The frequency of my posts here have dropped off in recent weeks. For some reason I’m in a fallow period for the blog, and I’m spending too much free time just aimlessly looking at the internet for tiny dopamine hits. Weekends are different because I can get out from behind the desk and accomplish large visible things that have a tangible result, which I’m leaning on heavily for motivation. As my job-related output gets increasingly intangible it’s hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when my output for the day is a list of items crossed off on a list in a notebook.
This is not a complaint. I’m happy—and lucky—to have a job in the current climate. Some weeks it’s just more difficult to shift my mindset to the new normal.
The tomatoes in the greenhouse are beginning to perk up. After several weeks of apathy, they’ve noticed the change in temperature and are beginning to pick up their growth. When I look at my Flickr feed from last year the store-bought plants are a full month ahead of where I am this year, but I’m taking a much more careful approach to how I’m letting these grow. Being home every day means I can keep a closer eye on them—pruning back the suckers and extra branches to keep the main stem strong and healthy every day. From what I’m seeing online I need to be much more ruthless about pruning back extra branches that have set flowers, as they take the energy and growth away from fruit on the main section of the plant. But with the additional plants I’m growing, we’ll hopefully have a lot more production overall.
So there it is. I started spraying at 10AM and finished up the last section at 4, and it took about an hour to clean everything up. I went with the big guns and wheeled my new upright compressor to the front door for the sprayer. It worked like a dream. I worked the stencil down the middle of the room and then shot each side; the only issue I ran into was some misregistration on the house side requiring a do-over of one square. Overall, it sprayed super easy and when I had a rhythm worked out with the gun, my baffle, a lint cloth, and some tape, each side went pretty quickly. We had to paper off the walls to make sure there wasn’t any overspray, but Jen stayed ahead of me the whole time and I didn’t have to wait for anything.
After I’d moved the compressor back to the garage, scrubbed a fist’s worth of paint off the stencil, and cleaned out the gun, I went back in with a beer and a watercolor brush and cleaned up some edges and some overspray here and there. Overall there’s not a lot that needs to be touched up; the stencil was that good. So we’re going to let it sit and cure for a week, do some wall touch-ups, and then we move on to furnishings and furniture.
I’m extremely pleased with the $60 sprayer I bought—it knocked this job out of the park, and I’m already looking ahead to shooting paint on the four Adirondack chairs in the backyard when it’s warmer and dryer…and then maybe the house…
On Sunday I got out in the greenhouse and addressed the issue of the back wall once and for all. It was originally one sheet of polycarbonate panel cut to fit the peak of the roof, so I had to disassemble half of the back wall to take it out for airflow. This year, I had some time to think about it and come up with a better plan. The polycarbonate panels are held in place by an inside and outside sandwich rail that bolt to the frame of the greenhouse.I took the back panel out and then cut the two outside rails 6′ off the ground, and then cut the polycarbonate 6′ from the bottom. Then I put the top section back in permanently and left the bottom rectangle off. I’d built a chicken-wire frame for the back wall two seasons ago for the back wall but that was now too tall, so I reframed it to fit the new opening.
With that done and in place, I pumped water from the low rain barrel to a holding tank—it’s going to rain for the next five days—and watered all the tomatoes. They’re all progressing well and look pretty happy. Looking back on last season, the plants were about four times the size at this point, but the weather has been so shitty in 2020, I can’t let it get me discouraged.
Here’s the porch with three coats of new deck paint down; this goes on light but dries thick and doesn’t come off my skin as easily as standard latex paint. It turned out the “floor paint” we were given was just regular paint, so we thought it best to use actual deck paint for the high-traffic, high-visibility area. It’s a bit darker and more neutral than the original paint we selected but a bit shinier and more reflective. Jen is beginning the job of taping off a border and preparing for the stencil work today.
And here’s the greenhouse with one additional container; I saved the last three seedlings from various places and planted them in a bin in back. All told there’s about 25 plants out there; I’ve got some research to do about pinching them off and making sure the plants grow healthy and strong. I think we’re at the point when I can pull the rear panel off the back wall and replace it with chicken wire—overnight temps got down to the high 30’s last week but I’m hoping that’s over with now.
There’s the floor on the porch with quarter-round in place around the perimeter and one coat of paint to cover the smudges. Note the rectangle in the upper right corner—that will become important in the coming days.
And here’s the greenhouse as it stands; things look relatively small but are getting larger daily.
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.
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.
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.
We were blessed with temperatures in the 60-70˚ range this weekend, so I spent as much time outside as I possibly could. And over the last week, the tulip tree in our front yard has gone from beautiful neighborhood landmark to unsightly embarrassing litterbug. Pretty much all the pink petals are down and browning on the lawn, so I had Finley come out and help me rake and haul it all to the mulch pile behind the greenhouse. When that was done I mowed the front and back lawns and made the place look a bit better. Next I used moss killer on the roof of the garage to clear off the north and east faces, which have been turning greener and greener each year.
With limited mobility and summer coming, Jen has been thinking about cleaning up the west side of front porch for a while now to reclaim the dead space there. It’s been a dumping ground for anything we have that doesn’t fit in the garage or is too big to haul into the basement: all of our air conditioners, tables, chairs, cornhole boards, a treadmill I never used, assorted boxes and bags of goodwill donations, etc. She has a vision to turn it into a summer sitting porch, and now that the dining room windows have been replaced, there’s no reason not to keep the windows open to get more circulation in the house.
So we started hauling stuff out of there Sunday afternoon, starting with the treadmill, which will get dropped at the dump when it reopens. I moved a bunch of other stuff out to the garage, but we haven’t figured out what to do with the air conditioners yet. I’d like to keep them out of the windows for as long as possible so that we an enjoy the spring air until it gets blazing hot, so they may get stacked in the dining room while we paint.
The basic plan is to empty the room, remove the crown molding, and paint the walls properly—I hit everything with a quick roll of Kilz about 10 years ago just to brighten things up, but it was never meant to look perfect—and cover the acoustic tile on the ceiling with beadboard paneling. Then I can reinstall the crown molding to clean up the edges. We’re also going to demo the dividing wall to the right of the front door to open things up, and cover the hole with some spare drywall. Once everything has a fresh coat of white paint, we’ll tear up the shitty green carpet and replace that with floor tiles.
Meanwhile, in the basement, our tomato seedlings are beginning to sprout their first true leaves, which is an excellent sign. I finally got smart and moved the grow bulbs down to 4″ away from the plants, and they’re much happier now. I’ve got a lot of seedlings to choose from so we won’t have to buy any from the store, but I do have to order bags of soil and have it delivered along with some other building supplies for the porch. I meant to start cleaning out the greenhouse yesterday, but ran out of time.
I pulled a bunch of little caterpillars off the tomato plants last night, probably about 20 of them, and crushed them beneath my shoe. They destroyed the top foliage on half of the plants and in doing so killed off the third wave of fruit. Disgusted, I cut back most of the brown foliage, watered everything, and picked the remaining ripe tomatoes. There’s still some green fruit left but it’s pretty sparse, so this is pretty much the end of our tomato season for 2019. It looks like they are Yellowstriped Armyworms, which are pretty common up the eastern seaboard and love to eat crops.
After measuring and re-measuring the windows in the dining room, I called and got pricing for four new replacements, two for the outside wall and two for the porch wall. The outside wall should be a cut-and-dry operation, basically pulling the outer moulding, removing the windows themselves, and pulling the sash weight mechanicals. I think the biggest issue is going to be filling the sash pockets with some kind of insulation—whether it’s spray foam or compressed cellulose, I’ve got to find a good solution for getting in there and making sure they’re packed.
The front windows are going to be more of a challenge, because when the Doctor had them covered over, the workers chopped about 2″ off of each of the verticals in the windowframe so they don’t extend all the way to the edge that meets the wall. I’m faced with either ripping the entire dual windowframe out and replacing it, or taking each vertical board out one at a time and replacing it without moving the horizontal header and plate. The latter solution is the best, but requires nonstandard wood dimensions—the boards are 1 1/4″ thick, which hasn’t been standard since before the Second World War. So I’ll either have to have something milled or work with what Home Depot has.
Meanwhile the bathroom cabinets are on order (have I mentioned that already?) and should be ready in another 2-3 weeks, which gives me enough time to sort out the last of the geometry problems over the back door of the bathroom. Basically the windowframe and the doorframe both come together at an odd angle, close enough that the cap moulding overlaps in space. The way it’s set up now I’ve got to pull the side casing I tacked in off the door and replace it with new boards about 1/4″ higher so that the top of the window and door are at the same height.
Once that’s done I can move inside the closet and finish off the moulding inside and work my way around the perimeter of the floor up to the shower.
* * *
Hazel is getting more and more used to our daily routines (such as they are) and mostly settling in to a schedule of her own. Inside accidents have reduced dramatically, and she’s very good at letting us know when she needs to go out. Her prey drive has ramped up though, and the cats are scarce whenever she’s out on her own. Her anxiety has also ramped up to double what it was when we first got her, so there’s been more whining and crying at night in the crate. We have a quote from the Invisible Fence guy to surround the house with wire, and I’m going to call him today to schedule it.
We’re scrambling to tie up loose ends and pack for the trip; with all of the curveballs we’ve been thrown this week it disrupted our plans to get ahead. The tree guys came back on Tuesday and hauled off the large logs they felled, which were sitting in the middle of the driveway. To do this they had to use the big grapple truck, and to get that in the driveway they had to prune one side of the tulip tree way back, so now it looks like someone with half a moustache. There’s a huge pile of chips where the tree once stood, and they ground out all of the roots that were surfaced in the middle of the driveway. When we get back from vacation and it cools off some I’ll have to figure out what we’re doing with that mess, and spend an afternoon spraying the east side of the house in one uniform shade of blue.
It’s also easier to see how shitty the garage looks now. The two sheets of plywood serving as doors have never looked good, so I have to think of some ideas for how to pretty them up. Now that the tree is gone I also want to dig a trench across the driveway to send runoff from the gutters into the neighbors’ yard and not directly into the front of the garage.
Jen texted me Wednesday, in the middle of the 100+ heatwave, to tell me the A/C in the CR-V had died. Given that we’re going to take it on vacation next week, we couldn’t defer this maintenance, but I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap to fix. Our local mechanic agreed to fit us in Thursday (god bless him) and looked it over first thing in the morning. The bill wasn’t cheap but it had to get done, so we pulled the trigger. We got it back last night and it is cool again, thank GOD.
Meanwhile the Scout is in Essex for what I’m assuming will be a substantial repair to the transmission while we’re on vacation. All of this happening at the same time sucks, but the fact that the average age of our vehicles is 20 years old means they’re going to need maintenance (this is somewhat tempered by the fact that we put a total of less than 10,000 miles on all three of them yearly.)
I set up the drip hose and timer in the greenhouse Wednesday night so that it runs for 15 minutes every morning at 6AM. We’ve got a bunch of nice tomatoes coming in (and we’ll have to pick a bunch and bring them to the beach) so I want to keep them alive until we get back. I did the same thing last year and it saved everything in there while I was stuck in the hospital, although it all grew out of control in our absence. I also collected one dead mouse from the traps I put out on Tuesday evening; someone was nibbling on two of our low-hanging fruit and I decided it was time to seek vengeance. Also, the tomatillo is gone, because Jen read up on them and found that there need to be two plants to cross-pollinate each other.
In the days since all of the electrical has been hooked up in the bathroom, I have to say a heated floor after getting out of the shower is AWESOME. It’s only set for 90˚ between 6-7AM, but it feels great to walk out onto toasty tiles. I’m going to turn it off completely tonight until the weather starts getting cold but I can’t wait to test it out for real this fall.
Jen and I picked a bunch of tomatoes from the vines yesterday. There were a ton of Romas waiting to be pulled, and two handfuls of cherries from all four plants. They all looked happy and healthy. The second Roma plant is still battling blossom end rot, as is (sadly) the Pineapple heirloom plant in back. On Monday there was one fruit turning a beautiful variegated shade of yellow/orange/red. Yesterday it went deeper read with streaks of orange, but the bottom was squishy so I had to cut it and a neighbor off the vines. The spray I bought doesn’t seem to be doing shit so I think I’ve got to add bone meal to the soil and try to salvage the rest of the season.
We are due to sign for our home equity loan on the 15th, the same day the long-awaited tree crew is set to arrive to remove the big silver maple next to the driveway. Both of these events mean big changes in our lives. The tree throws a hell of a lot of shade on the house and that shielding from the sun will be missed, but I’ll be happy to have a flat driveway and cleaner gutters. Having the loan in place means we can get a lot of projects finished, but I’m not looking forward to the monthly payment. Change always ramps up my anxiety, but I know these two things will benefit us in the long run and I’m itching to get them both done.