Here’s about two minutes of cicadas droning in the backyard yesterday. The birds are louder because they’re closer, but you get the idea.

Date posted: June 3, 2021 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

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The morning started pretty well. Jen convinced me to keep the lift in the driveway and take time to re-spray the large sections where we could see uneven coverage on that side, and because she is smarter than I am, I listened to her. That took less time that I figured it might, so by 11AM I was driving the front wheels of the lift up over the curb and onto the front lawn. Once I convinced it that it wasn’t going to tip over, it was happy, and I drove it over the front walk, through the holly tree, and into the side yard.

Starting with the front of the house, I sprayed out a bunch of the siding next to Finley’s window until I was used to the height, and then extended the boom higher so that I was level with the eaves. Some scraping and cleaning got years of flaking paint off the wood, and two coats of exterior paint later it looks a lot better. I scraped Finn’s window and 1/2 of the dining room window, and sprayed out as much as I could on that side.

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The sun was much brighter and hotter today. It got up to 90˚ with full humidity, so by 2PM I was melting. I rigged up our table umbrella to the side of the basket and that made a huge difference in the afternoon, but I’m still sunburned and drinking lots of water to recover. The system I’ve got set up—a $30 latex sprayer from Home Depot, a full-size compressor, and the boom lift—makes short work of this.

Tomorrow is my least favorite part of this whole project: the peak of the west side. It’s where the boom will get the squirreliest, as it’s nearing its full extension, and it’ll be the highest I go in this contraption. As it is I’ve got some serious sea legs when I come down off the boom, as my inner ear expects every one of my movements to send the couch or my bed swaying underneath me.

Hopefully I can finish most of the west side tomorrow, and then we move around to the back, just in time for three days of rain.

Date posted: May 26, 2021 | Filed under general, house | Leave a Comment »

Over the last couple of weeks, Jen and I have pored over three pages of calendar printouts—the next six months—penciling in plans and family events and trips. We’ve got a lot of it hammered out, some of it is still in flux, and other things are dependent on timing and circumstance. One of the things on the list is a camping trip I’ve been wanting to organize with Finn and Zachary for the last two years following our excellent trip in 2018. I’m a little nervous now that they’ve both fully embraced video games, and especially after a year and a half of COVID schooling, that they won’t be able to leave screens behind. Or that just as they are getting past that stuff and into being away, we’ll have to pack up and head home. I’ve got a reservation set up in late August to a state campground on the Eastern Shore for three days and two nights which should be a lot of fun; it’s near the water, has fishing and kayaking, and now that I’ve got a good hitch for the bikes we can take those along too. Now I’m thinking I should add another  night to the trip so we’ve got a little more time to rough it. I also need to sort through the camping gear and make some upgrades and additions, especially around food planning and storage.

* * *

I think I’ve mentioned the Coffee Walk at some point: essentially an excuse to buy coffee and muffins, we walk downtown to the bakery and then make a long loop around the neighborhood before heading home. It’s about two miles and gives us an excuse to get more exercise, catch up with each other, tire out the dog, and most importantly, get muffins. Our local bakery makes what they call Triple Ginger muffins, which are fucking delicious, and uncharacteristic of all of their other dry, crumbly pastries. We’ve been hooked on these since they started making them, and this spring they’ve been especially good—we can often time it so that they’re still hot from the oven.

Well, all good things come to an end; the bakery makes “seasonal” pastries, and only offers two types of muffin at a time; they’ve now switched to chocolate chip-almond (not as good as it sounds and crumbly at the lightest touch) and strawberry cheesecake, which sounds like it might be good until it suddenly makes one feel sick.

