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I am astonished that at my age I’ve remarried and am about to leave my longtime home to share a life with family I never knew I would have.

When I was younger, even through my late 30s, those who had lived a half century seemed so settled to me. Their lives, I was sure, had fallen into predictable grooves. I like predictability, and those I knew who had it wore it well. I looked forward to it in my own life.

On this day half my life ago

But who knew all of the adventures of the half-century mark? Of helping children step into their adult futures. Of having fully adult relationships with our parents. Of hitting our stride in our careers. And, given that so many divorce now, remarriage and new family.

Except that these things feel like adventures only when they’re going well. Some children stumble and fall, or even fail to launch. Our parents are aging — when is it time to stop driving? To find a retirement home? And on the job sometimes you watch someone younger than some of your children, with all the life experience that implies, move up fast and pass you by, and make mistakes you learned long ago not to make.

This stuff is incredibly hard! The blessing of this age is the resilience to handle these difficulties. If I had encountered them at half this age I would have needed a rubber room.

I turn 50 today. Joys and disappointments abound. Honestly, this year there have been more disappointments than joys. My wife and I have experienced some real difficulty with children, parents, and jobs. Point is, this age teaches that this is what life is. That youthful dreams of winning at life, of being a Master of the Universe, were never within reach. That all there is every day is enjoying the good while working through the bad. That God put people into our lives to love, and our best satisfaction in life comes from loving them with all our might.

I’m gathering my whole family at my home this afternoon. We’ll grill various bits of animal flesh, nosh on fresh veggies and sweets, drink gin and tonic, and just enjoy each other. My goodness, but do we like each other. I predict I’ll reach the end of this day satisfied.

I made this photograph when I was 42, and thought even as I made it that I ought to use it on this blog when I turned 50! It seemed so far off in the future that I wondered if I’d still be blogging then. Answer to my then-self: lol yup.


Half century

Who knew life at 50 could have so much going on? And some of it isn’t exactly pleasant. But one advantage of this age is the resilience to handle it.


Ten years of landscaping progress

“You ought to take photographs of your house from the yard now, while your summer flowers are in bloom,” Margaret said. “Your Realtor will probably be very happy to use them in the listing.” Sounds good. So I did it.

This is the result of a ton of landscaping work. It’s not just planting and mulching, but outright repair. Connecting my home to city sewer and then having 21 trees removed tore my yard up almost beyond recognition.

It made me think about the photos I took of the house when I toured it before placing an offer. I found them in my archive. The yard was kind of a mess, but it got far worse than this before it got better.

What a difference! With considerable help from my family, I’ve done a lot of work in this yard over the last 10 years.


Consumed with home projects

I’ve remained consumed with home-improvement projects. It’s cut deeply into my time for photography or thoughtful commentary — it’s all projects, all the time, as I prepare to put my house on the market.

I took up the worn-out carpet in the hall, crossing my fingers that the hardwood floor below would be in good enough shape to leave it be, as it was in the two other rooms where I previously took up the carpet. It wasn’t. And I neither want to refinish it myself nor pay someone to do it. Fortunately, this isn’t a high-class neighborhood and perfection isn’t required to sell a home here. So I put down rugs and moved on. Did you know you can order runners in almost any style and length from Amazon? They were here in two days.

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I have spent the bulk of my time painting. The previous owner painted every wall and ceiling a yellowy beige just before I moved in. Except for the criminally lousy job they did patching nail holes, it looked good enough and I never bothered to change it. But after a decade it was looking shabby, so I bought paint and broke out the rollers and brushes. I chose a more neutral beige, and I painted the ceilings white. This is my office, where I write this blog. It’s actually the house’s dining room, but my table is too big to fit in here so I stuck it in the eat-in portion of the kitchen, which is surprisingly spacious.

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The last room to paint was the living room. Here’s a glimpse of that yellowy beige, which I was busy covering up.

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I also painted my front stoop, as the concrete was mottled and pocked and unattractive. I filled the holes I could see with concrete patch but still missed several. Did you know you can buy paint with grit in it to provide a non-slip surface? It works great. This stoop now feels like 120-grit sandpaper.

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Finally, the faucet I put in the bathroom sink during Operation Lipstick on the Pig several years ago proved to be cheap and crappy. The finish wore off it and the metal was oxidizing. So I bought a new faucet and installed it. Removing the drain, I twisted the trap ever so slightly and it crumbled apart in my hands. I made four trips to Lowe’s before I finally got the right replacement part. Lowe’s is 15 minutes away, so a job that should have taken 15 minutes took about 2½ hours. Lesson learned: take the worn-out part along so I can match it precisely.

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One job I’m not going to get to is to replace the original 1969 aluminum storm front door. I had hoped I could pay Lowe’s or The Home Depot to install it, as hanging doors is not my forte. But they either won’t respond to my calls or are booked through the Second Coming. So I bought a jar of aluminum polish and am applying elbow grease. It’s not giving me the good results I hoped for, but the door is original to this 1969 house and is quite pitted.

A handful of smaller jobs remain, including recaulking the bathtub, washing the surprisingly dirty front gutter and soffit, and fixing a noticeable problem with the back storm door. But now the major work is over, and perhaps I’ll have a little more time to write the kinds of things I normally write around here!



Jehovah’s Witnesses bought me a toilet

I have been undertaking, or paying others to undertake, a bunch of projects as I get my house ready to put on the market. I’m working to increase curb appeal and remove obvious objections to buying this place. I’m behind schedule, as I had hoped to be ready to list the house June 1. August 1 feels more likely now.

So the chain-link fence is fixed where it had been broken and mangled by the people who removed my 21 dead ash trees two years ago. And the network of cracks growing in my asphalt driveway are now well sealed. I paid people to do those jobs. Meanwhile, I’ve been painting walls every spare weekend. And I took up the worn-out carpet in the hallway to reveal the hardwood floors, and then discovered they’re in iffy shape and that carpet runners are way cheaper than having the floors refinished.

But the big job, which I finished last weekend, was fixing my bathroom floor.

Longtime readers might remember that when I bought my house, the main bathroom was a fright. Here, take a look.


That’s fake brickface painted yellow, with laminate sheeting glued to the wallboard above. The medicine chest provided the only light in the room, except three of the four bulb sockets didn’t work. And whoever laid the floor had to have been drunk or high while they did it, as the tiles were all at an angle and didn’t meet properly at the corners. And they didn’t bother to remove the toilet to place the vinyl tile underneath it. They just cut the tile around it and squirted some caulk to fill the gaps.

I got my house at a good price after it had been on the market for a year. I assume prospective buyers took one look at that bathroom and bolted. But the price and location both worked for me, so I bit.

Side note: nine years after the housing bubble burst, after considerable investment in my home, it looks like I’ll be able to sell it for about what I paid for it. My part of town has been slower than average to rebound from the housing crisis. It’s disappointing, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

It took me a couple years, but I finally commenced Operation Lipstick on the Pig to make the bathroom look not awful. Here’s how that turned out. New sink, new light fixture, new towel bar, mirror and side cabinet replacing the medicine chest, fresh paint, and some painted railing to finish the raw edges. I even put folding doors on a closet that had none, and added shelving. A valance and a better privacy covering over the lower six windowpanes came a little later.


But the one thing I didn’t tackle was the floor. There was a little water damage around the toilet and tub that needed attention, and I wanted to lay better-looking flooring. It all sounded expensive and possibly beyond my skills, and besides, my bathroom had been torn up for weeks already. I was tired of the mess. So I put it off for another day.

And then that day kept not coming. The water damage by the tub got worse; the subfloor by the tub became positively squishy. I slathered on some caulk to keep it from getting worse, and then I lived with it like that for six years.

Preparing a house for sale will motivate you to tackle those jobs you’ve been putting off.

I started two weekends ago. I figured I’d remove the toilet, remove the old vinyl, remove and replace the water-damaged areas of the subfloor, lay new vinyl, put the toilet back, bada bing. Oh good heavens is that not how it went.

I knew things were not going to go well when I discovered that my toilet has always been attached to the floor only with caulk. Caulk! CAULK. It’s a wonder the toilet stayed put these ten years! I said an unkind epithet out loud to the previous owner of my house as I stuffed a rolled-up rag into the hole to keep sewer gases at bay.

I removed the old vinyl with my hair dryer and a putty knife — time consuming, but not hard. But in doing that I discovered that a layer of 1/4-inch plywood had been screwed to the floor. It, too, had been cut around the toilet! Another unkind epithet passed aloud through my lips. The previous owner’s ears had to be burning. And then my weekend ran out of time. I’d have to live with my bathroom like this for a little while longer.

Fortunately, I had long planned a few days off the next week. I just never expected I’d use them to work on my bathroom. And it took four of the next five days to do it all: remove the plywood, fix the water-damaged subfloor, put on a layer of cheap, thin vinyl where the original vinyl tile was missing (so that there were no low areas), and then lay new, bright, cheerful vinyl over it all.

And then Margaret asked, “Do you want the toilet that’s sitting in my garage? It’s essentially new.” I never liked the old toilet much, as it was a weak flusher, so I said yes. Margaret got her spare toilet when her employer, a large church, bought a church building Downtown to be their second campus. The building had most recently been the Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Witnesses had built a few apartments into the building. Margaret’s church removed the apartments and made the furniture and fixtures available to staff. Margaret snagged several things including this toilet, which she thought could go into a rental house she owns. The toilet ended up not being needed there.

So I took it home and installed it. I had never installed a toilet before. It took me five hours to get it done. The flange in the floor that holds the bolts wasn’t in the best condition, but I didn’t want to try to replace it so I made it work. I had to re-seat the toilet three times because the bolts kept popping out of the flange as I tightened them. I was quite cross by the time I was done. But it did get done, and it doesn’t leak. Success! Bask in the glow of this photo of the completed job.


The new toilet flushes so well! And the new floor looks so good! Too bad I won’t be around here long enough to enjoy it.

Next house I own, I won’t put off jobs like this so I can enjoy them after they’re done.

Yeah, right.


Goodbye to the last local grocery chain in Indianapolis

Indianapolis is losing its last, and its largest, local grocery-store chain. Marsh Supermarkets declared bankruptcy in May and last week closed deals to sell some of its stores. The rest will close.

Marsh Hometown Market

Agfa Clack, Ilford Pan-F Plus 50, 2015

Although Marsh was founded in 1931 in Muncie, Indiana, its largest market has always been Indianapolis and its surrounding counties. At its height, Marsh operated 86 stores around Indiana and other businesses as diverse as a chain of florists, a popular convenience-store chain, and a catering company. The company was owned by the Marsh family until 2006, when it was sold to a capital investment firm. The Marshes said that the competitive environment was becoming much more challenging, and it seemed like the right time to exit.

In recent years, Kroger, Walmart, and Meijer have all invested in Indianapolis, building new stores and renovating old ones. Meanwhile, Marsh’s new owners largely left their chain to molder. They did rebrand Marsh’s budget LoBill Foods stores as Marsh, a welcome change. But a few years later the company rebranded again, with some stores branded Marsh The Marketplace and others Marsh Hometown Market. It wasn’t clear to shoppers what the names meant. (It turns out that The Marketplace stores were full-line and full-service stores, and Hometown Markets were budget stores.) And then, strangely, all new stores built were branded just Marsh with a new logo. Most existing stores kept the old logo. It was a confusing mishmash.

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But the confusion ends soon. A subsidiary of Kroger bought 11 locations, and an Ohio supermarket operator bought 15. That leaves 18 stores behind, which should close for good by the end of the month. All Marsh stores are liquidating, selling goods at up to 30 percent off.

From where I sit, Marsh’s demise has three major reasons.

First, its owner failed to match its competitors’ investments in their chains. Few new stores have been built and old stores hadn’t been refreshed in ages. Most stores retain a distinctly 1990s shopping experience.

Second, its confusing branding may have alienated shoppers. When my nearby Marsh converted to a Hometown Market, I shopped there far less frequently as it stopped carrying many of the nicer grocery items I enjoyed, several of which you could buy locally only at Marsh. (Such as delicious, but expensive, Stewart’s coffee. How I miss it.) Actually, thanks to items it no longer carries I can’t do all of my weekly shopping there anymore.

Finally, Marsh was the most expensive supermarket in town, full stop. I’m no fan of Walmart, but when they opened a Neighborhood Market grocery near my home a few years ago its far lower prices were impossible to ignore. I do my weekly shopping there, or drive past this Marsh to go to Meijer. So, I imagine, do most of my neighbors.

But it’s a shame to lose the last local grocery chain, a name that was so heavily identified with central Indiana. When prominent local businesses close, a piece of local identity dies. Kroger, Walmart, and Meijer are fine stores, but you can find them anywhere. When you shopped at Marsh, you knew you were in Indiana.

I’ll miss Marsh. But my life won’t change much, as I’d already moved on. Clearly, too many others in central Indiana had as well.

Life, Stories told

Spending quality time in my crawl space

We’ve had a lot of rain lately. Days on end it has fallen. Inside my house, it was strangely quiet.

It should not have been. My sump pump should have been running, and I should have heard it.

Dagnabbit — that meant it had pumped its last.

The old, failed sump pump sitting on my deck. Which tells you where this story is going.

I’m not deeply experienced in the ways of sump pumps. My last house had one. It was there when we moved in, and it pumped faithfully for years. The crawl space was always a little damp, but that pump kept it from being wet. That wasn’t enough to satisfy my wife, so we had a perimeter drain dug, an additional sump pump sunk, and the whole place encapsulated. Holy frijoles, was that ever expensive. Point is, however, that I never personally had anything to do with our pumps. I didn’t even know what one looked like.

When I was deciding whether to make an offer on this house, the crawl space was the biggest point of risk. A lot of insulation was lying on the ground, having fallen out from between the joists. The vapor barrier looked pretty ratty. And there was no sump pump. But there was also no evidence the space had ever been wet, and the price was very right on the place. So I rolled the dice.

What I didn’t consider is that a crawl space that has been wet to the joists shows little or no evidence. A foot of water might leave a line on the foundation’s cinder block. But water to the joists leaves no such line.

I crapped out. Shortly after I moved in, a very heavy rain flooded the crawl space. I cleared it with a borrowed portable pump. (And got the worst case of poison ivy in my life. Read that story.) I promptly paid to have a pit dug and a sump pump installed.

Unfortunately, the lowest spot in my crawl space was under my bedroom, and so that’s where the pump had to go. I slept ten feet from it. And it roared like a diesel engine every time it cut on. WHAAARRRNNNNsplooooooosshhhhh, over and over, all night. When it rained hard I had to go sleep in the family room.

Last week we got a ton of rain. After the first night I knew there was trouble under the floorboards, because I awoke refreshed from a good night’s sleep.

Thank God for YouTube. Everything you ever wanted to know how to do is there, usually shot by some random dude on shaky mobile-phone video. This video showed me how easy it would be to replace the pump myself.

It took me two hours to do the job, including a run to The Home Depot for the pump and associated supplies. Not bad, right? Except that I had to do it in two feet of water. Cold water. Cold, dirty water. And immediately upon entering the crawl space, I slipped and twisted and suddenly cold, dirty water met my nether regions. That will take a man’s breath away.


I emerged sopping wet. I sloshed my way into the garage, where I stripped and dropped my soaked, dirty clothes into the washer. I grabbed a quick shower. And then as I was dressing, I noticed the quiet.

It should not be quiet! Was my new pump even working?

I looked out the window and saw water gushing out of the exit pipe. I listened more carefully, and realized I could actually hear a slight tinkling sound coming from below — the sound of water running gently through the pipe. That was it.

Silent sump pumps are a thing?!!? I had no idea. If I had known, I would have replaced that sleep-depriving old pump years ago!!