I got thinking about closets while I was stuck in a long Zoom call Friday afternoon and started searching for an online closet builder. Within about 20 minutes I had this basic structure designed, and after I re-measured everything and showed it to Jen, this is what we came up with: his and hers built-ins with hanger bars above and storage below, and a center section for long dresses. This is the best usage of the space in there possible; I could add a second set of bars below or a set of shoe racks, but we both like the idea of shelves instead. Now to find someone who we can order the parts from…
But one thing I’m going to have to do before any cabinetry goes in is have my electrician come back in and move an outlet from its current location behind where the right-side cabinet would go to the center of the wall. I’ve been having problems with that outlet anyway—it’s a legacy circuit from the Doctor and it has no anchor so it’s been hanging out of the drywall since we enclosed everything. This will be a good excuse to get it moved properly and professionally.
Saturday morning I measured out some spare lumber from the workbench and the area in the basement and started constructing a new sorting table by the laundry area. The original table was a 5′ section of countertop resting on two of the old cabinets from the kitchen. This was functional but wobbly, and the counter overhang prevented the top drawers of the counters from opening. I put together an 8′ cantilevered table with a storage shelf, screwed both of the cabinets together, and tucked them under the near edge. The top is smooth MDF, and I beveled the edge with the router so there’s nothing to snag delicate fabric on. Now there’s room for six sorting baskets on the top and the whole thing is level and sturdy on the floor. The top will get painted when I can open the back door (MDF expands with water-based paint, so I’ll use some auto primer) and when the electrician comes we’ll have him upgrade the lighting down there as well.
Here’s an updated version of the energy graphs I plotted last week; this is a two-part visualization that shows the difference between summer and winter.
A couple of weeks ago I found an old fluorescent light fixture up in the attic of the garage while I was organizing stuff, and hauled it into the basement to take a closer look. I don’t remember where it came from. It needed a new cord, but other than that looked clean, so I picked one up from Home Depot and wired it up. Then I took the light stand down and rigged it up from the ceiling over by the brewing stand. Now, instead of taking up the entire workbench, there’s a dedicated growing setup for starting vegetable seeds. Now I just need a 3-prong programmable timer. The goal for this year is to build on last year’s success. I’m going to prepare the bins better this time, with better fertilizer at the beginning, better positioning, and a selection of new seed for some variety. I’m also going to pick up some inexpensive plastic shelving to clean up the greenhouse and open up space for growing.
Saturday afternoon I did a yearly sweep of my accounts and downloaded all statements into categorized folders, archiving 2020 into one place. Among the records, I’ve got a record of all of our gas and electric bills from the day we bought the house until now, save a period from March 2010 to October 2013, because BG&E doesn’t save stuff that far back. In 2014 past I plotted our energy usage against the average temperature to see what the pattern was.
Looking back at that graph I realize now that I was plotting the wrong thing: I was interested in cost, which made sense back then, but because pricing fluctuates over time it wouldn’t tell the story I’m more interested in now—about any improvements made in insulation. This would be reflected in the total therms or KWh used, which BG&E helpfully includes on their statements (as well as the average monthly temperature). I dug up some further statements and spent a couple of hours plugging data into the old spreadsheet.
What I found was interesting. Apparently our gas usage has trended downwards by about 50 therms over 17 years, which means that some of the improvements I’ve made in this drafty sieve have made a difference. The scary revelation is that our energy usage has trended upwards dramatically by about 250KWh over that same time period—no doubt the spike in daily usage during 2020 did not help that average. But it tracks; there are three people in the house using appliances and devices and air conditioners instead of two, and we’ve added multiple rooms since 2003.
The big takeaway is that we’re still spending more in the winter to heat the house than we do in the summer to cool it, so my continual quest to insulate and weatherproof will continue. I think nine new windows for the upstairs rooms would help with the drafts as well as some other upgrades—I’m looking at you, front and back doors—and eventually a central air unit that would be four times as efficient as four old window units sucking dollars out of the house.
While we’re on the subject of drafty houses, Finley has been working from her fort while she’s in class. The high is around 48˚ and there’s no insulation out there, so I ran an extension cord from the garage and put my shop heater on a plank of wood to try to combat the cold. She used some Christmas money to buy a small laptop stand and a whiteboard at Target, and over the weekend went out to set things up. Back in the summer the neighbors gave us an old carpet which fit pretty well on the floor, so she’s not sitting on a bare wooden plank, but that’s it for amenities. I dusted off our old Airport base station, reset it for bridge mode, and tucked it up above the workbench in the basement. The new router sits in the living room roughly where the old one did, but if I draw a straight line from that to the fort there are two surfaces covered in aluminum siding in the way, which means the signal is shit out there. So the Airport should keep her Zoom game strong.
I’m a little wary of letting her work out there by herself, but we told her she could do it as long as her grades stayed up and her work got done. So we’ll see how things go.
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.