In 2003, Jen took me to explore a funky little settlement of buildings alongside the Patapsco River outside of Ellicott City, and we spent a couple of hours crawling around exploring them. I posted some pictures on my site, which longtime readers may remember.
Today, on our way back from a client pickup, I made a detour down that same street to see if Finn and I could find the house while the weather was warm. Nestled into the hillside under a sea of brambles, all of the structures still stand, worse for wear but intact. Finn and I climbed over nettles and under creeper vine until we were inside the main house, and her inquisitive nature took over. We started trying to figure out what the buildings were for, how long they had been there, and who had built them.
I’m still unclear myself. The buildings are too small to be inhabitable, and there’s no evidence of insulation or interior finishing. The exteriors are all constructed with a high degree of quality. And the masonry alone must have taken years to plan and complete. Sadly, it was so overgrown, we didn’t see any of the riverstone decorations that were clearly evident 12 years ago.
Finley’s pretty sure there’s a chicken house and a donkey stall and provisions for other farm animals. I’m not as convinced, but somebody obviously had a vision for the place. I’d love to dig up photos of what it looked like in its prime.
Last week was a blur of activity, most of which I can’t remember. I spent a lot of time putting out fires at work, staying on top of my class, and trying to get as much time in with the family as possible.
I love how excited Finn gets for Halloween every year, and I hope she continues to enjoy it for as long as possible. We’ve got a nice tradition of joining some friends in Arbutus, who feed us and take us with them through their quiet little neighborhood, and we look forward to sharing it with them every year. This year Arbutus wasn’t as into the spirit as they have been in years past, but we still enjoyed ourselves, and the girls had a great time together. Finn was on her best behavior, and her careful “Thank-Yous” and “Happy Halloweens” were rewarded by several people, which made her dad super proud.
After a couple of weeks and several Craigslist repostings, the Xerox Phaser we had sitting in the home office has left the building. Ever since I got the new job, and sold the huge HP to my last employers, this one wasn’t getting any usage at all, so I cleaned it up, took some photos, and put it on the market. A nice man came on Sunday with a friend and a truck, looked at some test prints, and carted it away. This is good, because our trusty B/W printer died a few weeks ago without warning. The Wirecutter says Samsung makes a good B/W printer that will do duplex for about $100 with a per print cost of around $.02. So I’ll wait to get paid tomorrow and order that sucker right up.
Now that the sewer line has been fixed, we have no more gray water in the basement, which is a nice change. The gray water left a lot of yuck behind, though, so I picked up some bleach cleaner, a pole-mount scrub brush, and some mop heads, and got to work disinfecting the basement floor. When I was done with that, I started re-organizing stuff to go back on the shelves and off the floor, cleaned off the workbench, and made the space usable again. At some point this winter I’m going to upgrade the lighting to overhead fluorescents that come on with the switch, because there are whole sections that have no lighting at all.
What didn’t get done: Any work on the walkway, as Sunday started rainy and only cleared up after noon. There was no brewing, because I ran out of time. And the yard is still a mess; I’ll have to call my bro to come and rake some leaves.
I came to a realization early on Tuesday morning. I was in a Dupont Circle soup kitchen taking portraits with Jen for an annual report she’s been working on. I was shooting with my Nikon D7000 and she was shooting with a borrowed Canon 7D. The results I was getting were just not as clean or as sharp as hers. A big part of this, as I admitted later, was due to the skill of the photographer: Jen has an innate knack for framing and shooting people that I don’t naturally possess, and was immediately connecting with her subjects and knocking off professional shots with ease. But another big part of this was the feel of the shots I was getting and how they differ from the shots I’ve seen and taken with the Canon–they just look better to my eye in a way I can’t describe.
This could be due to several factors. The photographer, as mentioned. The glass, which is the key difference in quality: She was shooting with a full-frame f/1.4 L lens, which is a full order of magnitude better than the crop-sensor f/1.8 lens on my Nikon. Faster, sharper, and better. It also could be shiny new toy disease, wherein some small part of my lizard brain convinces the rest of it that we’d be much happier with that more expensive thing over there instead of what we’ve got in our hands.
I’m curious if the camera body is as important as the glass. I’m considering the rental of a Nikon full-frame body and FX lens to see if I like the results–I’ve always liked Nikon’s approach to ergonomics and user experience more than Canon’s annoying scroll-wheel/joystick controls, and the way things work is very important to me. I haven’t given up on Nikon yet, but I’m seriously evaluating a (costly) migration to Canon full-frame gear.
One thing I didn’t mention about last weekend was the fact that I picked up another 100+ bricks from Second Chance for the front walkway. For the grand total of $50 I got a bunch of oversized, weathered brick that then got cut down to size (adding a $45 rental fee) and stacked under the back porch. If the weather holds out this weekend, I’ll get the supplies needed, rip out the hedges on either side of the walkway, and get the last of the brick installed before the ground freezes up.
The other major project I’m hoping to tackle is getting the hardtop back on the Scout while it’s still somewhat warm. I spent a good bit of time last weekend attempting to get her started, to the point where I ran the battery down. It just wouldn’t get any gas into the carburetor. Then, after taking 10 minutes to cool off, I dumped a gallon of gas into the tank, jumped it from the Accord, and it fired right up. I must have backed it into the garage on fumes before I left for Abu Dhabi.
I drove up to Parkville on Sunday to pick up that lens I was talking about last week (it’s wonderful and was a fantastic bargain) and somehow misplaced this year’s Moleskine notebook, which has me feeling anxious.
As a longtime sufferer of ADD, I desperately need someplace to capture thoughts before they fly off into space. I’ve been using notebooks for the past 10 years to keep track of everything, collecting copious lists of tasks, ideas, plans, sketches, and other ephemera, and it helps me stay organized and focused. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go, and it sits at my bedside under my phone when I sleep.
The last place I remember seeing this notebook was on the trunk of the car after I put it down to snap a picture of the Bel-Loc diner, where I’d just finished a stack of pancakes. I don’t think it made its way back into the car from there.
The big problem is, this isn’t the first one I’ve lost recently.
I keep a separate notebook for work, because if I combined the two I’d never keep anything straight–there’s too much going on in each place. The one I keep for work went missing last week.
I’m thinking this is the universe telling me something, because the sheer volume of projects we’ve got going on at work is too much to be contained in a notebook; they are all multi-level long term productions that require a lot more than one page to keep track of all the details and notes. I’ve been searching for a project management solution that fits with my particular needs, and I haven’t found anything yet–Basecamp’s organization is too convoluted, Flow isn’t robust enough, and Slack is more focused on chatting. Wrike could be close, but I haven’t had time to get it set up yet. Moving from paper to online makes me nervous, but if I can find something that works maybe I won’t need to buy a second notebook anymore.
I broke down and got a barber to trim my hair and beard yesterday, after going a full two months without any major manscaping. The shit was getting bushy. In strange places. My neck directly under the jawbone was like deep, dark Amazon rainforest, while the area above, between my ears and the overgrown perimeter of my goat, was thinly covered. My chops were big fuzzy clouds. While I’m sure most of the locals in Abu Dhabi didn’t mind it one bit, I really should have gotten it cleaned up before I left.
I went to a local barber and had her trim my hair up, and then we worked out a plan for the beard. I’ve still got one, but everything below my jawline is gone and the stuff up top is neat and tidy. It rounds out my face, which has been getting more and more angular as I get older. I’m going to give it another couple of months to see if it fills in OK, keep my neck clean, and see how I like it.
It occurs to me that my father was only a year or two younger than I am now, in 1981, when the family went on vacation, and he grew the beard he’s had until the present day.
Sewer lines are like arteries; you never really think about them until they clog up and you have to spend thousands of dollars to have them excavated, and then you’re left with a terrible scar and an empty feeling. Our sewer line went in relatively painlessly, but the magnolia tree had to die for its selfish ways. Along with 20 feet of hedge in front of our house.
A nice bunch of men came with a cute little backhoe and went down nine feet to get to the pipe; as part of the process they disconnected the copper ground from the electrical panel and blew out four breakers. If you haven’t guessed, that’s not supposed to happen. It turns out BG&E never properly hooked up the main ground going back to the pole with our service, so the backup copper wire attached to our water pipe has been carrying the full 220 volt ground. When he disconnected the ground, the breakers blew and fried four power strips. (Pro tip: always buy high-quality power strips). Our plumber, shaken, suggested we call BG&E to have it checked out. Um, yeah.
And, it turns out there was a cleanout for the sewer, but it was buried under the magnolia.
So at the end of today, we’re missing one whole side of hedge, the west side of the front lawn is one huge mound of dirt covered with straw, the magnolia tree is gone, but we can again poop in dignity without raw sewage flooding the basement.
As is our family tradition, we drove to Leonardtown this morning to take in the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival. The festival hasn’t changed much in the 15 years we’ve been going, and that’s exactly why we like it. The beer is cold, the oysters are raw or fried, the funnel cakes are hot, and there’s St. Mary’s County ham available.
They’ve added baked oysters, steamed oysters, various deep-fried desserts, and pit beef. It feels, actually, like it’s gotten bigger over the last five years or so, which is a great thing.
This year, instead of the sketchy carny rides they normally have, there were three huge bouncy rides for the kids, and a zipline. Finn went right for the bouncy rides, got her courage up, and asked to ride the zipline. Who am I to say no?
As she waited at the base of the stairs for her turn, the older girl in front of her froze at the edge, unable to jump by herself. After about three minutes of waffling, she walked back down the stairs. Finn marched up to the top, listened to the guy who hooked her up, and then looked down at the grass. She closed her eyes for a moment, bent her knees, and then she jumped!
She liked it so much, she asked to do it again.
This young man is Gus, who is a shucker working in the main shed. I tipped him a dollar, asked his name, and talked to him briefly about how long he was shucking for before asking if I could take his picture. I was nervous about asking him, because he’s the first stranger I’ve ever shot. I’m going to do a lot more of this.
The oysters were excellent as usual, and Mama had her fill.
Finley even had three herself! We’ll make a gastronome out of her yet.