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!

Salvation Army donation

Salvation Army donation
Nikon FA, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E
Foma Fomapan 200

As I prepare to leave my home of ten years, I asked my sons to go through their things and pile in the living room whatever they no longer wished to keep. A decade of childhood memories soon filled my living room. My younger son was his usual pragmatic self: don’t need this, don’t need that, okay, I’m good. My older son wanted to make sure I was okay if he gave away his twelfth birthday present, a skateboard and all the associated regalia. It’s so like him to want to care for the emotional lives of others. I admire both my younger son’s pragmatism and my older son’s deep heart.

And oh, hey, there’s the TV my friend Steve gave me when I moved into the one-room apartment after my first wife and I separated. I watched dozens of movies on it, all borrowed from the nearby library, as a way of distracting myself from my troubles. My younger son used it most recently to play games on the vintage Super Nintendo system I bought him for Christmas some years ago. He does love his retro gaming.

Film Photography

single frame: Salvation Army donation


Garrett, waiting

Garrett, bored
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8
Kodak T-Max 400

I shot this while we were waiting for his mom to pick him up. She was late, he was bored.

This photo is in my book, Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME. If you enjoy this photo, you’ll surely enjoy the book, which you can purchase here.

© 2013-17 Jim Grey. All rights reserved.

Film Photography

single frame: Garrett, bored


Garrett, down the hall

Garrett, down the hall
Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X
Fujicolor 200

Over the last couple years this is the view I’ve had of Garrett most often: him gaming online in his room. We’re a family of introverts, and we’re all geeks to some extent. It’s really common when we’re all home to be involved in separate online pursuits. The house is good and quiet. We like it that way.

© 2017 Jim Grey. All rights reserved.

Film Photography

single frame: Garrett, down the hall


Evening light over the back deck

One evening in May the setting sun cast a warm, brown light into my neighborhood. I grabbed my Canon PowerShot S95 and tried to capture it. I wish all of my cameras had a “capture this just like it is” setting. Frustratingly, the S95 kept wanting to auto-white-balance the light back to normal. I ended up shooting in program mode in RAW, with white balance deliberately set to capture the light as close to right as possible. And then I tweaked the image further in Photoshop trying to fully recapture that interesting, delicious light, and how it shifted the colors of everything it touched.

I love how my growing interest in photography has attuned me to the world. I used to live in such blindness and ignorance of the subtle, the beautiful, the interesting. Not too long ago, even if I had noticed this delicious evening light, I would have shrugged it off and turned back to what I was doing. I would have really missed out.


Captured: Delicious evening light over the deck

Stories Told

An expensive little bug

I have enough experience with small engines to know that the sounds my push mower was making were terminal. I lack enough experience with small engines to know exactly what was wrong. It didn’t matter: the engine made a sudden, sickly “hwangggg!” sound and lurched to its final rest.

Push Mower with Tractor in the Background
RIP, mower in front

Thankfully, I also have a tractor, so I could still cut my grass last Friday evening. As I drove it around the yard, I stole glances up into my trees, which are just starting to bud and leaf. My yard is heavily wooded, trees reaching 60 feet or more into the sky, three or four dozen of them. They veil the house and keep it cool all summer. But on this early spring day, branches mostly bare, I looked up for signs of damage. I saw signs in so many trees. So many.

When I first mowed a couple weeks ago, I noticed a few trees missing bits of bark in large patches. I thought it odd; I grew concerned. So I researched it on the Internet. I learned that this is called “flecking,” and is caused by woodpeckers feeding on insects underneath. The number one delicacy for which woodpeckers fleck trees is the emerald ash borer, a green Asian beetle.

Flecked and tagged

These bugs bore under the bark of ash trees and lay eggs. The larvae feed on the layer under the bark that allows nutrients to flow through the tree. The tree starves and dies.

The ash borer probably entered North America in ash shipping boxes. Its natural predators don’t exist in the United States, so it has spread unchecked across 25 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. It threatens to wipe out the ash tree in North America.

I don’t know an ash from a poplar from an elm, but the arborist I brought in does. He told me that I have 21 ash trees, all badly infested with the borer. He told me they’ll all have to come out. He quoted a price equivalent to a modestly equipped new family car.

I drive a nine-year-old, paid-for family car because I’ve been saving to send my older son to Purdue in the fall. I’ve been living frugally for years in preparation, actually. But not frugally enough to solve this problem and pay for college without taking on debt.

Flecked way up high

After I finished mowing, I walked through my neighborhood looking for flecking in my neighbors’ trees. I saw distressed ash trees in every yard on my street and in most yards on other streets in my subdivision. The borer has borne down hard on my neighborhood.

My yard has more ash trees than any of them, though. And after looking closely at all 21 trees, I see some level of flecking in all but a few. My research suggests that this means the trees are too far gone to be saved. So now I must decide whether to remove the most damaged two or three trees every year for the next seven or eight years to distribute the cost — or ask for a steep discount to have the whole job done at once, perhaps over the winter when they’re not very busy.

My little house (crop)
Happy and healthy trees in 2011

I hope to move on from here within two to five years. I’d probably have to disclose this expensive problem to a buyer. It seems like biting the bullet and removing them all is the cleanest solution, if I can scrape together the cash. Paying for it will more than consume the equity I have in my home. In my neighborhood, home values haven’t recovered and may have continued to decline slowly after the housing bubble burst in 2008.

There’s no recovering from this. I’m just going to have to suck it up.

I now have enough experience with ash trees to know that mine are almost certainly terminal. I lack enough experience to know the best course of action. At least this makes unexpectedly needing to buy a new push mower seem like no big deal.