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.

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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.

Date posted: May 26, 2020 | Filed under general, photo | Leave a Comment »

Hazel had me up at 6:15 this morning and as I rose from the bed I got an alarm bell from my head, which told me the barometer was pogoing around and that we were steering for a headache. Jen took Hazel and I went back to bed until 9, which was a lovely treat. Unfortunately my head felt worse when I woke up, so I made coffee and took two Advil in the hopes things would calm down.

It’s sunny but cold outside and the wind is howling through the trees, so Hazel isn’t keen on a walk and I’m not keen on getting out to the porch and continuing work, but the show must go on. I’ve got some painting and patching to do, and then we have to focus on the floor. Jen and I assembled a bunch of furniture on Thursday night in the backyard and left it out there to offgas (the oil they used in the teak stinks) for a week or so before we move it inside. Besides Finn’s bed, this is the first new furniture we’ve bought in probably 10 years, and it was fun to put together.

* * *

On my desk in the office there’s a shiny black iPhone SE2 in the final stages of pairing with my Apple Watch. They arrived yesterday (Jen and I both upgraded) and they are everything I hoped they’d be: faster, shinier, and the same size as our 6’s. I could actually use the beat up old case from my 6 for this phone, but I think the case has seen enough abuse—and this time Jen and I are going to buy different cases to avoid grabbing each other’s phone.

Pairing the watch was a little rocky last night—it took several tries and failed for various reasons so I let things sit overnight and let the two of them talk things over before forcing them to get married. The getting-to-know-you time seems to have worked because they’re currently planning the honeymoon and picking out appliances together.

 

Date posted: May 9, 2020 | Filed under apple, general | 2 Comments »

From my desk, which faces the front of the house, I see lots of people out walking each day as they escape their quarantine for some moments of sunshine. Most of them have become familiar. There are the joggers, who used to pass once a day but now make multiple runs. There are the dogwalkers, many of whom we’re familiar with because of Hazel and our own morning route. There are old couples, young couples, family groups and singles, baby strollers, bikes, electric skateboards, wagons, carts, scooters, and skates. I’ve grown familiar with them; they tend to come by at predictable times.

Beginning last week, a new family appeared around dinnertime, and they were a bit different. They were dressed in what I’d call Amish chic: definitely churched up in a Pennsylvania Dutch sort of way. The mother had a sister-wife vibe going: long floral dress, buttoned-up hair. The kids looked like cosplayers from the turn of the century—the boy was wearing a flat-brim hat. The dad wore a button-down collarless shirt with suspenders. And they carried signs, both of which I couldn’t read until I passed them in the Scout on the weekend: the first read “HONK IF YOU SUPPORT OUR FIRST RESPONDERS” and in smaller text, as if we needed the clarification, “police, firefighters and nurses.” The second read, “HONK FOR THE CONVERSION OF AMERICA.”

Yup.

At first I thought maybe the Westboro Baptist Church had maybe opened a satellite in Catonsville, and I was excited about brainstorming ways to fight their bigoted bullshit on my own turf. But after a quick google search, my hope is that maybe this is something less sinister. Either way, I wonder if their compound is nearby and whether or not they’re stockpiling weapons in there.

Progress

This is progress. Hazel still gets worked up when Nox comes around, but she’s getting better and better about letting him exist within her perimeter. Nox rolled around on his back for a good five minutes before getting bored and leaving, and Hazel mostly left him alone. This encounter ended peacefully, but at any given time there’s a 33% chance Hazel will chase after him to sniff his butt.

Date posted: May 6, 2020 | Filed under general, hazel | Leave a Comment »

I took Hazel on an early morning walk and ordered some breakfast from a restaurant downtown. While the girls slept in I went out to the greenhouse and started planting tomatoes, starting with six healthy cherries up front, then four Chef’s Choice, and six Cherokees. In the back two containers hold a grab-bag of seedlings, and there are four more in pots on the side. This last bit was not by choice, but that’s what happens when Hazel knocks over the seedling tray and they all get mixed up on the floor. Hey, fuck it, they’re all tomatoes.

Greenhouse planted

Our lawn guy finally showed up after a two week absence, so the house looks somewhat cared for again. When he leveled out the lawn last fall, he used some kind of nuclear-powered seed that grows at five times the rate of the rest of the lawn, so we get patches that are scrappy-looking and full of dandelions and others that grow lush green and higher than the roofline of the house. It’s nice to have him knock things out in 15 minutes, because I get that three hours of my life back.

