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.
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.
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…
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!
The Baltimore County School Board held an online board meeting last night, which we were not aware of until this morning. Our neighbor listened in and told us it was a complete disaster; apparently the officials on the call didn’t really answer any questions and were evasive when pressed on important details like how kids would be kept safe and healthy and plans for the fall semester. I’m waiting for them to post the whole thing online so I can listen for myself, but given all the chaos we endured last fall with the system being hacked, I’m not confident.
Update 5:49PM: still not posted.
The school system has had its share of leadership issues over the last couple of years, with the last superintendent indicted for perjury and overcrowding for decades—in 2016 it was the 25th largest district in the country—so I understand they have a fair share of problems. But they’ve also had a year to come up with a plan, or maybe a set of plans for different contingencies, and we’ve heard nothing from them that inspires any sort of confidence.
As mentioned before, our Governor has decided that Maryland kids need to go back to hybrid learning by no later than March 1, citing “a growing consensus” in the state and across the country. Whose consensus is that? Is it from the Red states? Or the Red counties within my state? Because fuck them. As I’ve also mentioned here, my daughter’s mental health is one of the most important things to me in the world, but the reality is that I’m still immunocompromised. Hopkins says for me to go get the vaccine somewhere else, but how do I explain I’ve got no white blood cells without a letter from my doctor? Do I need that letter, or will I wind up getting cuffed as I leave the building like this Canadian fuckwit and his wife?
Finley has been using a Chromebook for schoolwork since they sent everyone home last March, and apart from some initial confusion as to where things were (the cloud) and what it could do (it actually connects to our printer!) it’s been pretty bombproof since then—as a piece of hardware. The software they’re using for the curriculum is hot burning trash. I could have designed something better than this shit on a napkin in 1998. As it turns out, someone else realized this and brought the entire thing to a crashing halt with ransomware late last year. We parents used to be able to log into an account and see our child’s progress but that’s been shut off since the breach, so we’re completely dependent on what Finn sees through her login.
This morning her password stopped working. All three of us tried entering it with no success, so I clicked on the “forgot password” link, which then failed to work. We found the support number and I called it, then sat on hold for 45 minutes until a disinterested, barely conscious woman took my information down, gave me a ticket number, and told me someone would contact me…sometime.
We have Zoom links for Finn’s classes but there’s no direct way to contact her teachers—although I think Jen sniffed out the email addresses and sent word along. But she can’t do schoolwork, and if there’s no other way to contact her, she won’t know what’s happening in class. So far, there’s no word from tech support. Swell.
Meanwhile, word from Baltimore County about the COVID vaccine is sparse and confusing. Apparently I’m in the fourth tier (C), which contradicts some earlier information we’d been given, and I’m not eligible for the vaccine without some kind a note from my doctor. I contacted my oncologist and got a form letter back which basically says don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you. So who knows what’s going to happen.
Meanwhile, our governor has decided that the kids need to go back to hybrid learning by March 1, to which I say: FUCK YOU. Unless we three get vaccinated, Finn will be learning from our dining room table until further notice.
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.