Finley was assigned a book to read over the quarantine, John Christopher’s The White Mountains. Grudgingly, she picked it up yesterday and started reading it after she’d slogged through a pile of homework. By dinnertime she was on the last five pages, and had a giant smile on her face. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her sit with a book—a story, and not a book of lists or facts—and devour it with singular focus; she’s been too obsessed with Gacha videos and her iPad to want to read anything. The Tripods trilogy is a gripping series of books. I remember reading it after I’d caught the BBC series when it played on public television in the mid 80’s. Hoping to keep her interest in the series, I wiped her old Kindle of games and installed Overcast, the library eBook sharing app, then downloaded the second and third books using her library card. She’s currently laying on the couch digging in to Book 2.

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The tulip tree in front of the house is in full bloom right now, and my desk at the porch window faces it. I’ve been watching people walk, run, ride, and mosey by the house for the past two weeks, and it’s amazing how many people are pausing underneath the bright pink leaves to look up at the canopy in awe. It makes me wish I’d set up a camera to capture pictures of everyone that’s stopped; I’d have at least 10 from today alone.

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With three weeks in the rear view mirror, it looks like I’ve got idiotking moved completely from my old webhost to new, and it seems to be a bit zippier in terms of pageloads and updates. It took some digging to understand what the new hosts’ migration directions were, and a couple of pokes to their customer service desk to get what I wanted, but everything is where it should be and working faster than it did before.

Date posted: March 24, 2020 | Filed under finn, house | Leave a Comment »

Hazel was up to pee at about 7:10 so I put on some warm clothes and snuck her out of the house to let the girls sleep in. It was brisk outside. Yesterday was 80˚ but overnight it dropped into the 30s and it was only just beginning to warm up as the sun rose. Hazel and I wandered over behind the school and down the hill to the Junction, where I tied her up in front of the local café and ordered some breakfast and a coffee. I was the second person in the door this morning. Usually there are a crowd of eight or ten people at the tables on their second cup discussing the paper or news on the TV, but today it was empty. It was strange.

We walked back home up the trolley trail and by the time we got home the girls were awake, so we all ate breakfast in the living room and played with the dog for a little while. I then went downstairs and set up a seed starter for three varieties of tomatoes in the hopes that I’ll have more luck this year than I did a decade ago when I tried it on the workbench. I’m going to build a platform for them under one of the basement windows so that they’ll get daily sunlight and hope that a warming pad will regulate the temperature under the plastic properly.

Then I went outside and assembled our new pressure washer, 1/2 of which is my birthday present from Jen. I got a Craftsman gas model on sale—electric pressure washers are crap—and had it clearing green mildew from the garage doors in about a half an hour. I went around to the front steps and cleaned all the green off the Trex, rinsed the siding, and anything else that needed a wash. We get mildew on the front of the house yearly because it faces north, so I’ve rented or borrowed a pressure washer for the past five or six years to clean things up. After I’ve put this one to use this year cleaning the rest of the siding, washing the engine and undercarriage of the Scout, cleaning the back deck, lawn furniture and Finley’s playset, I think it will have paid for itself.

I’ve had trim for the bathroom waiting to be picked up for a week, so I headed into Columbia to grab that before they closed and then circled up to the gucci Giant to stock up on some essentials—a little bird told us that statewide lockdown is imminent. I was able to get most of what we needed, but the paper product and soap shelves were empty (we could use more hand soap but we’re generally OK for now) and the frozen breakfast aisle was wiped out along with all the ice cream. Then I stopped at the liquor store and stocked up some extra beer.

At home we set to work putting it away; one of the first things I did was go to the garage and plug in our old fridge. It took a little to get going, but began cooling itself down quickly after that. Then I stuffed the extra beer and groceries inside. It’s been a pain to fit in the limited space available, but now I’m glad I didn’t Craigslist it like the last one.

After a quick break, I broke out all of my brewing equipment and fired up the burner in the backyard. I’ve had a Shiner Bock knockoff kit sitting in the basement since last fall, and I got tired of waiting for my neighbor to get his act together to brew with me. By 7PM I had it in the carboy and all of the dishes piled on the back porch, but it was time for dinner by that point.

