch at the neighbors’, and planned on making some egg nog french toast to bring. Jen and I made the nog from scratch on Saturday evening (result: it was tasty but it’s much easier to buy it at the store) and Sunday morning I cooked them up before we walked over. There were a bunch of families we haven’t seen in months, and while the kids all ran and played outside we adults ate and drank and caught up. Somewhere around 12:30 or so I noticed I had a pleasant day drunk on, and a little while after that I was convinced to have an Irish car bomb/cement mixer with a bunch of other folks (I declined the second one). We stayed until about 6:30 and walked back home, pleasantly squiffed, ordered a pizza, and kissed the rest of our day goodbye.
Which meant that this morning, my birthday, I was feeling a little rough when I first woke up.
The week after I replaced the hood on the CR-V, it decided to show its appreciation by stranding Jen in Baltimore City, on the way to pick up a friend for dinner. She said the clutch locked up, and she was unable to shift into or out of 2nd gear. She was able to pilot it safely to a side street and call me; I arranged for a tow truck through USAA and they picked it up a little over an hour later. Our mechanic can’t seem to find the problem but did find that the gear oil was very low. There’s no noise coming from the box and two short trips I’ve taken since then have been painless; this could mean nothing or it could mean the clutch is about to shit itself. Only time will tell, I guess. The mechanic hinted that it would be wiser to buy a new car instead of fixing this one, but we have a large amount of loyalty for this car and I’d much rather keep it on the road than absorb a new car payment.
I’ve had a Flickr Pro account since 2005, when I decided I’d use it for my image hosting CDN. It’s been very useful over the years, even as it’s been bought and sold, and as they’ve added useful features and then taken them away. I’ve found, however, that I’m not using it all that much anymore. The last photos I uploaded there were from the camping trip in June, and everything after that I’ve uploaded directly into WordPress. I’d guess there are a couple thousand photos I’ve linked to over the course of 4,672 posts, and for now that’s fine. I am thinking about the future, however, and at some point I’m going to have to go through each post and update the photo with a local version (as well as fix a bunch where the links have broken). Not today, though.
My IPA stopped fermenting on Thursday evening, so I have to rack it into a secondary fermenter as well as dry hop it. My neighbor picked up another kit for me yesterday and hopefully we will be brewing this evening, but he hasn’t nailed down a time yet. It feels good to have a batch in the works, and it would be even better to have two in the kegerator by Thanksgiving. It also got me thinking about some of the gear I’d like to update next year–a better burner, a slightly bigger kettle with a temperature gauge, and maybe some upgrades to the kegerator itself. But for now, what I’ve got is working well and I’m just happy to be brewing again.
Meanwhile, the crops in the greenhouse are winding down. There are still many black and red cherry tomatoes on the vines, and there’s a second wave of Indian Stripe and Paul Robesons growing slowly, but the whiteflies have really damaged the plants. There aren’t a lot of green leaves left on anything so I don’t know if any of the remaining fruit will ripen at this point late in the season. I’m going to replace the back wall in an effort to keep the heat inside and start winterizing things.
Finn had a friend over for a playdate on Saturday so Jen and I took the opportunity to get things done around the house.
We hauled the cucumber tubs out of the greenhouse and dumped them at the edge of the yard. They were infested with whiteflies, which had disappeared since my first mention and then returned in force. I then mixed up some of the insecticidal soap and sprayed the shit out of all the remaining tomato plants. After two treatments there were hundreds of dead whiteflies laying on the edges of the tubs, so hopefully with a few more applications I can save the rest of the plants. The box fan I’d put in there died sometime back in late July so there’s been no real air movement in there, which is also bad.
We pulled a Dagma and an other Oaxaca from the big plants and a handful of black, yellow and cherry tomatoes from the others, and a lot of them found their way into our salad Saturday night. I also swapped out the green rain barrel on the platform behind the greenhouse, which has a leak somewhere, for one of the soda barrels and pumped the water from Friday’s rainstorm into it. With that and one more good rainstorm we should be able to make it through the fall without going to the hose (with the exception of our vacation, everything I’ve used in the greenhouse has been rainwater, and I’m pretty proud of that).
Sunday we did some errands and in the afternoon I went over to Christi & Glenn’s house to help wake up their Acura, which has been slumbering in their garage since it french-kissed a Prius in 2016. They parked it in the garage because it’s in need of serious bodywork before it can be roadworthy again. Miraculously, even though the top of the radiator has been pushed back 4″ and the bumper mounts are pushed downwards 6″, it hasn’t leaked any critical fluids. I brought over a set of ramps, a siphon kit, a set of tools, and jumper cables in the Scout. First I checked all the fluids to see how it looked and found everything topped off. I pulled the battery and cleaned the cables and posts. Then we looked at siphoning the gas but were thwarted by a metal screen at the base of the fuel tank, so we jacked it up, pulled the tire off, and used a handy drain plug to empty the tank. Once the varnish was out we put about 2 gallons of good gas in it, stuck the tire back on, and hooked the battery back up. With the cables from the Scout on it, it only took two tries (I had to adjust the cable for the best connection) to fire the car right up.
We let it idle for a while, then Glenn turned it around in the driveway so that the exhaust was facing outward and pulled it back inside before the temp gauge crept up (the inlet hose to the radiator is kinked shut at a 90˚ angle from the impact). He’s thrilled and I’m happy for them to have it running again. I left him with instructions for a trickle charger and some tarps to keep the varmints off.
Labor Day was quiet for us. I woke Finn up at 7AM to go do some soccer drills on the field across the street, and we stayed out for about 40 minutes before the gnats and Finley’s bladder brought us back inside. Mama had started a pumpkin pancake assembly line so we helped her finish that and chowed on pancakes and hash browns for a hearty breakfast.
After that, we geared up for a hike in Patapsco and happened across another Scout parked at the trailhead: a yellow Scout I’ve seen around Baltimore for years. We met the owner, snapped a picture, and then descended down the trail into the park. After the second flood they had the trailhead closed off for repairs so the usual route I used to take with Rob and Matt was off limits; we followed a longer southern route that eventually linked up with the main trail I was used to and wound up at the river at the bottom. After a bathroom break we took out shoes off and cooled off in the river for a while, letting the fish nibble on our toes. Then we headed back up the trail and home into the air conditioning.
We made a quick run to Lowes for some bathroom caulk and Jen and I decided we needed a full-size plastic skeleton to sit on our front porch for Halloween, which made Finn happier than if we’d given her a barrel full of candy. Jen promptly christened him Brutus. We propped him up in the back of the Scout, and out on the road we were admonished by a fellow driver to make sure he was buckled up.
At home we relaxed for a bit and I tackled the back lawn, which was 5″ high and gone to seed. Every second row filled the bag on the mower and I’d have to stop and empty it, which took longer and made things hotter. I had sweat pouring down my face by the time I finished. Then I shot the plants in the greenhouse with more insecticidal soap to kill the whiteflies, which are now greatly diminished but have taken up residence on the tomatoes. After watering and tending to the plants I called it a day and came inside for the last time.
After cracking a cold beer we sat down and opened up a new family boardgame: Payday, which is an updated version of the game Renie and I used to play when we were Finn’s age. It’s more complicated now and doesn’t look nearly as cool as the original but we still had a lot of fun.
After dinner we busied ourselves with getting Finn ready for the first day of 4th grade. Jesus, time is flying by.
On Sunday I got up and used the electric edger to clean up the front yard of the house, which took about two hours to wrangle into shape. I was only going to take care of the front but wound up walking around the back and doing the whole thing because I couldn’t leave 18″ tall weeds alive under the picnic table. As with mowing the day before it kicked my ass and I was mostly worthless the rest of the day. It was supposed to rain all weekend according to the weather-guessers but never did (and still hasn’t).
We pulled one of the Indian Stripes off the vine on Sunday (the one pictured yesterday) and Jen cut it open for Finley’s lunch today. I had a small slice and it was amazing. We sliced a bunch of the cherry tomatoes up for a cucumber/tomato/onion salad yesterday and it was delicious. Meanwhile there’s a Dagma that is one day away from being pulled and two Paul Robesons that are turning color. I’m already hatching plans to replace the plastic on the greenhouse, and switch the broken heater out with a commercial fan of some kind. Maybe I can fit two rows of tomatoes in there and just plant one bin of cucumbers.
We hired a neighbor kid to mow the lawn while I was laid up in the hospital, and apparently he did a decent job the first time. Jen had him use our mower, which is brand new and (thank god) starts on the first pull. He came back two weeks ago to do it again and left us underwhelmed with his attention to detail. After I’d gone over the whole yard with him, explained what I wanted him to do, and showed him all of the places to watch out for (imagining him chewing up my shiny new mower blade on rocks and roots and other obstacles) he sort of mowed the front lawn, most of the side lawn and about 2/3 of the back lawn. Left untouched were whole sections behind the greenhouse, under the living room window, and along the driveway.
Hesitantly, I texted him to come back and do the yard again. He dropped by on Friday, was able to get the mower out of the garage and do about eight lanes of the backyard before he jammed the pull-start mechanism and couldn’t get the mower running again. I told him to leave it and I’d fix it over the weekend.
I pulled the cover off this morning, freed up the mechanism, and mowed the whole fucking lawn myself. It’s not edged, because I’m tired out from the exertion, but it looks a hell of a lot better than it did after two weeks of rain. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be up to edging it for the first time since the beginning of July. I don’t think I’ll be requiring his services again. It’s too bad, because he’s a nice kid–worlds better than the Bro–but many cans short of a six-pack.
Meanwhile, the cucumbers have an infestation. The box fan I’d set up out there died about three weeks ago (it was an old, old fan) so there’s no real movement through the plants. There are now clouds of whiteflies who have taken up residence among the big leaves and are busily sucking the sap out of them. The cukes have grown up and into the tomato plants, seeking sunlight and space, so I cut a few of the most tangled up shoots out of the tomatoes and cleaned things up. Then I ordered an insecticidal soap from Amazon to battle them but it’s not going to be here until Wednesday. So I’m considering dragging the cucumber bins out of the greenhouse completely to save the tomato plants in the meantime. If it’s not critters, it’s bugs.
The greenhouse seems to have reached equilibrium. I’m up to six dead mice and two dead chipmunks but the traps have been empty for the last couple of days and the tomatoes have been left alone; after success with the 5-gallon pail traps the first couple of days they’ve been empty. I’m going to add a couple of regular mouse traps out there but we need to stock up on peanut butter and I need to rig the big black traps with something harder to get out (one trap is sensitive and the other isn’t). Meanwhile the cherry tomatoes are doing excellent; the red plant is producing multiples, the yellow plant has a handful that are turning color, and the black plant has a few that are beginning to turn as well. Meanwhile the heirlooms are all still growing steadily, but everything is still green. Most of the fruit is at the top of the plants, so hopefully the little fuckers won’t get to it when it starts turning color.
I’m finally able to view my class roster for the fall semester, and I’ve got 16 students with two on the waitlist (sorry, kids, but I won’t be taking you on). 16 is at the outside limit of manageable for a class–the last one I taught was 16, and that was after I took two hard-luck stories off the waitlist–and it’s a handful for the time allotted. Again, I’m not reinventing the syllabus, so it should be an easier lift than my last couple of semesters.