When Finn was a tiny baby one of my favorite things was to get her fed and changed, put her in the backpack, and sneak out of the house while Jen slept in to hit the local yard sales. Catonsville has a reputation for epic yard sales because there are scores of big old houses with attics and basements and garages filled with decades of stuff. Finn would sit up above my shoulders and sing and talk to herself, and I’d walk from house to house and look, occasionally stopping to stuff something into the  pack and occasionally panicking as I realized I was going to have to drag three lawn chairs and the baby a half-mile home by myself. Usually it all worked out.

The historic section of our town (basically all the houses across the street from us) were doing their community sale on Saturday morning, so I snuck out of the house with Hazel, a backpack, a wad of cash and my AirPods, letting the girls sleep in. We headed across the street in a thick fog and strained to see where the sales were through the muck. My guess is that many houses who planned on selling probably took one look outside and passed; the pickings were slim at first. Hazel and I found that most of the offerings that were out were junk; ugly decorations, Christmas stuff, glassware and fake flowers, uglier lawn furniture. One house toward the end of our route had some period bike gear I briefly considered—as well as a Specialized Rockhopper of the same vintage as my Cannondale. Discouraged, we headed downtown for coffee and triple ginger muffins, and on the way back I played a hunch and headed down the one street we hadn’t tried. Through the fog we came upon a huge sale in one of the old victorians by the Catholic Church and I guided Hazel up the driveway toward the back, where a bunch of old tools sat. For $12 I got a handful of box wrenches and this sturdy Craftsman toolbox:

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With a little cleanup this will replace a modern plastic toolbox with a flimsy caddy that folds in half.

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Sunday morning the girls and I put 32 hardened tomato seedlings plants into bins in the greenhouse. I wound up buying 20 bags of soil for all of the containers, and we jammed all of them with as many plants as we thought might fit.

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There are more varieties this year, and I expect all of them will try to get huge, but I’ve told Jen I’m going to be merciless about keeping them cut back to focus on producing. I’ve still got to get the rain barrels organized—the one under the garage gutter is leaking slowly, so that will have to get tossed—but the other two look like they’re in fine shape and will get pressed into service directly.

Meanwhile, the hand I burned smoking meat last weekend is looking worse and worse as the damaged skin peels off; the knuckles have been in bad shape all weekend (I did wear nitrile gloves while planting) but now the other skin is beginning to let go. The whole thing needs a soak and some Vitamin E. Don’t play with fire, kids.

Date posted: April 12, 2021 | Filed under greenhouse, tools | Leave a Comment »

Some very nice presents showed up on our porch today: two books on using a smoker, which will serve us well for the next meal we make. Thanks Renie and Tony!

The seedlings are on the sixth day of their hardening schedule, so they’re up to 6 hours of indirect sunlight outside. The plan this weekend is to get as many of them into tubs as possible and get the back panel of the greenhouse taken off for airflow. I was going to rebuild the water platform this spring, but with wood prices being what they are I think I’ll punt until next year and set it up with a rain barrel. I pre-fertilized the tubs with bonemeal and nitrogen mix, hoping it’ll give them all a leg up when they hit the new dirt. They’re all getting huge, so my hope is we’ll get blossoms quickly and start producing fruit.

My other weekend project is to rent a welder and install brackets on the Scout bumper, as well as put a couple of captive nuts on the front for a license plate. I’ve got to hit the Harbor Freight for a cheap welding helmet and a couple of triangle magnets to get started.

Date posted: April 9, 2021 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

Last summer I was moving plants around in the greenhouse and a branch on one of the tomato plants caught and pulled the AirPod out of my left ear and flung it out of sight. After searching for five minutes, I couldn’t find it anywhere and began to panic. Somehow I thought of Find My app on my phone; both AirPods appeared there immediately but the location tracking wasn’t precise enough to pinpoint the missing unit. I noticed a button on the app which said Play Sound, and I was able to toggle that to have the missing pod play an audible tone. This led me to find it behind a stack of pots in a far corner, someplace I never would have looked otherwise. That alone would have made the purchase price worth the money—beside the fact that they are awesome.

Apple announced today they’re opening up the excellent Find My service to third-party manufacturers. This could conceivably mean I could put a Find My tag in all three of my cars, on my bicycles (ahem Finley’s bicycle), and on my car keys, and use their system to keep track of them all. What I don’t know yet is how it would connect to dumb unwired devices—would I have to charge a battery on the tag on my bike, for example—or would it be a dumb chip like Tile? Either way, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this, and when the car versions come out, hardwiring one into each of our vehicles.

Date posted: April 7, 2021 | Filed under apple | Leave a Comment »

Jen has been bugging me to try smoking some meat since my first abortive attempt in June of 2015, when I turned a chicken into a block of cement. The smoker has been sitting in the garage since then, taking up space, silently mocking me. Fed up with waiting, Jen found a recipe, drove us to the butcher, and kicked me out of the car to go buy some meat. Sunday morning I cleaned out the smoker, lit some charcoal, and rubbed spices into two cuts of tri-tip. Throwing some wet mesquite onto the fire, I put thermometers into each cut, laid them on the grill, and said a prayer.

It’s pretty obvious in hindsight, but cooking meat with a good thermometer changes the game entirely. The smoker did a great job and I was able to get the meat up to temperature right on schedule. I ran out of charcoal so Hazel and I ran to the 7-11 to pick up another bag. They had no matchlite, so I had to resort to lighter fluid. Because I was in a hurry and not thinking, I didn’t set up the new charcoal the way I should have, and I wound up flash-burning my hand pretty good when the chamber full of vapor lit off, as well as ruining a good fleece jacket. Lesson learned.

After four hours smoking, I wrapped the meat in foil and let them get up to final temperature, which took less time than the recipe called for. We had an early dinner at the table with coleslaw and French fries, and the meat tasted absolutely fantastic. I made a Manhattan to go with it. We all ate until we were stuffed, and decided there will be more smoked meals in our future.

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After some hesitation, I put Finley’s blue bike up on Craigslist this afternoon. in hindsight I should have done it last year, when people were desperate to get bikes, but for some reason I waited. Ever the sentimental fool, I’m sad to see this one go. It’s the one she learned how to ride on, the one Santa brought her. It’s even the same color as Ox (this was not coincidence). But her legs are almost as long as mine now, and it’s time to find a new rider. I hope it makes good memories for the next little girl who climbs aboard..

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On Saturday I re-organized the greenhouse so that the spare table is up front where most of the light will be, and prepared a bunch of bins with soil and fertilizer. The seedlings are on their second day of hardening, so by next Saturday they should be ready to plant. There are seedlings on one tray that are 8″ tall at this point, which is fantastic; I’m much further along this spring than I was last year.

Date posted: April 4, 2021 | Filed under family, finn, greenhouse | Leave a Comment »

I made a little progress with the bumper project over the last week, up to the point where I need a welder. To recap: I originally bought 1/4″ box steel which wound up being way too thick, and bought another length of 1/8″ box steel which worked out perfectly. After a little coaxing I cut the edge off the bar and then cut two sections from that, leaving me with a pair of C-shaped sections ready for pilot holes.

I used a stepped drill bit in the drill press and then ground off about 1/8″ of each edge to get them flat, parallel, and shallow, then test fit everything on the bench.

As for welding, Brian took his rig back a month or two ago so I’m without anything here to use (and truth be told, the welds I was making before he came and got it were terrible). I called a local mobile welder who quoted $125 just to come out; while everybody’s got to make a living I’m having a hard time rationalizing that when I could spend another $150 and get a decent 110-amp starter MIG for myself. Or, I could spend $40 and grab a simple 110 MIG from the local rental center, and I wouldn’t have to deal with yet another large tool taking up space in my already cramped garage….perfect!

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: April 3, 2021 | Filed under Bumper, Scout | Comments Off on Bumper Progress

This morning I’m sipping some coffee on the 10th floor of the cancer building at Hopkins, waiting for an appointment with my oncologist. The building was being erected while I was going through chemo, and I think all of my subsequent checkups minus two have been in this building. The old cancer center was a retrofit of existing buildings, and so it was smaller and darker and had that mid-70’s vibe that can’t be fixed with a coat of paint and updated furniture. The new building is big and spacious, has windows everywhere, and it’s clear they thought carefully about the needs of modern cancer patients when they organized it.

For checkups I have to forego eating or drinking anything before the CT scan, so I walk in to the phlebotomist’s area already low on power. After giving blood I head upstairs to the CT floor, and they give me two bottles of iodine-spiked water to drink after asking me five times whether I’m allergic to contrast or not. The iodine has actually gotten better over the years—it used to be two liter-sized bottles of terrible-tasting limeade pisswater; it’s now down to a pair of 16-ounce bottles that barely taste like anything. They put a second IV in and take me back to the machine, where I lay down on a chute, pull my drawers down to my knees, and a primary scan is taken. Then the nurse pushes contrast into my veins through the IV, which feels like the hottest hot flash ever combined with an urgent need to pee my pants. They take the second scan, the nurse removes the IV, and they send me back outside.

I then head upstairs to the 10th floor, where the café used to be, and stake out a chair along the wall facing Baltimore. It’s pretty quiet up there so I can lower my mask and guzzle coffee and breakfast. Presently, the iodine and contrast want to get off the bus, so I head into a spacious bathroom stall to take care of business. This is usually a multi-step process, and so I am grateful for the 2-hour interval between CT and my checkup meeting.

While waiting, I charted out my bloodwork—the results were back within an hour and a half and posted to my online health portal; modern medicine is amazing sometimes—and it looks like things are generally trending downward across the board. My white blood cell count is back to where it was in July of last year, which is discouraging. Platelet count is up, Neutrophils are up, but absolute neutrophils are slightly down and lymphocytes mirror the white blood cell results. The radiologist did not find any new travelers, though, and my lungs look clean, so there’s that!

Meanwhile, I’ve got a bandage on my chest from the removal of a basal-cell carcinoma yesterday; from what the  dermatologist told me, it was most likely kickstarted by the radiation I got and then stopped cold by the chemotherapy. Now that I’m getting (somewhat) healthier it decided to pick up where it left off, and I got it removed. Getting older is lots of fun.

 

Date posted: April 1, 2021 | Filed under cancer, general | Leave a Comment »

With the quarantine altering my work schedule last year, I was able to spend what would have been commuting time on starting seeds and tending plants over my morning coffee. 2020 was a pretty good season but I know it could be vastly improved with the right lessons learned. This year I started seeds much earlier and transplanted the strongest seedlings into larger pots a couple of weeks ago. I’ve learned that the larger starter pods don’t work well, and taking the covers off the trays (and moving them upstairs into the heat) helps them grow much faster. There are now 30+ plants that are ready to start hardening outside, and the overall weather is getting warmer.

Having expanded the number of seedlings available, I knew that I was going to need to reorganize the greenhouse to take advantage of as much interior space as possible. Yesterday I dragged all of the chairs out onto the lawn, dumped last year’s soil out, and took stock of the space. Back in 2005 Jen and I bought a trio  of greenhouse tables from a local nursery that was closing; I don’t recall what we spent on them but it wasn’t much. I usually have 2 set up down the middle of the floor and have the fourth over in the corner for storage, but that’s valuable surface area that could be covered with plants. So I moved that to the back corner and offset the middle table to give us walking space. The big question is whether or not to move that table up to the front (southwest) corner, where the majority of the daily sun is, and find a new place to move the old potting bench so that it all fits. It’s raining today so I may go back out and move some stuff around to see if I can make something work.

We hit the Home Depot and picked up 8 bags of potting soil to start the bins, and I figure we’ll need another 8 at least to fill them all completely and the extra pots I’ve got set up for stragglers. I’ve got to pick up a cheap fabric mop and an extendable pole so that I can wash the sap off the plastic outside, and find a way to build a rack for all of the poles sitting in the far back corner.

Date posted: March 28, 2021 | Filed under greenhouse | Leave a Comment »

A brief update: I’ve got new bolts in hand for both the bumper and foglight brackets from Fastenal: 1/2″-13 x 5-1/2″ Grade 8 hex bolts for the bumper and 3/8″-16 x 3/4″ 18-8 stainless carriage bolts for the brackets. I also got a 1′ length of 2″x2″ .250 wall box steel delivered to be cut down into a pair of C-shaped brackets. Unfortunately, the metal cutting blade I bought could not make it through the steel, and truth be told, it’s way too thick anyway. So, I’m going to order some .125 wall and use that instead. I’ve found a local welder who can put them on for me, which should only take a half an hour. I’m also going to have him weld the lock hasp on the bottom of the ammo can and put that job to bed as well, because it’s springtime and the top is coming off soon.

