Years ago, when the Judge and his family lived next door, and their well-natured alcoholic son took a shine to me, he walked over an old runner sled that had been sitting in their garage for 40+ years and offered it to us. Flattered, I assured him we’d make use of it. I put it in our garage and waited for Finn to be big enough to give it a try. In the following years, we never had enough actual snowfall to make use of it; there was one good year where we took the kids over to the school with the neighbors but I think that sled was a little too advanced for Finn’s age.
When we got the forecast for this past week, I knew I’d want to get it ready, so I pulled it down from the rafters and brought it into the basement. Years of neglect pitted the runners with rust, but after some focused effort with 60 grit sandpaper, I had them shiny and smooth again. I blew off the dust and used some cheap tealight candles to wax both rails, and she was ready.
Jen wisely pushed us out the door during lunch on Friday to take advantage of the snow we did get. Finn and I drove up to the local community college, which sits high on a hill overlooking our town, surrounded by excellently manicured sledding hills. As it was still a school day, we had the place almost to ourselves. I sat Finn down on the runner, gave her some encouragement, and watched her fly down the slope faster than greased lightning. We gave the plastic sled a few tries but it was no contest; the runner sled was ten times faster. We then got about 45 minutes in before I had to get her back for afternoon class, but every minute of weary trudging back up that slope was worth the exhilaration. Thanks, Howard!
I’m tempted to disassemble it, sandblast all the metal parts, and refinish the wood to clean it up for another 50 years. But maybe I’ll just oil the metal, tighten the rivets, and rub the wood with some teak oil. I like the look of things that have been used for a purpose, and this sled is a work of art as it is.
I’ve been keeping my eye on Craigslist for a used hitch-mast bicycle mount since I helped Karean get hers mounted on the back of the Benz. She originally had a rack mount we installed the year Rob passed but we quickly realized it was bending part of the window surround. I liked the one she got: it mounted up easily and folded below the bumper line so that the rear hatch can still open. I filed that away in the back of my head and we continued to use the spare tire mount rack I’d bought for the CR-V, but I’ve never liked having all that weight of the bikes and the tire hanging on the rear door.
This week a hitch-mast popped up in Dundalk for a fraction of the list price, so I ran across town today before too much ice collected on the ground. A nice man walked it out of his tidy house and we tested it on the CR-V before I gave him the cash: perfect. Both the Honda and the Scout have hitches, so now we’re better prepared for the summer, and I can carry bikes in the Scout when we go camping.
Update: looks like it’s a Roc 2, made about 20 years ago. It might be tricky to put my Cannondale on this (the top tube is actually 2 tubes that come to a joint at the center) but I’ll find a way to make it work. I’ve already added a hitch lock to my Amazon list.
With the purchase of fancy new iPhones, we’ve run into a problem with our aging fleet of vehicles. The iPhone SE (2020) does not have a headphone jack as our old 6-era models did, so there’s no way to connect our phones to the stereo as we did before. Both Hondas are from pre-Bluetooth days—at least, the CR-V is; Bluetooth may have been offered in the Accord but we have the base model which came with nothing other than an auxiliary jack and a secondary power port in the console. To be clear, in COVID days, connecting phones in the cars isn’t an immediate requirement, but it would have been helpful on the ride up to New York and back.
The aux jack in the Accord actually makes things pretty simple, and having a power port next to it is even better. I found a little Anker Bluetooth adapter on Amazon that hooks into both and turns on when the car is running. In two minutes I had it streaming from my phone and all was well.
Theoretically I could use this setup for the Scout as well, and probably will for the short term, but having yet another gadget sticking out of the dash in a vehicle with no top invites certain theft. Fortunately, swapping the existing head unit out for one that has Bluetooth, an auxiliary jack, and a detachable faceplate built in is simple—and relatively inexpensive. Besides, I hate the head unit that’s in there right now anyway.
I’ve looked in to Bluetooth options for the CR-V, and this is where it gets challenging. I’d have to buy a gadget that plugs into the back of the existing head unit, tear the dash apart, and install it. None of that is frightening (I’ve had many dashboards disassembled in my past) but I don’t relish the idea of doing it in the wintertime. And this is the vehicle that needs it the most. But before I do that, I’d like to address the suspension that needs to be gone through…
It was too damn hot to do anything serious outside over the weekend, but I thought I’d get Finn out to the junkyard for a mission. We’ve got a flip-up mirror on the visor in the CR-V that I repaired once last year (a hinge pin fell out, making the door useless) and recently the entire edge of the plastic door decided to break off to spite me. I packed a bag of metric and SAE tools, put on my boots, and took Finn down to Jessup in the Scout. I figured they would be cagey about letting kids in the yard, but she’s tall for her age, and everything about the yard is shifty, so I figured we’d act like we did this every day and walk right through. I paid my $4, wrote my name on their sign in sheet, and was almost at the door to the yard when Finley, who normally doesn’t notice her own shoes when she’s wearing them, stopped me in my tracks. “Daddy, the sign says no kids under 16 years of age,” she practically shouted, standing directly in front of the counter lady. Startled out of her waking slumber, the counter lady said, “How old are you?” and before I could reply, Finley practically shouted, “Eleven!”
After I dropped her off back at the house, I paid my $2 and walked through the yard. They had two CR-V’s, one green over tan version and one silver over black that was the spitting image of ours, minus catastrophic front-end damage. There’s a weird phenomenon with junkyard CR-V’s I’ve noticed: usually they’re missing both visors. The last time I found one for the part I needed someone had already hacked it off the mount, realized it was bent, and threw it under the seat. The Silver CR-V was wrapped liberally with plastic and sported two BIOHAZARD stickers on the back windows, which meant something unspeakable and messy had happened during the crash. Peeking inside, I found that someone had braved disease and pulled the visors off. The green CR-V was less picked over and still had its visor, but because the interior was tan, I decided not to pay $10 for mismatched plastic.
The rest of the yard was pretty boring; the oldest and most interesting vehicle was a mid-70’s Ford wagon the size of a small container ship. Kids, I’m old enough to remember when the roads were covered with these barges.
There was also this red MR2 beached on blocks minus its 4A-GE engine; I wondered how anyone would donate such a rare and valuable beast until I saw the rust around the rockers and rear quarters. It was sprinkled inside and out with a decade’s worth of pine needles, and those tires haven’t held air since the first Bush administration. Still, as a cheap-ass trackday car, I was surprised someone wasn’t dragging it out by the bumper.
I racked the beer into the secondary carboy on Sunday, and it smells really good. About three inches of hops were at the bottom by the time I was done, so I threw those in the composter with our coffee grounds and eggshells. Now I wait two weeks before dry-hopping the batch, and then there’s another week before it goes into the keg. It would be great to have something I like on tap because I’m probably spending too much on six-packs of craft beer.
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.
Given that we’re not really going anywhere these days, the cars have hardly been driven. I think I’ve put more miles on the Scout than the other two cars combined—it’s a miracle the Accord still starts (note to self: go start the Accord.) We took a drive in the CR-V on Friday and I was shocked at how rough it was running at startup. It’s got 130K on the odometer, and we’ve been taking good care of it, but it’s due for some serious maintenance. I had it in for new tires last year and the tech showed me the bushings and lower control arms are worn out in the front suspension. I’m sure there are other issues that need to be handled, but I’m going to start with some super-easy things I can show Finley: the spark plugs and air filters. I’ve never done this in either Honda, as they come from the factory with iridium 100K-mile plugs, but this is long overdue. I’m clearly not used to modern engines because I went hunting for plug wires online to no avail and then realized the CR-V uses coil packs instead of wires.
It rained all day Saturday so I putzed around the house. In the basement, I culled two rubbermaid tubs full of UMBC paperwork and projects to the recycling pile. Given that they haven’t called me in a year to teach and we’re pretty sure classes will be online for the immediate future, I figured it was safe to ditch 9/10 of this stuff; all of those students have graduated and there’s no need to keep a paper trail for any grading complaints. Now I can move some stuff from the office down there to clean up my workspace.
There’s a lot of legacy electronic equipment, cameras, and computer gear I’ll clearly never use again that’s also taking up space. While I like having collections of that kind of stuff, it’s just piling up around here and I need to clear it out from underfoot. I have a hard time doing stuff like this when I hear I might need that ____ someday in the back of my head. There have been more times than not when that packrat mentality has saved me time and money—but there’s only so much room downstairs.
Another thing I’ve been meaning to get to is backing up photos from 2019. They’ve sitting on an external drive on my desk but I’m out of space on the server in the basement and they’ve never been backed up to our Amazon Photo account. I set up a workflow in Lightroom to go through the 2019 catalog and export JPGs of all those files (many of them are in RAW format, which Amazon doesn’t like). Then I uploaded them to Amazon, ready to be catalogued this coming week. It’s clear I need to increase the storage on the basement server as well.
My tastes in beer have moved to the citrusy, which is good because there’s a flood of “hazy IPA’s” on the market. This strain of IPA takes its name not from added citrus (that would be a shandy) but from particular breeds of hops added late in the boil and then in the fermentation cycle, which react with the yeast and add a citrusy flavor without being sickeningly sweet. The shelves are saturated with choice, so I’m going through them as much as I can. My current favorites are Stone’s Tangerine Express and Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing. I’m getting low in the fridge, so I’ll have to go out tomorrow night to restock.
I thought I might be able to get to my homebrew kit on Sunday afternoon, but time just got away from me. Jen has convinced me the new 5-gallon batch I brewed needs to be dumped down the sink, as I don’t enjoy it enough to drink it—which breaks my heart.
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.
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.
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.
Well, the site is back up again, after several conversations with my hosting provider. Somebody injected my site with some malware, putting a script in place that was sending my Archives link to a Canadian pill pharmacy site. It’s still there. I had the admins rebuild the site from a backup and run a scan for malware, and it looks like we didn’t catch it. I’ve got some more sleuthing to do. I also think I’m going to finally move hosting providers to the company that hosts my namesake site; I like them a little better and their pricing is more competitive.
About two weeks ago, Hazel came back from the puppy daycare with a chunk taken our of her ear missing. The daycare was horrified and notified Jen right away but we were pretty relaxed about it; she’s a dog who tries to punch above her weight. We know she’s going to het her butt kicked now and then—and that’s good for her.
But the nick in her ear wouldn’t heal, and we noticed that she was leaving drops of blood all over the house as she shook herself off (she shakes herself at least 20 times a day). Alarmed, Jen took her to the vet, where she was diagnosed with “ear crumble“, a condition where an allergic reaction to a vaccine causes the capillaries in her ears to go necrotic and die off, which, untreated, can lead to loss of both of her ears. She came home from the vet wrapped up in gauze like a Civil War casualty, and then immediately proceeded to shake most of it off. Jen took her back where they sedated her and re-wrapped it and then put her in the Cone of Shame; she returned home stoned to Venus and staring off into space.
Jen ordered a product called a No Flap Ear Wrap to replace the cone and gauze. The first one she ordered was the size recommended for her measurements, but was too large. The next size down was still a bit large. Jen got back online a third time for the next size down, and the manufacturer immediately responded to refund her money and ship us a new one specific to Hazel’s size, requesting we donate the current one to the vet’s office. It’s not often to get customer service that good or that prompt; I was extremely impressed with them.
She’s about as happy with the wrap as she was with the cone; she tries to shake it off about every five minutes.
Sunday Hazel got us up and out the door at 7:15 and Jen and I took her on a long walk all the way down to the café near the junction, where I got us a coffee for the return trip. After Finley woke, we jumped in the car and drove to the top of the trolley trail, then walked all the way down into Ellicott City for breakfast. Everyone else in Catonsville had the same idea, because the trail was busy. But it was lovely to sit outside and have breakfast with my three girls, and Hazel was about as patient as she could be under the circumstances. We then walked back to the car and headed home, where Hazel passed out in the hallway and we all split off to our own pursuits.
I took advantage of the warm weather and a fresh bloody mary to break down the door on the Accord and swap out the door lock mechanism. After working on the junkyard Accord it was quick work to get the door card off to expose the mechanism. The bolts came off easier with a larger screwdriver—we stripped two of the four bolts in the junkyard—but I still had to drill one of the bolts out.
Once that was done it was a simple matter of pulling the faulty mechanism, replacing it with the new one and testing it before buttoning up the door. Confirming it worked, I put the card back on and put my tools away. Then I stood to the side, used the keyfob to unlock the doors, and enjoyed the fact that the rear door unlocked as it should have the day we bought 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.