Continuing around the corner, we came upon the Farmer’s Market, which looks to be busier than it’s ever been; I think they’ve been preparing for people to come crawling out of their homes looking for human contact and artisanal pickles since COVID began. One thing I was happy to see was a mobile knife sharpening van, and while we tried to scope out the rest of the offerings Hazel completely lost her mind in the presence of all the other dogs out for a walk, so we noped out of there and headed home. I grabbed up a handful of knives and headed back down there with Finn: two Schrade pocketknives I’ve had on my workbench—one 3″ I’ve had since high school, from a repo’d car, and a smaller 2″ blade that was Dad’s. I brought our Wusthof hollow edge from the kitchen, which has needed attention for the last couple of years, and finally Dad’s 6″ Dexter skinning knife from his days at Cornell when they taught him how to dress meat as part of the Agriculture program. For a total of $25 all four are back in shape and ready to be used again. He took a little more off the blades than I liked to see, but they were all in pretty rough shape. Sadly he doesn’t do chainsaw blades but I’ve got a couple of other knives around here that will need attention, so we’ll probably head back in two weeks.

* * *

Things in the greenhouse have slowed due to the iffy, ineffectual weather we’ve had for the last couple of weeks. Where there was a lot of growth in the hot weeks right after they got planted, they’re all stalled and are throwing out multiple suckers instead of producing flowering branches. I’ve got one Roma plant with about ten blooms but other than that it’s all show and no go. At the Farmer’s Market I saw a bunch of potted patio tomatoes that looked lush, carrying fruit, and it immediately made me feel like I was doing things wrong. But when I looked at other stands, I saw the same varieties we’ve planted for sale that were smaller than ours and had no fruit, which cheered me back up—it looks like we’re right on time.

 

Date posted: May 10, 2021 | Filed under friends, general, greenhouse | Leave a Comment »

A plan is hatching for the late summertime with Brian, who has asked me for some help with a project he’s got on his plate: he’s overhauling and outfitting a 25′ schoolbus for a family of six to drive across the country, and wanted to know if I could help him with the job. This is part of a larger plan he has to shift his business from home renovation to custom camper outfitting, and he’s asked me to join him.

There are a lot of considerations to be weighed here, and I’m taking none of them lightly. By nature and experience I’m extremely conservative when it comes to my career—having been laid off twice, I don’t like the feeling of operating without a safety net. I’m finally in a place where I’ve been able to put away solid retirement money year over year (and have it matched, no small benefit) but of course, I’d like to have more set aside. The idea of getting out from behind a computer and working with my hands and my head is extremely tempting, especially after having been stuck in one long Zoom call since last March. There are so many pros and cons to this idea that I can’t sort them all out right now, so we’re doing the smart thing: we’re going to tackle this first project, see how it goes, and reassess from that point. The basic plan is to use a bunch of my unpaid sabbatical during the month of September to work on the bus full time with Brian to see how far we can get, and surround that time with paid sabbatical vacation so I’m not wrung out when I go back to work. I’m upset our original plan to travel got completely torpedoed by COVID, but maybe we can make something good out of this.

It’s all very preliminary right now, but it should be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to a break from my desk.

Date posted: May 5, 2021 | Filed under friends, general | Leave a Comment »

I was up early to run a remote naming/identity workshop yesterday, which was a limited success. Normally I try to get everyone involved in the same room and through some moderated exercises I get them to use Post-It notes to explore options and discuss their decisions. This time I had to use a virtual tool to accomplish the same thing, and spent the first ten minutes trying to help people troubleshoot the technology. It went OK, but it’s very hard to both gauge the interest of virtual participants and keep them involved; I can run a room with my hands tied but it’s hard to do blindfolded.

In the evening, I was supposed to meet Brian in Annapolis for some dinner and a chat about a business idea he’s got, so I pulled the top down on the Scout, gassed it up, and headed out of town. I’d made it to Glen Burnie when he called and told me the Bay Bridge was closed westbound due to an accident, so I turned around and met the girls for dinner. I was bummed out because it was an absolutely beautiful day to be driving with the top down, and I was looking forward to catching up. Looks like we might be on for Friday evening, which will hopefully be just as warm and sunny.

Date posted: April 21, 2021 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

On Friday morning I hopped in the car and drove to M&T Stadium for my second shot of Pfizer. The first one went relatively smoothly; apart from spending two hours in a long cold line inside that meat locker of a stadium, the process was painless. This time was a mixed bag. My main beef was with Baltimore City, for providing exactly zero cops out in front of the stadium, where all of the cars coming in to the parking lot were snarled at one light: five different lanes of traffic trying to merge in to a one-lane road. And before you think this was easy; let me emphasize these were citizens of Baltimore, where we treat driving like the last half hour of Mad Max: Fury Road. It took 40 minutes to get past the light and get parked. Once I got in to the stadium, the line was shorter and moved quicker than the first visit, and I had my shot done in about half the time. (The Air Force and National Guard troops, as well as the nurses and admin folks actually dosing people, are awesome and should all get paid extra).

I spent all day Saturday waiting for side effects that did not manifest, for the most part. Jen and I got up around 8 and did what we call the coffee walk, where we take Hazel down to Atwater’s, pick up two large coffees and two triple ginger muffins, and do a long circuit around the neighborhood for about 2+ miles. We got back home and shared breakfast with Finn, farted around a little, and then I went outside and cleaned up the greenhouse. All of the seedlings are doing well even though we haven’t had much direct sunlight this week. I watered everything, moved some stuff around, and then reorganized the rain barrels. One of the two homemade ex-Pepsi barrels has broken down and leaked half the collected water after several storms, so I swapped it with the other. The next rainstorm will tell us if this one is toast as well.

After I put the soft top on the Scout, we jumped in the car and drove to Home Depot so that I could get another 2″x3″ and some ratchet straps. The plan was to build a third cradle bar for the hard top, slide the whole thing backward, and hoist it up into the ceiling. See, in years past I’ve just hoisted it up where it came off the truck, which meant the truck could only back up a certain amount in the garage before it bumped into the top. This left me with about 6″ of space between the bumper and the doors. With the new bumper I’m going to need more room, so changes needed to be made. While we were there I happened to pop into the rental center to see just offhand if they had a welder—and they did!

Back at home I laid down for a half an hour after lunch, which had made me feel sleepy, but never actually napped. So I got back up and got the top where I wanted it. From there I cleaned up the workbench and got some metal prepared for test welding on Sunday: I wanted to get it dialed in on scrap metal before I work on the real deal. This may be a futile gesture, but it also could work.

The horror stories of other folks’ reactions to the vaccine never did manifest themselves. I can’t tell if my tired was just post-cancer-low-blood-cell tired or we’re-all-busy-fighting-off-COVID tired. Either way, it didn’t slow me down that much and I’m thankful.

Date posted: April 17, 2021 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

Some very nice presents showed up on our porch today: two books on using a smoker, which will serve us well for the next meal we make. Thanks Renie and Tony!

The seedlings are on the sixth day of their hardening schedule, so they’re up to 6 hours of indirect sunlight outside. The plan this weekend is to get as many of them into tubs as possible and get the back panel of the greenhouse taken off for airflow. I was going to rebuild the water platform this spring, but with wood prices being what they are I think I’ll punt until next year and set it up with a rain barrel. I pre-fertilized the tubs with bonemeal and nitrogen mix, hoping it’ll give them all a leg up when they hit the new dirt. They’re all getting huge, so my hope is we’ll get blossoms quickly and start producing fruit.

My other weekend project is to rent a welder and install brackets on the Scout bumper, as well as put a couple of captive nuts on the front for a license plate. I’ve got to hit the Harbor Freight for a cheap welding helmet and a couple of triangle magnets to get started.

Date posted: April 9, 2021 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

This morning I’m sipping some coffee on the 10th floor of the cancer building at Hopkins, waiting for an appointment with my oncologist. The building was being erected while I was going through chemo, and I think all of my subsequent checkups minus two have been in this building. The old cancer center was a retrofit of existing buildings, and so it was smaller and darker and had that mid-70’s vibe that can’t be fixed with a coat of paint and updated furniture. The new building is big and spacious, has windows everywhere, and it’s clear they thought carefully about the needs of modern cancer patients when they organized it.

For checkups I have to forego eating or drinking anything before the CT scan, so I walk in to the phlebotomist’s area already low on power. After giving blood I head upstairs to the CT floor, and they give me two bottles of iodine-spiked water to drink after asking me five times whether I’m allergic to contrast or not. The iodine has actually gotten better over the years—it used to be two liter-sized bottles of terrible-tasting limeade pisswater; it’s now down to a pair of 16-ounce bottles that barely taste like anything. They put a second IV in and take me back to the machine, where I lay down on a chute, pull my drawers down to my knees, and a primary scan is taken. Then the nurse pushes contrast into my veins through the IV, which feels like the hottest hot flash ever combined with an urgent need to pee my pants. They take the second scan, the nurse removes the IV, and they send me back outside.

I then head upstairs to the 10th floor, where the café used to be, and stake out a chair along the wall facing Baltimore. It’s pretty quiet up there so I can lower my mask and guzzle coffee and breakfast. Presently, the iodine and contrast want to get off the bus, so I head into a spacious bathroom stall to take care of business. This is usually a multi-step process, and so I am grateful for the 2-hour interval between CT and my checkup meeting.

While waiting, I charted out my bloodwork—the results were back within an hour and a half and posted to my online health portal; modern medicine is amazing sometimes—and it looks like things are generally trending downward across the board. My white blood cell count is back to where it was in July of last year, which is discouraging. Platelet count is up, Neutrophils are up, but absolute neutrophils are slightly down and lymphocytes mirror the white blood cell results. The radiologist did not find any new travelers, though, and my lungs look clean, so there’s that!

Meanwhile, I’ve got a bandage on my chest from the removal of a basal-cell carcinoma yesterday; from what the  dermatologist told me, it was most likely kickstarted by the radiation I got and then stopped cold by the chemotherapy. Now that I’m getting (somewhat) healthier it decided to pick up where it left off, and I got it removed. Getting older is lots of fun.

 

Date posted: April 1, 2021 | Filed under cancer, general | Leave a Comment »

I was planning to drive out to Flintstone, MD to pick more parts off a Scout on the side of a mountain today, but rain in the forecast here means snow on the ground there—Flintstone is only miles away from aptly named Frostburg, MD, where yearly average snowfall is more than five feet. Dave, the seller, is a nice fellow, and talking to him on the phone this morning, he assures me he’s still got the truck and it isn’t going anywhere. I think I’ll bring him some warm coffee and a bagel (if I can find one) when I do make it out there.

I’m really struggling with the need to be doing something with my hands. The whole point of going to find parts is so that I can A. get out of the house and B. work on something on the bench downstairs while it’s still so damn cold outside; I’d love to have the sandblaster or sander out and be working on panels in the driveway, but I can’t spray anything with primer at this temperature. I’m also aware that this could all just be rationalization for hoarding behavior, which I have been known to exhibit from time to time.

I’d packed a recovery kit and tools for the trip, and knew I needed an impact driver to coax rusty bolts off the hulk, so I drove to the Harbor Freight and grabbed one yesterday. In the parking lot the battery in the Accord told me in a louder voice what it had been whispering for weeks: it was just about dead. I wiggled the connectors just enough to get it to crank over and drove immediately to Advance Auto for a new battery, which I swapped out in the parking lot: an immediate improvement. I was planning on taking the Accord out west, as Jen needs the CR-V to take her father to get his COVID shot on Sunday and I didn’t want to dirty it up with rusty parts.

Jen and her sister have spent the last couple of weeks navigating bureaucracy to schedule a shot for him, and were finally able to get an appointment for him at the Six Flags drive-through location down in Bowie. She’s driving down to pick him up, drive him to the site, and then drive him home, partially to make sure it goes smoothly, and mostly to try and manage his anxiety.

According to this site, Maryland is 48th in number of doses administered—they’ve only given 67% of the doses distributed as of February 26. At this rate I’m not getting my shot until June.

Meanwhile, I’m making slow progress on manually pulling entries from the .SQL file backup we saved of Jen’s Thatgirl blog from back in the day. WordPress is excellent in that it saves entries every couple of minutes as you’re composing them, but what that means is there can be 10+ duplicates of one post and they are not in order in the file. My Perl skills have atrophied to mush so it’s improbable I would be able to write something to help sort through all 1400 entries; this means I’m taking it slowly in chunks when I have downtime. Cleaning up the entries is pretty easy with GREP; when that’s done I have to figure out how and where we’re going to publish it—one long HTML file might make the most sense…

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

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!

Date posted: February 16, 2021 | Filed under bathroom, finn, general | Leave a Comment »