A very nice man dropped off a 45′ self-propelled boom lift this afternoon as the rain continued to fall and I was fucking around with the Scout. It’s a diesel-powered, gargantuan beast that takes up a good chunk of the driveway. There are more controls up in the basket than a cruise ship. From the lift, one can control the height and length of the booms, the angle and tilt of the basket, as well as drive the whole unit like a car. I’m going to have to study it carefully before I start operating anything; we’re going to start on the driveway side so I can get used to it before I try to get it around to the backyard.
I put together a list of stuff to throw in the bucket with me before I extend it all the way to the eaves: a toolbox full of scraping, sanding, and painting supplies, another toolbox full of general purpose tools (hammer, screws, screw gun, boxcutter, brushes, rollers, etc.), a cooler with water, and a bag of stuff like batteries for my phone/AirPods, Clif bars, a hat, etc. The idea is to stay up for as long as possible without having to come down and go back up repeatedly, as well as attempt to scrape and paint the eaves as much as I can while I’m up there. Hopefully the driveway side will go quickly so I can focus my problem-solving skills on getting it up over the driveway curb and around to the back lawn.
Problem 1: It’s raining.
Problem 2: the boom lift I reserved, while sounding like it was the perfect solution on the phone, turned out to be larger than the Scout and I could tell it would be impossible to jockey around our yard. So I returned it and they’re going to deliver a 4WD self-propelled arm lift later today.
The wind was howling through the ‘Ville late last week and the temperature had dropped, so we hunkered down for a couple of days. On our coffee walk Saturday morning, as the wind blew around us, Jen reminded me that Finley had asked to fly a kite a few weeks ago—late in the day, after I’d put a full 8 hours in and without the energy to take her up on it. When we got home, we ate breakfast and then walked across the street to the church parking lot and put up her butterfly kite, one Aunt Renie got her for a birthday a few years back. It flew really well until a couple of gusts brought it down, and the fiberglas rods punched through the ends of the pockets in the wings. I figured we needed the Big Boy so I ran back to the house and brought out my beach kite, the heavy-duty beast I bought 20+ years ago that has been on every beach vacation we’ve taken. I’ve dunked it in the Atlantic, lost it in dunes, and tangled it in trees. It’s been field-patched multiple times, the bridle has been replaced twice (three)? times and it’s been through two different tails. But it always leaps into the air and stays there. Saturday was no different: it stayed aloft with no problem, and for a short while that morning the world went quiet and we watched it ripple and dance in the blue sky above.
Faced with the latest news reports which all claim vaccination rates are dropping, we’re being pragmatic about the summer of 2021. I’ve been eyeing the situation in India and thinking that we’re headed for the same blowback here: lots of people wrongly assuming the worst is over, skipping their vaccination (or simply not getting one, because…tracking chips?) and use going maskless figuring it’s all over. The alarmist in me is trying to keep from getting too alarmist but I feel like shit is going to go down before it all gets better, and I’d like to get the three of us immunized before America goes full Day of the Dead.
So, we’re making more improvements at the Lockardugan Estate, figuring we’re stuck in here for another year. Jen will be doing big reveals later and I’ll share photos then, but she’s got some exciting plans that I’ve already begun work on. This weekend was focused mainly on getting the truck running so that I could go on a run for oversized supplies, and then getting started. It’s been amazing what I can fit in, on, and behind the CR-V with nothing but a roof rack, trailer hitch, and ratchet straps, but 4×8′ sheets of plywood don’t fit inside and I can’t drive with the hatch open. So the Scout gets pressed into service for the big stuff.
Back in the fall we had an electrician come out and put a switch and a wire in on the front porch for a ceiling fan, which was good! We need a fan out there. But he had to cut through the odd 1950’s era drywall that we inherited to run the wiring, which meant the walls had some gnarly holes that needed patching. 376 applications of drywall mud later, I was able to feather out the patches, paint them, and call the walls done. The fan we ordered is “in transit” somewhere between there and here, which means it’s probably sitting in a container at the bottom of the Ever Given. We bought a simple three-blade white fan with no light, which is apparently very rare and expensive; the more lights and faux Victorian bullshit you decorate a fan with, the cheaper it gets. But it’ll look great once it goes in, and porch season is almost upon us.
Hazel has slowly been working on a routine as she’s gotten older, and some of her more annoying habits have been smoothing out over time. She used to launch out of bed like an ICBM with the first beams of light over the horizon and pace by the bedroom door whining and crying and nervously scratching herself. I’d shuffle downstairs with one eye open, let her out, and then collapse on the couch praying that I’d be able to go back to sleep for a few minutes before she banged on the door to come inside—or woke up the neighborhood barking her head off.
She’s sleeping in later these days, which is a blessing, and even if I’m up before she is and slowly pick up my phone to do the morning’s calendar/weather/news check (what time do I need to be put together for my first Zoom call/how cold will the morning walk be/what’s happening in the outside world) she’ll clock that I’m moving but won’t stir until she sees I’m actually getting up. She knows what reading the iPhone means, and she knows what the pre-rise bed stretch means. She can read the signs.
So on Saturday morning, we slept in for as long as my bladder would allow, and then crawled out of bed to walk downtown for coffee and muffins. Along the way we passed several signs for yard sales, which is your author’s crack cocaine. The pickings weren’t quite as good as the signs promised, but a nice lady gave Jen a 1996 Maryland Master Gardener Handbook for free along with a thick binder full of her notes; she had to carry it back home before we continued our walk.
After eating, I got out to the greenhouse and cleaned up the plants, pinching off all of the suckers, pruning spare branches, and keeping things moving upward. They all got watered, and I fixed the wooden foundation of the building so that it’s a bit more stable. Meanwhile Jen pruned a bunch of the day lilies around the entrance back and cleaned up the gardens around the house. it’s all looking really good out there—I’m optimistic for a good haul this summer.
We ran out to drop Finn off at a friend’s house and ran some errands at the local Home Depot, and while I was there I left my Moleskine in the basket of the shopping cart and drove off without it. On a good day this might have been only a small setback, but I left my vaccination card and some other stuff in the back pocket, which made it a bad day. Two calls to Customer Service and a trip to the store netted us nothing, so I’ve pretty much given up hope. At least I have a picture of my card.
Sunday we puttered around the house and got a late start on the day. After dropping Finn off at a friend’s house across town Jen and I took Hazel to Second Chance to look for some spare doors. To recap: Our fridge is stuffed in what was originally the hallway coat closet, and during the summer, our un air-conditioned house tends to get stuffy. Having the fridge in the closet with the door closed is a terrible idea, so we’ve had to crack the door open and let the cats wander in and out and generally deal with how shitty that looks for sixteen years. Jen’s idea was to find another door in the same style, punch out the center panels, and replace them with radiator screen so that the fridge gets enough airflow and the door stays shut.
Second Chance is one of the advantages of living near Baltimore. We found a very close twin to our doors on the shelf—only 1.5″ taller and 1/2″ wider, in the same large-over-small panel design. We also found a replacement door to the master bath, something to replace the thin wooden screen door we found on the side of the road back in 2004. We stumbled on a beautiful, sturdy 12-light door with good hardware and wound up getting both for $60. I found a way to stuff them both in the back of the CR-V with the rear window up, scooped the dog into my lap, and Jen drove us home with our prizes.
The weather, which has been pogoing up and down for the last month, is supposed to get up into the 80’s this week, which means Brood X is going to rise from their slumber. I don’t know that we’ll get the same number of cicadas without the tree cover we had in 2004, but I’m sure it’s going to be loud out there.
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.