I finally got around to updating the idiotking post count in an interactive visualization instead of a flat graphic. I’m going to see if I can find a way to overlay the category counts next.

* * *

I’ve been working on some sketching projects at work which required me to lower my desk chair, bust out the pencils, and get close to the drawings I was making. After a short while working without glasses, I put my progressive safety glasses on and used those to switch back and forth between the drawings and my computer monitor. Those glasses work OK, but I look like a total dork if I have to take a call wearing them.

Warby Parker made me new progressives and shipped them on February 22nd by USPS. When I check on it with their tracking service, it arrived at the Baltimore sorting station three days later and hasn’t moved since. No updates, no movement, no nothing. USPS offers an “extended tracking service” which I’m sure would provide me absolutely zero further detail; I’m going to call Warby Parker on Monday and see if there’s anything they can do—but I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, a friend recommended me to her client for a quick linework illustration job that I knocked out in a couple of hours this afternoon. I like making extra money on the side.

* * *

I made a list of projects to tackle around the house this year in my notebook the other night before I went to bed, mainly as an excuse to collect them all and quell anxiety:

  • New basement windows. I’ve been back and forth with my rep this week waiting for her to get the quote correct, but when that comes in I’ll sign off and get it paid for. I’m told it’ll be 4-6 weeks for delivery, just in time for some warmer weather.
  • Find a fixed basement window with a dryer vent. I really don’t want to close off the window over the washing machine with glass block, but we may have no choice.
  • Basement step rebuild. The concrete pad right outside our basement door has been tilted toward the house since we moved in, allowing for rainwater to spill over the edge of the stairwell and flood our basement doorwell. This pad needs to be broken up and removed, and the yard regraded away from the house. I’m going to mix a couple of bags of concrete and pour a higher threshold for the stairwell while I’m at it.
  • Bust out the concrete walkway out back. Running over the walkway with an eight ton boom lift broke it up into lots of portable chunks, so it should be easy to lift and haul away.
  • Clean up the treeline behind the greenhouse. This is a Sisyphean task that never seems to amount to much, but it’s got to get done. I think I need to nuke it all with Round-Up and then take the mattock to the earth. Or maybe rent a tiller…
  • Repair and paint the garage. It’s never been painted since we’ve lived here, and the front “doors” make it look like we’re cooking meth inside. I’m going to pull the front off, reinforce the doorframes, and build new doors that look and work better. Then the whole thing will get sprayed to match the house.
  • Pressure wash and paint both rear porches. This didn’t get done with the rest of the house last spring; both of them need a freshening up.
  • Finish scraping the outside windows. There are a couple at ground level that need some attention, but everything on the second floor got painted properly with the boom lift.
  • Polish the headlights on both Hondas. I did this for the CR-V three years ago and it made a huge difference, but the plastic has broken down again and fogged over. Time to buy another kit and have at it.
Date posted: March 5, 2022 | Filed under general, house, list | Leave a Comment »

It’s been quiet around these parts lately. Work is going full-steam-ahead, which means I spend about 80% of my day going from meeting to meeting even though I have the small free spots in my work calendar blocked out with a big purple NO MEETINGS meeting. My organization was pretty immune to the Great Resignation up until the beginning of this year, when a trickle became a flood, and it seems like every all-hands meeting starts out with someone announcing they’re leaving. We’re doing more than we ever have with the same number of people for dumb financial reasons, and it feels like every loss hits us harder and harder. I know it’s sapped my morale but I don’t know how to talk about it with my staff in a way that doesn’t sound like a rah-rah Kool-Aid dispenser or Debbie Downer. I still work for an excellent organization, and I don’t think our morals or mission have changed, but I know we’re strained by manpower and that has taken a toll on our collective psyche.

* * *

I’m moving forward with the purchase of two new basement windows but holding off on the larger double-hung window in the hallway for pricing reasons. If I order now it’ll be here sometime in May, which won’t make a difference in our heating bill but should make airing out the basement much easier.

 

Date posted: March 3, 2022 | Filed under house, WRI | Leave a Comment »

Our utility is running a special on Nest and Ecobee thermostats right now, underwriting them for $50-100 off the list price. When Nest was first released I was keen on buying one, but as soon as they were bought by Google I wrote that idea off. Ecobee gets excellent reviews and their privacy policy is solid—my concern is that our household data might sold to some third party without my knowledge; I’m trying to limit that as much as possible. Smart thermostats need a constant power source, so I’d have to figure a way out to get a wire up to it. It’s compatible with HomeKit, which means I could control it from within our Apple ecosystem. Finally, the Ecobee has a geofencing feature that knows when you come and go based on your phone, but it only supports one phone. There are workarounds, but I’d definitely want the thermostat to know when we’re both home and away. And I definitely don’t want it sharing that data with anyone else.

Meanwhile, I realized after I was sprung from quarantine that Mom’s old TV actually has a built-in client for Netflix and Prime. After running a wire to the network drop on the wall, I plugged our account information in and had it up and running in five minutes. Then I went back into the settings and shut off data sharing. Wish I’d thought of that when I was laid up, but oh well.

* * *

In my news feed today, I stumbled on an article that mentioned the 818 Market downtown closed earlier this week.

But as of Tuesday a sign on the door notified customers “818 Market is closed” and urged people to check the business’ Facebook page for updates. As of Thursday, 818 Market’s most recent Facebook post is dated Jan. 30 and invites customers to pick up a bottle of wine for championship games; there is no mention of an upcoming closure.

We’re really not surprised; the idea was a great one, and they definitely went all-out on the execution. But Jen and I have been saying the same thing since before it opened: their scope was too broad. They tried to do everything—bakery, deli, produce, groceries, booze, and a restaurant—all of it admirable. But the baked goods were mediocre, the deli, produce and groceries were twice the price of anywhere nearby, and they were a block from a much better liquor store. And worst of all, their coffee sucked.

Date posted: February 4, 2022 | Filed under general, house | Leave a Comment »

So 12+ years after we first broke ground on the new bathroom, and 2 years after the actual cabinetry and countertops went in, we’ve got a mirror on the wall. The story of how it finally got here is long and winding, and there have been many detours and delays along the way, but it’s up and permanently affixed to the wall.

To fit the odd dimensions of our room, I had to custom order the mirror. We didn’t want to just stick a mirror on the wall, so I built a frame to fit the mirror—I actually built two frames, the first using a router, back in early December. The cuts on that didn’t come out clean enough, so then I cut the second one the way I should have from the start, with the table saw. There was some experimentation with how it would be joined securely (the mirror itself is something like 40 lbs.) but once I had that figured out it went together quickly. I then assembled the whole thing and hung it on the wall and then realized that we could see unpainted wood reflected in the mirror because I hadn’t painted the backside of the channel the mirror sat in.

So I took it apart, sprayed the inside, reassembled it, and hung it back on the wall. Screwed it to the wall, actually; I don’t trust simple hangers to hold it so I put six exterior screws through the wood into the 1/2″ sheathing behind the drywall and covered the holes with wood putty. The whole thing got taped off, sanded, and repainted. That fucker ain’t going anywhere.

Then I touched up the paint around the whole thing, hung a towel rack to the left, and glued and screwed both thresholds down for good. It’s really coming together! Now we need to settle on some lights for over the mirror.

Date posted: January 29, 2022 | Filed under bathroom, house | Leave a Comment »

Final coats of paint

Wow, I hadn’t realized the fireplace mantel is fifteen years old this week.

Date posted: December 14, 2021 | Filed under house, photo | Leave a Comment »

When it comes to carpentry I’m definitely an amateur. Maybe a Pro-Am. I’ve done enough paying work that I maybe could sneak into the union, but I know there are years of tools and tricks I’ve never heard of or seen. Watching my friend Brian work humbles me. He can eyeball up a cabinet or a floor or a section of wall and have it measured out correctly in minutes, and know exactly how to tuck something too big into a place too small with ease. He’s got tools I’ve never seen before rolling around in the back of his truck, and he knows how to use them the way God and the engineers at Craftsman intended. I learn tons of stuff just by watching what he’s doing.

I can mill and frame wood with the best of them. I’ve built mantles and cabinets and toolbenches and all sorts of smaller objects, and most of them have come out square and clean and sturdy. I’ve milled and installed all the moulding in five rooms of this house. If there’s anything I’m professional at, it’s cobbling together some kind of jig out of scrap wood and hose clamps to get the saw or the drill or the router to do what I need it to do; the mantle I mentioned earlier was put together with nothing more than a miter saw, a circular saw, and a shit-ton of backwoods engineering. I bought, disassembled, and jury-rigged a crappy old router stand to mill a 15˚ angle on the thresholds for the bathroom upstairs, and then, having pretty much ruined it for any other purpose, threw the whole thing in the garbage.

