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.
Nothing new to report on radiation, other than fatigue in the afternoon. I’m sleeping heavily at night and it’s hard to wake up in the morning–although that could be due to our new morning schedule starting at 6AM, and the lack of sunlight at this point in the season. Laying on the table with my arms above my head was tough on Thursday because the port was sore and swollen but today was much easier. One day’s rest made a huge difference.
Thursday after treatment we went upstairs to attend ‘chemo class’ where they explain what will happen and where we’ll go when things start. It’s a smaller waiting room in the corner of a hallway and it was already filled with people at 9AM. The class was short and to the point and aside from some dumb comments by the friend of a fellow patient (I don’t give a shit about pissing my chemo drugs into the storm drains, you dumb bitch, I HAVE CANCER) pretty painless.
At work, I wrapped up as much as I could, logged out of all my sites, and put the “working from home” sign on my computer. I have no idea when I’ll make it back there.
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On a brighter note, we got five presents dropped off at the house this afternoon: new windows for the bathroom upstairs. With all that’s been happening this summer I haven’t been that focused on making progress there, but a fortunate phone call saved the day. I’ll explain. One of the contractors I had come in and bid on the job sent out a window guy to measure and write up an estimate as a sub. I showed him the space and we talked over the plans, and he figured each window wouldn’t be more than $250. He left before I thought to ask him for a card. We got all the estimates and had to punt because all the bids were $15K higher than we expected. I still wanted windows and knew he had measured the openings correctly, so I figured I’d try to find him. I knew he worked for 84 Lumber but not where, so I called around all the stores looking for him with no luck. A week later he called me out of the blue to ask a question, and I told him the situation but I wanted to order the windows. A little back and forth, a look at a sample window, and the deal was struck.
We have a guy standing by to put them in for us, who’s worked on our neighbor’s house and whose work we like. He’s going to stud out the walls, frame up the new closet, cover the unneeded windows, insulate everything, and prep for drywall. The price he quoted is fair and affordable, and we’re going for it.
Our weekend was full of activities, starting with Finn’s first soccer game of the season. They’ve had a total of one practice since the season started, rain having washed out all of the scheduled meetings, but her coaches did a good job herding the cats and getting the girls to remember how the game is played, where they should go, and what the rules are. Finn did really well on defense, but got winded on offense pretty easily. Her team has several very good players who carried the team early, and the Fireballs won the game.
From there we picked up a friend of hers for a playdate in the Scout, stopped for a celebratory donut, and then I got to work bagging up 1/2 of the acoustical tiles in the attic, which had finally succumbed to repeated cycles of heat, moisture, and cold and dropped all over our stored baby gear. In four hours, I had it all bagged, the contents of the attic vacuumed, and everything rearranged. Jen offered all of Finn’s old clothing to Christi and Glenn for Ruby, so this week she’s going to go up and sort through the piles to see what goes and what gets sold. I also used our $10 handcart to bump the A/C unit down from the attic and stick it in the back of the Scout.
That evening we had friends come for dinner, and stayed up late eating, drinking, and sitting in front of a roaring fire to roast marshmallows. Sunday morning revealed a house destroyed by the girls, a kitchen destroyed by dinner, and two sizable hangovers. The girls went to church and I continued working around the house until the afternoon, when we had another family come and join us for dinner.
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I got an email last week asking if I’d like to teach a class next spring, which sounds really good. While it’s not a senior-level class (I think the full-time faculty claimed those for themselves) it’s one Jen and I have taught before, so I won’t have to worry about developing a syllabus while I’m down for the count.
We’re also building a list of stuff that has to get done before I can’t get up off the couch; This includes stuff like pulling all of the air conditioners from the windows, stocking up our inside wood supply, putting the hardtop back on the Scout, and kegging a batch of beer. I’m sure there are more that I’m not thinking of, but I know it’s going to get longer.
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.
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.
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.
Our 2017 parade party was filled with friends new and old, laughter, and an easygoing vibe. We didn’t knock ourselves out to provide 13 menu choices; we offered two jumbo cases of water (which was all consumed), we had a mister and the sprinkler running, and we had plenty of shade available. The parade itself was fun, but there weren’t any giant bugs, Elvis sightings, Lone Rangers, Jesus dancers, or Mummers (although we did have a Falun Gong float, which was odd). It was hot enough that by 5:00 all but two families had left for home. We cleaned up the yard and then holed up in the air conditioning to cool down and recuperate.