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.

Date posted: December 13, 2017 | Filed under bathroom, family | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: December 3, 2017 | Filed under bathroom, family, house | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: November 24, 2017 | Filed under family, friends | Leave a Comment »

Taken with a manual Nikon 1.4 lens

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.

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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.

Date posted: November 5, 2017 | Filed under family, friends, photography | Leave a Comment »

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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.

Date posted: October 8, 2017 | Filed under family, photo, photography | Leave a Comment »

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˚.

Obligatory feet picture

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.

Jen, Rob, Karean and Me

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.

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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.

Pensive Float Boy

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.

Date posted: September 1, 2017 | Filed under family, friends, travel | 1 Comment »

I realize I’ve been sort of light on details around here lately. The weeks leading up to the 4th of July were a hot, sticky blur of activity as the family and I got the house put together for our guests. I spent several weeks on ladders scraping and painting the windows from the back corner of the house around to the front, and made it as far as priming the front windows before I ran out of time. Jen went nuts with mulch and cleaned up the entire yard. Our front garden looks healthy and lush this year, for the first time since we’ve lived here. All of the wood is cleared out of the backyard minus three big rounds, which are tucked up against the woodpiles waiting for a chainsaw. Unfortunately, the week before the parade, the original cradle, which was built over 10 years ago, decided to fall apart and topple over at about 1AM. I moved the wood off to the side, quickly made repairs to both cradles, and the girls and I restacked everything.

The day before the parade, our kegerator decided to crap out. It had been making a bubbling sound for a few months so I knew the time was near, but all of our beer was getting warm. I pulled all of the loose bottles and cans out and iced them in a cooler and left it for after the parade. The replacement I bought is 1″ narrower but both kegs fit just fine. I built a new collar around the top out of trex and got the lid mounted, and all of the beer is back to just-north-of-slushy 39˚.

This weekend we decided to spend some time on the cars. I made a quick dump run (old cooler: bye-bye) and then we busted out the cleaning supplies and aimed them at the CR-V. All the mats came out and everything got vacuumed. Then we got the soap out and washed the outside, sills, rockers, and roof. I pulled the spare tire off and scrubbed the leaves out from underneath. I even used some engine brite to degrease the motor. The clearcoat may be peeling off the hood, but the rest of it looks like a new vehicle. Finally, Jen asked if I would show the girls how to change a flat tire, so we held a clinic in the driveway.

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Then it was off to Oregon Ridge for our friend Jen’s client appreciation party, something we’ve done almost every year since she started them. She’s an old friend from the Cidera days and she has ice cream and bubbles and facepainting and Finley has always loved it. This year she had food and Kona Ice and we got to catch up with friends under a big pavilion in the shade.

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The whole weekend has been awesome weather, actually; Sunday the humidity was low so I took advantage and did a bike ride with my neighbors through Patapsco, stopped for a bloody mary at the bottom of the hill, and then rode home. My legs felt like jello but it was worth the workout. Then after Finn’s piano lesson we took the bikes across the street to get her rolling on two wheels. She was nervous at first but pushed off and within seconds was doing easy laps around the parking lot. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

Date posted: July 10, 2017 | Filed under family, finn, friends, house, photo | Leave a Comment »

Date posted: July 4, 2017 | Filed under family, photo | Leave a Comment »

Today I ticked off about ten things on this summer’s giant to-do list, starting with getting my ladder back from the brother-in-law. He’s had it since last fall when they were having some gutter issues, and I didn’t need it until I saw buckets of water coming down from the center section of our atrium gutter and knew I needed to get up there to clean them out.

But first, in the morning I loaded up the Scout with 6 months’ worth of crap for a dump run and got in and out of there in 20 minutes flat. This cleared out the garbage can area by the garage and a pile of brush that’s been sitting next to the driveway since last fall. Then Finley and I took a drive to the Home Depot to get a replacement canopy and some other small items for scraping windows.

Up on the ladder I got the gutters cleaned pretty quickly and then started washing and scraping the windows that are staying (5 out of 7). That got finished pretty quick, and I was about to bust out the primer when a friend stopped by so that I could shoot her headshot for LinkedIn. I’d brought home the Canon portrait rig from work and with a piece of illustration board as a light bounce we got some good shots of her, Jen and Finley in no time.

After that was done I headed over to the neighbors’ to help him finish splitting wood.  I worked for about 2 hours in the sun and we got a couple of big rounds split and stacked, then called it a day.

* * *

Having flown my Phantom 2 a bunch of times in the past couple of weeks, I can say I’m getting the hang of it, but I’m seeing some of the limitations of a 3-year-old product. The video monitor it came with is an odd variant of a DVD monitor with no inputs other than an antenna. I can’t dig up technical information on it and no manual exists online. It’s good but I’d love an HD monitor instead (this is a pitiful 800×480), with a stronger signal. The camera gimbal it came with is specific to the GoPro Hero 3, which is a fine unit, but doesn’t shoot at anything above 30FPS. I’ve read that the key to smooth video is shooting at 60FPS, which the Hero 4 will do. A new gimbal mount is $200. This is all stuff I don’t need to spend money on, but I’d love to tinker with it more.

Finley and I took it out for another spin on Sunday night and soon had attracted a crowd of local kids. Finley, who is always happy to invite total strangers to her birthday party, ran right over and told them about the drone, then started inviting the kids to fly it. Which then meant I had to break the bad news to them. I’m getting the hang of how it flies, and although I’m not Chuck Yeager I’m beginning to make it do what I want.

Meanwhile at work, my boss went to a networking function where a woman gave a presentation on 360˚ immersive video. He was enthralled, and thus I am playing with a Samsung Gear 360 this weekend. It’s a pretty nice little gadget, but because it’s Samsung and they want to try and play Apple’s game of keeping users within their ecosystem, their iOS app is isn’t as robust as the Samsung version, but I’m working out some of the bugs and learning about (if there’s a) production workflow.

* * *

I love Death Cab for Cutie, and I loved Soundgarden. Here’s a cover of Fell On Black Days by DCFC where Ben Gibbard just barely pulls off the high end of Chris Cornell’s insane high range, and their version is arranged perfectly for acoustic instruments and piano.

Date posted: June 12, 2017 | Filed under family, geek, house, photography | Leave a Comment »

When I tell people that I’m starting to exercise, I don’t tell them that I’m running. Because I’m not running. I went out and bought the expensive shoes, and even some expensive sport socks that are supposed to wick the sweat away from my feet. And even some sporty shorts that will replace the irregular basketball shorts I bought at a long-defunct Champion outlet in Binghampton 20 years ago. I tell people that I’m working up to running, because I can only get 1-2 minute spurts in before I’ve got to slow down and let the puking feeling subside. I’m following a very loose and forgiving plan where I run as long as it feels good and then stop to continue walking, as long as I keep walking and stick with a schedule. So far I’ve been out four days out of seven and I’m still alive even if all my joints are sore and it hurts to climb stairs; this activity on top of my regular weekly chores around the house adds up to continual soreness. However, I think I’m feeling an uptick in my overall energy level, and I think my brain feels a little less fuzzy. I’ll check back in at the end of Week 2.

Saturday morning, after walking, I jumped in the car and checked out the local yard sales while the girls slept. In the line at Dunkin Donuts I ran into a neighbor who asked what I was out looking for, and I told him I had my eye out for a cheap set of speakers, among other things. He looked surprised and told me he had a pair in his garage he’d give me. We made plans to meet up later, and went our separate ways.

Out on the street, I found a handtruck with two flat tires and got it for $10 (I’ve been looking for one for years but unwilling to pay $80 for it), a gravel rake for $2, and a half-size practice guitar for Finn for $9. The hope is that maybe I’ll dust off my guitar and she and I can sit and practice together, and get each other motivated.

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When I got back, the girls and I cleaned the weeds from between the bricks on the front walk and then swept two bags of sand into the joints, capping off that job. Then I went to get my hair cut and drove back to the house with six bales of straw in the Scout for use as a raised garden base. We gave up on the fenced-in mudpit garden a while ago, but Finley has been asking for a vegetable garden of her own for a couple of years. This approach keeps the weeds up out of the plants and is easier to work with; I sure hope so. We pulled the fence down, weeded the pit, and set the hay up as directed. Then I stopped over to pick up the speakers: a set of bookshelf KLHs, perfect for use in the garage with the dumpster Denon on the shelf out there. I enlisted Finley’s help to get the wheels on the handtruck pumped up, and they held air well until this morning when I found them both flat again. Upon further research, I need some tire bead sealant to paint the rims with first, and that should solve the problem.

Then we hit the shower and got dressed up to see a local concert: the Columbia Orchestra had a symphonic pops program with music from Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Dr. Zhivago, and Rocky, among others, but we were really there to see the two selections from The Force Awakens. That was after the intermission, so we sat through the other performances, including two high-school students who did complex solo pieces with orchestral accompaniment–and were amazing. I will admit, the sound of the strings tuning at the beginning, and the lush sweep of a full orchestra had me thinking back to my days on stage, and I felt a strong desire to go find an upright bass on Craigslist and audition. But I’ve got enough stuff to do right now, thank you.

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Sunday I got the lawn mowed and raked wood chips out of the grass for the third time; there are now seven bags of assorted lawn debris in the backyard waiting to be hauled away. The patches of mud back there are looking better now, but I’m waiting for some grass to grow back in. I’ll have to seed it all and throw some more straw down next week to get things kickstarted.

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Then we joined some friends for a hike in the woods after lunchtime. The weather was cool, so we weren’t sweating our butts off, but we got out for a good three hours with some water time and a close encounter with a freight train before heading home.

Date posted: May 23, 2017 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »