Tonight, after two months of farting around and ignoring the blue bike sitting forlorn in the basement, I cut the rear brake line off the frame and began rerouting cable to the new brake levers at the ends of the bullhorn. I’d bought brake line, grip tape, and a wirecutter pre-quarantine with the idea that I’d get to it one night after work, never thinking I’d have more time than I bargained for. It took a can of beer, a little doing and a lot of adjusting, but I’ve got both levers connected to the brakes front and rear, and the grip tape is ready to be installed tomorrow. It’ll be nice to get her back out on the road. I suppose I should order some replacements for the 20-year-old tires…
Meanwhile, Finn has outgrown her blue bike (she grew an inch in the last month) and needs a new one, but we can’t visit a showroom to get her measured for a new one. I’m tempted to try Amazon but I’m trying to keep our deliveries to the essentials so that we don’t put someone at risk if we don’t need to. I’d love to get out for some bike rides when it finally warms up—this morning was 32˚ at 6:30AM—so I think I’m going to have to pull the trigger soon.
Progress on the front porch is happening. Yesterday Jen rolled two coats of wall paint on the areas that haven’t been taped and mudded, and I need to get back out there to finish sanding and sealing those sections. We got three jealousie window cranks delivered to replace the broken ones we inherited 20 years ago, and I spent a couple of hours working with the drill press and bench grinder to modify the included parts to work with our windows. As of last night the two west-facing windows are connected and working, which leaves one of the front windows to be fixed. It’s currently jammed shut and no amount of leverage has been able to free it up, which sadly means that it may be a lost cause.
There is a gallon of semi-gloss waiting for us at the Lowe’s in Glen Burnie. Apparently everyone is painting right now, because our local store was out of stock. I’ll roll that on tonight to clean up the ceiling and crown molding. When the walls and trim are covered we can start pulling up carpet and prepare the floor for the next phase.
Renie sent us a huge care package last week filled with Christmas presents, which was a lovely April surprise! Inside we found a bunch of things that will make the next couple of weeks fun for Finley, including a laser-cut wind up clock featuring about 300 gears, the LEGO Hogwarts Great Hall set, and a bunch of other goodies. Finn and I busted into the clock set a few nights ago and after getting a bunch of the gears assembled I’m excited to see how the whole thing comes together.
I’m on the couch sipping a cup of coffee while Finn, who has off from school today, sleeps in upstairs. I have off from work today myself, but it’s only most of the day, as I still have to teach tonight. Last week was canceled due to the ice storm so the class is sort of a week behind (I assigned the second project via email so we’ll see how this whole thing shakes out today). Overall it’s going OK this semester, even though they’ve packed my class with 18 students, the absolute maximum–and frankly, about 4 students too many. They did contact me last week about teaching the branding class again in the fall, which would be ideal; I’m tired of this syllabus and would like to mix things up again.
I did sell the other two radios on Saturday morning, which made me a little sad. I had plans at one time to fix and refinish the Philco tombstone, but the reality of the situation is that we just don’t have anyplace to put it. The buyer apparently got the Telefunken set working and mentioned that he specializes in repairing the electrical bits, so I might get in touch with him later in the spring to fix one of the sets I’ve got here. File that under future nonessential plans.
I’ve been learning a lot about my sleep habits with the Fitbit. Namely, even though I lay my head down on the pillow at 11PM and get up at 6:40, I’m only averaging about six and a half hours of sleep every day. Analyzing the data, it looks like I’m going down easy at first, and then bouncing up and down out of restful sleep starting at about 4AM or so. I’ve always worked better at night: my peak concentration hours start at about 8PM and go to 1AM, but I can’t follow that schedule anymore. I’m going to have to train myself to close my eyes at 10:30 religiously to make up for the loss.
Today’s plan is to get some stuff around the house done. I have wood ready for the refrigerator surround ready and want to put that in place first thing. I’ve got to keg the beer that’s been sitting in the basement for the last four months; god only knows what that will taste like at this point. Then I want to measure the greenhouse for new footers and new plastic, and make a plan to refurbish it for a fresh crop of tomatoes in the spring.
I had an idea a few months back for a T-shirt design and while I was in the hospital I knocked together the design. It’s basically a reproduction of the IH sticker found on the transfer case shift knob. Brian and I have tentative plans to go out to Ohio for the Scout Nationals at the end of August, the first time I’ve ever planned going in 20+ years of ownership. I figured what better time to screen an IH specific shirt design? I’ve got all the supplies ready to go. And I need to print Finn an updated FRD shirt as well. Come to think of it, Scout needs a new shirt too.
Mama got taken down by a migraine yesterday so Finn and I were a team. I made a big pile of mashed potatoes before I had to pick her up at camp so that was dinner. Then she and I walked down to the ice cream shop and got some dessert. I always forget how hard it is to suck the chocolate in a mint chocolate chip shake through a straw.
This morning I fired up the Scout and got to work digging out the rest of the hedges in the front yard. We got sidetracked last fall after the sewer pipe incident, and so we’ve been living with half a moustache since November or so. It was pretty easy work, given we’d had rain on and off all day yesterday, turning to snow (!??!?!) and then a light frost this morning. The ground was damp and 4WD was in full effect, which meant I had them all out in about two hours.
Jen and I spent about a half an hour measuring out our yard so that she can map it out with graph paper; our lot isn’t actually a rectangle, but a parallelogram so that as you see the house from on center above, the property line shifts to the right as it goes back. We still have no real idea where the boundaries are, and we’ll need to have someone come out and mark it for us, but for this year we can get away with what we’ve guesstimated in the front yard.
I brewed my 33rd batch of beer with my neighbor last weekend. We brewed the same recipe, followed the same times, and brewed at the same temperature, but the only difference is that I poured my wort over ice to chill it while he used his copper chiller. We’re going to keep everything the same and do a taste test to see if using commercial ice to chill has any effect on the flavor. I’ve been using ice because it’s easy and cheap to do, but one of the mantras of brewing is that your beer is only as good as your water. I do have a chiller but I don’t have a pump to move water yet; a trip to Harbor Freight is in order this spring no matter what the results are.
Another quick project this weekend was to rebuild my light tent to be more portable and less of a giant pain in the ass. It’s been broken down for a couple of years now, but comes in handy every once in a while–so that it’s not worth getting rid of. It was originally set up at 4′ x 4′ but I reduced it to 3′ x 3′ and added two sets of cheap hinges to fold it into itself so that it packs away for easy travel and storage.
I loaded Yosemite onto my work laptop yesterday morning, figuring it would make a great test case for the rest of the machines I run (my home laptop, Jen’s laptop, a workstation under my desk, client machines, etc.) and overall it’s pretty nice. My work laptop is a Retina 13″ with an SSD, so installation took about 10 minutes and everything looks wonderful. It seems to be fast, there’s no performance hit with anything I can see, and all my apps seem to be running just fine (Adobe Creative Cloud, CS6, Office 2011, and a handful of utility apps I depend upon). The real test will be the aforementioned laptops–my home machine is an early 2010 model MacBook Pro which might not like as many of the visual improvements in Yosemite.
Amazon delivered my copy of Information is Beautiful this morning, and I can testify, it is, indeed, beautiful. An entire book of charts, graphs, and visuals well-designed and displayed, about a huge range of subjects. Go to the site, absorb some of the work, and buy the book. It’s well worth the money.
Monday night I went out to the garage and started running wire to the ceiling for overhead lighting. Currently it’s a mishmash of plugin fluorescent fixtures scrounged from my old job run off extension cords, and I’ve dreamed of simply having a switch next to the door to light the space since we moved in. I ran wire from the panel to a new switchbox near the door and then started fishing wire up to the ceiling, then stopped because I wanted to make sure I was running the wire correctly. It’s looking like I’m on the right track based on this diagram, so I’ll continue getting things in place in preparation for buying the fixtures and a new breaker.
After transferring beer the other night, I shifted my gaze to the 4-drawer file cabinet sitting next to my brewing stand. It’s jammed full of files that date back to my house in the city–phone, water, and utility bills I don’t need and will never have to refer to. I loaded up Top Gear USA on my iPad and started sifting through the drawers, making a stack of paper about a foot high, and within an hour I’d winnowed out all of the 620 South Lakewood stuff into two piles: shredding and non-shredding.
I found the final mortgage bill for my rowhome, the details of which still take my breath away: a monthly payment of $515.40 at an APR of 6%. My utility bills averaged about $90 for the month. Why did we move to the suburbs again?
I found an unused registration sticker for Chewbacca. I found a copy of the city-drawn plat for 620 S. Lakewood. I found piles of old illustration mailing lists, including a carefully hand-drawn graph of geographic regions cross-referenced by what postcards they’d been sent and when. I got all of my tax records in order from 1993 until we were married. I found utility bills from 620, some in the name of my old girlfriend.
Then I started shredding in front of the Texans-Steelers game, stopping only when the motor on our little shredder got so hot it refused to run and I’d filled a trash bag full of spidery paper. There’s still about 6″ of phone bills and mortgage statements to go through, as well as some medical bills, and I’m not done culling the drawers. I’ve got a stack of twice-used manila folders to recycle and a pile of rusty paper clips to throw out.
I set aside stack of utility bills for our current house, put them in order, and scanned them into PDFs at work this morning in preparation for the shredder. I’m thinking about entering some of the year-over-year data into Excel to look at trends, now that we’ve been here over ten years: things like our average monthly bill, therms and kWh used, and average monthly temperatures. It would be interesting to see how it graphs out, considering our first couple of bills averaged ~$700/mo. (it’s come down considerably since then).
As I think about it, scanning our old mortgage statements and water bills isn’t a bad idea either, so I’ll probably bring those in tomorrow. (The scanner at work has an auto-feed, which makes life so much easier). As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to organize and scan as much paper in as possible and then shred it. I’d also like to organize an automated download of bank records and mortgage statements, given that our bank only lets us go back a certain number of months.
I’m super excited about two new things this week. They both involve dusting off old skills that I’ve missed, and hopefully learning some new ones.
Here at work there’s a pickup bluegrass/cover band with some very nice folks who play guitar, mandolin, violin, piano, and viola, and after hearing them play I mentioned they made me want to pick up my bass again. This led to an invitation to sit in with them, so I’m pulling the top two strings off my guitar and sitting in with them this evening. They’ve been playing a mixture of Nickel Creek and gypsy jazz tunes, all of which are outside of my normal repertoire, but I sat down with two of them last night and had a lot of fun learning them. I have no idea how this evening will go, or how much they practice, but it would be a lot of fun to play live again, and a nice excuse to find a cheap acoustic bass guitar. We’ll see.
The second thing is an opportunity to relearn basic welding. I got a notice through Meetup about the Baltimore Foundery holding a Welding 101 class, and for $65 I’m going to re-orient myself with the basics of stick welding on Sunday afternoon. Back at MICA my roommate took sculpture classes as part of his BFA, and he got me into the metal workshop one evening where I gave the TA a six-pack of beer to give me a half an hour orientation on MIG welding. We spent a couple of evenings practicing, and I made a crude stand for my bass out of scrap metal, as well as several huge monster sculptures for our backyard. I’ve forgotten everything since then.
Recently, discussing my garage with my electrician neighbor, he pointed out that it would be easy to run power from the big circuit in the greenhouse back to the garage, so I dug a trench to run conduit–it’s still open, waiting for a free weekend afternoon where we can run the line and cover it back up. This will allow for a dedicated 110 line to the garage, and the ability to run power and, eventually, a stick welder out there.
For Christmas 1990, I asked Santa for a LL Bean Field Watch, which he kindly left under the tree for me. I’d picked it out of the mail-order catalog in those pre-Internet days, and in a rare instance of luck, it fit my rather small wrist almost perfectly. This was out of character with the rest of my wardrobe at that time, which was baggy and ill-fitting. I had it until about 1997 or so, when I put it on in haste and dropped it somewhere between my apartment and my office in Baltimore City. I’d neglected to tuck the end of the band into the loop and it slipped off my wrist during the bike ride.
Santa gave me an identical replacement that following Christmas, and I’ve had that watch ever since. It’s been with me all over the world and has the scars to prove it–the crystal is cracked, scuffed, and chipped. The nylon band is worn but functional. The battery, dutifully replaced by LL Bean every three years or so, is losing steam again, and several years ago they notified me that they have no more replacements for the crystal–their new Field Watch is a different design. It’s bigger, thicker, and uglier, actually.
I’ve been searching for a replacement for months now, and I’ve narrowed it down to a few candidates. My criteria is simple: the same classic design, a date display, stainless casing, and size. The current trend for all watches seems to be to oversize everything, so it looks like you’ve strapped a tuna can to your wrist. I look ridiculous wearing these watches; I want something that fits my arm.
The gold standard is a Hamilton Field Watch, which set the template during World War II. Unfortunately, these soar high above my price range, mainly because they have a sapphire crystal face, but they’re almost equal in dimension to my current watch. I’d like to buy one of these someday–when I have $300 in discretionary income just laying around.
Next, I looked at the Seiko 5, but ruled it out due to its thickness (13mm). It’s inexpensive but big.
The next contender is a Citizen Eco-Drive field watch, which is slightly wider than my current watch but equal thickness according to the published specs. I like it because it’s self-charging solar through the watch face, and it looks pretty good.
Given all of these choices, I’m going to buy a Citizen when I get some cash together. Not having a watch throws my ADD into chaos, and it’s become an extension of my arm over the last 20+ years.
I also have the option of replacing the crystal on my current watch myself, which I’m going to try. eBay has replacement crystal and toolkits all over the place, and I feel no fear in pulling a laptop apart in my spare time. Plus, my friend Rob has been heavily involved in the Seiko watch modding scene for several years. I may call upon his expertise to help me nurse my ailing friend back to life.
Saturday morning we took Finn to soccer practice in a new facility close to our house; what used to be a 7-Up distributor’s warehouse is now filled with two indoor soccer fields for rental and two teams’ worth of sweaty high school lacrosse players. We signed her up for a kids’ intro class, and it turned out that we have several friends who had the same idea, so we got to stand around with other parents we know while the kids ran in circles. She took a class at her last school, so we were proud to see her kicking and actually dribbling the ball—until she got bored and decided to go off and do her own thing. Hopefully we can get it through her head that practice will make things more fun for her down the line.
After we were done with soccer we hit the IKEA to pick up one more bookshelf for the den, with the hope of consolidating all of the toys, art supplies, and other stuff that’s been clogging the living room, office, and den. With the big bookcase in the living room free of toys, we were able to uncover the entire collection of books we’ve collected from the library liquidation at her school. It’s really amazing how many good books Jen was able to save, and I hope that Finn takes to reading as much as I did as a kid.
Over the course of our Saturday errands in the CR-V, it became loudly apparent the passenger’s rear brake pads were grinding on the rotor, so I hit the parts store to buy a new set for the back half. It’s just enough of a project that I didn’t want to attempt it this afternoon with 6-12″ of snow on the immediate horizon, so I loaded the parts in the back and parked it behind the Accord until we can dig out this week. On my way to the store I guesstimated the amount of gas in the Scout and came up about 50′ short, stalling out on an incline within spitting distance of a pump. After borrowing a gas can, priming the carb, and standing on the brake, I got her started again. This being the second time it’s happened in two months (the first being directly across the street from our driveway in the middle of the road), I’m getting impatient to sort out the fuel gauge and tank problems in the spring. Hopefully, a long-awaited hydro boost brake conversion will give me more than 10′ of stopping power (both brakes and steering are powered, so when the engine cuts out so do my options for direction and stopping).
Over the last couple of weekday evenings, I got both speakers rewired, mounted, and tested. Sunday I cut out and glued in 1/2″ corner supports around all the seams, then sealed the front edges and nailed them into place. They sound good! I’m still unsure as to how I’m going to finish the outsides off; I could wrap them completely in Tolex or speaker carpet, but I’m not sure yet.
Our soccer player was on the couch sick today, after waking to an upset stomach and then throwing up several times over the course of the day. She got to spend the day in front of the TV, which was good for her, but hasn’t eaten a thing all day, which is unlike her. At about 7:30 she turned on her side and fell asleep on the couch next to Jen, something that is VERY unlike her. She’s running a fever, so we’ll keep a close eye on her tomorrow.
Tonight we’ll hunker down, tuck the girl into bed, watch some good TV (Downton Abbey and True Detective), maybe sip a beer, and wait to see what the weather brings us tomorrow morning. Just when the lawn was almost clear again too.