Jen and I bought IKEA desk chairs about fifteen years ago (I’m almost positive this was pre-Finley), and we’ve certainly gotten our use out of them in 2020. There isn’t anything technically wrong with them, but my back has been complaining about sitting in mine for 8+ hours daily; there are several problems I’m seeing here. The first and most obvious I that I need to get up more and walk around daily. This is easier said than done some days—last Thursday I was on Zoom calls for six and a half hours straight, and my butt was fused to the fabric. The second is to upgrade my chair. I’m considering buying a used Mirra desk chair, of which there are hundreds available in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. I used a Mirra back at my previous gig and I really liked it—it’s essentially a second take on the Aeron design, where the seat is a mesh and the back can be either a plastic aerated shell or a padded surface. They are infinitely more adjustable than the IKEA chairs, which basically have a tilt and lumbar setting but nothing else. There’s a liquidator in Gaithersburg with a pile of them available, and I may very well be visiting him next weekend.
The next thing we need is a new bed for Finley, who has been sleeping on a bed we moved into this house with. She’s been complaining of aches and pains for the past six months, some of which are certainly due to growing pains, but are more likely due to that worn-out mess. Jen has been doing some research and it’s most likely we’ll have Costco deliver an upgrade shortly.
11:18 PM: The Ravens just shit all over themselves and let the Bills beat them 17-3. Apparently wind was a severe problem, Lamar Jackson threw a pick-six, and a total of three field goals were missed.
Back in the early days at the Lockardugan Estate, I had $4 to my name and a houseful of home renovation projects to tackle. One of the many things the Doctor did not leave us was a workbench of any kind to stage tools upon. Our basement was basically a big empty room containing a relatively new boiler, an ancient, broken washing machine, and a dryer the size of a toaster oven.
I made it through the first six months just leaving all my tools upstairs while we gutted and rehabbed all the bedrooms, but as we got those projects done and I was able to move back downstairs, I needed someplace to store everything. I built a quick and dirty tool bench out of 2×4’s, some leftover plywood, and some pegboard I found up in the attic, and it worked reasonably well for the next seventeen years.
But it had flaws. It wasn’t attached to the ceiling or the wall, and as a freestanding structure on an uneven floor it wobbled a lot if I put anything in the vise or hammered on it. The pegboard didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, and the small shelf I added later was too shallow to really be useful and too low to put anything underneath. Because the lighting circuit down there is a frightening mess I used a power strip plugged into a random overhead outlet and mounted it on a wood panel nailed to the wall behind the bench.
I did include shelving underneath the bench, but it was never enough space and the extra stuff started piling up around the bench almost immediately.
With a week of free time over the holiday, one of the top things on my list to tackle was an overhaul of the workspace down there. I began by completely deconstructing the bench and stacking the material up on the side of the basement. Then I put three studs on the wall and started building a newer, longer bench all the way to the edge of the staircase and raising the height by 4″. I re-used most of the material from the first bench and reinforced the surface with double-thick plywood, put in a single sheet of pegboard, and a longer, deeper shelf above the whole thing. Down below, the shelving extends all the way to the left side and there’s now a two-level section for toolboxes, which were always underfoot before. New rubbermaid bins replace milk cartons I’ve stored tools in haphazardly for 30 years—I’m going to have to find a way to retire those gracefully—and a 10-outlet shop power strip replaces the old one. Finally, because I dropped and broke the old fluorescent light fixture during the demo, I bought a new 2-strip LED fixture and hung that in its place.
It’s amazing how much more space there is; the drill press tucks neatly under the stairs and the available storage feels like it’s doubled in size.
There’s a truckload of debris and garbage that need to go to the dump, and more stuff that needs to be organized or tossed, but I feel like I’m finally making some progress down there. Next up is a laundry sorting area with a larger workspace and better lighting.
So after five+ years of contented Amazon Prime membership and hundreds of deliveries, our first attack of porch piracy has occurred. I’d ordered a bunch of gifts for the girls to be delivered together, and it was supposed to have arrived on Sunday (one of the two days we’re not sitting in the office looking directly at the front walk). I looked at the order online today and there’s a picture of the package on our porch—but we never saw it, and it never made its way inside. I called the Amazon customer service number and a nice man checked into things. After a brief hold he asked if I’d like a refund or if I wanted them to ship it out again—I told him the latter. I’ve talked about excellent customer service here before, and this is another example of The Way Things Should Be.
About a month ago all of the field mice in Catonsville decided to move back into their winter home and began making noise in our floorboards. The terrier/reptile part of Hazel’s brain dedicated to sniffing out rodents and killing them kicked into high gear and she zeroed in on a spot under my desk where they must have been gathered down in the ice room. After dealing with several weeks of her sitting in the office and whining for eight straight hours (punctuated by frequent trips under my desk to paw at the carpet) I got fed up and put some baited traps in the iceroom. Having fought with them out in the greenhouse, I know they’re too smart for spring-loaded traps, so bait was the only way to go.
Mercifully, Hazel stopped digging at the floor last week—but an unpleasant smell then appeared in the basement; someone had gotten a belly full of bait and died in the wall somewhere. I spent most of Saturday pulling apart the stuff we’ve stored in there to see if I could find the source with no luck. Disgusted with the mess, I went to the Lowe’s for some wood and put together 10′ of built-in shelves along the north wall to organize the junk, filled two contractor’s bags full of trash, and sealed cracks in the slab with concrete caulk. Next weekend I’ll do the same to the south wall and get all of that shit organized.
Here’s where we stand in the kitchen right now. The grout is sealed and ready but there are two plugs in the corner that aren’t working for some reason—they were fine before I put the tile in but I can’t get them to work. I replaced both of the outlets with new units; sometime GFCI outlets fail over time, but I can’t for the life of me understand what’s happening with these. Strangely the one in the back corner works fine because it’s on a separate circuit. The other big update is that I replaced the rope lighting above the cabinets. Over fifteen years the original filament unit had slowly died, so I pulled that out and replaced it with an LED version. It looks strange in the photo because the under-counter lights are bright white LEDs while the rope is warm light, but in person they warm up the whole kitchen dramatically.
Jen and I were talking this morning about how much brighter it is in there during the day, due to the light reflecting off the shiny white surfaces. It could all be wishful thinking, but I know there’s a big difference when I walk in there every day. Best $200 spent this year.
A few weeks ago, Jen was at Lowe’s shopping for something and stumbled upon a tile pattern she liked. She sent me a picture and we talked it over, and I bought a few to bring home and test-fit. You see, we’ve been thinking about a tile backsplash in the kitchen since 2005 when we had the whole thing redone; we just never decided on what we wanted back there.
This is a large (2’wX1’w) tile with a repeating wavy pattern, sort of a knockoff of the large architectural panels that were popular 10 years ago. It’s meant to be sort of a subway tile for an entire wall, but for our purposes it was perfect: a minimum of grouted area to have to clean, an organic pattern to break up all of the right angles, and a shiny surface to reflect under-counter lights back out into the room.
The big problem was the number of outlets we have surrounding the counter and how I’d cut holes in the tile to bring them all through. I did some digging and found an Italian-made sawblade designed to fit an angle grinder that got stellar reviews for cutting small holes, so I ordered that from Amazon and then bought two boxes of tile.
Saturday morning I rented a wet tile saw, cleared the counters off, and got to work. For the most part it was easy going, and after I figured out the best way to cut outlet holes right the first time it went smoothly. The corner by the range was the only place where things got tricky, but I found a way to make it work and proper application of grout should hide any sins.
There’s a full size tile on the bottom and then a ~2″ slice around the top edge that meets the underside of the cabinets. With some creative engineering I was able to get a medium-size tile saw to cut an oversize tile exactly how I needed.
So, next up is grout; I’m already planning to get a tub of white grout to fix a small stain in the new bathroom floor (one of the cats knocked over a can of purple PVC pipe primer, and that shit stains everything) so I can use some of the remainder to grout the kitchen.
For a grand total of ~$200 and a full Saturday, I’m pretty pleased.
Some things I got done this weekend, in no particular order:
- Mowed the lawn myself for the first time all summer: our lawn guy comes intermittently toward the end of summer when he’s gearing up on his fall landscaping work, and the yard was looking shaggy. It was satisfying but I’m happy to do it only twice a year.
- Attempted to get the gas weedwhacker running reliably; and gave up in disgust. Fuck it. I took some pictures and posted the damn thing to Craigslist.
- Posted my unused brew kettle to Craigslist.
- Used the electric weedwhacker to work on the back half of the yard, around the woodpile and behind the greenhouse, which had become overrun with vegetation. Cut back giant bushes behind the woodpile and lots of tall weeds around the property line.
- Climbed the telephone pole by the driveway and disconnected one of two stabilizing wires which had been uprooted by the driveway crew and was hanging loose. Also cut a random telephone wire that was hanging loose and looped around the fence.
- Powerwashed the front stairs, three motel chairs, and two rain barrels to get them ready for storage.
- Bought the girls our first Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the 2020 season.
- Reorganized the garage, again, to fit more of the shit in there comfortably.
- Cut a set of 3/4″ plywood baffles for the back two basement windows from scrap wood and prepped them for quick installation. I’ve still got to do the two side windows and make something for the basement door. When the End Times come, I’d like to be prepared.
- Reinstalled the printer software on Finn’s Chromebook, Jen’s MacBook, my work MacBook and my work tower so that we don’t have to continuously turn the printer on and off in order to get it to fucking print something. Worst $100 I’ve ever spent on computer hardware.
- Repackaged the Anker sound buds I bought last week and set them up for a return to Amazon. I now have two choices: I can buy a pricy set of AirPods Pro, or I can buy a second set of the original Anker sound buds I had originally, which worked fine on their own, but did not work for taking phone calls.
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.
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.