My Uncle Ed passed away last weekend, after a brief stay in the hospital. He was 79, and lived in his own house and drove his own car up until he went in for treatment. He was a quiet, private man who lived with my Grandmother until she died, and then in the home my Grandfather built for her back in 1964. I hadn’t had a whole lot of contact with him in the last 20 years, but almost every Christmas I’d get a handwritten card from him, talking about his health and, up until recently, his cats.
Normally I’d post a picture of him here from my archives but it appears I don’t have a scan of the one I’m thinking of: a shot my Dad took from the mid ’70’s, where he’s standing in the backyard of my Grandma’s house in either the spring or autumn, wearing a jacket and smiling at someone off-camera.
…to my pop, who is 80 years old today.
Thursday I stopped into our local Hopkins satellite location for a baseline CT scan, now that the baby is gone. This is going to be part of the new routine, a CT scan every 3 months to see if something else appears in my body, because it won’t show up in bloodwork. Overall I’m feeling much stronger this week. My arms still hurt but it’s receding slowly. I’m down to one Tylenol every eight hours, which is a relief. I haven’t used oxy in five days which is making my bottom system happy again. I don’t know how oxy junkies deal with never pooping; I’d be in the hospital with an impacted bowel the size of a subway car.
This week I tackled the issue of radiant floor heat for the new bathroom, which has been a giant question mark for months. The system I’ve been recommended is modular, incorporating a mat with molded depressions that goes down first. Then we snake a wire through those depressions in a specific pattern before laying thinset and putting tile down. The question has been how much mat, and most importantly how much wire do we need, because the wire has to be cut at the factory to fit the application–I can’t cut it once I’ve got it. I found distributors for the system, visited one on Tuesday, and was so underwhelmed by the “service” I got that I walked out of the store. The woman I talked to refused to help me figure out how much material I needed, because if she got it wrong, it would “come back on her, and there are no refunds.” Well, Fuck you very much. I found that the tile distributor we’ll be ordering our shower tile from also deals in this system, and returned there on Friday. The guy I talked to there took the time to sort through my diagram of the room, calculated the size, and set me up with the mat I need to get started. Once that’s installed, I’ll use a string to test-fit and see how much wire I need before ordering the rest of the system.
Having been stuck in the house for the past month, and while the region was trapped in record-breaking low temperatures, I got tired of always being cold and drafty. I’ve spent the last fifteen years trying anything and everything to make this house warmer, from insulation to new windows, and I don’t feel like any of it has helped. Wednesday afternoon I started paging through Angie’s List for energy auditors and found a local outfit who was offering an audit for $100 (with the other $300 being billed to BG&E). I called and set up an appointment for Friday morning. A nice man named Larry came out and walked through the house, looking over the boiler, piping, and layout, and then he hooked up a blower to the front door that provided negative air pressure. Then we walked each room with a FLIR camera and looked for leaks. Surprisingly, the blown insulation in our walls hasn’t settled too badly–just in a few locations. A big culprit for air leakage is the latex caulk I’ve used in a lot of places, which has shrunken in the cold, and allows for cold air to penetrate each room. Our ancient windows are actually holding air in pretty well, to my surprise. The preliminary findings say it’s going to be a lot of caulking with silicone, some weatherstripping around the doors, and closing up the lip of the aluminum siding/shingle where it meets the foundation outside. Larry will provide a large report with pictures and recommendations in about a week.
Saturday we jumped in the car after Finn’s soccer game and headed to the Renwick Gallery in DC to check out an exhibit of murder dioramas built by a woman in the 1940’s to further the budding science of forensics. The Nutshell Studies take actual murder cases and recreate the scene in 1′ x 1″ scale and meticulous detail. Jen saw an article about them in a magazine 20 years ago and was fascinated by the collection; last week she found an article about the exhibit and realized we needed to go see it immediately before it closed. Finn was fascinated by the displays and carefully read each of the descriptions before gazing at the dioramas, and I found myself slowly getting better at sussing out what the crime was and how it happened as we walked through the crowded exhibition.
On the front steps of the museum, we were greeted by the middle of the DC Women’s March, being down the street from the White House. After a few minutes of spectating, Jen suggested we join the march, so we walked down to the corner and slipped into the crowd. It was slow going, but the mood was upbeat and cheerful. Everyone in the crowd was smiling and laughing, and the weather was perfect for enjoying our constitutional rights. Pussy hats were everywhere, and it seemed like every hand-made sign was funnier than the last. Finley got caught up in the chants and was marching, fist raised, in a matter of minutes. We slowly made our way down the street to stand in front of the White House, where the crowd slowed, and Finley began a chant she’d heard earlier. A woman with a bullhorn walked over and handed her the mic, and she led the crowd for a minute, then stopped abruptly, shocked, I think, at her own agency. I was lucky enough to get the last two chants on video.
The White House was the endpoint for the march, so we gradually wound our way out of the crowd and headed back toward the garage. On our return home, we heated up some tea and made our way through three chapters of the Half-Blood Prince before bedtime. Overall, for a lightly planned day, we couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Yesterday morning, we watched via FaceTime as my sister married her fiancee. They did a small ceremony with my Uncle Brian as officiant, which was full of laughter and love. There isn’t much more I can say about it other than congratulations!
Jen convinced me to visit the ER yesterday afternoon to have my arms looked at. The earliest my GP could see me was Monday at 5:20 and that just seemed too long to wait. We went to our local Hopkins affiliate hospital and were greeted with a small temporary waiting room jam-packed with people. They got me in for triage pretty quickly and signed me up for a sonogram, and then we waited for about four hours to have that done. That experience reminded me a lot of watching Jen get sonograms with Finley, except for the fact that it was me on the table and the nurse had the wand jammed up my armpit. She took a lot of pictures of my left arm (even though I’d told the nurse it was both arms they only wrote up the order for my left) and then they sent me back to the waiting room. We’d gotten there at 1:30 and it was almost 9:30 before we made it to the ER itself; at 10 a doctor appeared. Apparently there’s a bloodclot up in my neck that’s putting back pressure on the veins in my arms.
I’ve been using a blood thinner they gave me on discharge, but because it’s a subcutaneous shot I’ve had little luck administering it to myself. I go in at an angle with the needle and it fills a pocket of my skin up with medicine and then starts to hurt. I pull the needle out and all the medicine shoots out of my skin like a faucet. Rinse, repeat. It’s a pretty good bet none of the blood thinner was getting to me, but I was complaining about this in the hospital before they discharged me. They switched me over to an oral medication to get away from the needles and sent us on our way at 11PM.
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.
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.
What did we do on Thanksgiving Day? We did absolutely nothing. And it was glorious. We spent the entire day in our PJs and started out by making mountains of pancakes, then devouring them in front of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. The less said about the parade the better, but it’s free and it lasts until noon. Then we switched over to the Westminster Dog Show and ate some snacks. At 2 we ordered Pho, so by 3 we were enjoying that in front of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire–the book of which we finished the night previously.
In the middle of the movie Karean stopped by with “some Thanksgiving food,” which turned out to be enough Thanksgiving food to feed us until next week. Huge trays of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, beans, gravy, and cranberry relish, with rolls and pie to finish things off. She stayed and visited with us for a while until her ears started burning and then headed back to her family’s meal. We immediately dug into some pie and ice cream and finished the movie, which was good but not as epic as Azkaban. Then we had a late dinner of turkey and stuffing while we watched the first part of Azkaban again.
I’ve been getting cards from friends and family ever since this process started, and I’ve kept them together in a stack so that I can write back and thank everyone for their love and support.
I shot the photo above with the f/1.4 Nikon lens I bought a couple of years ago, and as much as I want to love it I’m going to just retire it. Pretty much everything I’ve shot with it looks fuzzy, foggy and out of focus. I’ve got an f/2 manual lens I got with an old Nikkormat camera that shoots cleaner, clearer, and sharper stuff more reliably, and honestly I think I’m over the razor-thin depth of field thing now in favor of better composed photos. I’m leaving the manual lens on Jen’s D90 from now on, as I’ve traded her my D7000 in the hopes she’ll like it more.
We hiked up to the park on Saturday to take some family photos before I start radiation and chemo treatment. I brought the Fuji and the Yashica, loaded with a half a roll of black and white film. We walked down to a wooded, open area beside the river and did some tripod shooting with the timer, which was difficult due to the sun going in and out of the clouds; none of the shots metered the same. Then, based on some advice from a nearby hiker, we walked up a nearby trail to a beautiful waterfall and shot some more.
I’ve been having problems getting consistent color with the Fuji and I don’t know if it’s how I’m working with the camera or how I’m importing and processing in Lightroom. I want to love this camera more but it feels like the results I’m getting are regressing the more I shoot with it. I’m also concerned that my skill level is regressing.