Another thing I stumbled upon was a “fuel sender test kit” from one of the parts vendors, which is basically just two lengths of wire and some instructions, something I should be able to build and use myself in a half an hour. The key are the directions, which look like they could be even more helpful—the only issue is getting a wire to the top of the tank itself, but as I’d like to rework the hoses anyway, I might spend a day dropping the tank and working on it.

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: March 28, 2021 | Filed under Scout | Comments Off on Delayed Gratification

Because I have nothing new to share this week, I leave you with this curly-haired girl helping me bake a cake ten years ago today:

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Date posted: March 24, 2021 | Filed under finn, photo | Leave a Comment »

I had a little bit of time over the weekend to do some Scout stuff with the weather beginning to warm up, so I got right to it. The first thing on the docket was to bust out the sandblaster and remove the paint from a couple of parts I’d picked off the Flintstone scout: the license plate mount, the firewall bracket for the steering wheel, and the latch mechanism for the tailgate. Without remembering that I had better luck with glass bead, I used up a bunch of baking soda and got most of the old grungy paint off of the parts.

There’s a fair bit of pitting on the mount, so I wire-wheeled everything and shot it with a coat of rust encapsulator to keep it sealed tight. The entire socket needs to be replaced, so I’ll source an LED unit (or reuse one from the old swingarm setup) at some point in the future. The spring in the tailgate latch had slipped its cog so I reset that, cleaned the grime out with a wire brush, and shot it full of lithium grease.

A few things I’ve learned from using a $20 homemade sandblasting setup:

  • It pays to have a pile of parts to do all at once. Setting it all up for one part is a colossal waste of time.
  • A $200 blast cabinet, while pricy and bulky, looks more and more like a good investment. Healthier, too.
  • Sandblasting with the right media in the right conditions is immensely satisfying.

Sunday’s project was fixing the driver’s side exhaust donut, which has been leaking for several years. I had the truck out yesterday for some errands, and what had been a low bub-bub-bub-bub last fall had progressed to the BUB-BUB-BUB-BUB of a straight-piped Harley over the winter.

This involved shooting the flange bolts with PBBlaster and letting them soak, which predictably had no result. No matter how I tried the outside bolt would not budge, which of course meant the inner bolt was never going to move. I used a small reciprocating saw to cut the outside bolt in half and then realized that the inside bolt was still snug—so I decided to leave that one alone. One copper bolt and two nuts later, the flange is snug around the manifold again. The difference is amazing: driving through Ellicott City to go pick up beer this afternoon, she purrs again; heading up the hill toward home no longer sounds like we’re beating a war drum on the march to Valhalla.

Saturday afternoon a new set of Hella fog lights appeared on the doorstep, which will require some slight modification to mount to the new bumper. I went with LED units because the wattage is lower and the draw on 45-year-old wiring and the alternator will be gentler. This kit came with black covers which I will have to swap out with OG white ones sometime in the future.

The current plan is to order a length of 2″x2″x1/4″ wall square tubing, chop that into 2″ sections, and then chop one of the walls off to make a strong, geometric C. Flipped on the side and welded to the top of the bumper, they will be mounts for the lights so that I don’t have to drill into the bumper itself. This is going to require the services of a local welder, as Brian came to pick his MIG a couple of weeks ago. (Or, I drive out to his house and we bumble our way through some booger welds ourselves). Either way I’m dying to get it moving along so that I can mount it. I’m still on the fence about whether I should powder-coat or just shoot it with rattlecan black here in the driveway. The paint on the rear bumper has held up really well in the nine years since I painted it; I do like inexpensive solutions…

And in the RockAuto cart this afternoon:

  • A new temperature sensor—suddenly the gauge is reading zero, and I’d like to have a firm idea of how hot things get this summer. I put a laser thermometer on the water neck and it read 165˚, which means the thermostat is doing exactly what it should be.
  • An air cleaner intake hose to replace the chewed up dryer hose POS I’ve had in this engine since I got it.

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: March 21, 2021 | Filed under Repairs, Scout | Comments Off on Blasting, Fixing, and Planning