Frankly, I’m kind of sick of that shit. I would love nothing more than to have a barn with a dedicated woodworking space, where there’s a large flat clean table to do joinery on, an area with a full-size table saw, miter saw, sanding equipment, and proper lighting. All of my carpentry is done in the basement, tucked behind shelving and assembled on plywood sheets atop an old table. I have to open the basement door to ventilate the dust out of there, and Jen gets pissed when the laundry comes upstairs covered in sawdust (I don’t blame her). The lighting sucks. I’m always tripping over cords or piles of wood or boxes waiting to be reshelved. The truth is, I don’t do carpentry enough every day to warrant this kind of space—but I’d love to pursue that hobby.

This weekend I decided I’d put together a frame for the mirror that’s going in the upstairs bathroom. We don’t want to just glue a mirror to the wall, so I’m constructing a frame with wood slightly narrower than the door moulding and beveling the inner edge to accept the mirror. Normally I’d rig up a jig on my table saw and make two cuts per board, but this time I thought I’d use the router and a square removal bit to accomplish the same task. For anyone with a router stand this would be a 10-minute job, but as mentioned I threw out the last stand, so I mounted a fence to the router and did it all by hand, generating a pile of sawdust higher than my knees. And because it was handheld, the results were less than optimal—the inside edge of the bevel was a bit wavy because the fucking bit began to come loose—and I’m a careful guy. But I thought maybe I could salvage what I had, so I kept going.

I also thought I’d use this project as a reason to buy a Kreg jig, which is basically an inexpensive joining tool, and use that to bolt the parts together. The jig is nice but not made for 45˚ angled cuts, so the test runs I did all came out too short or too long and I couldn’t replicate success with any precision. So I started drilling and countersinking screws, but on the first corner the grain of the wood carried the bit downwards and I busted through the front of the frame with the screw. That ended Saturday’s attempt.

On Sunday I bought more wood with Hazel and started on Version 2. In ten minutes I cobbled together a clean jig on the table saw and had three boards down neatly—exactly what I should have done in the first place. Then I set up a jig on some plywood, clamped the frame ends down, and pre-drilled countersink holes on the top and bottoms, where nobody will see them. With a carpenter’s angle and a screw gun I had the whole thing assembled in about an hour. It needs some filler and a little sanding, but it’s clean and ready for a mirror. I’m all about learning new skills and trying new things, but sometimes it’s cheaper and faster to go with what you know.

* * *

Sunday’s Advent activity was a Bad Santa Challenge: we each picked a name out of a hat and had to buy the tackiest gift we could for our chosen person. We decided we’d pick out but not buy anything so that we didn’t drag tacky crap we’d never use home with us. Jen and I figured the best place for this was the thrift store: where else to find the most tacky in the smallest space?

In Laurel we hit the Second Avenue and each had 20 minutes to find our treasures, with an imaginary cash limit of $20. I had Jen, so I immediately went to the tchotchke area and started looking; a woman was putting a 16″ porcelain statue of a nude couple embracing in her cart just as I was walking towards it. Dammit. I looked through that area, then went over to the women’s clothing thinking I could find something super-trashy like I used to in the Saks North Avenue days. But these stores turn over much quicker than Back In The Day and my tack-o-meter isn’t finely tuned; some of the stuff I saw could have been tacky or could have been high fashion. I did a circuit of the store, beginning to panic, and went back to the tchotchke area to discover a huge carved wooden sign saying LIVE LAUGH LOVE over some banal decoration; this is as diametrically opposed to my wife’s tastes as anything I’ve ever seen. I figured I’d hit it big but I was still a couple of dollars under my limit, so I picked out a battered golf driver from the racks of sad sporting goods and hurried over to meet them.

Finn had picked out a hideous birdhouse, a random crime novel, a strange army belt and a moldy 50’s pop music record for me. Jen presented Finn with a strange and frightening porcelain hobo statue, which (when powered by batteries) played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After laughing over our presents, we returned them to the shelves and looked around the store for real. I found a Pelican knock-off case originally created to hold hideous overpriced watches and scored it for $5; the compartments are sized perfectly for camera lenses:

Five minutes with a knife made a comfortable waterproof house for my Fuji rig with the big lens, and the rest of the kit fit neatly inside. Now I just have to spray-paint over the stupid watch logo on the top.

Date posted: December 6, 2021 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

When we were at Costco buying Mom the Biggest TV In The Store, we happened upon a bin full of big, beautiful Christmas wreaths, the same ones I helped her hang on the outside of her garage. They festived up her whole damn house, so I thought I’d get a pair for our house too. Today the weather got up slightly above freezing so I climbed out on the roof with a screw gun and hung both of them up between the second story windows. The results were a little less festive than I was hoping for.

Maybe with some Eat At Joe’s lights on the gutters and fake candles in the window, it’ll look better.

Date posted: December 1, 2021 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

Well, that booster shot I got yesterday laid me pretty low. I was alright yesterday but woke up feeling pretty lousy this morning and things only got worse as the day went on. I went upstairs with a fever and napped for a couple of hours in the afternoon, feeling achy and stiff. Hopefully things will settle down tomorrow and I can get back upright.

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I got a text from our friend Stephen who is downsizing some of his IH collection in preparation for moving in with his girlfriend, and he wanted to know if Bennett or I were still interested in the IH fridge we helped him move a couple of years ago. Bennett, who doesn’t have a spare square inch of empty storage in his house, passed, so it looks like it’s coming here! We’re not really using the old fridge in the garage for anything so I’m going to put that up on Craigslist and get it out of here, and then we can move the big white beast in its place. My entry from that day notes that it does work, so it’ll be a great place to store beer for wrenching weekends.

Date posted: November 9, 2021 | Filed under house, photo | Leave a Comment »

On Saturday morning we all got up early, dressed in warm clothes, and walked to the Knights of Columbus building down the street (semi-famously the site of the Catonsville Nine burning draft cards in 1968) to volunteer for a Thanksgiving food drive. There were three areas set up to receive, sort, and then box incoming food, manned by a swarm of older women confidently moving and arranging and directing. Cars drove up, the KoC guys would unload, and a group of volunteers would sort by expiration date. They brought the sorted food to one of two tables and a third group would move it to another long set of tables covered in labeled boxes: this is where it got sorted by type. I picked up a milk crate, joined the third group, and got to work. It was a cold morning that warmed up as the sun rose over the trees, and everyone was in a friendly, cheerful mood. I bonded quickly with my fellow runners, and we made light of jostling for “the good stuff” at the pickup table. Jen manned the first sorting table and had to deal with some strange donations—a bag of old duck sauce, an individually wrapped slice of birthday cake, opened boxes of food, ancient canned goods—and Finley worked as a runner with me. By 11AM we’d cleared the donations, and the dropoff line was quiet. A group of high school students appeared, looking to fulfill some of their mandatory public service time, so we walked back home in the sunlight and hunted for some lunch.

* * *

After several years willfully ignoring the mess that our woodpiles have become, I took advantage of the afternoon and started cleaning it up. We’ve burned through a little less than two cradles since I split everything before the Year of Cancer and they’ve sat empty since then, surrounded by weeds and the large rounds that were still too wet to split. I pulled everything off the mostly empty cradles and moved them out of the way, then got the Hi-Lift off the Scout and used that to jack up the sinking  sides of the remaining cradles so that I could level them off again. I used my new impact driver to break down the older of the two empty cradles and got that out of the way. All of the good wood got restocked and buttoned up under tarps. Then I broke out the maul and took a couple of whacks at the big round on the lawn; one half of it blew apart easily, rotted from being exposed for so long. The other half—the knotted crook half—refused to give up, so I rolled that into the neighbors’ ivy patch (they never look back there) and raked up the lawn. I still have to break down the other cradle, but it’s nice to have a clean lawn and a tidy woodpile again.

Date posted: November 8, 2021 | Filed under general, house | Leave a Comment »

…literally. Overnight temperatures got below freezing so we brought the plants inside and made sure all of the windows were shut and dogged tight. All of the AC units came out last weekend and I closed the attic up a few weeks ago. Last Saturday I closed up the back wall of the greenhouse, broke the rain barrels down and stored most of the lawn furniture and outdoor gear inside.

I’m planning on building a small fire in the fire pit and reorganizing the remaining firewood on the cradles this weekend. We’ve burned through one and a half cradles, and the remainder needs to be consolidated and the cradle broken down. I’m also going to look into having the chainsaw blade sharpened so that I can break the two remaining stumps down—five years after the trees came down—and into useful firewood. Several nights I’ve gone outside to take out the garbage or go grab the dog and I’ve smelled woodsmoke, and I get the hankering for a nice warm fire.

Date posted: November 3, 2021 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »