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.
The Lockardugan clan has settled in to a loose daily quar-routine. Hazel gets us up anywhere from 6:30-7 and we drag Finley out of bed. I put Hazel out back for a wee and set the coffee up while the girls get themselves ready, and then we take a mile and a half walk down past the school and back up the trolley trail. I then meet up with a neighbor and Hazel and I do a quick walk down the street with Harvey, his dog, in an attempt to normalize her around other dogs. She’s actually taken to these walks with Harvey, and she’s content to follow behind him (10 feet, naturally) while he does his daily business. She doesn’t jump or whine or bark or strain to be with him, which is definitely progress.
Back at home, we all get our breakfast together and slowly settle in to our individual days: Finley attempts to get her schoolwork done (this is hit or miss), I settle in to my workday at my desk, and Jen alternates between her work, riding herd on Finley, and working on the porch. For me, work has been just as busy as before, so I’m often working through lunch at my desk, which is not how I like things. It’s getting warmer now and the draw to go sit outside in the sunshine is stronger; the trick is getting everyone on the same timeframe to eat together. And I need to order a new picnic table from Lowe’s next week.
I think I’ve eaten better in the last two months than in the last two years; we were eating out much more often than was comfortable, and both the quality of the food and my wallet show the value of making things at home. Jen has knocked menu planning, food delivery, and cooking out of the park.
After we eat together, Finn and I take care of the dishes while Jen lights a fire, and we sit around the fireplace to read chapters of our book together. Hazel works through her evening ya-ya’s and I play possum or rope with her to work some energy out so that she’s not running from window to window whining about the fat bunnies in our yard munching on clover in the twilight. After a few chapters, we talk about our favorite parts of the day, say our goodnights, and when the girls go upstairs, Hazel and I settle into the den where she curls up in the beanbag while I play on the Xbox.
Wednesday I was troubleshooting a network issue on my work laptop and narrowed it down to the little dongle I’m using to connect up to USB devices and a hardwired network port. (Modern MacBook Pro’s have reduced the number of available ports down to 2 USB-Cs.) From what I could tell the dongle, which was hot to the touch, had failed and wasn’t passing network information through to my laptop. At the same time Finley was having issues with her school laptop (which finally arrived Tuesday evening) so I switched her to her MacBook with a wired connection and then fought our wireless network for about a half an hour before getting completely fed up. Our Airport Express is a refurbished replacement I bought several years ago and it’s been working well up until now, but I think the heavy load of wireless devices on the network has finally revealed its shortcomings.
The Wirecutter reviewed routers in January and I chose their budget recommendation, which will be here sometime on Friday. It’s built to handle multiple loads with band switching, so it should be able to cope with four laptops, two phones, an iPad and any other devices that pop onto our network. With that addition and the new switch in the basement, everything inside the FIOS router should be as modern as possible. I did some sleuthing pre-COVID and realized that said FIOS router is over 10 years old, so I think it’s time to have them update that piece of hardware—maybe next week.
We’ve been working with the stencil out on the porch for the last couple of days and it hasn’t been going as planned. The stencil itself is a very sturdy piece of plastic, surpassing my expectations, but the floor paint we’re using does not roll through the stencil cleanly—there are lots of blobs and fuzzy edges as a result of the paint curling under the edges and getting trapped between the floor and plastic.
We started considering alternatives, and I thought of a little device I’ve had squirreled away in my Scout stash for a while: a little sprayer that will aerosolize all kinds of paint. I’d earmarked it for stuff like touch-ups and spraying rust inhibitor in tricky spots, but after digging it out of my bins I used it for a test run of the floor paint. The paint flowed pretty freely and it laid down a lot cleaner than the roller, so I sourced a latex paint gun at Lowe’s and picked it up with Hazel right after work on Wednesday.
On the way out of the parking lot, while waiting at the light, a guy in a black sedan pulled up next to me, trap music blaring, and rolled down his passenger window. Over the sound of the beats, he yelled out, “THAT shit is TOUGH!” with a huge smile on his face. The Scout reaches across all boundaries.
Back at home I set up the sprayer and laid the pattern down four times, finding the right pressure and spray pattern through trial and error. When I’d gotten it right, it laid down clean and crisp through the stencil, using much less paint, and looked worlds better. So our next step is to roll black over the floor to set everything back to zero, clean up the edges, and prepare for a Saturday of stenciling.
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.
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.
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.
Tonight, after two months of farting around and ignoring the blue bike sitting forlorn in the basement, I cut the rear brake line off the frame and began rerouting cable to the new brake levers at the ends of the bullhorn. I’d bought brake line, grip tape, and a wirecutter pre-quarantine with the idea that I’d get to it one night after work, never thinking I’d have more time than I bargained for. It took a can of beer, a little doing and a lot of adjusting, but I’ve got both levers connected to the brakes front and rear, and the grip tape is ready to be installed tomorrow. It’ll be nice to get her back out on the road. I suppose I should order some replacements for the 20-year-old tires…
Meanwhile, Finn has outgrown her blue bike (she grew an inch in the last month) and needs a new one, but we can’t visit a showroom to get her measured for a new one. I’m tempted to try Amazon but I’m trying to keep our deliveries to the essentials so that we don’t put someone at risk if we don’t need to. I’d love to get out for some bike rides when it finally warms up—this morning was 32˚ at 6:30AM—so I think I’m going to have to pull the trigger soon.
Progress on the front porch is happening. Yesterday Jen rolled two coats of wall paint on the areas that haven’t been taped and mudded, and I need to get back out there to finish sanding and sealing those sections. We got three jealousie window cranks delivered to replace the broken ones we inherited 20 years ago, and I spent a couple of hours working with the drill press and bench grinder to modify the included parts to work with our windows. As of last night the two west-facing windows are connected and working, which leaves one of the front windows to be fixed. It’s currently jammed shut and no amount of leverage has been able to free it up, which sadly means that it may be a lost cause.
There is a gallon of semi-gloss waiting for us at the Lowe’s in Glen Burnie. Apparently everyone is painting right now, because our local store was out of stock. I’ll roll that on tonight to clean up the ceiling and crown molding. When the walls and trim are covered we can start pulling up carpet and prepare the floor for the next phase.
Renie sent us a huge care package last week filled with Christmas presents, which was a lovely April surprise! Inside we found a bunch of things that will make the next couple of weeks fun for Finley, including a laser-cut wind up clock featuring about 300 gears, the LEGO Hogwarts Great Hall set, and a bunch of other goodies. Finn and I busted into the clock set a few nights ago and after getting a bunch of the gears assembled I’m excited to see how the whole thing comes together.