I’m running nonstop at work this week before I wrap up for the year, and I haven’t written much. So here’s a picture of the attic stairwell (looking up at the foam I installed on the underside of the trap door) after I asked Mario to finish off the entryway. It looked like hot buttered shit before and it’s clean and tidy now.
I went back into work on Thursday and Friday to a lovely welcome from the staff; there were gifts and signs and a card on my desk when I got in, which was a surprise that made me a little misty. I got lots of hugs from everyone and a ton of support that really made me feel humble and appreciated. The Grinch in my heart melted quite a bit, I admit.
Renie came into town this weekend to visit, wrapping a tiny business trip into a great 3-day weekend with family. The weather decided to drop about 2 inches of snow on us the morning she hit the road, but the plows were out and she made it down with no drama. We spent Saturday evening and most of Sunday catching up in between a trip out to Second Chance and Housewerks, punctuated with Manhattans and a fantastic sushi dinner (after being froze out of football by a balky FIOS box). She shared the details of her engagement(!) and life in Upstate NY, and we caught up among the rows of cabinets and mismatched toilets. On Monday morning it was with a heavy heart that we waved goodbye to the Subaru on snow tires. I’ve been doing a lousy job of keeping in touch with everyone this year, but as I said after Rob passed, my #1 resolution is to keep better and regular communication with all of my loved ones.
As mentioned earlier, there’s been a ton of progress on the bathroom. Everything is taped, mudded, sanded and primed. I asked Mario to continue the drywall up the stairs to the edge of the attic door, and he drywalled that part last night. He framed in one window on the weekend and it looks OK but it’s not up to my standard–the vertical wood has a gap at the top where it meets the cap board, and the way he made the bullnose isn’t the way I do it. So that will need to be redone in the spring. We’re nearing the end of this phase, which means we’ve got to identify the radiant floor heat system and floor tile we want. The former I know but the latter is a mystery.
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is a good read but I’ve forgotten what whiny teens they all are in this book. I think it might be my least favorite of all of the books in the series. Still, it’s the highlight of the day to pass the book to each other over sleeping cats while the wind howls outside.
Two quick pictures of progress in the bathroom. We’re nearing the end of Phase 1, minus some trimwork and drywall around the opening to the attic.
I finished insulating the walls and buttoned up all of the sheathing this morning, using sprayfoam liberally for all of the cracks too small to fill with insulation. Mario came back in the evening with his brother and a bunch of drywall and knocked out about half of the room. Behold:
When Jen and I got married, one of the things she brought with her was her vacuum cleaner. It was a big black modular unit that served us well up until the summer of 2015 or so when it finally gave up the ghost after about 20 years. We then sprung for a Dyson Ball, which was a lot of money at the time, but we got it home and it’s been working for us really well until Sunday, when it started making a funny noise and smelled like burning. I’m pretty handy with household repairs so I sat down with it and disassembled all of the parts I could get to; this isn’t hard with a Dyson because it’s engineered extremely well. The Dyson has several color-coded elements that help the user disassemble the key sections where clogs will most likely occur. I went through all of these areas and found a piece of cardboard that had clogged the main pipe but that didn’t fix the burning smell, so we called the local Dyson service center, which is only about 10 miles away. Jen brought it in and the guy told us the motor was probably shot, but he’d replace it as it was still under warranty. That was Monday. She picked it up today and we were vacuuming pine needles this evening. I think that’s a stellar bit of customer service, even if I’m annoyed the motor broke after only 2 years.
This weekend I’ve been feeling much closer to normal than I have in weeks. Enough normal that I figured I’d get off my ass and get some work done in the bathroom before the rest of the drywall goes up.
A week ago, my electrician was talking to me up in the bathroom, looked at the adjoining wall to the bedroom and casually mentioned, “You should insulate between there before the drywall goes up.” I looked in there and thought to myself, Why haven’t I done this before? When the house was built, there was no insulation in between the walls. At some point, the doctor had someone install blown insulation, which involved cutting round holes in the outside sheathing between wall studs and filling them with cellulose, then closing things up. When they did this, they did the outside walls. Crucially, this only covered the walls of the outside, unheated spaces (front porch, den, and atrium) and not the original exterior walls between those spaces and the upstairs bedrooms or living room. So back in the day the doctor would just crank the boiler up and let all of that heat in the bedrooms escape through the atrium and front porch.
My electrician’s suggestion was mainly about sound abatement between the bathroom and bedroom, but I’ve been obsessing about making the bathroom as warm as possible since we started planning it (and making the house warmer since we moved in). So I started thinking about how I was going to accomplish this. First I needed some supplies.
The Scout has been waiting patiently in the garage since I first went into chemo treatment. I got some warm clothes on, pulled off the trickle charger, squirted some starting fluid into the carb, and got her fired up after a few tries. After she’d warmed up, I drove out to the Lowes and loaded up on what I needed. It was great to be behind the wheel of a car and even better to be in the Scout; though the plastic on the soft top was cold and didn’t want to roll down all the way I enjoyed the fresh air and smell of exhaust. I ran some small errands while I was out: a fresh can of starting fluid, cold medicine for Finn, and some movies from the library.
Up in the atrium, I started by drilling small holes in the floor up under the drywall and shooting sprayfoam in between each of the mini-joists used to level the floor. (The floor was originally sloped, as it began as a roof. We will be installing radiant floor heat but I don’t want those cavities to be filling with cold air and chilling the room down). Then I began pulling sheathing off the wall where the sink will go and filled the cavities there. It took longer than I thought, but I got that wall finished before shutting down for the day. After a shower, we settled in to dinner and a showing of Shaun the Sheep: The Movie.
Sunday morning Finn was still running a fever so we kept her in and had a nice slow morning on the couch with coffee. Mario stopped over at 10 and got to work on the outside siding, which has been covered by Tyvek for a month or so. He did his magic and by 1 the Tyvek was replaced with lovely new siding, which looks unpainted but worlds better than it did. I had some minor hiccups with a vacuum cleaner that’s sick and beyond my ability to fix, and a bathroom faucet that’s refusing to give up its leaky cartridge.
Then I ran back out for some more supplies in the Scout. When I got back we ran across the street to the Boy Scouts to pick up a tree (they go fast). I continued insulating on the other side of the front bathroom door before running out of insulation. I pulled off the sheathing around the attic stairs in preparation for more insulation and then glued a sheet of 1′ foam to the attic door to keep things warm.
Finn and I got a shower after a hearty dinner of Mama’s beef stew, and then we read two chapters of Order of the Phoenix before bed.
I’m not 100% yet, and my endurance is shit from sitting on the couch for six weeks. I noticed I was a lot more tired than I’m used to after a day of work, which is depressing but something I’m confident I can rebuild after I’m cleared by the doctors next year. What felt really good was the feeling of accomplishing something. I made a plan, I got some shit done. That’s something I’ve been missing for weeks now.
Jen and I spent all day Thursday at Johns Hopkins, bouncing from one appointment to another. First up was labwork at 9AM to see where my counts are. A giant, gentle nurse named Brandon accessed my port, took blood, and left the needle in because, surprise! a CT scan with contrast showed up on the schedule that morning. Next up was a consult with my surgeon, who is a lovely, funny man with a firm handshake. We got the briefing on how surgery would go, what to expect before during and after, and had a bunch of questions answered. Next we met with an ostomy specialist, who showed me a small bag that will most likely be my companion for a couple of months while I heal up from the procedure. While we were talking with that nurse, one of the attending surgeons popped his head back in and said they’d looked again at the 2014 CT scan and estimate that Lil’ Lumpy was about 10cm large at that point.
From there we went to another building to have the new CT scan done. I’m kind of a pro at CT scans these days, and this one was by far the fastest and most efficient one I’ve ever done. They had me in and out in about 20 minutes, and I got to do it in a donut that was decorated with all kinds of coral and tropical fish. Apparently the machine is shared with the pediatric cancer wing, so it’s the most cheerful CT machine in the hospital. I support the idea of decorating giant sterile beige machines with clownfish and eels. It makes the hot peeing-your-pants sensation of IV contrast a little more palatable.
We had 45 minutes for lunch before the next appointment, so we hustled to the fancy cafe and downed some food. Then we walked back over to talk with a doctor for the pre-op meeting, where she reviewed my whole medical history, talked about the medications I’ve been on, and reviewed the functional details of the surgery.
Finally, we talked with my chemo doctor, who reviewed my progress and quizzed me on how I’ve been through the second round. I should plug the entire staff of Johns Hopkins here because to a person they’ve all been helpful, patient, understanding and very generous with their time and knowledge. I picked the right team of people.
By the time we were done it was 4:30 and my brain was mush, so we hopped in the car and headed home. Parked out in front of the house was Mario with his brother, who came in and hung three sheets of drywall, adjusted the closet opening, and generally made some progress. Friends, three sheets of drywall can make a HUGE difference in your daily outlook.
Mario came in today at about 10 and got a ton of work done on the bathroom. When last we left, we were still discussing what to do with the attic stairs, the opening to the closet, the lighting situation, and whether or not to keep the door between the two rooms intact. My neighbor Eric the electrician stopped over to discuss the changes in floorplan we’ve made and how they would affect the wiring he and I installed five years ago. Along the way we discussed some updates to the overall plan and made a strategy for the next couple of weeks.
The biggest change we’ve made is to reorient the closet from a small 3′ wide single to a cavernous 7′ wide double. This affects the doorway we put in between the two sections and how we’ll heat the whole room as well as the lighting and switches. The new closet comes at the price of two windows, but they’re on the back corner of the house and nobody will miss them, especially when we’re enjoying our nice hot shower. We also heeded some advice and will put in an electric wall heater on a programmable thermostat, which will heat a 200 sq. ft. room as needed and then maintain a reasonable temperature for the rest of the day. We’re installing radiant floor heat but what we were told is that this won’t heat the room, just make the tile feel nice.
Mario chopped the stairs off today and started leveling the floor in the back half which makes the whole space feel cavernous. He finished framing around the back windows, studded out all the walls, and hung drywall along the back of the closet. Can I just say, holy shit we have a BIG-PEOPLE CLOSET. After 30 years, countless apartments and two houses, a closet to put our shit in that isn’t the size of a cereal box. With lights inside! We were so excited we went out to Lowe’s and looked at light fixtures and cabinets to start thinking ahead to what we want.
The new windows are lovely. We notice an immediate difference in the amount of sound transmitted between the bedroom and the bathroom–it’s much quieter with the new windows. I’m going to have Will the window guy come back out in the spring and give me numbers for the rest of the old windows on the first floor so that we can start saving our pennies.
Overnight was pretty good. I’ve been taking a strong anti-nausea medication first thing every morning so my appetite, while not at full strength, is still present and accounted for. I’ve been eating smaller meals more often through the day which seems to hold me over. And the mail is still being delivered regularly.
This morning I slept well and woke to my mouth feeling funny for the first time through this whole process. I ate a bowl of cereal with milk and realized my gums were tender. My whole body is weak so I’m walking around like a 90-year-old-man but there aren’t any aches or pains which is a blessing.
Yesterday I spent most of the time on the couch watching insipid TV: stupid car shows and boring college football games–so by 4PM my head was hurting. I’ve found I have absolutely no tolerance for modern TV programs anymore. When did that happen?
At the end of the day yesterday, Mario got all five windows installed and covered over one of the two that will become the closet. All the debris is gone and it looks like a completely different room in there now. I’m going to be sad to see the two corner windows go, but having an eight-foot walkin closet in a house with minimal storage space is going to be a huge improvement. He’s coming back this week to finish studding out all the walls to full thickness, remove the last window, finish leveling the floor, and prepare for drywall. I have to have my neighbor the electrician come back out and finish the wiring as well as add a circuit for a heater this week.
So I’ve got cancer, which sucks. But what doesn’t suck today? WINDOWS. Our new friend Mario stopped by at 9AM this morning and got right to work on the new bathroom windows. By 1 he had the front three out and replaced with new framing, keeping the old outer casings intact and clean. Of all the things that have happened over the last two weeks, this makes me the happiest. I can’t describe how good this makes me feel today, and I needed that.