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 »

On Wednesday of last week, I started cleaning up the full-size closet in the new bathroom in preparation for installing our closet system. As mentioned earlier, this involved fixing the crappy old outlet box hanging from the wall and painting the walls with two coats of eggshell white.

I started building the middle cabinet on Friday and got the whole thing assembled, in place, and leveled by dinnertime. I had to find a stud on the back wall to mount into, and then shimmed up the base. Then I started trimming and cutting wood for the baseboards when I knew the middle cabinet was in place.

On Saturday I hit the whole thing with a vengeance, finishing off the baseboard trim, cutting side supports for the clothes racks (I don’t know in what world they think 300 lbs. of clothes will hang on a couple of drywall anchors, but I ain’t buying it) and cutting the rods to fit. Everything got nailed into place, caulked, and painted. I cut two of the supplied shelves down to size, glued the moulding in place, and let everything dry overnight.

Sunday morning Jen and I had the pleasure of moving the contents of two overstuffed 1920’s closets into one adult-sized lighted walk-in.

When that was done and Jen was organizing her space, I moved our giant IKEA dresser out from in front of the back bathroom entrance and opened that door for the first time in (5? 6?) years. We’re reorganizing our bedroom space, and now that the closets are opened up that allows us to move other things around and make some changes. It’s going to be hard to reprogram my brain to look for certain clothes in certain places (when we moved the silverware drawer in the kitchen, it was a full two years before I mentally made the change) but I’m excited about our new space and the upgrade to our quality of life.

Date posted: September 5, 2021 | Filed under bathroom, house | 1 Comment »

I was beginning to wonder if I was going to hear back from Kodak about the 8mm reels I’d sent off for digitizing in early July, and while I was sweating my nuts off in a tent in Southern Maryland, I got an email from them. They sent me links to download all four videos, which were all between 500-600MB in size. I was pleasantly surprised with all four of the videos.

Dad had issues with his Super-8 camera back in the day where the light meter didn’t expose the film correctly, so some of the footage is dark, but the folks at Kodak did their best to work with what they were given, and they actually pulled a lot of the detail back out. I think my biggest criticism would be the sharpness of the footage—I wonder if there’s a way I can take the footage I’ve got and put it through some kind of enhancement to pull more detail out.

For the price, it’s fantastic, and when I get these reels back I’ll have to figure out what the next four will be.

* * *

I’ve mentioned my disappearing sunglasses previously, so when my brown pair went missing again earlier this spring, I figured they were gone for good this time and it wasn’t worth writing about. I got along fine with the black pair and actually grew to like them just as much as the brown ones. Yesterday as I was cleaning sand out of the Scout I found the brown ones, having fallen in between the passenger seat and the transmission tunnel; they’d gone unnoticed all summer, even as I was cutting and installing heat matting, thankfully landing lenses up so that the glass wasn’t scratched.

* * *

Jen and I pulled the trigger on a closet organization system a while back, and it was delivered several weeks ago. The boxes are piled up in the bathroom waiting for me to get started assembling. One of the first things I needed to do was address the outlet left in the closet, which was still hanging out of the wall. It was old enough to date back to the Doctor, and I used that box to jump a line out to install a spotlight over the driveway. During demo I found that it had just been attached to the paneling and nothing behind that, so it was left hanging out of the wall. I found a blue plastic new work box and cut the drywall wider on one side until I could tuck the box flap between the drywall and the wood sheathing behind it, then screwed it in place. Then I did a drywall repair job on the remainder of the opening. With that complete, I can now start measuring and installing racks and MDF for the closet system.

Date posted: August 30, 2021 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

The weather for the past week has been brutally hot and humid; not as bad as the west coast, but pretty miserable for an average Maryland summer. Saturday was hot enough that after a 2-mile hike with the dog, I felt like doing absolutely nothing around the house. Seeking air conditioning, I decided to try and return my Gap jeans at a Gap Factory store about 15 minutes away from here, and was annoyed to learn they don’t accept returns from the parent brand at the factory store. I’m gonna have to travel further to get my money back.

Finn was off with a friend so Jen and I spent time together with Hazel doing some light shopping. While we were in the hardware store, the first in a line of thunderstorms started hammering the roof of the building, so we took a moment to sit with our nervous dog and then hightailed it to the car during a lull. It poured on us all the way back, and at exactly the same time on the road down into Ellicott City, it dawned on us both that this might not be the safest way home. We detoured up onto Route 40 and made it home safely; Catonsville only had a light sprinkle while areas to the east and west of us were flooded. To celebrate cheating death, we binged all six episodes of Loki until bedtime.

Sunday was much cooler due to the storm, so I was a lot more motivated. After looking over the compressor and unplugging all the other items on that circuit, I fired it up, painted the shutters white, and hung them back on the house. It’s nice to have them up but I don’t think the color is working for us. We’ve ruled out red, as we don’t want this place looking like a giant USA-themed birthday cake. I suggested gray to Jen and she seemed to like the idea, so I’ll do some Photoshop renders and see if I can mock up a shade we like.

I then put a ladder up and sprayed out almost all of the rest of the siding. There’s one place at the edge of the east wall I can’t reach—my ladders aren’t tall enough—that I’ll have to hit with a roller from the roof of the bathroom. I was able to scrape and paint most of the siding on that eave with pole attachments but I have to move to the back wall to get the inside.

* * *

This morning I got an email from UMBC that said they are going to disable my account, as I am no longer an employee of the university. I can’t say that I was hopeful they would ask me to teach a new class—or actually interested in doing so—but it’s kind of a robotic way to close that chapter of my professional career.

Date posted: July 19, 2021 | Filed under house, life | Leave a Comment »

I took advantage of a break in the hot weather on Saturday to continue painting the house and got a lot more done than I thought I would. First I had to build a leveling platform for the front porch roof, as it slopes down from the front and from both sides, which makes reaching the edges of the second story eaves difficult. I knocked together some scrap wood in the garage, hauled the ladders, compressor, and platform around to the front of the house, and had both edges of the second story knocked out by about 2PM. This included a second (third, actually) coat of white paint on all of the eaves across the front of the house.

Then I moved everything to the back corner and started the complicated ladderwork to get the siding painted there. As mentioned before it’s very tricky because there are three wires that reach the house on that corner, no level ground to place a ladder, and no easy flat surfaces to lean a ladder on. I got most of the siding done with some careful placement before the compressor tripped the circuit for the third time, and I finally realized it was overloaded when the connection between the cord and the extension cord started throwing smoke (and it burned my finger). I’ll have to temporarily unplug the refrigerator and some other small stuff and see if that helps make the compressor any happier.

By the time I finished I was absolutely exhausted. The weather had been nice but all that ladderwork took it out of me, and I was moving a lot of heavy stuff around all day. We ate a quick dinner and then went over to the Gebler’s house for a birthday party for Ruby, who turned 4 (she shares a birthday with Aunt Renie!) where we let Hazel run free in the backyard while the kids played and we drank beer and relaxed. It was after 10:30 and a set of skinned knees when we packed up the car and returned home.

Date posted: July 11, 2021 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »