Jen and I scheduled a party with some of our neighbors for Saturday night. Which, in our family, means we use the occasion as an excuse for a massive spring cleaning. We’d started doing some preliminary work this past week, but as anyone who does a major overhaul knows, progress made only lasts for minutes.
I started by going out for breakfast and hitting neighborhood yard sales on my way home, where I scored four satellite speakers, an unopened hiking compass, five Xbox games and a Playmobil pirate ship for Finn. After eating, the girls got started at the house while I went across the street to the church playground, where I’d volunteered several weeks ago to help with spring cleanup. A nice man named Rich and I shoveled and moved three tons of playground sand (which, after the rain, weighed in at more like six) to the sandbox and and helped level wood chips under all the equipment. Thankfully, there were donuts and coffee to keep us moving.
On my way back to the house I stopped to see the neighbor’s new C5 Corvette, which he bought through a family friend for a fraction of its book value. It’s black and sleek and in really good shape for its age. We spent about a half an hour poking around at it, and then I headed home to throw myself into housecleaning. We cleaned corners and under couches and all the places that haven’t seen the light of day since November. Bathrooms got scrubbed, floors mopped, and even the basement got a sweep (if guests are going to the kegerator, it can’t look like the dungeon from Silence of the Lambs down there).
At 5:30 we were scrubbed and ready for guests, just barely. Four kinds of cheese were laid out. Dinner burbled quietly in the crock pot. Music wafted in from the den. The house was pristine for about a half an hour and then kids arrived and EVERY SINGLE TOY HIT THE FLOOR. What followed was a wonderful night with friends; there was great conversation. There was homebrew, vodka, white wine and sake. There was delicious cajun shrimp and sausage gumbo. There was a cake from Sugarbakers. At some point I built a fire. The kids got along great. Everybody called it at about 10:30 or so, and we staggered up to bed tired but happy.
This morning, despite my hangover, I hit the ground running. Well, not exactly. I hit the couch sleeping after Finn came in at 7, and rested there until 9:30 while she took in some PBS Kids. After a BE&C and some strong coffee my head quieted down and Finn and I hit the Home Depot for some lumber and supplies. Back at the house, I disassembled an ancient workbench in the garage to make way for shelving to maximize storage space, which took up a good chunk of the afternoon. Because the whole structure leans to the east, the shelves aren’t square, but they’re all 2″ wide and they hold four times as much stuff. I moved a lot of Scout stuff around and freed up the back of the building for a homemade hoist to store the traveltop, which went in at about 5:30.
Right now I’m typing this quietly in Finn’s room as she tries to fall asleep. Mama is downstairs watching Game of Thrones. I have a half a glass of beer and a slice of cake waiting for me. My back and legs are going to be singing to me tomorrow, but what I got done was definitely worth it.
You can’t see it in the photos, but there’s a fresh coat of white paint on the basement and back doors, as well as a ton of touchups throughout the room. The shade on the back door is new, and there’s a matching shade over the window courtesy of Jen and her sewing machine.
How did I spend my three-day weekend? I organized. Picking up where I left off over the Christmas break, I cleaned up piles laying around the basement earmarked for donation, disposal, or consolidation. The Scout is loaded up with a pile of crap to go to the dump (along with our Christmas tree, which never got taken by the County even though it was on the curb within the week specified). I moved my new tool chest, a gift from my father, into a new open space and consolidated two toolboxes, two tool caddies, an entire workbench, and one shelf of handheld electrical tools into one easy-to-access area. I pulled an ancient section of pegboard out of the attic, painted it white, and backed the second half of the tool bench to get oddly shaped and easily lost items off the bench and into view. I still have a mountain of small hardware bags that need organization as well as a crate of loose hardware in jars from my father, so I’m going to have to buy a plastic divider box or two and sort through all of that to get it out of the way. It’s kind of a shock to go down there and see so much open space again.
I also inherited a couple of old Macs from work: a white G4 iBook and a G3 Pismo Powerbook, both models I formerly used to own. The iBook may become Finn’s computer (it’s between that and the lampshade iMac) and the Pismo will be my backup OS9 machine. Spurred on by my burst of OCD, I made a Google spreadsheet with all of our house Mac information to keep things straight, and for insurance purposes. In digging through hardware, I found my Powerbook 160 is refusing to start, so I did some sleuthing and found that a dead PRAM battery is usually the culprit–especially since the machine was working when I got it. So I pulled it apart and hunted down a replacement.
I brewed a Nut Brown ale on Saturday night, knowing both my kegs are close to exhaustion. It went easily–it’s hard to fuck up an ale, really–and my starting gravity was only off by .002%. So I should have something new to drink in about four weeks. Next up will probably be another batch of Chinook IPA.
Sunday was game day, and it did not disappoint. I was pleasantly shocked at the outcome of the Patriots/Ravens game, frankly, because I figured it would end like most Baltimore playoff games do, but it’ll be good to see them in the Superbowl again. We had C&G come over to grill up some food and watch the game, and the whole thing was really good. As always, I’m going to be sad to see the season over with, no matter what happens in two weeks.
Meanwhile, with the temperatures plunging into the single digits, we are battling our local mouse population, which has been much more active in the last few months. The first night I put out traps with dabs of peanut butter and we got one kill, but they wised up after that. Last night I made improvements to our arsenal by tying small pieces of chorizo to the bait arms on our traps, and within an hour or two we got another one. There was no other movement after that, so I may need to switch to cheese or some other smelly foodstuff, but it’s nice to know my theory worked.
I did a little WordPress wrangling last night and added a class to syndicated Scout posts. Whenever I add a post on the Scout blog, Idiotking picks it up and syndicates it over here, including it inline. It’s been a little confusing because there hasn’t been any indication that the content is from somewhere else, so I wanted to add a visual cue. I’m still working out some of the issues, and eventually I’d like for there to be a larger indication of where the content is coming from, but right now I’m pleased with my wordpress-fu.
To follow up on some earlier posts, the speaker cones I refoamed sound excellent now that they’re dry and reinstalled. On a difficulty scale of 1-5 I’d say this project was about a 3, only because I was sawing with an X-Acto knife next to a fragile paper cone. But, then, I also think nothing of disassembling laptops as a paid professional. It’s a great way to have saved $150 over the long run, even if they’re destined to be backup speakers in the living room.
Our iPod interloper is back in the clink for reasons unknown; I got another subpoena to appear in January for another court date. He must have blown his program somehow, and sadly I think he’s destined for some serious time behind bars.
Finn busted out her new Legos over the break and I spent a couple of long afternoons building and playing with her. The set we got is geared specifically towards girls, so it features a girl minifig, a horse, and a car with plans to build houses and other structures. After we’d built a bunch of the structures, I got the feeling the minifig was lonely so I went into the basement and busted out a couple more from my stash. She seemed happy to see them, and for the rest of the afternoon we put wings on the horse, the car, and anything else that touched a red balloon on the couch (it was bestowing super powers, you see), then flew them from one end of the room to the other.
In the basement, I rearranged all of our shelving units and reorganized a bunch of stuff we had scattered in multiple places. Up in the ice room, I bought some 2×3″ studs and built shelves to hold rubbermaid bins, which effectively doubled the shelf space in there. That freed up a bunch of space in the main room to hold more important stuff and move dry goods closer to the foot of the stairs. I moved the bikes to the back so they’re out of the way, moved my brewing stand further away from the furnace to avoid temperature fluctuations, and consolidated large woodworking tools to the back wall. I also ditched a bunch of dried out paint, tossed unneeded junk, and made a pile of to-be-donated-or-tossed stuff for us to go through. Once that pile is gone, the room will be much bigger.
This morning we got up early to have breakfast with Santa at the Baltimore Zoo. I went into it not really expecting much, but came away pleasantly surprised. We rode the tram up to the original mansion/administrative house and found tables set up for us out on the porch. A beautiful spread was laid out, and we filled up on eggs, bacon, french toast and potatoes while Santa came in and got settled nearby. At the same time, zoo staff brought in a pair of penguins and a chinchilla for the kids to see, as well as a craft table to make ornaments, bird feeders, and gingerbread cookies. Most importantly, Finn had a great time.
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My brother-in-law Glenn and I had standing plans to visit the Annapolis gun show today, long before the events in Connecticut hit the news. We debated our plans Saturday via text, but ultimately decided we’d go. He’s in the market for a shotgun of some kind, and I’m looking specifically at gun safes and trigger locks.
The Annapolis Armory looks just like every other armory I’ve ever been to. It’s smooth 1950′s brick surrounded by scrubby pine and vintage tanks, and the interior is painted industrial shades of blue and gray. Jammed into the gymnasium were gun dealers of all shapes and sizes, as well as surplus sellers, book dealers, and knife and crossbow tables. There were a lot of Vietnam veteran patches, acres of camouflage, and some very interesting hairstyles on display. We walked one side of the gym to the other, and without fault were surrounded by some of the most courteous people I’ve been around in a long time. I suppose the proximity of so much deadly weaponry underlines the need to be civil to your fellow man. The mood was subdued and serious. Quiet men pored over the hardware, speaking quietly to each seller. I overheard one man inquire about sales volume, and the dealer explained that purchasing was up since Friday, especially AR-15s and other semiautomatics. There were all kinds of guns on display, from shiny antique rifles to AR variants dressed up with modular accessories like Transformers.
With all the merchandise on display, there was one category I did not see represented anywhere: not a single gun safe, trigger lock, or other method of securing firearms. My intention was to ask questions and educate myself as much as possible, but there wasn’t anyone to talk to. Perhaps that says everything there is to say about gun control.
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Finn and I stopped in to the Lowe’s this weekend to do some Christmas scouting, and I noticed they’re selling the Nest thermostat. I fooled around with it for as long as Finn would let me, and I came away extremely impressed. After having read through the website, this is something I can definitely see in our future. I’m the guy who installed programmable thermostats in my last two houses and actually took the time to set them up; if a $200 investment could save us even more money in heating costs down the road, I’m all ears.
The lawn furniture is in, the plants are covered, the gutters are clean, the house is stocked with non-perishables and water, the firewood has been gathered, the Scout is battened down, and we have one full tank of gas. Except for a generator, we’re as ready as we’re going to be for Sandy’s arrival.
I inspected the gutter guards on the back of the house and liked what I saw. Hopefully I’ll never have to get up there and clean that thing out, and we can start growing grass under the eaves again.
In the morning we had brunch with Dan and Elena one last time before they leave town. Jen and Finn went to the Baltimore Zoo for a Halloween event with the neighbors while I put some band-aids on our yard before the storm. Our crab salesman from across the street showed up a little after lunchtime with a bag of mediums and two handfuls of claws; not having made dinner plans it worked out very well and tasted great with a couple of glasses of IPA.
As detailed in this exhaustive thread, there’s a pretty black bumper on the back of the Scout today. I have a little more work to do to tie up some loose ends, but it’s installed, the license plate is lit, and the spare tire is ready to be mounted.
Our weekend was good, and busy. I spent a bunch of time away from the girls to build and install a new Mountain Lion server for a friend, which went smoother and easier than I’d hoped. Apart from a balky web script that blew up in PHP 5.2, I had everything up and running in a few hours. Yardwork around the house got caught up on, so it looks less like we abandoned the place and more like we just forgot about things (the back lawn hadn’t been completely mowed in about a month). I ran a bunch of errands with Finn as my copilot and got caught up on a pile of small things around the house; going into the fall things are going to get busy around here so I’m trying to prepare as best I can.
My batch of Surly Cynic is in the keg and it’s delicious. It needs a final day or two of carbonation, but that hasn’t stopped me from drinking it. I should also have an IPA kit in hand by Wednesday. Over the vacation, I set up a strong brewing table in the basement next to the kegerator so that I can ferment and transfer beer without moving it bringing it upstairs, and have a place to keep all the brewing gear. Eventually I’m going to move some lumber out of the basement (and possibly the table saw too) and into the garage, after that gets reorganized for the seventeenth time. What the garage really needs is a set of custom-built shelves, but I don’t know if that’s in the cards until wintertime.
I feel like an army of midgets have been hitting me with baseball bats, but the first stump is gone and all the sidewalk is broken up.
I don’t know how we packed all of that action into two days, but we did. Early Saturday morning I rented an electric jackhammer and went to work on the left-hand stump next to the front door, which has been sitting in a 1-foot deep crater since last weekend. I excavated another foot all the way around the base, then used a combination of jackhammer, sawzall, and axe to hack away at the root structure that I could see. The bush had been planted far enough back that it was hard to swing at the rear of the root ball without hitting the house, but I learned to work lefty quite well by the end of the day. During a break, I broke up the sidewalk on the right side of the house and gathered it all into a pile. By about 3:30 or so the stump was moving slightly when kicked, so I threw a chain on it, put the truck in 4-low and pulled it out with a minimum of fuss.
Our old friends R&K arrived from Easton at 6, and we introduced them and their son to our babysitter. She and the two kids got along like old friends (it’s gratifying to have Finn run up and give our babysitter a hug when she walks in the door). Then, dressed in our going-to-town clothes, we drove to Petit Louis for reservations at 7. Cocktails were poured, laughter ensued, and we all had a fantastic meal in the absence of our children. We were all able to COMPLETE ENTIRE SENTENCES! WITH EACH OTHER! It was incredible. The food was better than we hoped (and remembered) it would be, and the sommelier paired it all with a fantastic bottle of red.
After dinner, we dropped off R., who was fading after having worked overtime that morning, and went out to the Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City for after-dinner drinks. We were surprised to find we were still there—and awake— at 1:30 in the morning.
Sunday morning I had a slight hangover. We adjourned to brunch for tall Bloody Marys and wheelbarrows full of food to soak up all the wine in our systems, then wandered back home to clean up and nap. On the way to the car in the parking lot, my glasses slipped off my head and landed directly in the path of Finn’s shoe, where the right arm came to grief. Sigh. To be fair, they were getting scratchy, and the arms were in desperate need of adjustment, but I wasn’t planning on buying an entirely new pair.
I hit the front yard to begin excavating the second stump and got about halfway down before pausing to run to the mall to have new glasses made. By the time I made it back the sun was low in the sky, so I aimed the jackhammer at the other sidewalk and worked my way down to the driveway. By the time I’d finished I had blisters at the tops of both palms and I could barely lift the hammer up onto the Scout.
Last night I had Finn help me transfer a batch of American Wheat Ale from the primary fermenter into a secondary. She was awesome, and I couldn’t have asked for a better helper. I had her stand on her stool at the sink as I explained each piece of equipment, showed her how I wash and sanitize it, then put it all together and siphoned from the first tank into the second. Then we took a gravity reading and I showed her how to find the numbers (it’s going to be right around 4.1% ABV) before cleaning up all the parts and putting everything away. She was fascinated by the siphon, and I was able to hold her attention span all the way up until the end.
This batch was my first blowout. On the second day of fermentation it was at about 69° and foaming heavily; sometime between midnight and 7AM on the third morning the airlock blew off and I got foam down the sides. I was worried it had gotten infected, because the krauzen never really receded (it mainly dried on the upper portion of the fermenter) but a taste test last night proved my fears wrong. It starts out smooth and flavorful, like a heavier domestic but finishes brittle and sharp to my taste. I’m hoping a few weeks’ conditioning in the fermenter will smooth it out before I keg it.
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About a year ago I set up an eBay search for 6×9″ speaker covers for the Scout, and I’ve gotten notifications in my inbox since then. The backstory is that the speakers I got for Christmas didn’t come with covers, so they’ve been installed without any protection for a year. Having shoved three loads of very sharp and brittle brush into the back of the truck this last week, I decided I couldn’t put off purchasing something any longer, so I pulled the trigger on a pair of Alpine covers for $12 with free shipping (about $12 cheaper than the average listing). Here’s to hoping they’ll fit.
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Jen had the cable guy out the other day to check on our wiring, because after a few follow-up moves the set-top box wasn’t pulling a signal at all. He futzed around with it for a while and said something about the barrel connector in back; whatever the case it’s functional again, and that room is shaping up nicely.
As noted earlier, we took advantage of mostly decent weather on Saturday to trim all of the branches off each of the shrubs flanking our front door. I spent about two hours digging out as much of the root structure as possible, but due to hard-packed clay 3″ below surface, I couldn’t get the first one to budge. I took some breaks to haul two loads of brush off to the dump and got a third load into the back of the Scout before calling it a day, but we still have ugly stumps to deal with. The plan is to rent a jackhammer next weekend and try to dig them out with brute force.
Sunday was cold, wet, and gray, so we made ourselves a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon, packed ourselves into the car, and drove to IKEA. There we found a shelving unit the perfect size for tucking into the wall between the back door and chimney, and bought eight wicker bins to go inside. The afternoon and evening were spent moving furniture to make way for a new arrangement; there’s a big shelf in the living room filled with toys and some long-hibernating books (stuff I’d forgotten I even had) across from the couch. The library table is now up against a wall with the carpenter’s chest tucked underneath. The den has a big empty wall waiting for some kind of decoration, and the new shelf holds a good portion of Finn’s toys with all the A/V equipment on top.
A conversation with my neighbor confirmed my suspicion that we’ll need a new head unit that will accept multiple inputs and upconvert all of them over one HDMI cable to the TV. I’m also going to have to bite the bullet and replace my speakers, a pair of Baby Advents that I bought before shipping off to college; the foam of the woofers has dried and degraded to dust in places. Either way, I’d like to get some unobtrusive surround speakers with a subwoofer and hide as much as possible instead of staring at two big cabinets on the floor.
Unpacking, I uncovered two dogeared books from my past that made me smile. The first is Building Speaker Enclosures, published by Radio Shack sometime in the middle 80′s. I bought this before college, and sourced all of the speaker components in the days before the internet, which dictated several trips to Canal Street in NYC to visit car audio outlets for 8ohm woofers, crossovers, and other electronic components. (Lugging two 15″ woofers through the subway and home on the Metro North was quite an experience.) Much of my current tool collection was started when I brought the materials down to my apartment and assembled the boxes on the dining room table. The speakers are still sitting in the basement, water-stained and yellowing, waiting for me to buy new birch plywood and cut clean new boxes to transplant the electronics into. Tucked into the pages are the handwritten notes and calculations I used to design and build the boxes, scrawled on the backs of scrap paper and envelopes.
The second book was stored in the carpenter’s chest under all our A/V equipment. It’s a blue sketchbook with a picture of Elvis duct-taped to the cover, and it’s a record of a trip to Graceland my buddy Pat and I took in March of 1992. We made it to Elvis’ house, then continued westward as far as Paris, Texas before swinging north and heading for home, for a total of 3,346 miles. It’s a rambling diary written by two guys stuck in a compact pickup truck for seven days, and as any diary should, my writing makes me cringe. Pat’s writing is funny and direct. The pictures we took are taped in and annotated as best we could, including stops at Manassas, the Waffle House, the St. Louis Arch, a land-locked submarine, and the Flying Tigers Museum. It contains some of the only documentation I have of that pickup and time period. I’m going to put it up on my shelf in a place of honor.