Now I’m settled on the couch in the den with a cold beer in hand, Hazel snoring at my feet—the first time she’s been calm all day—and Fallout 4 loading on the Xbox. Time to relax.

Date posted: March 21, 2020 | Filed under brewing, house, tools | Leave a Comment »

That’s water coming out of those taps! The plumbing under the sink is 95% complete; both drains are assembled and functional. The left side drain has a slow leak I need to sort out, but both are working. All of the drawer pulls are now installed, so we can actually open and close the cabinets, and I told Jen we’re OK to start moving stuff from the hallway linen closet into the new bathroom. I stained both of the thresholds and put them in place, and when I go to the cabinet dealer this week to pick up two pieces of trim I can knock off some more of the little elements that are left on the to-do list.

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When we had Sam, our landscaping guy, do the drains out back, we had him level off the slope while he was out there, and when he was done he seeded it all. That seed developed into lush green grass, and in the last week it suddenly shot up six inches into a thick jungle in the middle of the lawn. I fired up our lawnmower on Saturday morning and slowly chopped it back down, eventually moving three heavy wheelbarrows of clippings to the mulch pile out back. It makes a huge difference out there, and I’m looking forward to having him seed and cultivate the rest of the lawn to match. Now if the dog would just stop digging holes everywhere…

I also used the second half of the afternoon to organize the garage, which had become a dumping ground and forgotten since September or so. Now that the old compressor is out from under the workbench, I decided to reclaim some of that lost space and installed a shelf underneath, which helps with a lot of the stuff that was floating around on the floor. I lifted a bunch of larger elements up into the rafters, reorganized the far wall, and made a better place for the compressor and refrigerator to live.

Date posted: March 16, 2020 | Filed under bathroom, house | Leave a Comment »

I’ve kept my activities low-impact while I drag myself out of the hole this illness has got me in. I felt like I was up to some small stuff on Saturday, so I wandered up to the bathroom and made some forward progress. The first thing to do was to remove all of the framing around the toilet window that was put in when the drywall went in and redo it. See, Mario put it in and measured the casings at 5½” wide, when everything was supposed to be at 4½”. I left it purposely for the very last so that I could see what all the other casing and moulding measured out at, and about halfway through the job I knew I’d have to pull it apart and redo it all. It actually didn’t take that much time to fix. It was easy to pull off. I ran it through the table saw to narrow the casing, lopped the edges off the stool, and cut the top casing down before putting the crown on top. Then it all went back in place and while the wood putty dried I gave much of the rest of the new woodwork a coat of semigloss paint. I cut some small pieces to fit in where the cabinets join the doors, installed more kickplate under the back stairs, and put a coat of paint on the toilet window before calling it a day.

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On Sunday I listened to the Ravens game while I painted. Pretty much every piece of woodwork got another coat of paint, and I spent a couple of hours focusing on the closet doors, which came primed from the factory. They look worlds better. The whole room really looks worlds better, actually.

Tomorrow (Monday) I’ve got to call the cabinet place to see if they can get me a short piece of fill wood for the right-side cabinet on the front wall, so that I can stand it off the side by about 2″ before putting it in permanently. I’m going to go get valves for the water supply pipes and install all of those, and get some lumber to finish off the inside doors in the closet, but I’m waiting to see how we’re going to organize the space in there before putting kickplate in. I can also set up the kickplate for under the sink.

Later in the day, I was adjusting the $50 bandsaw I picked up a few weeks ago and to my dismay the lower support guide, a cast metal part that assures the blade stays straight, crumbled in my hand. A number of searches reveals that, surprise! Sears doesn’t carry this part anymore, and pretty much everyone else who has one of these saws is looking for the same part. So, I’ll do a little digging to see if I can find another part that I can substitute, or I’ll just throw the whole thing in the fucking trash.

