Disclosure: I haven’t shaved my face since August 17. That’s a full two weeks beyond any other time I’ve grown a beard; usually at the 2 week mark I’m ready to claw my face off with all the itching. It’s filling in relatively well, although there are patches that need some more time to come together. I haven’t really decided whether I like it or not yet, but I do know I need to trim the whole thing back, as it’s getting scruffy.
Football season has started again, and being the only sport I really enjoy watching, I’m happy again. Football means fall weather, raking leaves, heavier beer, and the smell of open fires.
Last week’s mention of going to play with trucks will actually be happening tomorrow, because I am an idiot and cannot properly read a calendar. But, Trucks!
Money for new windows isn’t falling off the trees this summer, so we decided to make some progress with the stuff we have on hand. Now that the front stairs lead up to a fancy new door, it made the janky concrete walkway we inherited look that much shittier. (The light-colored patch in the photo above was concrete I mixed and poured two days before I owned the house, in order to make someone’s insurance agent happy).
About six years ago, our neighbor asked if I’d be interested in some leftover brick he got from a friend, and I eagerly accepted. He loaded his truck up and we stacked it all under the side porch by the garage, where it’s been collecting leaves and bugs ever since. I’ve always had a plan for it, but it was pointless to start anything until we replaced the stairs.
I got busy with my new sledgehammer on Saturday morning, and to my surprise, the slab closest to the stairs came apart pretty easily. Instead of the poorly poured, varied-depth slabs going around the house, this was an even 4″ from edge to edge. A few choice whacks and I was able to pry it up and out easily. Sadly, after being clear of debris for the summer, I’ve started yet another mountain of concrete next to the driveway. Sigh.
Among many other awesome tools, Dad sent me home this spring with his mattock, which is a tool I wish I’d had years ago. The wide blade made short work of the clay our yard is cursed with, and I was able to easily go down 6″ and flatten the base.
My only real tactical error was buying 8 cubic yards of pea gravel because Lowe’s didn’t have crushed gravel. Luckily, I stopped for the day before cutting any of the bags open, talked to my neighbor, and learned Home Depot had it in stock. So, Sunday morning I loaded 8 cubic yards of that, returned the pea gravel, and got to work filling the hole back up. Dad also gave me his tamper, which made things smooth smoothly, but I had to go back out for another six bags of gravel to get the depth I was looking for. (I spent a lot of time humping heavy bags of shit to and from the Scout).
Then it was time for sand. I laid down two 2×4″s and nailed them level in place, made a screed with another stick of wood and some leftover drywall, and set the sand in place. At this point I got smart and put up our collapsible event tent over the workspace, which made being outside in the afternoon sun much more bearable.
Then plastic edging went in to hold things in place, and we got to work laying brick.
From this angle it doesn’t look like much, but that’s over eight feet of brick from the foot of the stairs. There’s a cool stamped brick in the lower right that says CALVERT, which needed a good place to live.
We have another 20′ to go before we get to the sidewalk by the hedge, but I’ve got a good system down now. I’m hoping that the concrete is an even 4″ all the way out, and that we’ve got enough salvaged brick to make it out there (Home Depot sells new brick that looks similar, but not identical to our salvaged brick). The other trick is going to be allowing for some of the odd-sized bricks we inherited; there’s a bunch out there that are wider and thicker than the stuff we’ve got, which means I might need to cut it down as we get further along. I was hoping to avoid renting a brick cutter…
I’ve been quiet around here lately because life, work, and teaching are eating up every second of my day. Work is going very well–so well, in fact, that I’m exhausted at the end of each day. Management is a whole new set of problems and challenges that it’s taken me time to understand and adapt to; it’s like running my own studio with ten times the client base, plus a lot of bureaucratic busywork I’d be happier avoiding. It’s been rewarding having my own little department, though, and I’m very happy with my design team.
I’ve taken what I learned in my first full semester of teaching and expanded on my syllabus, projects, preparation, and class interaction. When we were at the beach, after the girls were in bed, I roughed out three lectures–on typography, grid systems, and paragraph/character styles in InDesign. While most people were outside enjoying the idyllic weather this Saturday, I was inside finishing the typography lecture, splitting it into separate decks on history and pairing and setting type. The lecture on Monday went pretty well, and I enjoyed the refresher. This class is smaller than last year’s group so I’ve got more of their attention and time per student during critiques. Strangely, four students registered for the class still haven’t shown up yet.
We’re all back in the groove after vacation, and Finley is in her second week of school. She really likes her teacher, which is great news, so we have high hopes for the First Grade.
This weekend I’m headed to my friend Brian’s house to help swap an engine out of his Wagonmaster, which should be lots of fun. I’m bringing my Hydroboost setup in the hopes that we might be able to install it in an afternoon; I’ve got to ask the experienced members of the group what supplies I’m going to need besides the basic hardware (brake fluid, etc.)
I’ve had my Fuji for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve gotten used to most of the differences and quirks compared to my beloved Nikons. While I don’t think I’d go as far to say it’s a replacement for my DSLRs, it’s another nice tool to have in my kit.
My biggest gripe with it right now is the shutter lag. There’s a long enough delay between pushing the button and the shutter closing that it reminds me of my old Canon G3, a distant ancestor of this camera. Even when I’ve got the focus set and the frame composed, there’s 1 loooooooong beat of wait where Finn has moved out of focus or out of frame.
All that said, I’m in love with the quality of the pictures it takes. They are crisp and clean to a degree that even impresses Jen, who complains that all of her Nikon shots are out of focus. The color is great, and the kit lens it came with is better than some of the Nikon glass I’ve got.
I bought a toy for it before we left on vacation: a $20 Nikon lens adapter which allows me to use any of the glass I already own. When shooting in Manual mode, the Fuji has a zoom control that allows me to check the focus within the viewfinder, which is nice; the display has about a million more pixels than any other camera I’ve used but still manages to moire and distort the preview.
So, in short: I’m not ready to sell off all my Nikon gear, but I sure like carrying this around daily instead of a DSLR.
We had to put Pique to sleep today. He was the last of the five cats we brought to this house, and may have lived the longest. He wasn’t a good lap cat, he was dumb as a bag of hammers, his breath stank and he didn’t know his own name. But he was a good cat, and we’ll miss him.
This year, we planned our beach vacation a little differently. Our friends the Morrises had a wedding to attend in the Dominican Republic, so the Dugans were on our own arranging for a rental. We finally found a two-bedroom cottage up the beach from last year’s blue house (sadly, the blue house was bought last fall and looks to have been taken off the rental market by someone with a Tesla) within our price range and secured it in the spring; the description was vague, the pictures dark, and the amenities thin. Still, we took a chance.
We drove up to a beachfront view obscured by a large man-made dune. The rental agency had failed to mention this. The house wasn’t as bad as I feared, but definitely several steps below the luxury of the blue house or our rentals in the Outer Banks. It had been constructed four or five decades ago and upkeep had been minimal, so its age showed. At some point it settled heavily in the back, so the kitchen and everything in the back half of the house leaned 3˚ to port. This made opening the refrigerator door interesting; it wanted to close itself, so getting anything out was like wrestling a shipping container. Unattended cracks in the ceiling and walls showed how much the house had buckled over the years.
We emptied the Honda and settled in, finding the beds to be functional but thin. The master suite held a full mattress, while the second bedroom was stuffed with two bunk beds. One sectional couch was long and comfortable, while the love seat looked like a Miami whore who lost a knife fight. Still, it was air conditioned and it was on the beach.
The dune, we were soon to learn, was a month-old addition designed to fight erosion. Before that, the water had been a hundred yards away from the house. Now it was about five hundred. We walked out after dinner and checked out the water, which was cold at first but warmed up quickly.
Our first couple of days were idyllic and peaceful. We were treated to great weather, and on Sunday after most of the people left, had the beach mainly to ourselves. Finn introduced herself to a boy and girl in the water late on Sunday and I struck up a conversation with their father. We hit it off easily, and they invited us to join their family for a marshmallow roast that evening after dinner. The grill that had been advertised as an amenity turned out to be a mini-Weber knockoff that took a while to light, but I got some brats cooking and we chowed down.
It turned out our new friends were from Ellicott City and leaving the next day, but we made plans to meet up on the beach the following morning before they left town. The girls got along great and we spent time telling stories over the fire and looking at the clear band of the Milky Way above our heads.
Returning back to the house, we were horrified to find the grill had blazed back up and caught the deck on fire. It went out easily with a garden hose, but I had to make an embarrassed phone call to the rental agency the next day to let them know what had happened.
The next few days were full of beach adventure, lazy mornings and afternoons, cold beer at noon, and as little contact with the outside world as we could manage. We took a family ride up the coastal road toward the blue house, and Mama got to know her new bike.
On Wednesday, the Morrises came in the afternoon so Jen made dinner and we shuffled the sleeping arrangements around. The kids got along easily and we adults stayed up talking until midnight. Thursday morning we woke up early, got the beach gear together, and walked out to an empty, windy beach under a partly cloudy sky. The kids couldn’t have cared less and jumped straight into the water, but clouds in the west said there was going to be rain at some point. We made the best of things, staying in the water until about 3:30 or so, but when the thunder started rumbling we packed up and headed in.
Friday morning the weather looked bleak and there was a heavy wind blowing up the coast from Rehobeth–the kind that kicks up stinging sand. We cleaned up the house and put some walking around clothes on, and drove into Rehobeth to have some lunch at Dogfish Head pub. Stopping in a storefront on the way up to the boardwalk, we got Finn a henna design on her arm, and did some window shopping. Then we braved the boardwalk itself to let Finn play some games in an arcade and have her fortune told by Zoltar, who went through his shpeil but then failed to deliver her fortune. The maintenance man stepped in to unlock the cabinet, revealing the space where Zoltar’s lower body should have been was filled with cobbled-together electronic parts from a Radio Shack clearance sale. Way to sell the magic, buddy.
With our fill of white trash and cheap arcade prizes, we headed back home and got a couple of hours on the beach before dinner. The wind had died down and most of the people had gone in, so Finn and I had an hour and a half of alone time in the water while Mama napped on the sand.
Saturday morning we packed up the car and cleaned, and said goodbye to the raggedy house. Driving into Lewes, we got some diner breakfast and then hit the outlet stores to keep from having to drive home immediately.
This week I had the opportunity to attend An Event Apart, a top-level design conference for people who work on the web. The founders are two people I still look up to after almost 20 years in the business, Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer. The speakers talked on a wide range of topics. Zeldman did the keynote, which was an overview of and advice about working in the business. There were speakers on accessibility, site testing, new tools and techniques, and design philosophies. (It’s somewhat heartening to see that nobody has yet been able to figure out how to move away from the 3-designs-5-sizes-and-a-million-comps model two years after I left the biz).
Monday night we were treated to craft beer at Caboose, a new microbrewery featuring the former brewmaster from Heavy Seas, courtesy of Facebook. Somewhat apprehensive about mingling, I drove to the venue and found my way inside, and after dropping my name in a hat and grabbing a beer (a delicious IPA), I found some folks to talk to and wound up having a very good time. Here’s to getting out of the comfort zone. And it just so happened that I won my very first door prize after 20 years: a set of very nice brush pens, a calligraphy set, and a book.
I told Jen it was the kind of focused experience I really could have used in 2011 or so to re-energize; One speaker alone shared knowledge about current features of HTML5 to alter the way I approach design and building, and another shared 5 new tools for building and testing I might never have known about. Overall, there was enough knowledge to make the conference more than worthwhile even though I’m not directly involved in the business anymore; my job demands that I stay current, and this was a good way to check back in.
I’m about 4 days behind at work (a combination of the conference and one of my designers being on vacation) so it’s hard not to feel some guilt for going, but I’m very grateful for the experience, and conferences like this are something I’ll be pushing for in future years for my staff and I.
This weekend: A Friday night bike ride for ice cream with my girl. A little cleaning. Perfect weather. A trip in the Scout with my family. Delicious barbecue. Picking blackberries in the sunshine. Picking peaches in the evening. Meeting at the Farmer’s Market for produce and an early lunch. A quiet afternoon at the house. Birthday crabs down the street with Bear and his parents. Early bedtime for everyone.