Jen is always a tricky woman to buy Christmas presents for. She really doesn’t want for much, at least, not in the way of stuff, so it’s hard to find just the right thing for her every year. I’ve taken to writing down gift ideas in February so that I don’t forget them in November. Two years ago I was super-romantic and bought her a 40 gallon fish tank to replace the yard-sale sourced starter tank she was working with. She was surprised and it went over well, I think. Last year sucked ass but I was conscious enough through pain meds to buy her a couple of items from Emily McDowell, including a tote bag emblazoned with the words “Groceries and Shit” in beautiful hand lettering.
This year she’s asked for several house-related things, including some shelves for the living room. We’ve had a blank wall in there for years, waiting for some mystery artwork to appear, but she’s sick our shrine to emptiness and asked me to make something to mount to the wall to put stuff on. I looked around Amazon and found some invisible hangers for shelving, and Sunday Finn and I hit the Home Depot for supplies. We got a sheet of 1″ MDF and cut it down to 4′ x 4.5″, then glued and double-stacked four sheets for two shelves. Next I’ll be cutting down a 3″ furring strip and mounting it to the front for a slipguard. When the mounts come in I’ll drill holes and set them up staggered on the wall so that there’s some space on the end for something tall.
Another thing she’s asked for is if we can finally finish the woodwork in the office and den. Sometime between the installation of the front porch windows and the big side window, Lowe’s/Home Depot stopped carrying the equivalent cap molding to our windowframes in stock. This is somewhat short-sighted, because I’d wager EVERY HOUSE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD uses this same cap molding. I’ve looked into setting up a router jig and making it myself, but I’d probably spend several thousand dollars on the jig and I’d honestly much rather have a finished bathroom. I found a woodworking shop over in Glen Burnie who I’ve been told can make this molding for me, and hopefully it won’t be too expensive, because I need 65+ linear feet of it.
I spent a little time kegging beer last night. My intention was to get the grapefruit IPA in the cooler, but for some inexplicable reason I transferred the session IPA and added grapefruit extract to that instead. So it’s going to be an intense batch of beer. I doubt it’s ruined but now I’ve got to figure out what to do with the base beer for the original grapefruit batch–it’s probably a lot milder than the session, so it won’t be as good on its own. Looks like I might wind up with two grapefruit batches instead of one, unless I decide to dry-hop this batch for flavor.
I spent a good chunk of the weekend grading my first class project. Friday night I reviewed work, looked over their files, and filled out a checklist for each project. Saturday morning I fed that into a spreadsheet which averages the score from the checklist and converts that to a letter grade, and from there I adjusted up or down based on attendance. Saturday evening I filled out most of the comments at the bottom of each grading sheet (because what are grades without feedback?) I built this system after realizing how time-intensive grading is during my first semester, and it’s paid off really well.
The greenhouse seems to have reached equilibrium. I’m up to six dead mice and two dead chipmunks but the traps have been empty for the last couple of days and the tomatoes have been left alone; after success with the 5-gallon pail traps the first couple of days they’ve been empty. I’m going to add a couple of regular mouse traps out there but we need to stock up on peanut butter and I need to rig the big black traps with something harder to get out (one trap is sensitive and the other isn’t). Meanwhile the cherry tomatoes are doing excellent; the red plant is producing multiples, the yellow plant has a handful that are turning color, and the black plant has a few that are beginning to turn as well. Meanwhile the heirlooms are all still growing steadily, but everything is still green. Most of the fruit is at the top of the plants, so hopefully the little fuckers won’t get to it when it starts turning color.
I’m finally able to view my class roster for the fall semester, and I’ve got 16 students with two on the waitlist (sorry, kids, but I won’t be taking you on). 16 is at the outside limit of manageable for a class–the last one I taught was 16, and that was after I took two hard-luck stories off the waitlist–and it’s a handful for the time allotted. Again, I’m not reinventing the syllabus, so it should be an easier lift than my last couple of semesters.
I’m officially signed up to teach a class this fall at UMBC, which makes me happy. It’s not one of the senior-level courses I had the last two semesters but it’s one I’ve taught before and should be pretty easy to pick up. At one point I was interested in updating the syllabus for this class but given that it starts at the end of August and I’m otherwise occupied with getting healthy I think I’ll just roll with the 10-year-old syllabus they’ve been using.
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I stopped in to a new Harbor Freight store here in town to look over the merchandise and immediately felt overwhelmed. It’s a bigger store than the one I used to go to in Glen Burnie, and the people working there were all friendly and helpful. The shelves were neat and tidy and the place was clean as a whistle. In other words, I didn’t recognize it. I’m looking at sandblasting equipment to start working on my car parts, and after looking over all of the available options I decided I needed to do a lot more research before I made a purchase. Not that I can carry the equipment, or a 50-lb. bag of blasting media right now anyway.
In the initial days of our vacation I started reading Barbarian Days, a memoir written by William Finnegan, a staff reporter for the New Yorker. It’s a book about surfing, how the author started early when his family moved to Hawaii, and how it shaped the course of his life as he followed waves from California across the ocean to Fiji and Australia. What sets it apart from an average column in Surfer magazine is his prose, which earned the book a Pulitzer in 2016. It’s the kind of writing that reads effortlessly but is obviously the product of decades of craft, and it was a pleasure to finally finish the book this morning.
UMBC reached out to me this week about teaching a class in the fall, and after some back-and-forth they offered me a junior-level typography class I’ve taught before on Monday nights. It isn’t as interesting as the senior-level classes I did before cancer, but it makes me happy to be teaching again. I’m going to ask them if I can update the syllabus, as it dates back a long ways and could probably stand to be refreshed.
I ordered brake hoses for the Scout this afternoon, and hopefully they will be the correct fit for what I need. I’m also looking at buying an ignition kill switch and will ask the guys if they can help me install that as well.
So I got the official word yesterday that I’m not on the schedule to teach next semester, for reasons that the school wasn’t able to really explain other than saying that they’ve changed their curriculum around. I know a little more about what’s going on than this, but won’t say anything here other than that I’m having a hard time not taking it personally. I work super hard for my students. I’ve developed two custom syllabi, added custom lectures on everything from printing to color to getting a job, and I spend days of extra time off-campus grading and reviewing work. I get good student reviews at the end of each semester. I feel like they’ve ignored all of this, and that hurts.
The new semester is underway, and I’ve got a crop of 16 students. They’re all new to me save two, which is a nice change, and after our fourth class I’m relatively happy with them so far. I’m teaching a slight variation on last semester’s syllabus, having tweaked the timing, assignments, and deliverables a bit based on what I learned in the last class. These students are all graduating in the spring, so I’ll be one of their last waypoints before they reach the outside world. It feels good to be teaching again, and I’ve added a couple of workshop/discussions to the schedule that should help them beyond the assignments we’re covering.
We have some friends who own a digital printing shop in Columbia, and over the break I went down to tour the shop and talk to them about taking on student work. It’s not the most glamorous work, and is realistically a money-loser for them in the short term, but the students have all been limited by what their campus print shop can and cannot do. My aim is to widen their horizons so that they realize there’s more than one place to produce their work. I’m also developing a workshop around the art of ordering a print job, so that they know what to ask for, what the language means, and what questions the print shop will ask them when they call.
Strangely, it sounds like I might not be teaching next semester due to scheduling issues at the school. I don’t know if they’re going to sort things out or not (I have been told on the sly that they will) but my hope is that they do.
I took a pair of Anker bluetooth headphones with me to Paraguay, and I really like them. They are actually wired together but don’t tether to my phone itself, which makes commuting easy–I constantly spend time untangling headphone cables around my messenger bag, so having something that’s up and out of the way while I’m transferring from car to train to office is wonderful. They are also the first noise-canceling headphones that actually stay in my ears during normal usage. I put them in on the plane ride and shut out the entire cabin around me; the only thing I had to worry about was clearing the air pressure in my ears.
After two months of searching, we hired a production manager at work to help keep my team on track and relieve some of the management pressure from me and my senior designer. She’s a transplant from Southern California who worked in the magazine industry for three years, so she brings a wealth of good experience to our team. We’re sorting out the logistics of equipment and seating this week, and she’s been invited to about 100 meetings over the next three weeks to talk with our internal clients and begin to understand how the organization works.
I was never trained as a manager, so this experience is a new one for me. My style to this point has been very laid back, mirroring my personality, but I’m seeing that I’ve got to step up more and become more proactive about a lot of things. Having come from a tense environment of micromanagement, I never wanted to do that to anyone else. What I have to do now is find a happy medium between being more assertive with my team and our clients and not being a domineering tyrant.
The second contractor I had come in for the bathroom ghosted me. I’ve left him two messages but haven’t heard anything back since he came to look things over. Meanwhile I’ve got the estimate the first guy sent us to review, to see where I can cut some costs. Maybe with some tough negotiation we can bring the price down to a reasonable amount. I do know he quoted on 7 very expensive windows when we’re going to reduce the number to 5, and we don’t need top of the line models, which will save thousands. There may also be some prep work I can do to cut costs as well–when the porch was enclosed, the builders put in a thick wall below the windows and a thinner wall above the sills, making a waist-high shelf around the room. I want to shim out the walls to a consistent depth all the way around for ease of finishing and added insulation value, which I can probably handle myself.
I’ve been slacking, I know. I’ve gone back and forth between having a lot to write about and then feeling like it wasn’t worth mentioning, but fuck it.
Jen and I are in the middle of the last season of Penny Dreadful, a series that aired on Showtime up until this summer. It’s a wild, beautiful, gory horror story set in London of the 1890s and it’s absolutely stunning in its production design, writing, and subject matter. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a series this much since Deadwood. I’ve also been trying to sort out my thoughts on Stranger Things for about two weeks now, but I’m struggling to say what I’m thinking. More on that later.
I ran into a friend on the train by chance who shared employment with me in a previous organization, and we caught up on life since we both moved on. He’s doing very well, is much happier, and we filled in some of the blanks for each other–things I was unaware of, but found hilarious and annoying. I’ll just say it was great to have some unexpected validation on a Thursday evening.
Jen and I spent some quiet time on Saturday morning looking through a bathroom remodeling book for ideas. It’s getting closer to reality, which is kind of shocking. Further research on a home equity line of credit took me down a different path to where we’re looking at refinancing the house. I spent about two hours on the phone on Saturday with banks going through the information and getting quotes, and along the way I wound up with a Navy Federal Credit Union account for a $5 minimum deposit and no monthly fee. If the math is correct, and the quote doesn’t change drastically, we could wind up dropping more than a full point, pulling a chunk of cash out to use on finishing the bathroom, and saving a bunch of money each month. I’m supposed to get the final quote by Wednesday (fingers crossed) and if everything looks good, get it on the fast track to close as soon as possible.
School starts up this coming week, and I spent Sunday finishing my syllabus, posting everything online, working on my first lecture, and sorting through admin stuff. I’m starting from scratch again this semester, so I had to work through the schedule and the workload repeatedly to make sure everything balanced correctly. This class is once a week for four hours, so the schedule is compressed, and I hope it works out well.