Date posted: December 29, 2019 | Filed under bathroom, house | Leave a Comment »

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Date posted: December 10, 2019 | Filed under house, photo | Leave a Comment »

We met the new neighbors on Tuesday. After more than six months of intrigue, random realtor showcases where carloads of strange people showed up to the house and wandered around the neighborhood shouting (yes, this did actually happen) and long periods of inactivity, a very quiet couple moved in soon after we got Hazel. Jen met them one day when she had a stoned dog out in the backyard after she’d been hit by the Prius, and couldn’t really talk to them much. She resolved to properly welcome them to the neighborhood with some flowers. We walked over after dinner and rang the bell; they invited us in and we stood in the foyer of the house and talked to them for about 20 minutes. They are lovely people and we got along very quickly. We agreed to organize a dinner with them after the holidays and get to know them a little better.

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Renie was in town on Wednesday courtesy of the FAA, and she was able to get a hotel very close to the office. We met up and got some dinner at Union Station on Wednesday night and did a debrief from Thanksgiving; it was great to get some quiet time to catch up with her where we weren’t making food or driving somewhere or cleaning up something.

Carni, my lead designer, left us on Friday after over five years with WRI. Back when I was the whole design department, I knew I needed to hire someone to help with the rapidly increasing workload. After looking at a pool of over 200 applicants, his work stood clearly out above the rest, and I was lucky to get him. An incredibly capable designer, I leaned on him a lot for many different things while I was focusing on the larger picture and learning how to be a manager. As he grew into a larger role, I made sure to get out of his way and let him run with the things he wanted to tackle. He’s moving to a local studio that focuses on data visualizations, which is where his interests have been for several years, and I couldn’t be happier for him. But now I’m scrambling to find someone who can do a quarter of what he could, and I’m going to have to fill in for the rest.

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One of our awesome Advent activities this year was to meet up with the Morrisses and make sock monkeys at the American Visionary Art Museum. The girls did this two years ago when I was laid up in the hospital, and they had a great time together, so we put it back on the calendar. At the top of the back warehouse there’s a huge open room where the staff had set up scores of tables with basic necessities—bags of stuffing and some directions. You are expected to bring socks and scissors, and they supply thread, buttons, and other decorative elements. We found a table and got to work, making friends with a young woman who was sock monkeying solo. It’s incredibly satisfying to sit and stitch something together with friends; I can almost see the allure of a quilting group (but there’d need to be copious amounts of alcohol). I chose a striped sock and used the most basic of stitches, while Jen used a hook-and-loop and made hers more professional. Three hours later we realized we were all famished (somehow it got to be 1PM without us noticing). We packed up our monkeys and drove down Key Highway to Little Havana and chowed down on delicious cuban-inspired food. It was great to hang out with them, and I have to say, my sewing skills were not too bad!

Sunday morning I spent tinkering around the house getting small tasks done; I ran the Scout up and realized the 11-year-old battery is probably due for a replacement. I straightened up the backyard and cleaned up the garage, then went downstairs and organized a bunch of stray boxes. It’s at the point where I need to put proper shelves in along the wall in the ice room, because we’re out of wall space for racks and there’s no clear floor space. Another holiday break project will be building a longer laundry sorting area and organizing the shelves on the west wall.

Date posted: December 9, 2019 | Filed under family, friends, house, photo, WRI | Leave a Comment »

This is something I need to get on during the next warm spell, when I can temporarily shut off the thermostat:

I’m going to need some graphite packing tape for the twist valve and some replacement steam valves.

Date posted: December 8, 2019 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

Not much to report on about the weekend. I can bullet some of them out.

