I haven’t been brewing much for the last couple of years, but one thing I’ve found is that using the aluminum pots I got from my Dad to brew wort does not work: the beer comes out tasting like molasses each time. Having switched back to the big stainless pot I had at the beginning, I accepted the fact that I’ll just never use the big professional pot Brian was able to find for me years ago. It’s beautiful but it’s made for 5-gallon brews. I brew 2.5 gallons and add water at the end—and when I used it, the liquid didn’t even reach the thermometer inlet. I put it up on Craigslist and after a couple of months of quiet, a man contacted me and bought it this morning for $10 more than I paid for it.
We are one episode away from the end of the Mandalorian, and it’s been really good this season. Disney just announced a billion new movies and shows in the Star Wars universe, some of which sound interesting (Obi Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka, hell yes) and some sound unnecessary (A Droid Story, Lando—unless Donald Glover is starring—and anything animated) so it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep the quality high or if they all wind up like Muppet Babies and dilute the franchise into pudding. My hope is that they’ve learned the right lessons from the series, they keep JJ fucking Abrams away from it all, and they double down on the things that make it all work: character development, tight storytelling, clear motivations, and grounding in the world they’ve built without all the fan service. Nevertheless, my inner 11-year-old nerd is thrilled.
So after five+ years of contented Amazon Prime membership and hundreds of deliveries, our first attack of porch piracy has occurred. I’d ordered a bunch of gifts for the girls to be delivered together, and it was supposed to have arrived on Sunday (one of the two days we’re not sitting in the office looking directly at the front walk). I looked at the order online today and there’s a picture of the package on our porch—but we never saw it, and it never made its way inside. I called the Amazon customer service number and a nice man checked into things. After a brief hold he asked if I’d like a refund or if I wanted them to ship it out again—I told him the latter. I’ve talked about excellent customer service here before, and this is another example of The Way Things Should Be.
About a month ago all of the field mice in Catonsville decided to move back into their winter home and began making noise in our floorboards. The terrier/reptile part of Hazel’s brain dedicated to sniffing out rodents and killing them kicked into high gear and she zeroed in on a spot under my desk where they must have been gathered down in the ice room. After dealing with several weeks of her sitting in the office and whining for eight straight hours (punctuated by frequent trips under my desk to paw at the carpet) I got fed up and put some baited traps in the iceroom. Having fought with them out in the greenhouse, I know they’re too smart for spring-loaded traps, so bait was the only way to go.
Mercifully, Hazel stopped digging at the floor last week—but an unpleasant smell then appeared in the basement; someone had gotten a belly full of bait and died in the wall somewhere. I spent most of Saturday pulling apart the stuff we’ve stored in there to see if I could find the source with no luck. Disgusted with the mess, I went to the Lowe’s for some wood and put together 10′ of built-in shelves along the north wall to organize the junk, filled two contractor’s bags full of trash, and sealed cracks in the slab with concrete caulk. Next weekend I’ll do the same to the south wall and get all of that shit organized.
I haven’t really had much to write about around here other than small updates on lots of little projects.
- I’ve been working nonstop this week on a report at work that will be released both as a print and digital product; the process demands a completely new workflow which has been an uphill climb to learn and a series of trial-and-error attempts to get things right. When it’s done it will be an exciting launch, but it’s taken a lot of late nights to get this far.
- We’re still waiting on grout for the kitchen tile. I bought some “white” grout at the Home Depot and tried it on a test sample, and it dried more gray than white. There’s another color, called “avalanche” which looks whiter than white that I’d like to try next.
- I cleaned out the greenhouse last weekend, pulling all of the rest of the tomato plants out and consolidating the tubs. All of the yard furniture went inside with the last rain barrel, and I reinstalled the panel on the back wall. I’m sad to see it all buttoned up for the winter, but I’m already thinking ahead to next spring.
- Walking the dog last week, I passed by a house that’s been on the market for several weeks and noticed the owners were moving a bunch of stuff out to the curb under giant FREE signs. Always interested in FREE stuff, I bypassed a charcoal grill, several shelves, old office chairs, water jugs and other assorted stuff and focused in on a Dewalt tool case containing a corded drill in excellent shape; I then juggled that, my coffee, and the dog all the way home. I headed back in the Scout to see if I could score one of the shelves to use in the greenhouse. While I was loading that into the truck, the owner asked me if I was interested in a ladder. Sure, I said, immediately thinking of Glenn, who could use a ladder of his own. He showed me to a 20′ aluminum ladder in excellent shape, so I threw it in the truck and texted Glenn. He’d borrowed one of my ladders to pull his shutters off before having their house painted, so we swapped ladders later that day. I’m always looking out for stuff like that, and when I can find things for family, it’s that much better.
- We had an electrician come in and hook up the heater in the new bathroom, after a year of waiting in vain for my neighbor to come back over and finish it. That job went pretty quickly and as a result I had him come back out to put a switch and mount in for a ceiling fan in on the porch. He was smart and jumped a wire from the lighted doctor sign on the front of the house; it took a little longer than he was expecting but it’s all ready for a fan we haven’t bought yet. I’ve got a bunch of patching I need to do on the drywall out there because he had to cut a hole around the switch and up at the top of the wall to get through the sill plate.
- After several months of back-and-forth with Warby Parker, I’ve got new glasses on the way. I was trying to avoid going for an eye exam in person to avoid COVID, and they have an app that roughly tests for prescription changes that I tried, but I was told—after the test—that it didn’t apply to my prescription. After the in-person test I was told two things I already knew: my distance prescription hasn’t changed, and that I need readers. They made the case for a set of bifocals but I think I’m going to just find a cheap pair of readers at Target for now.
The server is now back in the basement, happily humming along with a fresh copy of OS 10.7 Lion installed, the last supported version for that 14-year-old machine. I used an Other World Computing SSD drive and adapter to utilize the free SATA bus below the optical drive so that I could free up the fourth internal drive bay for storage. Over the last two weeks I’ve pruned and cleaned the music folder on that drive, removing duplicates, cleansing metadata, replacing old rips of my library with fresh, higher quality versions, and deleting stuff I’ve never listened to. Both my websites send their weekly backups to the email address linked to that machine. My entire photo library is pruned and organized by date. The home video library is organized by date in a separate folder on a separate drive—mostly videos of Finn, but some older stuff too—and the Movies have been reorganized.
It’s been a long project, but it feels good to have things done. Now I’ve got to get back to processing the balance of the slide scans I worked on in March.
There are reddening tomatoes out in the greenhouse! The cherries are beginning to ripen, and there are scores of them across all of the tubs. There’s one plant that has 15 cherries in one cluster, which is pretty amazing. The larger tomatoes are also coming in strong, although there’s one that is still producing blossom end rot; I’ve got to look into the application instructions for the fertilizer I bought and see how often I’m supposed to amend the soil (or, just buy some calcium and add it directly). I think the weeks of high temperatures and humidity really kicked them all into overdrive, and I’ve been faithfully watering and pruning the plants every morning after Hazel’s walk.
One thing I need to understand for next year’s crop is how to prune them all back vertically so that they produce horizontally and with more density. I suspect Jen’s suggestion that they’re getting tall because they’re not getting enough direct light is true, but I can’t move them outside without losing them to critters. I’m also going to prune one of the boughs of the oak tree back to bring more light in earlier in the day. And finally, I want to both expand the number of tubs we’re planting in (an entire second row along the south wall) and the variety of plants. Next year I want several varieties of cherries—yellow and black did really well last year—as well as several full-size varieties. Oaxacas, Dagmas, and Paul Robesons grew pretty well in 2018 but I don’t have any seed for them, so I’ll have to figure out where I can get some different varieties and be prepared for 2021.
As of today I’ve got about 120 CD’s digitized from Rob’s collection. I had to open the top of the first case to access the carousel inside, but I can’t figure out what the grinding noise is or where it’s coming from, and no amount of futzing with the innards will free it up. This sucks because I can’t access roughly half of the CDs based on where they are in the carousel—unless I pull a bunch of them out, and I don’t have Rob’s CD binders to file things away in, and I don’t want to have giant leaning piles of CDs all over the place. More research is required, but given that it’s a Sony product, and because I’ve only ever had bad experiences with Sony A/V gear, I’m not optimistic.
Sadly, two of my beautiful Chef’s Choice tomatoes developed blossom end rot over the weekend, so I have to use my spray and hope I can save the rest of the fruit. Clearly there’s more research I need to do on what needs to be added to the soil to prevent this; it’s been a year-over-year problem that I haven’t licked yet. The other plants look extremely happy, however, and there are dozens of cherry tomatoes growing ever larger on the vines. I’ve been extremely aggressive at pruning the plants back this year, so walking in to the greenhouse and seeing 1/4 of the volume of plants vs. last year is still surprising.
My Fuji XT-10 apparently doesn’t like my new iPhone for some reason—or from what I’ve been able to find out, the Fuji app on the phone doesn’t like to talk to the camera. My iPhone 6 worked fine, albeit slow, but I could at least fire up the wireless connection on the camera and quickly transfer images to my phone. From what little I can glean, Fuji doesn’t seem to give a shit, there are issues with iOS 13, and there’s no telling when it’s going to be fixed.
Here’s your humor for the day:
I got Finn outside on Saturday morning to help change the plugs in the CR-V and it went a million times better than last weekend. I must have got her on a good morning because she was pretty well focused for the whole thing, even when I had to run around hunting for a 10mm deep socket in my various toolboxes—turns out the only one I have is in a cheap set I bought to change the battery on the CR-V in a Columbia parking lot last winter.
It was pretty straightforward, and I talked Finn through the function of an engine and what the plugs do, and we talked about the difference between the Scout’s engine and the CR-V. She’s learning! After the plugs went in we changed both air filters and then scrubbed the engine down with Simple Green.
After a pressure wash, the whole thing looks much better. We drove out to the Gucci Lowes in Columbia that afternoon and Jen was shocked by how different the car drives. The idle is steady and there’s loads of acceleration response. It’s nice to make a huge difference like that in a few hours’ work.
After we got back from Lowe’s I went back out and swapped the plugs in the Scout. We grilled some dinner and hung out together on the porch, which is really turning out nice. There’s a plant hung in the corner, we found some shades for IKEA lamps I’ve had since Lakewood street, and we found a cool metal plant stand for the area next to the front door.
Sunday I was more tired than I was expecting, and the day was hot with high humidity, so I did some minor things on the porch—wired in a USB plug by the table, fastened the five seats of the couch together with metal plates, and touched up some paint. The rest of the day we all spent quietly hanging around; I wound up napping in the air conditioning for two hours towards dinnertime and caught up on some sleep. I feel terrible because I didn’t do anything with Finn or Jen, and the days are creeping by while we could be out hiking or biking or doing other activities; I have to make a serious effort to plan some physical activity for us. The trick is finding something away from other people who have stopped wearing masks.
Hazel and I have a morning routine that’s worked pretty well for the last couple of months. She stirs at 6AM or so, does some light cleaning, and mentally flips a coin. Tails means she’ll jump back up on the bed and settle for another 30 minutes. Heads means she starts fussing at the door and at me to get me up so that she can go outside. Wednesday morning I slept through the first half of the routine and woke to find her methodically chewing up my favorite (and only) brown leather belt, something I’ve had for about 20 years. I couldn’t be mad at her, so I put my clothes on and stumbled downstairs to let her out. This is actually the second leather belt of mine she’s murdered, so I’m down to one black dress belt.
Finley has been bouncing in and out of obsessions during her ample staycation. One of her more obscure fixations has been survivalist preparation. When asked what the fascination was, she simply shrugged and said, “when I go live in the woods I’ll know how to survive.” With no real explanation given for why that might happen, I gave her a couple of books on camping I have on our shelves and asked her to make a list of the things she might need to gather to sleep outdoors. I found a beginner compass I’ve had stashed in the Scout and gave her that. She’s been asking about a pocketknife for a while, and I’ve got Dad’s Schrade waiting for her, but I’d like to give her something a little less valuable so that when she loses it, which she will, I won’t be upset.
We set up the tent a few days ago in the backyard when the weather had cooled off and she prepared for a solo night in the wilderness: a sleeping bag, water bottle, flashlight, Ox, and pillow. In 20 minutes she was back inside: it was a little too creepy out there by herself. I told her I’d join her the following night, and she went upstairs and slept in her own bed. The next day I gathered some gear for myself, figuring I’d be up long after she fell asleep—my laptop, a charger, some other stuff. We zipped ourselves into the tent at dusk and settled down. What actually happened was I fell asleep almost immediately while she laid awake next to me. She reached out and put a hand on my chest and that seemed to help. At about 2AM I awoke and had to layer up, as it had gotten much colder. She’d already zipped herself in to her bag so I was satisfied she would stay warm. The next morning my neck was sore from sleeping on the ground but the rest of me fared pretty well, which I thought was pretty good for a 49-year-old man.
We’re at that point in the porch project where we’ve got the bones of it 95% complete, but all of the stuff that has to happen now is taking forever to come together. This past week it crawled along while I applied successive layers of polyurethane to the floor—five in total, equalling about 3/4 of a gallon. We’d decided we didn’t want to see the pattern get worn off immediately, so some serious protection was in order. Now there’s a hard candy shell on the whole thing, and hopefully it won’t come off for a long time.
So my focus was mostly elsewhere on Saturday and Sunday. I pulled a stepladder out of the garage and started scraping and priming windows on the driveway side of the house, working my way around to the two jalousie windows on the porch—which haven’t been touched in the 17 years we’ve lived here. Late in the morning we had a visit from the invisible fence guy, who fixed the wire that had been cut when the driveway went in, as well as altered the layout so the backyard is its own zone to keep Hazel from rushing dogs passing by the front yard.
After he’d left, I took Finn on a bike ride down the hill to the asylum, figuring it would be something interesting to look at. The roads were closed to through traffic, but we pedaled around the campus and looked at the crumbling buildings while I managed Finn’s anxieties about trespassing and breaking laws. She is a rule-follower, except when it involves chocolate. On our way out a nice security guard told us they’d closed the campus up because there was an outbreak of COVID in the wards that are still open, but since we’d only been on our bikes he wasn’t worried about us.
Sunday was overcast and cooler, so I pulled the Scout out into the driveway and swapped out the starter. When I’d finished up that and some other smaller projects, I pulled the pressure washer out of the garage and cleaned the backs of the Adirondack chairs so that they’d be dry for paint on Monday.
Monday broke sunny and warm, and the fifth coat of poly was dry on the floor, so I patched the final areas on the porch that needed attention and left them to dry. Out in the backyard I set the Adirondack chairs up behind the greenhouse and sprayed them with primer and then two coats of white semigloss. I have to say, other than the fact that the container only holds a quart of paint, the sprayer is fantastic to work with, and worth every penny I spent on it. What would have easily taken all day to paint with a brush got done in about two hours time—including cleanup. The area behind the greenhouse looks like someone murdered a snowman, but the chairs look damn good.
While the chairs were drying I went inside and cleaned up the patches on the porch, and then we hauled the furniture around to the front of the house to bring inside. I’m going to let Jen do the big reveal when it’s ready, but it really looks great in here (I’m sipping coffee and writing this on one of the new chairs).
We took a quick ride in the Scout to drop off a birthday present Finn made for a friend, and when we got back it was the perfect weather to light a fire in the backyard. While the fire was getting warm, Jen brought the clippers down and she shaved my quarantine fro down to a manageable 3/4″. It’s choppy and patchy in places but it’s worlds better than the giant bushy mess I’d been hiding under hats for the past month. Finn walked over to invite the neighbors over for some socially distant s’mores. We stayed out and chatted until 10:30, grateful for conversation and company, and then all staggered off to bed smelling of woodsmoke and chocolate.