The Yashica is a crapshoot and I have no idea if anything I’ve shot will come out, but that’s been the fun part. I’ve got two rolls of 120 dating back to our vacation that I’m keen to have developed, two rolls I shot with the Minolta, and another roll I found in the Rolleicord I’d forgotten about. Most of the stuff I shot with the Yashica was guesstimated by using the meters from other cameras, but I’ve been working on getting a Gossen Super Pilot light meter to work for the past couple of weeks. After some confusion with the replacement battery I purchased, I got it working relatively well. I’ve still got to do some testing with a modern camera to see if the readings are correct.
All of the film is getting sent off to thedarkroom.com, who developed a handful of mystery film for us back in April. My fingers are crossed for a couple of good shots from each roll; I’d love to get some blown-up silver gelatin prints of us from each, if possible.
I’m writing from an uncomfortable IKEA couch in the living room of our rental, which is only steps from the beach and is thus the most awesome IKEA couch in Delaware. It’s day 13 of our two-week vacation and I’m trying not to accept the reality of our impending drive home on Saturday; we’ve got one half-day on the sand left and then we are slaves to a typewritten sheet of directions on the fridge: make the beds, vacuum the floors, lock the windows, set the AC to 77˚.
Our stay has been lazy and carefree and unstructured as possible, which is exactly the way we planned it. Slow mornings to rise, gather some breakfast together, form coherent thoughts, and begin organizing for the beach. Make some sandwiches, pack a cooler with water and alcohol, grab some cheesy-poofs and find a dry suit to wear. Grab a towel, drop clean clothes off at the outdoor shower, and assemble downstairs at the beach buggy.
We have experienced the luxury of a beachside house twice. It is the difference between carrying everything for a five hour stay out to the sand or just grabbing a chair and a cold beer. This house is perched between the road and the edge of the barrier channel between Delaware and the bay; the public access path is steps from the driveway across the road. It’s only just on the other side of the road, but it means we must pack like the Joads heading to California every day. The buggy carries our chairs, the tent, the umbrella, all the toys, the cooler(s), a couple of floats, and the kite. Wide wheels make it easy to pull over the sand, and it collapses into a packable unit. After a couple of days we got the assembly of our beach camp down to a science, and learned what had to come with us and what we could leave behind. I also learned that the Coleman half-tent I got on sale at Amazon was worth less than what I paid for it.
The first week we shared with Karean and Zachary, and it was good for the five of us even though there was a giant empty space where Rob should have been. Karean brought a picture of the four of us, which we’ve kept on the shelf since we got here, and I find myself looking at it multiple times a day. For the first few days Zachary obsessed over Minecraft until the iPad mysteriously disappeared but once he’d forgotten about it he and Finn settled in to an easy working relationship. Our days were relaxed and the weather was excellent; the first few days the water was balmy and mild. We took a break from the sun on Wednesday to hit Rehobeth for some games and fun, and had some dinner in town to break things up.
On their final day, Karean and I walked out to the beach to scatter some of Rob’s ashes in the water. I stayed several steps behind and tried not to intrude, terrified I would say something/the wrong thing. I watched her from the tide line until she beckoned me down into the water. She gave me a handful, which I gripped in one hand as I said a prayer to the ocean, and I let the wind take it from me.
Rob and Karis joined us for our second week, and we’ve integrated them into our loose routine. We got chased from the beach on Monday by high winds and Tuesday was nothing but driving rain. Wednesday cleared up, but the wind was still strong and the surf powerful. Thursday the water was placid, and Rob got Barrett slowly over his fear of the water by early afternoon.
Finn was lucky to find a friend a few houses up the beach, named Jenna, and they quickly went off together to collect horseshoe crabs, spin cartwheels, and jump in the surf. I walked over and chatted up her parents, who seem like lovely people, and Jen and I breathed a sigh of relief to know she’d have a playmate her age for our second week. On Wednesday they were nice enough to invite Finn back to their house, so we paid it back by taking her into Milton for some ice cream.
Harvey kicked the shit out of Houston but seems to have affected us only slightly; apart from Wednesday’s storm and the rough surf on the days before and after, we’ve enjoyed warm, calm weather with only a few overcast days. Overall, it’s been an ideal two weeks, and we’re already making plans for next year.
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Since hosting my parents earlier this year, I’ve been working on a recipe for Manhattans so that I could prove to my father they don’t need to taste like turpentine. I followed some recommendations from Esquire and wound up with a midlevel rye whiskey and vermouth, which made a middling Manhattan. When Matt came into town, he gave me some advice on better quality ingredients. When we hit the liquor store upon arriving in Milton I picked up some Bulleit rye whisky and a bottle of the only sweet vermouth I could find. This made a shitty Manhattan. Later I was able to get a bottle of Dolan vermouth and this made all the difference in the world. I’m now at the end of the Bulleit but will be looking for some Blantons when I get home.