This is where we stand on Sunday evening. New beadboard paneling is up on the ceiling, nailed and glued over the old paper/asbestos tile, and the original crown molding is back in place over the edges. Once Jen figured out a way for the three of us to put it up together, we had the whole thing done in about an hour.


The rest of the weekend has been endless painting, caulking, sanding, cutting and trimming of new wood (the door to the office has a wood surround for the first time since 2010 or so), vacuuming, and more painting. We’re at the point where Kilz has done all it can, so we’ll order a gallon of semigloss for the ceiling and another gallon of high gloss for the woodwork and get some final paint on the whole thing. Jen has a fantastic idea for flooring that won’t require carpeting but will make things look good. And we have new window cranks on order from Home Depot to replace the broken mechanicals we inherited.

It’s come a long way in three weeks, and we’re pretty excited about what happens next…

Date posted: April 19, 2020 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

On Saturday Hazel had me up at 6:30 with the first rays of light over the trees, so I snuck her out of the house and we took a nice long walk around the neighborhood before anyone else was up. Our usual morning route maps out at about a mile and a quarter, and by the time she’s pulled me down the hill and back up again, she’s worked off her early morning energy and is ready for some food. After getting some breakfast and spending a little time with the girls, I brought some tools up from the basement and started demoing the half-wall on the front porch.

To recap, the front porch had been enclosed sometime in the 1940’s, and the area to the right of the front door was used as the waiting room for the doctor’s office. It was furnished with wood panel-faced drywall and a dark green carpet that was probably very fashionable during the Eisenhower administration. At one point there was a radiator out there to attempt to heat an area with little to no insulation, which the doctor had moved from the dining room. We’ve been using the space as catchall storage since we moved in, so it’s been cluttered with all kinds of crap for years. In 2005 I went out and rolled three coats of Kilz over the paneling to try and brighten things up, but the dark windows, carpet, and ceiling kept things feeling grim out there.


The half-wall was meant as a windbreak for the unfortunates sitting in the waiting room, and really did nothing but make the whole place look and feel darker. We’re looking to brighten the whole place up on the cheap, so I took it down with a crowbar and a hammer. It took only about a half an hour to pull out completely, and the debris filled two contractor’s bags. Inside the wall I found Christi’s car keys, deposited there sometime in 2011 by Finley, who, at the time, was fascinated by a hole in the wall left by the doorknob. Apparently someone in an earlier decade found it equally fascinating, because I found a second set of car keys next to hers, from a 70’s era Ford (years on the repossession lot taught me a lot about identifying keys).


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After I’d bagged the debris I cut up some leftover drywall to patch the hole in the wall, and taped and mudded it. I was trimming a second patch to cover another section of wall that had been holed and then covered in tape when the blade of the boxcutter hopped over my guide and bit into my left thumb, opening a pretty good gash below the knuckle and leaving a divot across my thumbnail.

Jen busted out the supplies and patched me up quickly, and we let it sit for a while before she convinced me to reopen it, disinfect everything, and superglue the whole thing shut. We numbed it with some lidocaine cream and then she got to work. My labors were pretty much over at that point, so we took the dog for another walk and settled in to our new book by the fireplace.

We’re finished with the Golden Compass series—overall very enjoyable, and not at all what I was expecting—and have moved on to the Alchemyst, a fantasy book about Nicholas Flamel and magic. It’s been very relaxing to sit by the fire with the menagerie around us and not have them try to kill each other; usually at reading time Hazel is winding down and the drowsy nature of the fire seems to calm her down even more.

On Sunday Jen changed my bandage and I went back out to the porch to do what I could with one hand; this basically meant I was painting all day. I washed the woodwork with warm water and TSP (commercial detergent) and then painted the outside of the front door for the first time we’ve been in the house, as well as the trim around the dining room window. Then I moved a bunch of stuff around and painted the frames surrounding the outside windows with about ten coats of Kilz, and anything else I could reach or cover. At about 6:30 we stopped for Easter dinner and some family calls, and wound our evening down early.


Date posted: April 13, 2020 | Filed under general, house | 1 Comment »

We were blessed with temperatures in the 60-70˚ range this weekend, so I spent as much time outside as I possibly could. And over the last week, the tulip tree in our front yard has gone from beautiful neighborhood landmark to unsightly embarrassing litterbug. Pretty much all the pink petals are down and browning on the lawn, so I had Finley come out and help me rake and haul it all to the mulch pile behind the greenhouse. When that was done I mowed the front and back lawns and made the place look a bit better. Next I used moss killer on the roof of the garage to clear off the north and east faces, which have been turning greener and greener each year.

* * *

With limited mobility and summer coming, Jen has been thinking about cleaning up the west side of front porch for a while now to reclaim the dead space there. It’s been a dumping ground for anything we have that doesn’t fit in the garage or is too big to haul into the basement: all of our air conditioners, tables, chairs, cornhole boards, a treadmill I never used, assorted boxes and bags of goodwill donations, etc. She has a vision to turn it into a summer sitting porch, and now that the dining room windows have been replaced, there’s no reason not to keep the windows open to get more circulation in the house.

So we started hauling stuff out of there Sunday afternoon, starting with the treadmill, which will get dropped at the dump when it reopens. I moved a bunch of other stuff out to the garage, but we haven’t figured out what to do with the air conditioners yet. I’d like to keep them out of the windows for as long as possible so that we an enjoy the spring air until it gets blazing hot, so they may get stacked in the dining room while we paint.

The basic plan is to empty the room, remove the crown molding, and paint the walls properly—I hit everything with a quick roll of Kilz about 10 years ago just to brighten things up, but it was never meant to look perfect—and cover the acoustic tile on the ceiling with beadboard paneling. Then I can reinstall the crown molding to clean up the edges. We’re also going to demo the dividing wall to the right of the front door to open things up, and cover the hole with some spare drywall. Once everything has a fresh coat of white paint, we’ll tear up the shitty green carpet and replace that with floor tiles.

* * *

Meanwhile, in the basement, our tomato seedlings are beginning to sprout their first true leaves, which is an excellent sign. I finally got smart and moved the grow bulbs down to 4″ away from the plants, and they’re much happier now. I’ve got a lot of seedlings to choose from so we won’t have to buy any from the store, but I do have to order bags of soil and have it delivered along with some other building supplies for the porch. I meant to start cleaning out the greenhouse yesterday, but ran out of time.

Date posted: April 6, 2020 | Filed under greenhouse, house | Leave a Comment »

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.


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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.


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 »


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.


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.


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 »