  • We found a new place for weekend breakfast, neither closer or cheaper, but definitely tastier, in Ellicott City. Three sandwiches and three fancy warm drinks totaled out to a little under $30, but damn, a sausage cheese and egg sandwich between two waffles was the fucking bomb.
  • Finn and I drove the Scout down there, after two weeks of slumber in the garage, and she ran great. But it was cold. It’s definitely time to get the hardtop back on her.
  • My back could not take any more days on the couch, so Hazel and I moved upstairs to the futon on Friday night. She was relaxed enough to go right to sleep, but any stirring of leaves or wind through branches outside had her awake, hackles up, staring out the window. Several times she started barking, and I had to talk her back to sleep. Saturday night I closed the blinds and she didn’t hear anything or move for the whole night.
  • Sleeping with Hazel is like sleeping with Finley at age 4: she’s all elbows and knees, and she puts off more heat than a wood-burning stove.
  • Jen took a well-deserved mental health afternoon on Saturday, and Finn was invited to a friend’s house for a sleepover that evening. Jen and I were so beat that evening, we got a pizza, poured some drinks and watched a movie. It’s the first time we’ve done that in about five years.
  • I got a little woodworking done in the bathroom on Sunday, but my time was limited. Progress was limited mostly to a coat of paint on the dining room windowframe, some woodwork painted in the bathroom, and a new stool cut for the front windows up there.
  • I drive to Parkville at 6:30 to buy a vintage Sears bandsaw from a strange dude off of Craigslist. He lived in a little house with his Mom which was CRAMMED with stuff in neat piles all the way through the house. He took me to the basement and I had visions of ending up as a flesh raincoat, but the saw was good and the deal was done. The wall next to the linen closet is not straight, and there’s a piece of wood that sets in between the closet and the wall. Once I’ve scribed the wall’s curves onto the wood, I can use the bandsaw to cut that much cleaner than if I did it with a jigsaw.
Date posted: November 17, 2019 | Filed under hazel, house, list | Leave a Comment »

Hazel is at the vet this morning for a two-for-one deal: an x-ray to check on her pelvis, and to be spayed. They told us they’d have to put her under to do the x-ray so we figured we’d have them take care of her girl parts while she was out cold. Because nothing says Enjoyable Holiday Season more than a dog in heat.  When she gets back home she’s on crate rest again (OH JOY) for a couple of weeks, and we have to find a way to get her down the stairs to pee without busting her stitches or throwing out our backs. I think maybe I’m going to bolt the slide from Finn’s playset to the back stairs so she can just walk out there and pretend she’s evacuating from a burning airliner.

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The new windows in the dining room and living room are awesome. It’s currently 30˚ in Catonsville. I was sitting in the dining room catching up on email this morning, and I noticed that the back of my neck wasn’t cold. It’s downright toasty in there now. With the perimeter winter proofing I did last winter and the new windows this year, there are no air currents blowing leaves around in there, and the heat from the radiator actually stays in the room. The living room windows are also tight, although I still need to caulk the edges to seal off the gaps. And I have to haul a huge pile of stuff to the dump—12 windows, stacks of old lumber, and a half ton of pig-iron window weights, all stacked not-so-neatly on the front porch.

Looking back at that link, I see the picture and I’m reminded that I haven’t been called upon to teach for two semesters now, and most likely won’t be for next semester. I’m a little conflicted by this, because while I enjoyed teaching I’m relieved that I’m not spending every weekend thinking about and worried by what’s due in the next class, or looking at a mountain of grading on the dining room table. I suspect this is because the schedules don’t work out; from what little we know, the class times that work best for me are high in demand by full-time faculty, so I haven’t been called up. Either way, I’m enjoying the break.

Date posted: November 13, 2019 | Filed under hazel, house, teaching | Leave a Comment »

Originally, I was going to fart around with trim in the bathroom on Sunday afternoon. It was supposed to be 54 degrees, and having spent two freezing hours out on the soccer field watching Finley’s team on Saturday (they won the first game and lost the second) I didn’t relish the thought of opening the house to frigid arctic winds. But as I drove Finn to a friend’s house I realized it was warmer than I’d been led to believe. So I grabbed a bagful of spray foam from the Home Depot and commenced to making a mess in the living room.

This shot is after I pulled two of the trim pieces off, but hadn’t yanked the window out yet.

Here both casements have been pulled from the right side, and the storm window frame is the only thing left on that side (it came out right after this shot).

The new window is placed on the right side. This is the best comparison between old and new windows. The new ones are a little smaller in terms of window size, but brighter in the amount of light getting through.

This is with both windows placed, but before I’d mounted them permanently. As of Sunday night they’re screwed in, surrounded with foam, and the trim pieces are placed, but I don’t have any caulk, which I’ll pick up this week. Once the caulk goes in, that will help a lot with any residual leaks, but these are already a million times better than the old ones. All three sash pockets are filled with expanding foam, which should keep things toasty. It was a fast bit of work, but I got everything installed in five hours.

Date posted: November 11, 2019 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »