The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:44:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 Seeing what my innards look like from the inside… Tue, 16 Apr 2019 03:18:51 +0000 So on Wednesday, March 26, I had an endoscopy as part of a weight loss program that I’m in.  That involved going to the hospital, getting an IV, getting wheeled into the room on a stretcher, and then getting knocked out while they did their thing.  The good news is that everything looks healthy inside of me, which is what I was expecting to see.

What I found interesting was the difference in the experience in this procedure vs. the last time that I got sedated, back in 2005 when I got a pilonidal cyst removed.  This time was just a diagnostic procedure, though, while it was actual surgery back in 2005.  The endoscopy was done at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, while my 2005 surgery was done at Augusta Medical Center (now Augusta Health) in Fishersville, Virginia.

Much of the process was pretty similar to 2005.  Come in, check in, change into the hospital gown, put on the hospital bracelet, get all of my information, do vitals, and so on.  The first big difference was the IV.  I’ve had IVs in the hand before, but for some reason, this one hurt like hell going in.  I don’t know why – I’ve never had an IV hurt like that.  Then I met with the doctor, who was scoping me and then a second patient.  I was told that it was good to be the first one to get done.  Then I met with the nurse anesthetist, whose job was to knock me out when the time came.  After she told me what was going to happen, I joked about hitting me on the head with a big cartoon mallet.  I wonder how many times they hear that joke.  I imagine that they hear that a lot.

Then we were ready to go, so they rolled me on the stretcher to the procedure room.  There, they had me turn on my side and began administering the sedation.  When I had been sedated previously, I just remember going out.  This time, they gave me some of it, which made me feel like I was a bit clouded.  Then, in that state, they put a mouth guard in and strapped it in.  That was there to protect my teeth and keep them out of the way, and also to give the endoscope a safe place to go in.  Noting the way the mouth guard was applied, my first thought was, I’m sure that someone is into this.

And then it was lights out.

Coming out of sedation, I remember being a bit disoriented.  Waking up, I thought I was at home in my bed, and that Elyse was waking me up.  My exact thought was, I don’t want to get up yet.  Then once I opened my eyes, I remembered that I was in the hospital getting the endoscopy done.  It was one of those oh, right moments.

Then once I was awake, they brought me to another room, where they transferred me from the stretcher to a reclining chair.  I was still feeling some of the sedatives that hadn’t entirely worn off yet, which had me feeling a little woozy.  From here, they gave me half a sandwich and a cup of juice, and then it was just a matter of taking the IV out (that hurt coming out, too, though not as bad as going in) and getting my stuff together to go.  I was expecting that they would make sure that I could walk around and pee before letting me go, like what happened in 2005 with the pilonidal cyst surgery, but they didn’t do that.  It was just a matter of getting me on my way.  I guess that because this wasn’t surgery, but rather just a scoping, that was unnecessary?

After a few minutes, once the rest of the sedatives wore off, I was good to go.  They got Dad to bring my car around, and they wheeled me to the car.  I asked if I could just walk out and skip the wheelchair, but apparently, they were required to wheel me out.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad procedure. In the end, I got a clean bill of health, and a photo of my innards, which Elyse intends to frame.

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Time to complain about Daylight Saving Time… Fri, 05 Apr 2019 17:16:42 +0000 So it’s been about twelve years since the last time that I wrote about Daylight Saving Time (DST).  That previous instance was back in 2007, which was the first year that the current date rules were used.  That put “spring forward” on the second Sunday of March, and “fall back” on the first Sunday in November.  And apparently, I was justified in being a bit on edge about the new time change date, because the next day, when it took effect, I ended up oversleeping and showed up for work late.  Oops.  But considering that I got fired from that job a few weeks later… oh, well.

One thing that I’ve noticed since the switch is that no one seems to know when it’s time to change anymore.  2019 is the 13th year of the new schedule, and the changeover date still catches me by surprise.  It feels random to me.  It’s not the first Sunday in March, but the second Sunday.  It’s not a new month with a time change, but rather a mid-month thing.

In any case, I would love to do away with the whole charade of changing our clocks twice a year.  I would lean towards abolishing DST in favor of standard time rather than adopting DST year-round.  Ultimately, standard time is the one that more closely lines up with the sun.  “Noon” is supposed to be when the sun is at the highest point in the sky.  If you’re going to adopt one time standard year round, ditch DST.  Going to DST year-round would essentially mean moving up a time zone, putting the east coast of the United States on Atlantic Time, putting the midwest on Eastern Time, putting the Rockies on Central Time, and putting the west coast on Mountain Time.

What’s funny is how many people that I’ve seen that believe that switching to DST year-round will mean that the days will be longer during the winter.  I’ve had to disabuse many people of this notion, and explain that no, the days won’t be any longer under year-round DST.  The amount of daylight would still gradually get longer from December to June, and gradually get shorter from June to December.  The sun and the Earth are just doing their thing, and don’t care how we humans measure time.  All that eliminating the time change would accomplish would be to eliminate the abrupt shift in sunrise and sunset times twice a year caused by the manipulating of our clocks.  And if you couldn’t tell already, I’m fine with that.

Meanwhile, the method of moving away from the twice-annual time change varies depending on what you want to do.  Individual states are allowed to decline to change to DST.  Arizona and Hawaii already do this.  However, states are not allowed to do the reverse and adopt DST year-round.  If they follow DST, they are only permitted to do it in accordance with the federal dates.  I don’t know quite what I think about this, where states can reject DST entirely, but not embrace it 100% without an act of Congress.  It still accomplishes the goal of eliminating the time change, but while I would prefer standard time year-round, I would accept year-round DST.  What we don’t want is different states’ doing different things, for example, if Maryland and New Jersey were to adopt standard time year-round, and Pennsylvania, between these two states, were to adopt DST year-round.  That would be bothersome and confusing, losing and gaining hours as I’m traveling along I-95 or otherwise interacting with different states over the course of a day.

All in all, it’s long past time to stop the madness.  Give me one time standard and let me keep it all the time.

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Pinball and the Big Apple… Sat, 23 Mar 2019 17:55:56 +0000 You know, one of these days, I’m going to realize that doing New Jersey and New York City is too much to bite off for a day trip.  However, that day has not come yet, and so on Tuesday, March 12, Elyse and I did exactly that, going to Asbury Park, where we visited the Silverball Museum, and then we rode a New Jersey Transit train from Long Branch to New York City, and spent a few hours in New York.

All in all, though, it wasn’t a bad trip, but it was very strenuous.  New York definitely needs to be its own thing, and always its own thing.  No bundling it with stuff in New Jersey, because we always end up getting home extremely late.  But unlike the last time that we bundled New York with Asbury Park, this time, New York was planned from the outset.

Our time in New Jersey was pretty typical: in via the Delaware Memorial Bridge, up via 295, make the big right turn near Trenton to get on 195, comment on the sign at milepost 14.6 that says that the trees are treated with a noxious substance, go to White Castle, and then arrive in Asbury Park.

The Silverball Museum was excellent, as always, as I played my way around the facility.  They had some new chairs this time around, and a few new games.  Elyse noticed that besides her favorite baseball game, there were four or five other vintage baseball games to try.  They also now have the arcade version of Asteroids.  I used to play Asteroids for the Atari 2600 all the time, so I knew my way around that game.  The controls are different on the arcade machine, though.  I found that the all-button controls were not as intuitive as the Atari 2600’s joystick-based controls.  That said, I didn’t do very well, but with more practice, I could probably get a decent score.

I also got to take some of my favorite machines there for a spin.  For some reason, I really enjoy Hayburners, which is a pinball game where the ball’s movements drive a horse race on the back part.  Take a look:


Here’s a close-up of the back part:


The goal is to move your horse (which the game selects) to the finish line.  What you do on the pinball field affects the movement of the horses.  Some objects advance a single, specific horse, while others advance multiple horses.  One even changes which horse is “your” horse.  The game is over when a horse crosses the finish line.  Here’s a video of Hayburners in action.  It’s a pretty fun game.  Sometimes, the simple games are the best ones.  Modern pinball games are far too complicated.

Then my other favorite is this one:

Midway's Champ

This is Midway’s Champ, where two players take turns playing pinball to move cars around a racetrack.  The most laps wins.  It’s surprisingly addictive.  Even when you’re not racing against someone, there’s a certain fun factor to seeing if you can beat your own personal best, both in number of laps made in a single play and overall.  Here’s a video of Midway’s Champ in action.  Just like Hayburners, the play mechanics aren’t complicated.  You hit the targets that cause movement on the track.  No shooting balls into holes, no capturing balls, no weird tubes for balls to travel through.  Just hit the targets to race your cars.  Not bad.

After spending about three hours at the Silverball Museum, we headed up to Long Branch.  Destination: New York Penn Station.  The ride was pretty comfortable on an older NJ Transit railcar:

Our ride into New York

Not bad.  Our ride took us past Wheelock, i.e. the fire alarm company, so that was nice to see.  Also, one perk about working in the transit industry is they let me ride free with my work ID.  I certainly don’t mind not paying for a ticket if I don’t have to.  The ride lasted 90 minutes, and then we were in New York.

Coming into the station, we saw this sign:

"Stay Safe: Please don't press red STOP button while escalator is moving"

Yeah, about that.  What am I supposed to do, use the emergency stop button once the escalator is already stopped?  I was told by a friend that the intent of the sign is to deter people from pressing the button when it’s not an emergency, but that’s not what the sign says.  If we’re not supposed to use the emergency stop button to stop the escalator in an emergency, then what’s the point of having the button in the first place?  Someone needs to remove those signs.

Leaving Penn Station, we took the subway, riding a 1 train to 14th Street/6th Avenue, and then taking an L train from there to Lorimer Street in Brooklyn.  Some subway pix for you:

Platform at 14th Street.
Platform at 14th Street.

R143 at Lorimer Street.
R143 at Lorimer Street.

Every time I ride the New York Subway, it makes me appreciate Metro.  The transfers are all in relatively compact areas, without having to walk in long underground tunnels to make connections, and escalators are plentiful.  After this adventure in the subway, it was clear why everyone that I saw was skinny.  That subway with its tunnels, ramps, and stairs will work you, especially if you’re in a hurry.  Elyse and I would probably be little beanpoles if we lived in New York.

Coming out onto the street in Brooklyn, Elyse took me to Sal’s Pizzeria, which is somewhere that she enjoyed the last time she was in New York.  We each got pizza and a drink, though, curiously, they forgot to charge Elyse for hers.  Go figure.

My pizza:

My pizza from Sal's

That was some good stuff.  I will definitely have to come to Sal’s again.  I also got a selfie at Sal’s:

Selfie at Sal's Pizzeria

Yep – I’m wearing a Metro shirt in New York.  Have to show a little pride for your home subway system when you’re out and about, right?  I plan on bringing this shirt to Toronto as well when I go in a few weeks.

After leaving Sal’s, we headed over to a nearby grocery store, where Elyse bought some candies that she hasn’t been able to find anywhere else.  From there, it was back to the subway, as we took the L and then the R to Union Square.  We came out to this sight:

"New York City, yo. #nyc #manhattan"

I captioned this on Instagram as, “New York City, yo. #nyc #manhattan”.  Seems fitting.  I was annoyed when I got home to find out that I had wiggled the camera just enough to cause a motion blur, which means that I can’t really use the photo for anything important.  I liked the shot, but that blur…

Meanwhile, you know that you’re in “the city that never sleeps” when you find out that the Apple store, of all places, is open 24 hours.  And the place was hopping at 11-something at night, as was the rest of that area of Manhattan.  After the Apple store, I took my first New York City bus, riding the Q32 from West 58th Street to Penn Station, on an Orion VII.  Not a bad experience.  Our operator certainly knew how to handle the city.

We left New York at 1 AM to return to Long Branch.  This was the last train of the night, as the next train didn’t leave until 4-something, which at that point was the next day’s service.  We rode one of the newer bi-level cars:

Our ride back to Long Branch

MARC has similar coaches, as they shared an order with NJ Transit.

We got back to our car at 2:30 AM, and after restroom and gas stops, we were on our way.  Already, you can tell that this is going to be a long trip, starting from North Jersey at this late hour.  For future reference, I don’t like being in New Jersey at this late of an hour when my sleep location is in Montgomery Village.  We didn’t take the most direct route home, which would have been 195 to the Turnpike and over the Delaware Memorial Bridge to 95.  I knew that I’d had a long day, and wanted to make sure that I stayed engaged.  So we ended up taking 195 to Trenton, went over the Lower Trenton Bridge into Pennsylvania, and then took I-95 through Philadelphia and Wilmington to get home.  I also completed a feat that most people passing through New Jersey can’t do: I traversed the state and didn’t pay a single toll the entire time.  The only tolls that I paid the entire day were the Tydings Bridge in Maryland, and the Delaware toll.  Not a single New Jersey toll.  Also, interestingly enough, Google Maps sent us past Ocean Township High School, which is where my father went to high school.  I definitely wasn’t expecting to see Dad’s old high school, but good to “put a face to a name”, so to speak.

Once we got out of New Jersey, we began to hit rush hour traffic when we got to Philadelphia, and traffic remained heavy until we got past the Baltimore Beltway.  I was exhausted, but the trip through the big cities worked, as it kept me engaged and alert the whole time.

All in all, it was a fun trip, and New York has so much to see and explore.  In the three trips that I’ve made, I have yet to go over the same territory twice.  But the next time I do New York City, I’m doing it as a separate event, because it really demands it.

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A time to heal? Thu, 14 Mar 2019 14:00:06 +0000 I was checking my Facebook feed on a break at work on Sunday, and imagine my surprise to see one of my old elementary school teachers post this:

Lost a special teacher friend this morning.  Sharon Bradley made you smile, and was the best story teller!  She was also my neighbor for a few years.  Sharon was good to my children and the students she taught.  Prayers for her family and extended school family who loved her.

Apparently, my old fifth grade teacher, Sharon Bradley, died on the morning of March 10, at the age of 76.  As of this writing, I do not know the cause of her death.

You may recall that I wrote a very long Journal entry last June about my fifth grade experience, after Mrs. Bradley came up in the “people you may know” list on Facebook around that time.  Fifth grade was, without question, my worst year in school, from kindergarten through college.  I suffered so much emotional abuse under her over the course of those nine months, enabled by the school administration and the guidance counselor.  When presented with the opportunity to reconnect through Facebook and potentially make peace, I declined, choosing to keep her out of my life.

Upon learning of Mrs. Bradley’s death, I felt a little bit conflicted.  On one hand, it’s always a sad moment when someone dies.  However, I wasn’t necessarily feeling sad about her passing.  Much to the contrary, that news absolutely made my day, and put an extra spring in my step as I was walking down the platform to my next train.  Seriously, I was practically giddy, in that ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead sort of way.  The woman who had tormented me for a year was gone.  But then I felt guilty about being happy about her passing, because you’re not “supposed to” feel joy about someone’s death.  You may recall that I wrote a Journal entry back in 2011 criticizing the people who celebrated in the streets following the death of Osama bin Laden.  And here I was, feeling a small amount of joy upon learning that she was gone.

I messaged my mother and a friend of mine asking about my feelings of joy, and if it was wrong to feel that way.  My mother, after all, had experienced Mrs. Bradley directly, and my friend had similar experiences in his own school career.  Both of them agreed with me, and felt that I was justified in my feeling some amount of joy over her death.  My mother’s exact words were, “I completely understand.  She did hurt you.”  I appreciated the validation.

Meanwhile, I hope that she was able to get everything wrapped up in her life before she died.  I hope that she was able to come to terms with the loss of her husband in the spring of 1991, which likely greatly affected how she handled things in the year that I had her.  She almost certainly should have taken a year off from teaching in order to sort through that major life change, but I imagine that she probably needed the money.  Many of the comments on the post about her death seemed to indicate that she was a “sweet lady”.  I’d also been told that she was the “nice” teacher when I found out that I would have her back in 1991, but my experience was very different: she was a downright nasty bitch.  Everything that I said or did was a personal affront to her, and threatened to shatter her delicate ego.  If only I still had that much power, to destroy someone just by speaking, today.  I hope that she got over that for her own sake, because being that tightly wound is no way to go through life.  Her being remembered as a sweet person nearly 27 years after I had her makes me think that she did eventually make peace with her situation and moved on.  And if that was the case, that was a good thing.

And now that she’s gone, the healing process can at last be completed.  She can never harm another child ever again, and the world is a slightly better place because of that.  Even though it has been decades since I last saw her, I feel better knowing that she’s gone, and I feel like I can truly close that chapter of my life for good.  In the end, Sharon Bradley’s death may be mourned, but as far as I am concerned, she will not be missed.

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Returning to Toronto… Sun, 10 Mar 2019 16:17:21 +0000 In about a month, I’m going traveling.  Elyse and I are going to Toronto for about a week, and we’re going to see as much as we can in the five days that we will have on site.  My goal is to see as many Today’s Special filming locations as possible.  I’ve done a lot of research on these for the new version of the Today’s Special site that I’m still working on, and have written about these filming locations in the past.  I plan not only to visit the store again, but also a whole lot of others.  Meanwhile, Elyse has given me a list of stuff that she wants to see – a lot of it elevators – and we’re going to work as many of those in as we can as well.

It’s funny about what I’m doing similarly to my original trip to Toronto back in 1999, and what I’m doing differently.  We’re staying the Chelsea Hotel at Gerrard and Yonge, just like I did last time.  I booked a deluxe room, just like I did in the nineties, which should place us on a relatively high floor.  Mom and I had room 1667 back in 1999, and then I suppose that we’ll see what they give us this time around.  I would laugh if we got room 2137, which is also the number of Elyse’s favorite Metrobus.  We’ll see, I suppose.  From the photos that I saw, though, the Chelsea has been renovated since we were there before, so the Chelsea will be a very different experience than before, as I imagine that everything will look quite different.  The rooftop bar is now a fitness center, for one.  And speaking of the rooftop, unlike last time, when I was just under the age requirement to go on the roof deck (you had to be 19, and I was 18), and Mom brought me in anyway, I now am well above the age requirement to go in there.

I also wonder if the fire alarm will go off this time, like it did back in 1999.  I remember being a little uptight about that whole situation before.  After all, all of my experience prior to this was that if the fire alarm sounds, you leave the building.  They only evacuated three floors: the fire floor, and the floor immediately above and below.  I found out later that it was a relatively minor electrical fire on the 20th floor that was the source of all of the commotion.  Nowadays, I know a lot more about how high-rise fire alarm systems work, and might be a bit more sedate should something like that happen again.  I wonder if it still has those Pyrotronics pull stations.  Funny, though – I still remember what their alarm sounded like almost twenty years later.  That was the first time that I had ever heard a voice evacuation system, or a two-stage system.  It was memorable, but also a bit unnerving, since this was well outside of my experience, plus it was getting close to the time that we needed to leave to head home.

Meanwhile, we’re doing one major thing differently this time vs. back in 1999: we’re driving.  We’re loading up the HR-V and driving the eight or so hours to Toronto.  It turns out that it’s cheaper to drive once you have more than one person traveling compared to flying, taking a train, or going via intercity bus.  Plus we can bring as much luggage as we want, and I’m not exactly a light traveler.  I’m not a big fan of flying, and in fact, the trip to Canada in 1999 still is the last time that I ever went flying.  Every time that there’s any kind of bump, I’m thinking about how far down it is, which is not a nice thing to have running through your head when you’re however many thousand feet up in the air.  That said, I don’t miss flying in the least.  By driving, I am in complete control of the trip, and I don’t have to take my shoes off for anyone.

In driving, we’re taking different routes going up and down.  Going up, we’re taking a more westerly route, going through Breezewood, around Pittsburgh, and then up to Lake Erie, where we’re following the shore via until we get to Buffalo.  In other words, we’re taking I-70 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-79 to I-90, and then in Canada, we’re taking the Queen Elizabeth Way to the Gardiner Expressway to Yonge Street.  Then on the return, we’re going to visit a friend in North Chili, New York, and then heading down from there, zigzagging over to Altoona to visit the Sheetz flagship store, and then going home via Breezewood.

I’m also getting some shirts made for this trip.  I’m getting Camp Rainbow reprinted fresh, and I’m getting my TXL shirt remade.  I’m also getting a shirt with the “Hello Friend” blissymbols on it.  After all, if I’m seeing Today’s Special filming locations, I need Today’s Special themed shirts for this.

So all in all, I’m excited.  I get to, like, nerd out for the better part of a week.

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Home organization… Thu, 28 Feb 2019 13:33:53 +0000 I suppose that home design is a continuing evolution.  There’s the first wave of home organization, which is mainly about making moving boxes disappear, and then there’s that second wave later on where you come up with a more sustainable solution, after you’ve had time to think about how things should go.  I recently did this with the back bedroom, where I put it through a second wave of organization.  The back bedroom has always been a bit of a multipurpose room.  I can inflate my air mattress in there, and it becomes the guest bedroom.  It’s something of a playroom as well, as Elyse has used it to build Lego sets.  It’s also the home library, as that’s where I keep my books and videos and such.  The closet is a “miscellaneous storage” area, and is an open design.  It had an Elfa shelving system in it when I moved in, and it was laid out for hanging clothes at that time.  I organized the linen closet in the hallway at the same time that I did this project, since I was moving things between both spaces.  I had previously reorganized the linen closet in order to make the shelving arrangement more compact, and discovered how inefficient that space was.

Here’s what both spaces looked like before I started working on them:

Back bedroom closet.  Note that everything is just kind of thrown in there.
Back bedroom closet.  Note that everything is just kind of thrown in there.  We did this in order to quickly get the room operational ahead of a guest’s coming to visit, so that we could put them in here rather than in the living room.

Linen closet.  Lots of extra space.
Linen closet.  Lots of extra space.

So the goal here was to tighten up the spaces a bit and make better use of all of the volume in these spaces.  The linen closet originally had the shelves spaced evenly, but I wanted to see what I could get with a tighter layout, and didn’t have enough shelves to do it all at the heights that I wanted, leaving me with a lot of leftover space.  It worked well enough until I could come up with a better idea.

The plan that I came up with was to move the basket tower from the back bedroom closet into the linen closet, and arrange the shelves in the linen closet even more tightly than before.  I took measurements, and it all fit.  Then for the back bedroom closet, my plan was to move the two Elfa shelves from the right side to the left side and put them in between the existing shelves.  Then I was going to put an IKEA Kallax shelf in the empty space.  I was originally thinking about using a 5×5 Kallax, but when I measured it based on the dimensions that the website gave, it would be too large.  So I went with a 4×4.

The Kallax went together pretty well:

The Kallax, assembled

I would, however, recommend getting two people to assemble it, rather than just one.  I managed, but not without some difficulty.

Then the first thing up was the linen closet:

The linen closet, empty, with tape marking where I planned to put the shelves.  Completed linen closet.

The left photo shows the linen closet completely empty, with tape to mark where the shelves will go.  I went with six evenly-spaced shelves on the left, and planned to put the baskets to the right.  The right photo shows the completed linen closet.  As you can see, it’s a much tighter arrangement.  However, the baskets still contained what they had in the back bedroom.  I would move this later.

The back bedroom closet, meanwhile, hit a snag: my measurements were off, which meant that the Kallax didn’t fit by about three inches.  Rats.  Fortunately, it worked out, and better than the original plan.  I ended up using an extra shelf from the linen closet as a placeholder for the left, and then set the four shelves that would have gone next to the Kallax went above it instead.  I could live with that, so I went out and got a few more Elfa shelves to fill it out.  This was the final configuration:

The final closet arrangement.

Not bad at all.  The Kallax harmonizes with the built-in shelf on the right, and the Elfa goes around it rather elegantly.  After this, I put a bunch of IKEA Dröna inserts into the shelf in order to store things in it.

Meanwhile, this is the pile of stuff while I was working on the closet:

The pile of stuff

The majority of the stuff was fire alarms, which should not be surprising to anyone.  Every single one of those cardboard boxes, except for one, was full of alarms.  Now, they’re in nine Dröna containers, which makes them far more accessible for casual inspection.  The boxes made sense for the apartment, but in the house, this is better.

And finally, the finished product:

The completed closet.

I’ll take it.  My original thought for this closet when I bought the house was to put doors on it, but with careful planning, the open design works.  I might get more Dröna baskets to use on the shelves in the future to keep it from looking too junky, but we’ll see.  I still have several Kallax slots that are vacant, and a lot of shelf space to think about.  I definitely have more space than before, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, the next home organization project is going to be Elyse’s bedroom closet.  That had an Elfa shelving system as well, but it unexpectedly came out of the wall.  As it turns out, that shelf was improperly installed, as it was only installed into the drywall, and not into any studs.  Considering the stud layout in that area, I can’t reinstall the Elfa, and will probably incorporate that hardware into the other closets in the house.  So I’m looking for something freestanding for that location.  If anyone has any recommendations for a good, sturdy freestanding clothes rack that’s about three feet wide, let me know…

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I want to see a primary challenge in 2020… Mon, 18 Feb 2019 19:20:40 +0000 So with the 2018 midterm elections behind us, that means that it’s presidential season again.  This one is already shaping up to be an interesting one, with a large field of Democratic candidates, and a few possible primary challengers for Donald Trump.

As of this writing, there are eleven declared candidates on the Democratic side of things.  A big field like that should produce a good nominee.  By comparison, in 1992, the last time that the Democrats (or anyone) unseated a sitting president, there was a field of nine candidates.  At this point, I am taking a watch-and-see attitude, because I consider it to be too early to really judge it all yet.  I expect that we will see even more candidates emerge on the Democratic side before it’s over, and there is still much to happen before I really dive in and pay attention to them like I mean it.  I’m more hopeful about certain candidates than others, but again, it’s still too early.

In the meantime, I am more interested in what the Republicans are doing at this stage in the process.  As I indicated in the title, I want to see Trump fend off a primary challenge from within his own party.  I have seen lots of discussion and speculation on possible Republican candidates to primary the president, and they all seem like they have potential.  I’ve heard Utah senator Mitt Romney‘s name get thrown around as a potential primary challenger, along with former Ohio governor John Kasich, former Senator Bob Corker, and Maryland governor Larry Hogan.  In addition, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld has formed an exploratory committee, though hasn’t formally declared.  All of them seem like decent enough politicians.  They should run.

I told my mother and several friends about how I’m rooting for several Republicans to join the race, and they were all somewhat shocked to hear me say that, considering how much of a leftist I tend to be.  But fear not – my idea is far more nuanced than the statement might initially let on at face value.  I don’t want to see any of them actually become president.  In Hogan’s case, I voted for his Democratic opponent in both 2014 and 2018, and would be quite content to never hear from him again after his term as Maryland governor is up.

But I do want you to pay attention to how much damage a primary challenge can inflict on a sitting president.  Looking at presidential races following the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which instituted term limits for the presidency and also forms a convenient demarcation for where the modern presidency starts, history shows us that sitting presidents who get a primary challenge typically don’t get reelectedLyndon Johnson got several primary challengers in 1968, which led him to drop out of the race fairly early on.  Gerald Ford got a primary challenge in 1976 by Ronald Reagan.  Ford survived the challenge, and then lost in November.  In 1976, Jimmy Carter got primaried by Ted Kennedy in 1980.  Carter survived the primary challenge, and then lost to Ronald Reagan in November.  Then in 1992, Pat Buchanan launched a primary challenge against George Bush.  Buchanan didn’t prevail, but Bush then went on to lose to Bill Clinton in the general election.  The common thread here is that if a sitting president gets a primary challenge, it’s a clear sign that he’s not going to be president beyond the end of the current term.

That’s why I’m hoping that these Republicans run.  Trump needs some dissension in the Republican ranks.  I want to see him go through a bruising primary fight.  I hope that they leave him very damaged.  History has demonstrated on multiple occasions that presidents who get primaried don’t get second terms.

However, this does not excuse the Democrats from nominating the best candidate possible.  After all, history also shows us that when you nominate a warm body whose only selling point is that they aren’t the opposition candidate, as happened in 2004 with John Kerry, and in 2016 with Hillary Clinton, the opponent wins.  Kerry was a rather boring, forgettable candidate who later went on to be a rather boring, forgettable Secretary of State.  Hillary Clinton was a “my turn” candidate who already had lots of political baggage coming into the race, which the Republicans quickly weaponized against her.  Then add to Hillary’s list of problems the way that it looked like her nomination was rammed through, plus she completely alienated the progressive wing of her party after receiving the nomination through her choice of Virginia senator Tim Kaine as running mate.  Russian interference or not, the Democrats fouled things up big time.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have another problem that they need to overcome, and that’s the way that they tend to turn on and devour their own whenever any impropriety from someone’s past is revealed.  This most recently came to light with the scandal surrounding Virginia governor Ralph Northam.

For those not familiar, right-wing media site Big League Politics published a page from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook, which included a photo on Northam’s page depicting a person wearing blackface, standing next to someone wearing Ku Klux Klan regalia.  Northam has waffled on whether or not he was actually in the photo, but by then, the damage had already been done.  Various prominent Democrats started falling all over themselves to join the crowd calling for Northam to resign his office.  Northam has thus far refused to do so, and I suspect that he will serve out the remainder of his term.  The same website then also released information about Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax regarding an alleged sexual assault.  Democrats started falling all over themselves all over again calling for Fairfax’s resignation.

For the record, I find the yearbook photos associated with Northam to be inexcusable.  They were just as wrong when they were made as they are considered today.  They’re incredibly racist and insensitive, and should never have been taken, let alone be published anywhere.  Take an example from my elementary school days.  In November 1988, the teachers in my school put on a program called “Turkey Theater” for a PTA fundraiser.  The teachers from each grade level put on their own act.  The sixth grade teachers performed “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes.  They did it in character as The Supremes, including wearing blackface in order to complete the look.  A photo of them in costume made it into the yearbook.  The use of blackface was inexcusable, and didn’t add anything to what was otherwise a very good performance.  I’ll bet that all three of those teachers would express regret for this act nowadays.

But in any case, I don’t think that Northam should resign his office for the incident.  To resign from office sends some very strong messages that I don’t believe are justified.

First, it says that people are completely defined by their past.  It says that people are incapable of growing and changing with the passage of time.  It also says that only people with a completely perfect past are allowed to run for public office.  I challenge you to find someone – anyone – that is exactly the same person that they were twenty years ago.  We all grow and change with the introduction of new ideas and experiences, after all.  Look at some of the really old stuff on Schumin Web compared to today, and you will find that I’m not the same person now that I was back then.  If nothing else, the difference in the quality of the writing should tip you off.  I also challenge you to find someone – anyone – who doesn’t have something in their past that they would rather not have to answer for in the present time.  It doesn’t even have to be something terrible.  But everyone has an “old shame” that they would rather leave in the past, which doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) define them today.  In Northam’s case, his actions since then have demonstrated that he is no longer the person who may or may not be in the photo, though I believe that his political career will still be over following the expiration of his term in 2022, as I suspect that he couldn’t even get elected dogcatcher following this recent scandal.

It also hands a big advantage to the Republicans and others who wish to see the Democrats lose.  All that they have to do in order to destroy a Democrat is to bring something unflattering to light, and then the Democrats will turn on the targeted individual and destroy them from within.  It can be easily weaponized by the right wing, and considering that the same people who outed Northam immediately then went after Fairfax, they knew exactly what they were doing.  And the Democrats play right into their hands, enabling the tactic, and also shooting themselves in the foot, because that sort of stuff weakens the party as a whole.  We saw how differently the Republicans handled things when it came to Donald Trump and his remarks about grabbing women in their nether regions.  The GOP winced for a minute, but then they moved on.  And they came out with majorities in both houses and the presidency following that election.  The Democrats might want to take note of that.  I hate suggesting that the Democrats emulate the tactics used by the Republican Party, because they’re an absolutely despicable party, but those tactics unfortunately work, so fight fire with fire.

Stuff like this is why Democrats always seem to lose.  Being the party of integrity doesn’t win elections when the other side will utilize whatever it can to get what it wants.  The Democrats play nice, and nice guys often finish last.  Though I admit that I have been quite pleased with Nancy Pelosi this time around, as she seems to have grown a spine since her last time as speaker, and is more than happy to be a thorn in Trump’s side.  We could have used this Pelosi during the Obamacare debate, but better late than never, I suppose.

So all in all, get your popcorn, because the 2020 race is shaping up to be a very interesting one.  Ultimately, I hope that it knocks Donald Trump out of the White House, but there’s a lot that still needs to happen before we get there.

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It’s been a year since the car fire… Thu, 07 Feb 2019 18:18:20 +0000 Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day that I lost my Kia Soul in a massive fire.  I’ve chosen to commemorate the occasion with a photo set called “Remembering the Soul“, which looks back over the entire life of the Soul, from test drives to the end.  I made the set in part for Elyse, because she had a harder time getting over the fire than I did, and I also wanted to put the fire in perspective with the rest of the Soul’s life in an attempt to somewhat curate the way that she is remembered.  In the past year, it’s been very easy to think of the Soul only for the fire, because the last memories with her involved standing on the roadside and watching her burn to death.  But there were quite a few happy years and wonderful memories made prior to that, and the photo set is a reminder of that, even if she never made it to 100,000 miles.

Meanwhile, in the intervening year, I’ve watched as Hyundai and Kia have gotten some major criticism for other fires in their vehicles, including another 2012 model Soul in Virginia.  From what I can tell, it’s involved the Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe, and the Kia Optima, Sorento, Sportage, and Soul.  Most recently, I’ve seen a recall that focuses on the above named models, minus the Soul, and it seems to explain everything adequately as far as my fire goes.  According to an article on the subject:

Hyundai and Kia started recalling 1.7 million vehicles in 2015 – about 618,000 of which are Kias – because manufacturing debris can restrict oil flow to connecting rod bearings.  That can cause bearings in 2-liter and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines to wear and fail.  The problem can also cause fires.  The repair in many cases is an expensive engine block replacement.

It all seems to jive with my experience so far. The Soul’s original engine died when a rod seized, and the problem was fixed with a new engine under warranty.

It continues:

Now the companies are acknowledging that the engine replacements may not have been properly done in all cases by dealers.  A Kia statement says the high-pressure fuel pipe may have been damaged, misaligned or improperly tightened while the engines were being replaced under recall.  That can allow fuel to leak and hit hot engine parts, causing fires.

That seems to agree with everything that happened to me on the night of February 7, 2018.  The engine started to act as though it was not getting enough fuel, only getting power intermittently.  Not long after this started, as the car was in the process of slowing down due to its only receiving fuel intermittently, we saw flames come out of the engine compartment.  And in all of the photos of the fire, there is a large puddle of fuel burning on the road underneath the car.  It definitely sounds like something went wrong with the fuel pipe.

Ultimately, though, in the case of my car, this is all speculation, since the official investigation by the insurance company was inconclusive due to the fire’s burning everything quite thoroughly.  Fire has a tendency to do that.  It makes me think that I was probably right to fault the dealership for the repair work.  Plus the insurance company wrote me a check for the full value of the Soul, which effectively puts me out of the process, since I’ve been made whole again while the insurance company goes after Kia to get their money back.  Meanwhile, as far as Kia goes, I have nothing to say to them.  I will never purchase another Kia vehicle (or Hyundai vehicle, for that matter), and Kia PR has said in the news, more or less, that once the car catches fire, screw you, because at that point it’s no longer their problem, but rather, it’s now the insurance company’s problem.  Nor would they give me my final mileage reimbursement as part of the class action lawsuit about gas mileage, which my car was included in.  Likewise, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Herson’s Kia (or any other Herson’s facility) to anyone, since they were the ones who did the engine replacement, and were the last shop to touch my car before the fire.

The high occurrence of fires tells me that Hyundai and Kia vehicles are simply not safe cars.  The Center for Auto Safety includes all Kia Souls in the 2010 through 2015 model years in their request for a recall.  By that metric, every single first-gen Kia Soul, such as mine, along with the first two years of the second-gen Soul, is a fireball waiting to happen.  I suppose that when you consider that Hyundai and Kia vehicles cost a whole lot less than other vehicles (Daniel Pinkwater once called a low price on a car “Hyundai money” on Car Talk), perhaps the old saying that you get what you pay for is true in this case.  The Soul ran me somewhere around $17,000 back in 2012, and the HR-V cost me right around $24,000 last year.  Hondas are considered to be very reliable cars, and the high number of old Civics, Accords, and CR-Vs still on the road seems to confirm that.  Kia, not so much.  I suppose that I got my money’s worth out of the Soul – and no more than that.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting along quite well with my Honda HR-V since then.  We’ll celebrate our one-year anniversary together on the 12th.  Our first year together has been fun.  We’ve been on several trips, climbing a few mountains in the process, plus we do the daily commute together.  I enjoy putting the car in sport mode at times, and have a good amount of fun with that – especially on the way home from work.  That’s not to say that it’s been all fun and games, though.  It took me a while to get used to the HR-V, and I was absolutely miserable with it for the first month or so.  I suppose that it wasn’t the HR-V’s fault.  I was still not over the Soul, and I imagine that I would have been just as miserable in any car during that mourning period.  Now that I’m over the Soul and used to the HR-V, we make a good pair, and I’ve become proficient in the use of many of her features.  I even have my own little nickname for her now: the “Herv”, which basically pronounces “HR-V” as if it’s a single word.  I also got door dinged by someone early on, which was frustrating.  If you look carefully at some early photos of the HR-V, you’ll see the ding on the left rear door.  I got that fixed last August, because that door ding happened on my brand new car through no fault of my own, and there was no question that I was getting that fixed.  But all in all, the HR-V and I are getting along just fine.  I never realized how nice it was to have heated seats until I got this car.  Likewise, I didn’t realize how much I missed having a moon roof until I got this car (the last car that I had with a moon roof was the Previa, which I got rid of in early 2006), as well as having automatic climate controls again (the Sable had them, but the Soul did not).

So all in all, after a rough start to the year bringing an unexpected change (and a brand new car payment), I suppose that things are going well for me again, automotively.  The Soul will forever occupy a special place in my memory, but I’m glad to be making new memories in the HR-V.

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Looking back on some old photos… Tue, 29 Jan 2019 18:32:16 +0000 Recently, Elyse and I were coming home from Frederick on a night with a very bright full moon.  The discussion turned towards how it was moonlight that was making everything so bright.  I was no stranger to this concept, and remembered a set of photos that I shot on July 31, 2004.  There, I was up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia near Rockfish Gap, shooting photos after work using Big Mavica with the tripod, under a full moon.  It was late at night, but the photos might have almost led you to think otherwise:

I remember being amazed at the time about how much the sky, under that eight-second exposure, looked like daytime. That was moonlight.  It was after midnight.  I was amazed that the camera managed to capture a blue sky.  The only giveaways are the shadows on the foreground objects (though the leaves are clearly green in the second photo), and the many lights on the ground below.  I suppose that I learned a lot from these photos.  I learned that the sky is always blue, even if it’s too dark for us to see it.

I also learned that you never know what you’re going to get when you ramp up the exposure settings on your camera.  I experimented a lot with my tripod back in these days, and I was willing to be surprised by the results.  It’s been a long time since I just fiddled around with my camera’s exposure settings and sat back to see what I got.  I suppose that Intentionally Overexposed from 2017 fits that mold, though that was more about repairing a trip after I drove more than two hours to southern Maryland for a sunrise that got clouded out, though I did like the result.

Meanwhile, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one thing that I miss from when I lived in Virginia.  It was a good way to unwind after a day of dealing with all of the nonsense that came with working at Walmart.  I would go up there and hit a few overlooks, and just stand there looking out over the valley below, and just being alone with my thoughts.  It was kind of nice.  I would start at Rockfish Gap and go down to about Raven’s Roost or so, and then I would either turn around and go back home via Rockfish Gap, or I would go the back way home, which would take me through Sherando.  I did, however, eventually learn to skip the first overlook entirely.  Being a stone’s throw away from the main entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it tended to attract undesirables, and was somewhat trashier than others.  Nothing drove that point home more than one time in 2006 when I was parked there and sitting on the tailgate of the Sable, alone with my thoughts, and a man approached me and propositioned me for sex.  No thank you.  I’m pretty sure that he turned tail and left pretty quickly after that, and I did as well.  But when I went further down on the Parkway, I never had any problems, plus, being further from I-64, it was quieter.

In any case, I always liked this group of photos for what I captured in them, even if the quality meant that they weren’t good enough to use them for anything at the time.  There was no photo feature on the website at that time, and this didn’t even get any mention in the Journal.  I have plenty of old stuff that I’ve never published for whatever reason, and some of it may be worth discussing in the future, now that time has passed.

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Why was I afraid of this as a child? Fri, 18 Jan 2019 18:16:22 +0000 Remember this segment from Sesame Street episode 1578, where Gordon talks about rain?

For some reason, that segment, which I called “Gordon in a wig”, terrified me as a small child.  I watched it once, and apparently, didn’t like it.  After that first viewing, I would turn the television off whenever it came on.

A few years ago, I found the segment on YouTube, and gave it a watch.  As an adult, I thought it was hilarious.  Gordon is very passionately advocating on behalf of rain, and getting rained on inside of his office.  Considering the wig and the glasses, I imagine that he is spoofing someone, but I don’t know who.  (If someone knows, let me know.)

I suppose that this also shows how our memories are imperfect.  The segment that I saw as an adult is clearly the same one that I saw as a child, but it wasn’t quite as I remembered it.  I remember Gordon’s greeting of “Howdy, friends,” and an “it’s rain!” exclamation, but otherwise don’t remember hearing most of the talking as a child.  For some reason, I remember seeing Gordon sitting at a desk with that wig on, getting rained on, people coming in and standing with him, his saying that it’s rain, and then taking off his wig, wringing it out, and putting it back on.

I also didn’t remember the wig’s being this neat as a child:

Gordon near the beginning of the scene

I only remembered it like this, from near the end:

Gordon after having put his wig back on after wringing it out

Perhaps it was the plant behind Gordon’s head that made me remember the wig’s final look as existing throughout the show.  Who knows.  I also remember a much wider shot than it turned out to be.

But for some reason, all of this terrified me.  I suppose that this was too much for preschool-aged me to process at the time, with Gordon, who is normally bald, wearing a wig, rain indoors, people standing around him in the rain that’s happening indoors, and then finally taking the wig off, squeezing it out, and putting it back on.

It’s stuff like this that makes me glad that we have the Internet and all of the various things that it contains.  I went around with this segment burned into my memory for thirty years.  Over the years, I figured that it probably wasn’t nearly as bad as preschool-aged me made it out to be, but I had no way of seeing for myself.  When I found it on the Internet, I was delighted to find that it was really funny.  Sesame Street is good about throwing in some stuff to make it entertaining for the adults as well as the kids in order to encourage kids and parents to watch it together, and I suppose that this was one of those instances.  The educational content, after all, is for the kids.  Adults know that rain works hard to make it a better, wetter world, but the ridiculous situation that they put Gordon in made me laugh as an adult.

It’s also why I encourage everyone to seek out some of the media that they watched as a child, just to see what you think of it now as an adult.  My results have been mixed.  Some stuff is better appreciated as an adult, now that you’re old enough to get all of the jokes.  Pee-wee’s Playhouse is a good one in that regard, because that show threw in so much double entendre that sailed right over the kids’ heads, but the adults get it.  Then there’s some stuff that’s better left as a memory, like a lot of the old Care Bears stuff.  As a child, I used to eat that stuff right up.  But as an adult, it’s just not that good.  It didn’t talk down to the children, but it definitely was only for children, and not something that the parents could enjoy with them.  Past decades had crap television, too, after all.

In any case, I suppose that you should go out and support your local rainstorm.  Gordon is counting on you.

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I have so many great ideas for photography, and I want a banner year… Sat, 12 Jan 2019 18:24:48 +0000 Let’s admit – 2018 was kind of a bust when it came to photography.  I had plans, but none of them really came to fruition, with the exception of my trip to Centralia in May.  Even the big road trip in October produced only tepid results.  Most of that can be attributed to extremely poor luck when it came to the weather.  I got rained out almost every single time I planned to do something exciting.  Sure, we’re not in a drought situation anymore (far from it), but I have a shortage of newer material, which affects other parts of the site.

That said, I have lots of plans for photo sets.  I keep a list of ideas, but unfortunately, due to the rate that these shoots get accomplished, I have referred to the list as “The place where photo set ideas go to die.”  A lot of the list contains infrastructure sites, such as tunnels and bridges, both locally and on the road in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  I also want to do some explore-the-town photo sets, again both locally and on the road.  I also want to do a few reshoots of old subjects that I think that I can do better now than I did way back in the day.  See Richmond’s Canal Walk from 2002 and Richmond 2013 for an example of this.  Here are two photos of the same subject – one from the 2002 set and the 2013 set:

2002 photo
2002 photo.

2013 photo
2013 photo.

I don’t know about you, but I like the 2013 photo better.  I like the framing better, and it’s clear that I was standing closer to my subject in the 2013 shot.  Back in 2002, I did a lot more volume.  I took way more individual photos, but they weren’t as inspired, and I didn’t take as much time composing them.  The results reflect that.

In any case, it’s fun to make old subjects new again.  I want to give this treatment to my old Malcolm X Park photo set from 2005.  I did the original set in two separate visits about two months apart.  While I still like a lot of the photos from the 2005 set, I think I could do a whole lot better today.  The park has barely changed in the almost 14 years since the original set was made.  I’m pretty sure that the only difference is that the restrooms were moved.  They used to be adjacent to the top of the fountain, but now they’re in the upper section of the park, built inside an existing structure.  However, I would probably call the new photo set “Meridian Hill Park”, as I’ve not heard the “Malcolm X Park” name used in many years.  I also want to reshoot Old Town Alexandria, which I first photographed in 2002, and, to a lesser extent, in 2003.  That original 2002 set was a hot mess.  It’s clear that I didn’t try very hard, and was just taking snapshots while walking down the street, and the accompanying narration was terrible.  The 2003 set was marginally better.  I remember that 2003 set for the timing.  I was also visiting the George Washington Masonic Memorial that day, and so I did the waterfront set, and then power walked it from there to the Masonic Memorial to make the tour time.  In a modern set, I want to focus on details, and not just snapping while walking.  Based on the timestamps on the original photos, I did the whole 2002 shoot in just under an hour.  Same thing for 2003.  Nowadays, I spend more time, and the results show it.

I also want to do more infrastructure photography.  I want to photograph a wind farm, and did some scouting for that on what was otherwise a rainout when Elyse and I went to Centralia.  I also located another one near Cumberland (Twin Ridges), though I’m not quite sure how I would access it based on a look at Google Maps.  I also have several bridges and tunnels on my wish list.  Some are local, and others are not.

I also want to accomplish a few rainout photo sets.  I want to complete “The Wasteland”, i.e. that photo set that I wanted to shoot in Centralia but got rained out for, in 2019.  I also want to go back out to Piney Point to get that sunrise.  Recall that I tried that before and was rained out, though I did get “Intentionally Overexposed” out of it, so it wasn’t a total wash.

And, of course, I am not above cheesy pop culture references.  I want to do a photo feature showing street signs at the intersection of 4th and D Streets in DC, based on the “Capital City” song on The Simpsons.  DC has three 4th and D intersections (there isn’t one in Northwest), and my plan is to photograph all three of them and see what shot I like best.  That might be fun.

So all in all, I think that I have my work cut out for me in 2019.  Let’s hope that I knock a few things off of the list.

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So Christmas in Montgomery Village was a tad underwhelming… Thu, 27 Dec 2018 19:44:17 +0000 Elyse and I drove around our immediate area in Montgomery Village looking at lights after I got home from work on Christmas Eve.  The sense that we got from driving around was that this wasn’t a big year for decorating.  There were some houses that were decorated, but on the whole, there was not a whole lot going on.  Last Christmas was definitely better, though admittedly, it is more of a challenge to successfully decorate townhouses than single-family houses.  Nonetheless, I have a few highlights to share:

These were the only decorations of note on my street.  It appears that these two houses coordinated their efforts, as the decorations in the second-floor windows match, and the lighting on the hedges on both properties also matches.
These were the only decorations of note on my street.  It appears that these two houses coordinated their efforts, as the decorations in the second-floor windows match, and the lighting on the hedges on both properties also matches.

On the other side of my neighborhood, some simple white lighting around the door, and what looks like a blanket of lights on the hedges.
On the other side of my neighborhood, some simple white lighting around the door, and what looks like a blanket of lights on the hedges.

An end unit townhouse.  Lighted Christmas tree and reindeer, and some of those animated projection lights.  In general, I consider the projection lights to be fairly low effort displays.
An end unit townhouse.  Lighted Christmas tree and reindeer, and some of those animated projection lights.  In general, I consider the projection lights to be fairly low effort displays.

Over in Picton of Birlstone, which has back-to-back townhouses, this was the only display of note, with a manger scene on one side, a more secular display on the other, and some lights to bring it all together.
Over in Picton of Birlstone, which has back-to-back townhouses, this was the only display of note, with a manger scene on one side, a more secular display on the other, and some lights to bring it all together.

I admit, though – with back-to-back townhouses, it’s probably pretty hard to decorate for Christmas.  Your fenced yard is in front, and thus half of your house’s facade is obscured.

This one is at the entrance to my neighborhood, and was by far the most decorated in the whole bunch.  Lots of inflatables, including a character from Frozen and a snow globe, and lots of projection lights.
This one is at the entrance to my neighborhood, and was by far the most decorated in the whole bunch.  Lots of inflatables, including a character from Frozen and a snow globe, and lots of projection lights.

This one is off of Lewisberry, which has more back-to-back townhouses.  These houses have even less area to decorate than Picton, but as seen here, it's possible to do it well.
This one is off of Lewisberry, which has more back-to-back townhouses.  These houses have even less area to decorate than Picton, but as seen here, it’s possible to do it well.

In another neighborhood across East Village Avenue, this was the only house that was decorated.  In this case, they did the space around the entrance.
In another neighborhood across East Village Avenue, this was the only house that was decorated.  In this case, they did the space around the entrance.

In a neighborhood of single-family houses, this one stuck out due to the more tropical theme.  Palm trees and a flamingo!
In a neighborhood of single-family houses, this one stuck out due to the more tropical theme.  Palm trees and a flamingo!

These two houses were the only ones that I found that were really done up for Christmas in a major way.

These two houses were the only ones that I found that were really done up for Christmas in a major way.
These two houses were the only ones that I found that were really done up for Christmas in a major way.

So all in all, it was kind of a blah year for Christmas decor.  But note that it is, in fact, possible to decorate a back-to-back townhouse in grand fashion, as seen last year:

House off of Montgomery Village Avenue decorated for Christmas in 2017

Meanwhile, I am considering doing some simple decorating for next year.  I have always been a fan of simple white light, and so I’m thinking about getting an LED floodlight and lighting the front of the house for December, and then putting a wreath on the door.  Nothing major, but more than nothing.  We’ll see if I do it, I suppose.

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The things that a mother will do for her child… Fri, 14 Dec 2018 19:00:52 +0000 One of my favorite books as a small child was Sir Andrew by Paula Winter.  For those not familiar, it is a wordless picture book about a donkey who is very vain, who both gets in and causes trouble over the course of the story due to his vanity.  We first found it at the library in Rogers, Arkansas, where we lived at the time.  Apparently, I wanted my own copy of Sir Andrew, having liked the book that much.  However, in the mid 1980s, over a decade before Amazon and the Internet became commonplace, locating a book like that for purchase was a very tall order.  So my mother did what she could to make me happy: she photocopied the entire book, colored it, and bound it.  I knew that it was a homemade copy from the moment that I saw it, but I was pleased as punch nonetheless.  This was the Sir Andrew that I grew up with:

My bootleg copy of Sir Andrew

I got many hours of enjoyment out of this book as a child.  However, I always wondered how the colors in my bootleg copy compared to the real book.  So a few weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and ordered myself a real copy of the book on Amazon:

My legit copy of Sir Andrew

Fittingly, my copy is a former library book.  When I opened the book, I expected to see a very different set of colors compared to the bootleg version.  Surprisingly, what I saw as far as color went was not unfamiliar.  Mom went for accuracy more than I realized.

Here’s a page from early in the story, showing Sir Andrew getting dressed:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

The colors are, for the most part, right, and in the right places.  Sir Andrew was not lavishly colored to begin with, but rather, made use of a muted color palette to draw contrast between certain objects.  Mom used bolder colors, most likely due to the materials that she had on hand, but I don’t mind the result.

Here’s another illustration, from the middle of the story:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

Mom more or less nailed it, emphasizing the right objects with color, and fairly closely matching the colors, with a little extra color in the wares in the right window as the only noticeable difference.  This page also illustrates exactly how vain Sir Andrew is.  Notice that he is admiring his reflection in the mirror rather than watching where he is going, not seeing the open cellar door ahead of him.

Mom didn’t necessarily nail it on every page, though:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

In this situation, she took a little bit of artistic license with the cars, giving them a lot more color than they had originally.  But I like it that way.  Something about that orange Volkswagen that just seems to work.

And here’s one more instance where Mom was more or less spot on:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

Going to show once again that Sir Andrew is interested in one person, and one person only: himself.  Note that he rushes out into traffic without looking as he was chasing his hat, causing an accident, and also knocks over a trash can, which causes a painter to fall.  He doesn’t notice either.  The last page of the book shows him about to slip on a banana peel that he doesn’t see because he is still admiring his own reflection.

All in all, I’m glad to finally have a real copy of Sir Andrew.  The real copy and the bootleg copy now live side by side on my bookshelf.  I will always treasure the bootleg copy, which used index cards to give it strength, and contact paper to give it resilience, as part of my childhood.  But now I’m glad to have a real copy as well, to be able to compare the two.  Knowing how much Mom went for accuracy in making my childhood copy makes me admire it even more.

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I don’t want to undertake another unfinished furniture project for a long time… Sat, 01 Dec 2018 13:00:45 +0000 At last, my journey into the land of unfinished furniture is over.  Four dining chairs and an end table are now complete and in service.  My house looks way better for it, but I am so glad that it’s done and over with.

For this project, I was staining to match existing furniture.  I tested a few colors, and ultimately settled on Varathane “Early American” for the stain.  Unlike the kitchen chairs, stain and polyurethane were separate efforts for these pieces, since the right color was not a combo item like it was for the kitchen chairs.

I’ve already shown the unfinished chairs in the Journal entry about the rugs.  Recall:

The unfinished chairs, in place in the living room

Then this photo amused me:

Chair with no seat

This was during the assembly, before I put the seat on.  I remarked that we could always leave it like this and just slide a chamber pot underneath.

And then this is the end table:

The end table after assembly

I did the whole thing as three distinct projects: the first chair, the remaining three chairs, and then the end table.  The process was an initial light sanding, staining, two or three coats of polyurethane, a second light sanding, and then the final coat of polyurethane.

The biggest challenge with this project was the staining.  This was my first non-water-based staining project, which presented new challenges because it didn’t just rinse away with water like I was used to.  To clean up, I had to use mineral spirits, which presented its own challenges.  In my initial staining session, I learned pretty quickly that it’s easy to spread that stain around if you’re not careful, and mineral spirits make it far more complicated to clean.  What I ended up doing was going full-on disposable.  I bought a big bag of painting rags and foam brushes from Amazon, and I wore rubber gloves.  At the end of each staining session, everything went into the trash, and I didn’t need to use the mineral spirits.

Here’s a half-stained chair up on the breakfast bar:

A half-stained chair

And then this was the final result after all of that work:

All done!

That night, Elyse and I had dinner at the table, on the new chairs.

And here’s the completed end table:

The end table, completed

Not bad, if you ask me.  My plan is to put a lamp on top of the table and keep items for use with the TV in the drawer, but I’m not sure what I’m doing with that open space inside just yet.  The original plan for the lamps was to put a new lamp there with some sort of generic filler inside of it, but then, not being satisfied with any of my options for the living room, I decided to move the shell lamp from the mezzanine to the living room, and then put the new lamp in the mezzanine, with a filler to match that space.

So all in all, things are slowly coming together.

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And now, new toilets… Fri, 23 Nov 2018 19:16:49 +0000 A year after buying the place, I’m still working hard to make it my own.  First it was the new furniture from IKEA.  Then I painted Elyse’s bathroom.  Then I finished the chairs in the kitchen.  Then I painted Elyse’s bedroom.  Then it was the area rugs.  And now, it’s new toilets.  I suppose that this is what happens when you become mature, that buying and installing new toilets becomes exciting.

In any case, Elyse and I had both been less than enthused about our respective toilets from the moment that we moved in.  The ones in Elyse’s bathroom and mine were both fairly old, and both had problems.  Mine leaked water from the tank into the bowl, which was a waste of water, and it also splashed me in certain places, which was quite annoying.  Then parts of Elyse’s didn’t work, which reduced its effectiveness, which also ultimately wasted water.  So they were both quickly marked for replacement.  The toilet in the half bath is in good shape, and is not slated to be replaced, though we are planning to do a small refurbushment project on it, likely coupled with a repainting project in that room.

On September 29, Elyse and I finally took the plunge.  While we were out in Hagerstown, after looking at a store called CoinOpWarehouse, we went over to Lowe’s and looked at the different toilets that they had.  She got the Ove Beverly, which had a very modern design. I got the American Standard Champion 4, which is an ADA height toilet of more traditional design.  This is what the Champion 4 looked like in the store:

The American Standard Champion 4

And here they are on the cart:

Our new toilets, ready to go home

Getting them home, Elyse’s toilet was the first one to go in.  She was the one who knew a thing or two about plumbing and was doing most of the work, and so doing her toilet first was her prerogative.  We ended up referring to Elyse’s toilet as “Bev” during the installation work, almost instantly giving it personality.  Bev went in pretty easily, but we found some issues when we went to do mine.  On mine, the flange had previously been repaired, and the repair job was a little questionable, according to Elyse, which put her beyond her level of comfort.  So we called in Len the Plumber, and got the new toilet put on without issue.

I suppose that knowing when to stop and call in the professionals is a mark of wisdom.  After all, I am paying a lot of money for this house, and I intend to take good care of my investment.  I also won’t necessarily live in this house forever, and so I want to make sure that I am a good steward of it while it is in my care, so that I can get a good price for it when I eventually sell it (though not for quite some time, mind you).

All in all, the new toilets look good and work well.  Here is Bev in her new home:

Bev, down in Elyse's bathroom

And here’s my commode in its new home:

The American Standard Champion 4 in my bathroom

Not bad, if you ask me.  And then here’s Elyse working on dismantling the old toilet in her bathroom:

Elyse dismantles her old toilet

Then here’s Elyse getting rid of her old toilet (Len the Plumber got rid of mine) at the Shady Grove Transfer Station:

Elyse poses for one final photo with the old commode at the Shady Grove Transfer Station.

And finally, the toilet in the dumpster:

Elyse's old toilet in the dumpster at the Shady Grove Transfer Station.

Not bad, if you ask me.  These new toilets are definitely an improvement over the old ones.  I’m pretty sure that Elyse’s old toilet was original to the house (it looked the same as others in the same neighborhood when we went house hunting), while my old one dated to the early 2000s.

Then I also did one other bathroom renovation project: removal of the doors on Elyse’s shower.  That all came together pretty quickly.  I have never been a big fan of shower doors, but since it wasn’t in my bathroom, I was content to let it be.  Then Elyse fell in the shower, and her only (minor) injuries were caused by the track beneath the doors.  She wanted them gone, and I was quick to oblige.  I had all of the tools necessary to take them out, and so I made quick work out of them.

Now you see them:

The shower doors, moments before being dismantled

And now you don’t:

No more shower doors!

And the hardware went out in the hallway, ready to be hauled away:

No more shower doors!

Meanwhile, getting rid of them says something about how resilient those shower doors were.  When we got them to the Shady Grove Transfer Station, we deliberately tried to smash the glass.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get them to break, which was a bit disappointing.  But I suppose that was a good thing during their service life.

And then this is the new look of Elyse’s shower:

The new shower curtain

Elyse went for a world map design, and it appears to be the current map (note presence of South Sudan).  And Russia is orange, as it should be, though Canada is not pink.  I’ve always said that the “proper” map colors include a pink Canada and an orange Russia, and no one is going to convince me otherwise.

So all in all, Elyse’s bathroom is much changed from the bathroom that the previous owner knew.  New paint, new shower head, new toilet, and now a new shower door.  I want to eventually pull out the sink and put in something with a proper vanity, but that’s more of a wish-list thing for much further down the road.

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