I was in DC today preparing for WRI’s yearly stories to watch event, and I got several emails from the school telling us they’d cancelled after-school activities. this was shortly followed by more emails letting us know that they were dismissing students early in light of the storm system coming up the coast. I saw several flood warnings appear across my news feeds in the mid-afternoon. By 4PM it was pretty clear I wasn’t going to make the express train home and Jen and I traded texts: she told me all of the houses around us had lost power, and water was leaking into the basement through the hole drilled for the electrical service to the greenhouse. Alarmed, I had to put that out of my head and focus on work. I caught a 6:30 train and Jen came to get me at the BWI station, which was being whipped with sheets of rain. We got home and assessed the leak: steady, the size of a straw, but not increasing. We dumped the water in a pan Jen had set up to catch the inflow and blotted some errant leaks on the floor with towels.
A row of houses behind us, who share power with us from the line that bisects our yards, are all lit bright. Everywhere else, the houses who get power from the lines on our street, the church opposite us, and the school down the street are all dark, and generators hum into the night.
Jen and I were talking about something completely unrelated a couple of days ago and she pointed out the sobering fact that we’ve now been in this house for 20 years. We bought it at the middle point of the housing boom that led to the 2008 collapse, and paid a premium for the location (and, frankly, too much for the house). I have my issues with it—probably more than I’ve mentioned here, but we’ve put a ton of blood and sweat equity into this place, and have made it our home.
Things around Idiot Central have been in flux lately. Several of the rooms in our house are stuck in transition between their old and future selves, so we’ve spent the last month or so stepping around displaced furniture, boxes of old items scheduled for disposal, and painting and cleaning supplies cached in strategic positions. The living room has been caught between two worlds since we got new furniture delivered, but we had a hiccup with the first new couch they brought us where I discovered the top of the backrest wasn’t connected properly. They sent us a new one pretty promptly, and we’re happy with it—but my old IKEA couch sat forlorn in the corner of the room, shoved against a cabinet.
Weekends have been busy so I haven’t had the time or the car to move it out of here, and Freecycle offered no takers. So Saturday morning I got out the screwgun and the deadblow hammer and we broke it down into manageable pieces that would fit into the Honda. It was bittersweet to see this couch go; I bought it with my ex in 1997 and it was the first piece of grown-up furniture I owned that didn’t come from a dumpster or someone else’s house. It served us faithfully for years and survived the wrath of eight different cats, not without battle scars. But it was old and smelled like dog and we’d had a slipcover on it for probably ten years, and it was time to move on. So Finn and I bashed it into six pieces, stuffed it into the CR-V, and I heaved it into the dumpster with a heavy heart.
Jen had spent Friday with a rented steam cleaner trying to blast all the dirt out of the carpets from our upstairs bedrooms, but we found it wasn’t up to the job. I think the professionals probably use stronger equipment and terrible chemicals to do the job properly.
She had an older Queen Anne-style coffee table when we merged houses, and we both agreed it didn’t fit our current living room vibe. She suggested we change out the legs to something more midcentury modern and found a set on Amazon that looked good. I bought some wood and built a shallow box on the underside, then sanded the dark cherry finish off the top. Finishing it with some 1800 grit paper, I taped the edges and shot it with five coats of polyurethane. What used to be a heavy, fussy slab is now a light table that goes perfectly with the leather chairs we bought and balances the sofa perfectly.
We’re nowhere near done, but progress is progressing, and I can see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Finn got the wild idea about two weeks ago to have herself a yard sale. In typical fashion, the thought struck her on a Thursday, and she announced her plan to us to hold it the following Saturday. We quickly advised her to put it off a week for both logistical and commercial reasons: the neighborhood across the street was holding their spring yard sale this weekend, and that always gets lots of traffic.
Jen and I started making lists of stuff to drag down from the attic and up from the cellar, and by Friday night we had a sizeable stack of stuff piled on the front porch ready to go. We lucked out with good weather. I ran out to get breakfast and by 8AM we had two tables piled with goods on the front lawn flanked by furniture of all shapes and sizes. We get lots of eyeballs on Frederick Road, so the cars lined the street pretty much all morning. We said goodbye to a lot of toys, kids’ clothes, large furniture, and other stuff; Finn sold a lot of jewelry and some books. I tried to get people interested in the futon frame but nobody would bite. By 11:30 the traffic slowed so we hauled everything inside and counted our earnings: about $175 plus a ton of quarters.
As the sky got dark I went upstairs to roll a second coat of paint in the old blue room and then went down to the basement to rebuild a carburetor for the Travelall. The wind picked up and the rain came down all afternoon. Jen and I watched the first three episodes of the Mandalorian season 3 and then we all hit the hay.
At around 11:30 we heard booming and crackling very close outside, and opened a window to see one of the transformers behind our house alternately exploding in green flame and then barfing hot red lava down the side of the can. As I was looking up the I’m-not-calling-about-a-gas-leak number for BGE, our lights went out. I reported the issue and we went back to bed. In the morning our electricity wasn’t back and the estimates were saying 4PM for a return to power. Jen and I took Hazel for a long walk and then we hit the road in search of a generator.
We’ve had our fair share of electricity outages here at the Lockardugan Estate; in the first ten years we must have lost power five times. It’s been better since they replaced the transformer directly behind us (that one used to explode every time it rained) but we’ve lost an entire fridge and freezer full of food twice in the last ten years, and that shit ain’t cheap. I decided to look for a portable generator/inverter both because I didn’t want another huge object taking up space in the garage, and I also wanted something we might be able to take camping. After visiting two stores we drove to Columbia and found a nice Craftsman 2200W unit (basically a rebadged Generac) to bring home.
On the back lawn all went well until I pulled the “don’t start this without oil” tag off and looked for the manual to tell me where the oil fill was located: there was no manual. Nothing on the side of the box, and nothing on the web page for the model I’d just bought. Noting it was manufactured by Generac, I looked on their site and found what I needed. Once it was full of oil and gas it fired right up and I plugged the fridge in, and it never skipped a beat. So that’s a nice bit of insurance to have out in the garage.
I was in Lexington Park on Saturday to finish grouting my father-in-law’s bathroom floor, get the water hooked up in the sink, and replace the original-to-the-house vent fan, which involved suiting up in Tyvek and crawling around in his hot attic for an hour fighting the wiring. The pipe valves on the supply lines were original to the house so when we hooked up the sink they both immediately started leaking. Being simple compression fittings, this wasn’t surprising, but it also made their replacement with new SharkBite fittings much easier. The bathroom is about 95% complete, which is a relief, and with the end of that project, I’m going to be stepping back from major initiatives two hours away from my house. I think I’m going to refocus on getting the Chrysler started, maybe working a little bit to fix the janky deck on the back of the house, but not taking on huge remodeling projects moving forward.
Sunday morning I primed the walls in the old Blue bedroom to cover a very bright coat of red. The girls had originally picked out a beautiful shade of what we all thought was coral but showed up as a vibrant red that made our eyeballs buzz, so we had to rethink the color. They found a lighter shade containing a little more orange, and I rolled one coat of that on in the afternoon. It’s bright but not as anxious as the red was, so I think we’re going with it. It’ll be good to get the trim painted in there as well; it’s been almost twenty years since it was originally painted and so it’s getting dull and dirty.
Finn has been making noise about organizing a yard sale to generate some cash, which got me thinking about all of the crap I’ve got clogging up the basement: spare bedframes, the old sandblaster, an unused weed whacker, an old handcart, old furniture, unused electronics, and countless untold other items. The yearly community sale is happening next weekend across the street, and it wouldn’t be that hard to set up a table out front to take advantage of the extra traffic; the big issue is the forecast, which was for a solid block of rain but now seems to be moving back towards the evening.
My sister sent us a Christmas care package filled to the brim with amazing, thoughtful gifts. The highlight for Finn was a Kanken backpack covered with cool metal and cloisonné pins; she immediately ditched her black LL Bean backpack and moved everything over to the new one. One of the things she gave me was a 4-pack of AirTags, which I’ve been curious about for years but haven’t ever pulled the trigger on. Intrigued, I set two of them up and put one in my travel messenger bag and the other on a keyring.
