The dumpster in our driveway is gone. We filled it with all of the concrete from the front walkway, all of the remaining hedges, bags of yard debris from the woodpile and behind the garage, the doctor’s desk from the attic, the old porch railings, and all sorts of other crap I can’t remember. We filled it to the edge. I hunted high and low to find more stuff to get rid of, and I’m sure I’ll trip over something in a week’s time that I should have chucked in there. The process of cleansing is a liberating feeling. Now I turn my attention to the piles of stuff I have on my desk, around my office, and on the shelves. It’s time for a cleansing of gear as well.
Now, to the next project: Our landscaper recommended we take the silver maple in the backyard down, as the trunk is being eaten by bugs, before we get started in the front yard. And then he pointed to the maple on the west side property line, which is actually in worse shape than the silver maple. The logic here is that if we spend a summer and a bag of cash fixing the front yard, we won’t be able to get a crane truck out back to deal with the trees after that’s done. The good news is that they can do them both at the same time, our neighbor is willing to let us use his driveway for access, and he’s willing to split the cost. They’re going to take the roots down as far as they will go, and I’ll have them leave the wood for me to split and stack. And all of that sun will help the oak tree next to it spread and grow taller.
So, the trees will come down and our parade party will be curtailed to the bare minimum (and the front yard) this year. Which isn’t so bad, really.
I switched back to the old headline font on the site here, because the other one just didn’t look good. This one (Museo Slab) isn’t my first choice but it’s not as heavy and blocky as Chunk, its replacement.
Jen and I are at the end of our semester, and making plans for the fall term. The final crit went well, and the work everyone showed was strong compared to where we started. We had a good discussion at the end on how to make the syllabus better for the next class, and I got a lot of good general feedback that will help in the future.
The syllabus we developed was very strong, but we’ve found places where we can make it better and add detail. Through the course of the term, we found our students need more background on conceptual thinking and a refresher on how to write. Conceptual thinking is a hard thing to describe and an even harder thing to teach. Knowing what not to say is more important than giving specific directions in order to point a student in the right direction. It came as a surprise to everyone in the classroom that the outline we had them develop was the single most important part of their assignment, and the process of synthesizing and organizing information was met with resistance at first. Jen and I developed a workshop where we split the class into groups and had them develop outlines together, which helped them deconstruct the problem and arrive at solutions together.
I was scheduled to teach the same class again, at the same time, until last week, when they offered to switch it with a senior level branding and identity class. Jen and I talked it over, and I accepted. It’s offered once a week on Wednesdays for four hours, which could be a nice change in schedule from the previous three semesters. The syllabus is very old, apparently, so I’ll be spending time updating it over the summer to include modern requirements and concepts.
Meanwhile, I’ve been focused on launching the first online report for WRI, which has spent a long time gestating and a short time birthing. I’ve been working on the template since last fall and revising the online workflow to complement our print workflow, but actually building something always highlights the flaws. It goes live tomorrow, and I’m pretty confident in the state it’s in.
On Friday, a nice man with a big truck dropped a 20 yard dumpster in our driveway. Ordinarily, this would be cause for celebration, but there was something better to look forward to that evening: an O’s game! Our friend Mr. Scout got us tickets and we met up with them in Section 66, on the third base line, about six rows off the field. The evening was damp and misty, so we hunkered down under plastic and blankets, but the game was good and the company was excellent. Finley had a great time watching the game and eating blue cotton candy, and I think she wants to go back. Plus, she got to meet the Bird!
Saturday morning, the family got to work filling the dumpster with all of the concrete, brush, yard waste, and random debris we’ve had laying around the house since last spring. With three people working we got it all moved in three hours–much quicker than the last pile. We now have our driveway back and it doesn’t look like a Superfund site anymore.
After that got done, we went downtown for some lunch, and then to Second Chance to find some brick and shutters.
Since the hedges all have come down, the front of the house looks more naked than ever and needs softening in the worst way. I started last weekend with some cardboard cutouts to see what would work best in terms of scale, held them in place while Jen looked from below, and we found a size we both agreed upon. My plan was to build something simple from scratch and fasten it to the siding permanently. Seeing me up on the roof, my neighbor brought one of the old shutters from his garage and offered them to us. We took five and used them for sizing, but it turned out they were 5″ too short and in pretty rough shape.
At Second Chance, we got super lucky and found two pair of matching white shutters at the proper size and width. They’re as close to the original louvered windows this house came with as possible, with dogging arms and hinges intact, and sturdy. After some work picking out a matching pair and scavenging a full set of hardware, we walked to the front and paid for our find–and got a discount of $35/each for being there at closing time.
The plan is to borrow our neighbor’s powerwasher and knock the flaking paint off, hit them with a belt sander, repair any cracks, and paint them black. Then I’ve got to either salvage the existing male hinge hangers from the rear of our house and pray they fit these shutters, or buy a new set of eight hinges to hang them correctly.
We were also lucky enough to find good brick to replace the exploded and cracked examples littering the end of the walk from a batch in exactly the right size and shape. When we got home Jen and I walked out front and replaced 20 of the worst ones, and the walk looks like new again.
Sunday was rainy, pretty much all day, so I spent a lot of the day getting stuff ready to toss when the weather lets up. I made all the paint in the basement inert with cat litter, put the shutter hardware into diesel fuel to clean, and organized the basement in preparation for more cleansing. I also posted the Doctor’s old wooden desk on Freecycle, but got no response–so it’s getting tossed.
We drove out to the Eastern Shore on Saturday to visit the Morrisses, and had brunch at a wonderful, quiet little spot outside of Easton. The weather was mostly lousy but the company was excellent as always, and the bloody marys were delicious.
- Pulled the rear tires off the Accord to diagnose brake squeal.
- Had the rotors and pads replaced by the pros for time’s sake.
- Fixed the hose bib on the west wall.
- Cleaned rooting cedar trees from the north side second story gutter (and then the first story too).
- Sealed the foundation around the first floor toilet cleanout.
- Cleaned black sealant goop off the spare Scout windshield.
- Put oil in the Scout, which was a quart low.
- Replaced three exploded bricks in the front walkway.
It’s the middle of April in the ‘Ville, which means telephone poles start growing yard sale signs and people get ready to deal. Finley and I woke early this morning, snuck out of the house like thieves, and hit Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. Then we made it to four mostly disappointing yard sales in under an hour. She sweet-talked a lady out of a flowered ring, and I found two beginning guitar books for $1, but other than that it was pretty barren.
Because the last sale had taken us most of the way down the hill, I parked the Scout in Ellicott City and we sat next to the river to eat our donuts. While we watched the water pass by, Finley noticed several pairs of ducks nearby and then a family of goslings further upstream, so we crossed the bridge and walked to the end of the parking lot to find a mother goose preening on the rocks while twelve goslings darted across the water in front of her. Finn and I stood and watched for about ten minutes, entranced.
After bringing some food home for Mama, we moved up to the attic to straighten out the mess and get everything in the atrium up there. Now that it’s (mostly) clean I can start to wrap my head around what has to happen next in there: buttoning up the electrical work. Then, we packed a hiking bag, loaded the Scout up with recyclable metal, and drove to Elkridge.
I gutted two aluminum G5 towers about two years ago and I’ve been slowly collecting different types of recyclable metals for longer than that. All of this junk was beginning to get in the way, so I thought we’d take care of that stuff and get a hike in on the way home. The metals only brought $5 (looks like aluminum and copper is WAY down from the last time I was there) but it’s great to have that stuff out of the basement and garage. That room, plus what we got back from having the tandem gone, makes the garage look positively cavernous.
A hike was just what Finn and I both needed. The air was cool when we walked into the woods but by the time we’d reached the bottom of the trail it was perfect. The trail we followed is one I used to ride with my friend Rob 20+ years ago, one that starts at the top of Catonsville and follows a stream down a valley to meet up with a larger river in the heart of the park. I remember it as a blurry downhill with several water crossings and a few heart-stopping obstacles, but with Finn it was a quiet exploration of felled trees, burbling streambanks, and sun-dappled pathways. We stopped to look at small fish darting in the shallows of the water and greet the dogs that crossed our path, of which there were many. Finn took pleasure in finding the optimal way to cross over each water obstacle, preferring felled trees to rocks. With no heat or bugs, it was absolutely the perfect time to explore, and we both had a great time together.
We got to the bottom and broke out the snacks, and word came that our neighbors were going to the park across the street to play after some ice cream, and would Finn like to come? So we hustled our way back up the hill, picked up some lunch for Mama, then walked over to the park for some playtime. Finn’s friend stopped over for another hour’s worth of play in the yard, and by the time she left it was dinnertime.
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.