After picking up breakfast and eating with the girls, I went out to the front porch and tore up the old green carpet, underlayment, and all of the carpet strips and loaded that on top of the treadmill in the back of the Scout. A quick run down to the dump made short work of that stuff. When I got home I was still waiting on the plywood order to be ready for pickup at the Home Depot, so I pulled the pressure washer out of the garage, sprayed the screens from the porch down with Simple Green, and blasted sixty years of nicotine and dust off of them. It was so nasty I could see brown water running off the garage door where I’d propped them up. While those were drying, I showed Finn how to use the pressure washer and we cleaned the gray off of our Adirondack chairs and set them to dry in the driveway. Have I mentioned how much I love our driveway? Or the pressure washer?

Then I figured I’d show Finn how to change the oil in the Accord. I first set up Dad’s wheel ramps but the approach angle of the bumper is too low, and I couldn’t get the tires close to the metal. So we jacked up both sides and set it on jackstands. Once I was underneath I put a 17mm wrench on the bolt but the chuckleheads at Jiffy Lube overtorqued it with an air gun the last time we were there, and I didn’t have the clearance or the confidence to break it loose without stripping the head. GAAAAAAHHHH. On a positive note: the ramps will fit under the CR-V.

By the time I got it back down, the plywood was ready, so Finn and I set out to pick it up. After some confusion about which store it was at, we got it back home and loaded onto the porch for a rainy Sunday installation.

The whole day had been sunny and warm, and our excursion out into the real world revealed all of humanity trying to get out of their houses. All social distancing had broken down; people were out without masks, walking next to each other, oblivious to any of the guidelines. Finn and I played it safe as much as we could, but it was sobering to see everyone disregard the virus so quickly.

After we got home I figured it was time to take the top off the scout because I saw a number of people driving around in their convertibles and I got super jealous. Finley and I headed back out to the garage, and we chatted while unbolting all of the fasteners. I backed it into the garage, and within about a half an hour we had the hard top  suspended from the garage rafters so that I could pull it back out and put the soft top on. Then the four of us took a victory lap around Catonsville. I thought I would treat the girls to Krispy Kreme, as I’d promised but not been able to provide fresh beignets at breakfast. Apparently everyone else wanted donuts too, because we sat in line at the drive through for about 10 minutes until I peeled off and we headed to the Dunkin’ Donuts instead.

Sunday morning I was too tired to walk Hazel so I made coffee and let her outside on the run. After getting some breakfast, I went out to the front porch and started cleaning things off in preparation for the plywood. It turned out that they had forgotten to put the construction adhesive in my pickup order, so I had to head back out and get that.

Porch floor before

Porch floor after

Back at home, the first sheets of plywood went in pretty fast and in about an hour I had four of them glued and nailed down and was cutting down the final piece to put along the side wall. Jen and I decided to go check into paint at the Home Depot and put some test patches down to see what we liked. The whole room looks completely different with the plywood down. It’s clean and neat and once it all gets painted and the quarter round gets put in around the perimeter of the floor it’s going to really tighten up.

We then assembled one of the new chairs to see what that would look like with the paint and I really like what we bought. We were worried about everything fitting in there, but after moving the chair around and roughing things in, I think it’s going to be real nice.

Date posted: May 4, 2020 | Filed under general, honda, house | Leave a Comment »

Lots of good unsolicited advice here from Kevin Kelly, the executive editor of Wired in its heyday and a bunch of other good things. Like these:

Buying tools: Start by buying the absolute cheapest tools you can find. Upgrade the ones you use a lot. If you wind up using some tool for a job, buy the very best you can afford.

Pros are just amateurs who know how to gracefully recover from their mistakes.

Separate the processes of creation from improving. You can’t write and edit, or sculpt and polish, or make and analyze at the same time. If you do, the editor stops the creator. While you invent, don’t select. While you sketch, don’t inspect. While you write the first draft, don’t reflect. At the start, the creator mind must be unleashed from judgement.

To make mistakes is human. To own your mistakes is divine. Nothing elevates a person higher than quickly admitting and taking personal responsibility for the mistakes you make and then fixing them fairly. If you mess up, fess up. It’s astounding how powerful this ownership is.

Date posted: April 29, 2020 | Filed under general, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

IMG_8963

Here are 85% of my seedlings in one place; there are several others in less healthy shape in another flat on the side, but these are the ones that will get planted and cultivated. They’ve been hardening in the greenhouse for the past two nights, and I’m hoping they’ll get nice and healthy so that I can plant them in containers this weekend.

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The sun was out today, warming up my morning walk with Hazel, so I loaded up the Scout with the giant pile of construction debris from the front porch and and a nervous dog, and headed to the dump. It felt wonderful to get out and drive on the freeway, do some errands, and see the outside world, even if it was only within a 10-mile radius of the house. It felt so good to be out, I drove into Catonsville and went through the Krispy Kreme drive through for two donuts and another cup of coffee. At home, Finn had completed her homework, so we sat at the table and enjoyed our treat together.

Krispy Kreme had about eight donuts to choose from, down from a normal selection of about thirty. That was a little worrisome.

Hazel is wearing her headscarf again, because one of her ears started scabbing up. She’s been battling warts under her chin because the medicine for the vasculitis is lowering her immune system. The antibiotics for the warts upset her stomach yesterday, so she’s off the vasculitis medicine and only on her behavioral pills; she hasn’t eaten all day and has been moping about the house and sleeping. This fucking blows.

The front porch is waiting for about an hour with the block sander. All of the long seams have a second skim coat of mud that’s been dry since Sunday, and if they clean up well I’ll be able to roll wall paint over them and call the walls done. Then, it’s on to the floor.

Date posted: April 28, 2020 | Filed under general, greenhouse, hazel | Leave a Comment »

This was a quiet weekend of Getting Things Done:

  • I replanted the surviving tomato seedlings into potting soil and let them harden in full sunlight for the entirety of Saturday. I made the mistake of leaving them out in the greenhouse for an hour too long last Thursday and they all got toasted in the mixture of heat and humidity, so the last few days I’ve been nursing them back to health. All of the cherries, about 70% of the Chef’s Choice, and three Cherokees out of ten survived. So I may have to break down and buy some other varieties from the store just to mix up the crop. Still, this is the first time I’ve grown anything from seed, and I’m pretty stoked.
  • Pumped 45 gallons of rainwater into the greenhouse barrel from the garage barrel, in advance of a new week of rainfall. Before it was filled last week I pressure-washed all of last year’s green slime from the inside, so they’re both clean.

  • Dumped all of last year’s soil from the containers out behind the neighbor’s garage and replaced it with 15 cubic yards of fresh container soil, ready for healthy seedlings.
  • Wiped a couple of years’ worth of algae off the insides of the polycarbonate walls of the greenhouse; it’s like someone opened the drapes in there.

  • Replaced the front and rear brake lines on my road bike, wrapped it in grip tape, and took a shakedown cruise up to the post office to mail off a Netflix disc. I like the cowhorns better than the old drop handlebars, but I wish they were about 2″ narrower and didn’t have a bend. That being said, it’s great to be on a bike again, but I feel the complete lack of conditioning in my legs about 100 yards up the road from our house. Time was when Pat and I would ride 20 miles around Baltimore on a whim (without helmets or healthcare, at midnight) and barely feel winded; it’s obvious I need to get out and ride a lot more. Finley’s bike is now too small but it’s impossible to shop properly for a full-sized bike during lockdown, otherwise I’d get her out for a ride every day.
  • Painted a second coat of semigloss on the porch ceiling, crown moulding and window surrounds, and a second coat of eggshell on the walls. I also taped up the remaining seams in the original drywall and I think I can stretch the mud I’ve got to cover the remainder. Sunday I spent pretty much the whole day painting trim, first in eggshell primer (whoops) and then a second coat of semigloss white over everything. We’re reaching the end of the painting portion of this project, which means it’ll soon be time to rip up the carpet and move on to the flooring.
  • Failed to empty the second keg of the IPA that’s been in there since last July; I sipped on it for most of this afternoon and poured a bunch into a growler, but it’s still not kicked. So the Shiner Bnock-off is still sitting in the carboy waiting its turn. And look! I got a new IPA kit in the mail from Northern Brewer on Saturday.
  • Ordered a 24-port network switch from Amazon to replace the castoff unit I’ve had in the basement since 2018. I got it from the electronics dumpster at WRI in 2017 or so when they simplified the internal network and upgraded the gear, so it cost me nothing, but it has been running nonstop since about 2005 and thus the internal fans are both crispy. It’s been making terrible whining noises for a couple of weeks which tells me the whole thing is about to crap out, so I figure I’ll get ahead of that while I can. I also ordered a box of 100 RJ-45 connectors so that I can simplify the wiring situation while I’m down there.
Date posted: April 26, 2020 | Filed under general, greenhouse, house | Leave a Comment »

“This is what I learned from those years in the prison camp, where all those constraints just were oppressive. You must never ever ever confuse, on the one hand, the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints with, on the other hand, the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.”

I saw this last week and meant to post it sooner: Admiral Jim Stockdale was a POW for seven years in Vietnam, and this is what he learned about faith and optimism.

Date posted: April 20, 2020 | Filed under general, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

20

You know, with all of the stuff going on in the last couple of months, I completely forgot to mention the fact that this weblog, as of March 22, is 20 years old. My first post was about the choice of outerwear I was noticing in Washington, D.C. as I worked there; it wasn’t the most emotionally wrenching subject, but it kicked off an almost daily habit I’ve kept ever since then. To that date, I’d posted 5196 times, or roughly 22 times a month. Because of a huge spike in 2004, my trend line is slowly declining, but it looks like there’s been an general uptick since about 2017 or so.

In terms of content, I’ve stripped out some data that skews the average for the category counts; all of the Scout categories are out, as well as the Shortlinks category, which overlaps half the posts and skews everything else.

As I’d expect, photo is at the top of the stats only because it’s there to tell me when there’s a photo linked from Flickr. House is second, followed by Finley, geek, and humor.

It’s hard to believe I’ve kept this going for 20 years, but it’s also become an invaluable tool for remembering where we’ve been, when things happened, and maybe a little bit about who we are. Here’s to another 20 years.

Date posted: April 13, 2020 | Filed under general, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

On Saturday Hazel had me up at 6:30 with the first rays of light over the trees, so I snuck her out of the house and we took a nice long walk around the neighborhood before anyone else was up. Our usual morning route maps out at about a mile and a quarter, and by the time she’s pulled me down the hill and back up again, she’s worked off her early morning energy and is ready for some food. After getting some breakfast and spending a little time with the girls, I brought some tools up from the basement and started demoing the half-wall on the front porch.

To recap, the front porch had been enclosed sometime in the 1940’s, and the area to the right of the front door was used as the waiting room for the doctor’s office. It was furnished with wood panel-faced drywall and a dark green carpet that was probably very fashionable during the Eisenhower administration. At one point there was a radiator out there to attempt to heat an area with little to no insulation, which the doctor had moved from the dining room. We’ve been using the space as catchall storage since we moved in, so it’s been cluttered with all kinds of crap for years. In 2005 I went out and rolled three coats of Kilz over the paneling to try and brighten things up, but the dark windows, carpet, and ceiling kept things feeling grim out there.

 

The half-wall was meant as a windbreak for the unfortunates sitting in the waiting room, and really did nothing but make the whole place look and feel darker. We’re looking to brighten the whole place up on the cheap, so I took it down with a crowbar and a hammer. It took only about a half an hour to pull out completely, and the debris filled two contractor’s bags. Inside the wall I found Christi’s car keys, deposited there sometime in 2011 by Finley, who, at the time, was fascinated by a hole in the wall left by the doorknob. Apparently someone in an earlier decade found it equally fascinating, because I found a second set of car keys next to hers, from a 70’s era Ford (years on the repossession lot taught me a lot about identifying keys).

 

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After I’d bagged the debris I cut up some leftover drywall to patch the hole in the wall, and taped and mudded it. I was trimming a second patch to cover another section of wall that had been holed and then covered in tape when the blade of the boxcutter hopped over my guide and bit into my left thumb, opening a pretty good gash below the knuckle and leaving a divot across my thumbnail.

Jen busted out the supplies and patched me up quickly, and we let it sit for a while before she convinced me to reopen it, disinfect everything, and superglue the whole thing shut. We numbed it with some lidocaine cream and then she got to work. My labors were pretty much over at that point, so we took the dog for another walk and settled in to our new book by the fireplace.

We’re finished with the Golden Compass series—overall very enjoyable, and not at all what I was expecting—and have moved on to the Alchemyst, a fantasy book about Nicholas Flamel and magic. It’s been very relaxing to sit by the fire with the menagerie around us and not have them try to kill each other; usually at reading time Hazel is winding down and the drowsy nature of the fire seems to calm her down even more.

On Sunday Jen changed my bandage and I went back out to the porch to do what I could with one hand; this basically meant I was painting all day. I washed the woodwork with warm water and TSP (commercial detergent) and then painted the outside of the front door for the first time we’ve been in the house, as well as the trim around the dining room window. Then I moved a bunch of stuff around and painted the frames surrounding the outside windows with about ten coats of Kilz, and anything else I could reach or cover. At about 6:30 we stopped for Easter dinner and some family calls, and wound our evening down early.

 

Date posted: April 13, 2020 | Filed under general, house | 1 Comment »