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May 4th, 2024

And Speaking Of Cute Little Baltimore Rowhouses…

Having a house is like having a lover. Or at least I assume it is since I’ve never had a lover. But, so I’m told, lovers have their little ways of making it clear when they are feeling neglected. So do cute little Baltimore Rowhouses.

I came home Thursday after a week long road trip from Oceano back to Baltimore, which was after a two month stay at my brother’s house. I did the usual stuff before leaving the house…turned off the water at the main, shut off all the unnecessary electric devices, set the thermostat to vacation mode, and so on. The house was in winter mode when I left, and now it’s working itself up to springtime here in Maryland. So I get back to a house that’s still assuming it’s winter, with most of its services turned off and the first thing is a turn things back on, and then get the house set for warmer weather.

But first I have to get my stuff out of the car. I bring a ton of luggage with me on these road trips, plus cameras, and I’m getting too old to be lugging around all that weight. I’ll probably be unpacking for days, and after getting all that stuff out of the car and up the steps to my front door, I’m beat.

I notice I have squatters. Well…robins. There is a nest on top of my porch light. I look around for the parents and don’t see them, but I assume they’re somewhere in the trees watching. I know it’s robins because they’ve tried this before and if it were mockingbirds I would be being attacked now.

Later, I checked again for any sign of robins and I didn’t see any. So I got a mirror and looked in the nest for eggs. There weren’t any. It was a bit spooky how the nest looked like it was in pristine ready to move in shape and there was no sign it had ever been used. Something scared them away it seems. Or they got eaten. But the neighborhood seems not to have any cats around nowadays. I’ve no idea, but since the nest was empty I took it down.

I have not seen any robins at all since I got back. This morning I put the bird feeders back out and slowly the customers are returning.

My door has a mail slot so there is no mailbox to overflow. When I got back I had a mountain of unread unopened mail on the other side of my door, which made opening the door difficult. Last time, when I stayed in California for almost four months, I had mail forwarded. But I learned that some important letters don’t get forwarded anyway because the sender specifically asks the post office not to do that. So I didn’t bother forwarding mail this time because of that, and also I reckoned two months was not so long I couldn’t deal with anything that came while I was gone, and my monthly bills can be easily paid online. But while I was out there I started noticing that my city water bill kept showing a zero balance due every time I checked. I had no idea but thought it might be an adjustment of some sort, and I made a note to check the paper bills when I got back.

So first thing after pushing the door opened against all that mail on the floor on the other side was I gathered it all up and dropped it on the kitchen table, then sorted through it for the water bill. I found them and look and I see I see they’re using a different website now for online payments. For some reason instead of telling you when you go to the old website to go to the new one, or just simply forwarding you to it, the old website still looks active but it can’t show the current bill so it always looks like its zero.

Well, well. But I would have called them anyway about why the zero balance due, but…oh well. No harm done. I paid my last bill early before I left for California, and paid this one just now on the new website a week before it was due.

I turn back on the water. Then open a few faucets to get any air pockets out of the system. I turn the hot water tank back on. I go upstairs and notice the toilet tank is leaking where it connects to the bowl. It’s not a major leak and I put a bucket under it, hoping it fixes itself like it did the last time. What happens is when I’m gone for a long time with the water off, the water in the bowl evaporates, and the gasket sealing the tank against the bowel dries out. Last time it did that, a few days of use and water flowing into the bowl from the tank and the gasket began sealing again.

As I said, the house was in winter mode when I left. It was in the 80s when I returned. I discovered the central air conditioning, which would have been good to have right then, wasn’t working. Again. It’s been a problem for several years now after the BGE…excuse me…Constellation, tech that replaced the compressor did a lot of other work that might not have been necessary at all, but which gave her billable hours, and screwed most of that up. Last year it took a senior technician to get it fixed. It ran good all summer last year and I was hopeful for this year, but here we are. A senior tech came out yesterday and told me the system was leaking coolant again and they’d get someone else to come out with them later and try to find the leak. In the meantime I got out the window units. Again.

When I tried to get the cuckoo clock going again, I discovered its hands weren’t positioned correctly. I stopped the clock before I left but apparently the hands came loose while I was away and were dangling at 6:30. Getting them back right took some fiddling, but the clock is working fine now.

I was getting thirsty bringing stuff back up from the car, so I got one of the bottles of ice tea I had with me, poured it into a glass and reached in the freezer for some ice, where I discovered the ice machine in the fridge wasn’t working. But yes it was, it was just stuck trying to fill its tray. I’d forgotten to turn it off while I was away, and all that time it kept running, but since the water to the house was turned off all it did was try to fill its tray…for two months. I was able to get it running again by pouring water from a glass into its tray to get the cycle going again. In the meantime I went to the chest freezer in the basement where I keep ice for the bar and got some from that.

In the process I checked my long duration power outage tests. Basically, you fill some small paper cups with water, put them in your freezers, let the water and put a quarter on top of the frozen water. If the quarter is embedded in the ice when you get back home, you know there was a power outage long enough to thaw the water out and your food is all probably spoiled. My quarters were all sitting on top of the ice in their cups, so no power outages.

I began sorting the stack of mail into piles of things that need immediate attention, things that I can look at later, magazines, things that just need throwing away and things that need shredding first.

The toilet tank leak became so bad I had to take the tank off. As I write this, the second floor bathroom is out of service…

I have another bathroom in the basement that (thankfully) is still in good shape. Apart from my partially converting it into a darkroom.

That’s dust you see on the wall behind where the tank was. It probably hasn’t been touched since the toilet was installed which was sometime before I bought the house. I had no idea it was that bad. Dusting the wall there periodically isn’t going to be easy though, once the tank is back on.

You can see the tank gasket is pretty far gone…

I really didn’t want to have to do this because I was afraid the bolts holding the tank in place had rusted beyond any hope of getting them off without brute force. But a little WD-40 and it wasn’t too bad after all. I ordered a new tank gasket and brass bolts that should be here tomorrow.

So besides everything else I need to do with the house now…and I’d already been planning to replace several floorboards on my backyard deck this summer, and repaint it, getting the second floor bathroom working again is my primary task for now. In addition to the new tank gasket I need to go buy an entire new set of gaskets for the water feed lines because I had to disconnect them from the tank. Probably also a new flapper valve since the one that was in there is going to dry out while I’m working on this. Maybe a whole new set of tank innards. Might as well. So it goes…

I got tempted to replace the entire thing now that it’s this much disassembled with a newer one with the bidet built in. There are some good ones out there, some really impressive ones that open the lid automatically as you walk over to the toilet, and automatically flush when you leave. But like a lot of latest and greatest things out there there’s just lots more about them to fail and you have no idea how to fix any of it, and even if you did all the parts are now so specialized that if the company that made the thing goes out of business you are screwed, whereas the one I have in there is simple, uncomplicated, the parts are all standardized, and it works just fine, even for being a first generation water saver toilet. Yes, I’ve had to replace the tank valves several times over the years, but that’s easy to do, and if the add-on bidet fails I can replace it.

Once I got all my clothes out of the main suitcase, I took what needed washing down to the basement and got the washing machine going. Thankfully It did not complain about my absence.

I got the window air conditioners out and running. I especially wanted to get my bedroom cooled off before nightfall because I can’t sleep when it’s too hot. The one in the living room is easy to set up, since it just uses a big flexible tube to vent out the window and its support fits perfectly in one of the front windows. But the little window unit for my bedroom is a chore. I built a support rack for it some years ago when I was having central AC problems then so I could have a cool bedroom to sleep in. But I have to lift that thing up to the window and small as it is it is still very heavy. Then I have to seal the window around it.

Welcome home Bruce. If a house is like a lover, then mine apparently got pissed off at me leaving it alone for so long and it’s making me earn forgiveness.


[Update…] I almost forgot… Something else I discovered after turning on the TV was my Roku box wasn’t working.. Then I remembered.

It’s the new latest and greatest Roku box. When I tried to turn it on yesterday all I got was the No Signal screen on the TV. There are no buttons on this Roku box, you have to operate it from the remote and the remote could not turn it on. So I did the traditional IT solution and unplugged the Roku from its power supply and plugged it back in again, and Voilà…I had signal. But the remote still would not operate it.

Okay, thinks I, the batteries went dead while I was away. So I went to change the batteries in the remote, only to realize there was no battery door on the remote.

And then I remembered. This new latest and greatest instance of the Roku box comes with a remote that you have to charge using a USB power connection and it’s own special variation on the mini USB cable that’s just different enough from other mini USB cables that none of the ones I have in my cable bin would work with it.

But I saw that coming when I unpacked it…it’s par for the course these days…so I kept the box this new Roku came in along with its cables, where I keep all my computer stuff so I would know where to find them, and be able to recharge the remote when I needed to. But it took overnight to do that.

In the meantime I could have used the Roku app on my iPhone or the iPad to control the Roku, but now I wasn’t in the mood for TV.

I cannot begin to relate how much I despise the new reality of rechargeable devices with built-in batteries that cannot be user replaced. It goes along with the overall direction companies are taking now of preventing us from repairing what we own, to make us have to buy new again and again, if not denying us ownership altogether in favor of making us pay infinate rent.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 11th, 2024

Not As Ready As I Thought

That storm I spoke of previously hit us Tuesday evening and it brought with it a driving rain the likes of which I’ve never seen around here. I have a roofed over front porch and maybe a few inches of rain around the porch floor is as much as I’ve ever seen. It’s very infrequent that it even reaches the front doorstep. This time the storm completely soaked the front door and the bricks on the front wall, all the way up to the top of the porch ceiling. I’ve never seen that in the 22 years I’ve owned this house.

I staged a step ladder on the second floor so I could poke my head up into the tiny attic space…it isn’t even a crawlspace, just maybe six inches between the roof beams and the ceiling beams…and shine a high intensity flashlight around to check for leaks. It was dry as a bone up there, even during the worst of the storm. The bay window in my living room was another story.

I’d never seen it leaking before. Ever. But those leaks may have all been laying in wait for just the right storm to come along. I got out some buckets and some construction bag liners to divert the water into the buckets, then mopped up as much as I could. It wasn’t a disaster, just something new I had to fix that I wasn’t expecting.

I figured there was some leaks on the outside top of the bay window I needed to take care of next morning. But next day was cold and very windy and I didn’t want to be up on a ladder in that weather. So I put the big ladder up today and took a look at what sort of work I have in store up there, thinking that if I fall over and break my neck at least I’ll have died doing something I love (smirk).

(I was careful to put my Apple watch on before I started climbing the ladder, because it will detect a hard fall and if I don’t respond it will alert my brother and call 911 for me, giving them my GPS coordinates.)

There was nothing there that I could see that would even possibly be a way for water to get in. I judged the area around the window frame when it meets the brick might use a touch of that rubber sealant I bought, but it seemed pretty solid. The brickwork above it was another story.

See…my little Baltimore rowhouse only has front and back outside walls, and they are brick veneer over concrete block. What I saw were several largish holes in the mortar between the bricks where water could easily get in between the brick and the concrete block, assuming the rain was being driven hard in that direction, and then run down to the inside top of the window.

Normally this would not happen since rain doesn’t hit that side of the house very hard. Yes it gets wet, but windy driving rains here tend to come from either the east or west, not the south and they don’t hit the face of the house with a lot of force. But at the right angle those holes in the mortar could easily have let in the rain water that was dripping from the inside top of my bay window. Repointing the brick is going to be expensive and I’ve nowhere near that kind of money set aside just yet. But it couldn’t be done in the winter anyway.

Here’s where city life came in handy. So I’m taking my morning walk around the neighborhood thinking about what to do about those holes in the mortar before the next storm arrives…maybe squirt some Henry’s into them…when I walk past an end of group unit with someone on a ladder up against the side of the house, and it looks like they’re dealing with the same brickwork problem I have. Bear in mind all the houses here are the same basic floorplan, the only difference with that one was it’s an end of group unit so it had three exposed walls to the weather.

So I go over and ask him if he’s a contractor or the homeowner. He says he’s a brother-in-law. We chat for a bit. Seems his bother’s side windows were leaking during that last storm just like my bay window was, and likely for the same reason. What are you using in those holes, I ask. He shows me a tube of fibrous mortar patch, and explains how that’s better to use in this weather, and doesn’t cause a problem with repointing the bricks later.

I make a mental note of the product thinking I’ll go get some. Then he says he has an extra tube he won’t need and he’ll sell it to me for what he paid for it. I love city life.

I squirted that stuff into the holes, and a few large cracks, in the mortar above my bay window. Then I ran some of that spray rubber sealant around the edges of the window frame. Now we wait.

I’ll keep the buckets handy. Thing is, if there are no more leaks but the rain doesn’t hit the house this time like it did last time, I still won’t know if I fixed the right problem or not.

Turns out there is a significant amount of debugging involved in owning a house.


by Bruce | Link | React!

What A Brave New World We All Live In Now!

Running the vacuum cleaner after tracking in bird seed shells and leaves from working outside. Noticing (this is for all you old people reading this) that I no longer see static on the TV screen when I run the vacuum.


by Bruce | Link | React!

October 22nd, 2023

A Wee Journey Through The Parts Labyrinth For Just One Damn Part

My brother’s kitchen has the nice new stove he’d bought a few months before I arrived. It was so new and pristine that every time I used it I felt a need to thoroughly clean it after every use, and sometimes I would spot clean it while he was away on work. It was reflex, it looked so nice and new.

So I get home and take a fresh look at the one he helped me buy that time he was here and I’m shocked, shocked, at how much grunge I let build up on mine. Okay, it wasn’t much but it was enough compared to his nice new one. So I resolved to basically give my stove a detailing.

But first, I had to order a new center grill for it since I use that a Lot and mine had grunged up, and the no stick surface worn down to the bare aluminum. It was beyond cleaning, so I decided just to order a new one and take the one I had to recycling. It’s all aluminum and that’s an excellent metal to recycle. And it was actually the second griddle I’d bought for my stove because I’d worn out the one that came with it in just a few years. I use the griddle Lots and that non stick surface just couldn’t handle it. So I did what I had before, and looked up the model number of my stove on the manufacturer’s website (GE), and once there expected to just be able to order a new griddle for that stove like I had before.

But this time the page for my stove just said my stove was no longer being made and that was all. No parts list, nothing. This surprised me because that stove isn’t all that old, but looking back it was the the floor model I bought. and I realized it had probably already been discontinued when I bought it (which maybe explained the nice discount I got for it more than the fact that it was the floor model). Annoyingly, the manufacturer’s website wouldn’t give me part numbers for stoves they weren’t making anymore. So I couldn’t just look up the part number on the griddle and see if someone somewhere had any. Maybe if I had a professional account access I could have found it.

But I kept digging and finally found a website that had a part number for the griddle. Great. Eventually I found a place that had a few left in stock. Annoyingly they weren’t listed as being for my stove, but for the model after mine that I suppose was still being made.

I looked carefully at the illustration for the part and it looked like mine, so I took a chance and bought one. It came the other day and it fit perfectly. And it was so nice and new I had to spend all day yesterday basically giving the stove a detailing.

I’ll try my best to keep the one I installed clean between uses like I did Bill’s new one. But I went back to where I bought the new griddle and bought a second one just to keep in storage. I use the griddle Lots, and my cardiologist would probably not approve, but in my defense I fry with olive oil which they say is actually good for the heart. Two should last me for however long I have to live in this house.

by Bruce | Link | React!

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