What you see there is the underlayment for the heated floor. The black lines are heating wires that run the span of the room. The tile guy is now skim-coating the floor and may be laying tile as I write this, but he may be waiting until the other three boxes that I didn’t account for show up in a week.
I said goodbye to the Rolleicord yesterday, selling it to a nice man who is taking photography classes and will hopefully give it another productive chapter in life. Talking to him got me thinking about how to print the film I’ve got; one thing I’d completely forgotten about was the darkroom I’ve got access to at UMBC as a faculty member. At Service Photo on Saturday, there was an entire shelf of photo paper and other chemicals, and I’ve got a stack of 6×6 negatives that I’d like to blow up and print.
Last night the installer recommended by our tile dealer stopped by, after about two weeks of missed connections. He looked over the room, made some suggestions, and put my mind at ease. I signed a contract and gave him a deposit to get things moving, and we settled on the third week in March to start. I got a text from him this morning telling me he’d had a cancellation, and would it be OK to start this coming Monday? Hell yes, it would.
This was one of the busiest weekends I’ve had since before chemo started. First up was an early-morning soccer game for Finley, where I drove us to the wrong venue first but made it to the right one with minutes to spare. Our team won again, but Finn wasn’t on her A game like she was last week. She really got lucky with her teammates, who are very good, and her coach, who is awesome. I think she’s enjoying soccer, and having a good team to work with makes it more likely she’ll want to continue with it.
Then, she and I ran some errands. We had a man at the tile store help us with calculations and got the remainder of the underlayment mat we needed, plus a couple of numbers for professional installers. As I get further into the details of how to put the system in, the more nervous I get, and I’m not sure if Mario has done it before. I think I’d prefer a pro installer putting it in rather than me. Meanwhile, our tile is still at the warehouse because it’s closed on weekends, so Jen will run out and pick it up this week.
Then I decided Finley and I needed a project to work on together. The cats have been crowding themselves up on the dining room window ledge since they were kittens, and they often lay on the carpet in the afternoon, chasing sunlight as it crawls across the floor. I proposed that we build a ledge for the window and enlisted her as my work partner. First we took measurements and drew out a plan at the table, talking over ideas. I listened as she proposed drilling screws into the wall, using Play-Doh as an adhesive, and a wire suspension rig. Then I showed her how we could do it non-destructively, using gravity and some clips.
At the Lowe’s, we used our tape measure and plans to source the materials, talked over how we were going to repurpose deck hardware to make our clips, and then headed to the basement workshop to start building. I showed her how to use the compound miter saw, table saw, and router on the platform, then moved to the legs. This was more difficult because I wanted to show her how to find and cut the angles (we were working with specialized geometry here) and I could tell it wasn’t sinking in–until I cut some scrap wood, led her upstairs, and showed her how it would go together. Then she got excited.
Back downstairs we busted out the compressor and I showed her how the nail gun works, and then the Dremel tool to grind down the two nailheads that came through the other side. Finally, we used the angle grinder to cut a $.75 deck fastener in half, trim the wings down, and smooth the edges. This made the two clips that grab onto the inside window guide and hold the platform in place. She was bouncing with excitement when it was time to show Jen, and except for a few moments, was engaged and excited through the whole project.
On Saturday morning, an ad popped up on Craigslist for the lens I’ve been waiting for for a year and a half: the Fuji 35mm f/2.0. This lens is a fast, weather-sealed prime with an improved AF motor that blows the 35mm f/1.4 lens I’ve already got out of the water. The price was $125 less than list, so I jumped on it. Finn and I drove up to a McDonalds by the Security Mall and within 10 minutes had the deal done. It’s a sweet little lens and will probably stay on the camera for the next couple of months.
On Sunday I cleaned and prepped the 35mm f/1.4, Rolleicord, and the drone for Craigslist sale. With the new f/2 Fuji lens I don’t need the 1.4, so that can get converted to cash. The Yashica D is an improved version of the Rolleicord, and it has a leather case, lens cover, and built-in remote timer. The DJI Phantom II is great but way too big for travel, and has been sitting in my office unused for months. If I can gather some cash together for a DJI Mavic Air with the sale of some other camera gear, I’ll be very happy.
Then Finn and I went ice skating with a group from church. Sunday afternoon is a very popular time to go ice skating, so the rink was FULL of people. Finn didn’t seem to have her skate legs on as well as she did last time, but after a couple of laps around the ice with me, she zoomed off to skate with her friends–a harbinger of the next 10 years to come. I am acutely aware that the time when we are the center of her attention is rapidly coming to an end, so I enjoyed every single second of looping around the rink, her warm mittened hand in mine, both of us smiling like goofballs.
Currently burning up my iPhone: Slate’s Slow Burn podcast, a series investigating the Watergate break in and its aftermath, focusing mainly on the details people have forgotten or never knew about. I’m three episodes in and it’s riveting, maddening, angry-making stuff. And so, so relevant in today’s jaded, diluted media cycle. To wit: The break-in happened in June of 1972. Nixon was re-elected in a landslide victory in November, after months of nightly news reporting, congressional hearings, and FBI investigations. The American public didn’t care until the beginning of the following year, when the burglars were sentenced to long stays in prison and one of them ratted out the White House in a letter to the judge.
Our bathroom project is currently stalled. I bought a huge roll of underlayment for the floor heat system three weeks ago, but it isn’t enough to cover the whole thing, so I’ve got to go back and get more. I was across the bay last Saturday and they’re closed on Sundays. The tile is sitting in a warehouse waiting for me, but I can’t lift anything over 10 lbs and they’re understaffed on weekends, so I can’t ask the showroom women to help me. GAAAAAHHH.
The blood thinners I’ve been on for weeks appear to be working. my brachial artery is still numb above my wrist up to my elbow but there’s little to no pain on a daily basis. I’ve got a numb spot on my right wrist, but the rest of that side is fine. When I go in for the next CAT scan, however, I’m going to ask them to take a look at my right knee, which is still numb since before chemo started.
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.
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.