Since then I’ve been getting messages on my phone whenever we leave to walk the dog to tell me I’ve left my messenger bag, keyring, iPad, AirPods and Apple Watch behind (I don’t wear my Apple Watch all of the time). Somehow activating the AirTags kicked off a bunch of notifications for all of the location-aware Apple gear I own; my phone vibrates constantly. I’ve got to figure out how to turn off all but the essentials, I guess.
As part of our remodeling in the Living Room, we’re opening up the space for new furniture and a new layout. Now that the built-in bookshelves are installed, it’s time to remove the bulkier furniture we don’t need or that doesn’t fit. I broke down the IKEA Expedit bookcase we’ve had in there since before I changed jobs and listed it on Craigslist for $20. The next step will be to disassemble Jen’s oak library table and store it safely in the basement, and move my carpenter’s trunk upstairs in the blue bedroom. There’s no way we’re getting rid of either of those items, but they are too big for our current living room. The West Elm chairs could be here anywhere between this Friday or the middle of March; we have no idea but want to be prepared.
On Saturday we drove down to Bob’s to bring food and spend some time with him. The three toilets I delivered two weeks ago are now all installed, including the one in the bathroom I’ve been working on. While the plumber was in there working we arranged to have him lower the flange to floor level, so that wrinkle has been ironed out. We’ve got a new 36″ vanity on order and waiting to be delivered this week. The plan is to head down on Sunday, set that in place and hook up the sink. I may rope my brother-in-law in and have him come in to help; we’ll see.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve begun to notice an appreciable difference in my teeth. I’m in Week 37 of 70 Invisalign trays, and I can finally look in the mirror and see the changes in my lower teeth—they’re spreading out and beginning to fall into place. The biggest change I feel is in my upper eyeteeth, which are being pushed forward and outward to make room for my molars behind; on the first and second day of new trays I need to wait about a half an hour after taking them out to eat anything, due to the soreness. I’m beginning to get excited about a straight, even smile, and even looking forward to some kind of whitening treatment. My teeth have been yellow since I was a boy, and having done some research on Diazinon, it turns out exposure to the herbicide can trigger all sorts of health effects, including yellowed teeth. Dad used to spray that shit around the house, and I spent a good portion of my childhood on the floor directly in contact with it.
The shelves are painted and complete save for one small area at the bottom left where I need to fit a section of wood. I’ve been waiting for a day when Hazel is outside to run up the saw; she gets very nervous when I use power tools, especially now that she’s got the ear wrap on again. We’ve already started putting books on shelves but I’m waiting until Jen organizes it the way she wants to snap a picture. I’ll say this: it makes a HUGE difference, and it really anchors that entire side of the room. All that wasted physical and visual space is now fully utilized, and we can move on to Part 2 of the plan: getting rid of some old furniture. Meanwhile, I got a notice that our two West Elm chairs are shipped and on their way.
I took advantage of another oddly warm and sunny day in February to spray out the shelves with two coats of high-gloss white paint. My efforts were mostly successful; the gun I’m using is the second one I bought when I was painting the house, and I’ve found that this particular model has about one full house in it before it starts getting gummed up irreparably. I had to do some adjusting to get a good spray pattern going, and in the time between the first and second coats the needle got clogged up, which then covered my new sneakers with a fine mist of white paint. Great.
Once I cleared the gun, it went on well, and I got everything back inside after it cured in the sunshine and up against the walls. I cleaned up the joints with caulk, used a brush to touch up the problem areas and put a second coat on the high-traffic parts after knocking down the high spots with sandpaper.
So at this point I’m at the installation phase. I’ve got to go get some angle brackets and wood putty to secure it to the wall in the most hidden way possible, and start with the finish carpentry. When that’s all complete I’ll hit everything with a brush one last time to clean things up.
I took advantage of some rare warm sunny February weather and shot the shelving units with some white primer yesterday afternoon in an effort to keep things moving. With all of the practice I got spraying the house out, it only took about 15 minutes to set up the compressor and gun. The most difficult part of the whole thing was getting the sections outside without letting the cats out. The whole process took about an hour and a half from the time I fired up the compressor to putting the last of the shelves back up in place.
Next up I need a whole day of solid sunshine and ~60˚ weather to shoot two coats of high gloss white on everything before it goes back in permanently. The forecast doesn’t show anything like that coming for a while, which is a drag—I’d really like to get to the finish carpentry part of this project and put it to bed.