The ghost of plumbers past…

The fact that there are now ants and ant pieces flowing through my home’s water system amps up the need to find someone qualified to service the system to a pretty high degree of urgency. I was willing to make due with a little fine sediment from time to time. Mostly that meant just clearing the filter more often than I had been previously. Now that fiddling with the filter and draining off the pressure tank a few times doesn’t seem to have satisfactorily resolved the issue, I’m just going to have to accept that the problem is now well beyond my level of competence.

So far, I’ve been wildly unimpressed with the various well drilling/service companies I’ve talked to. Most admitted they were weeks or months behind schedule and promised to call back when they were ready to come have a look with whatever tests, tools, and people they thought they’d need. Over the last quarter of a year, it’s resulted in a lot of phone calls, but no actual action.

While I was fiddling with the pressure tank last night, I stumbled on the original installer’s name and had a blinding flash of the obvious. Thanks to meticulous records from the pervious owner and the internet, I discovered his company is still in business. They’re not drillers, but starting out with someone to look over the pumps and tanks looks like a reasonable place to start. I left a voicemail for him this afternoon in hopes that the draw of revisiting old work might be enough to get more than just a call back. So far I like him better than the rest because thirty minutes later he gave me a firm date and time he’d be there to give the system a good going through.

According to his records, the last time they were on the property was in 2010, after installing the system originally in 2006. I eagerly await the arrival of the ghost of plumbers past with my fingers firmly crossed in hopes that the answer will be something other than, “Nope, drill another one.”

Home is a funny place…

I grew up in what many people would describe as “the sticks.” The town where I grew up was so small it didn’t warrant having its own stoplight. You had to drive to the next town down the crick if you wanted to see one of those in action. Most of the towns in the area were so small that for all practical purposes that if a particular service was available in the county, it was considered fairly local.

Once upon a time, the region was a powerhouse of both light and heavy industry. Generations of a family’s men made their living by “going down the mines.” By the time I was a kid, most of that world was dead or dying, though I’m old enough to remember the last of the coal trains rumbling through the center of town to be used out there in the wider world beyond the ridges and valleys of home. Some bits of that life have clung on grimly, but it’s a world gone now for 30 years.

You’d never know it from listening to people, though. Even now, there’s an inexplicable feeling that tomorrow or maybe the next day an enormous, smoke belching factory will spring up along the banks of the Potomac and all will be well again – that the future can be exactly as it was in the past.

I’ve got an expatriate’s love of my home town (of the region, really), even while knowing I’ll likely never do more than visit occasionally. Maybe I see its charms and its flaws a bit more clearly because I’m looking from the perspective of someone who hasn’t lived there in over two decades.

Home is a funny place. 

One of the favorite local sports is bitching that business don’t want to open, or industry has left, or that six other things are fucked up and use to be better… but then immediately bitching and complaining when someone opens a new business or has the audacity to try something different.

The county is getting its first Starbucks. Already people are out of the woodwork bitching that burned coffee, overpriced, unpatriotic, corporate chain Starbucks would dare to open a shop locally. My favorite bit of local-ism is that “Having a Dunkin would be better.” Some of us are old enough to remember when there use to be one of those, too. It went out of business, so maybe it’s not as popular an option as people seem to think.

A few weeks from now, the furor over Starbucks will dry up. Everyone will be back to bitching that they want more stores or restaurant chains. Bring on a Panera or a Chipotle or an Outback. But take my word for it, as soon as one of them announces they’re coming, that business will be awful, their food will be overpriced slop, and we don’t want them here.

You’d be hard pressed to find an area more desperate for new business and economic development… as long as it changes absolutely nothing.

Postcards from the past…

Two weeks ago I passed a few days in the house where I did most of my growing up. For all my travels, I’ve always managed to find my way home at least at Christmas time.

I get up early. That doesn’t change just because I happened to have a few days off. One of the perks of waking up before the sun is that you get to see it rise over the Appalachians. In a lot of ways, those clear mornings were a throwback.

On a dead calm Boxing Day morning, the wood smoke hung thick in the George’s Creek valley. A hundred years ago it would have been coal, but for a distant observer it didn’t make enough difference to notice.

For a couple of minutes, it was like watching a living picture postcard from another age – a sight that realistically hasn’t changed much from the 19th and 20th centuries into the 21st. It was one of the first times I think I really appreciated just how slow time can move out there in the hills.

It’s the rare moments like this one that fill me with the idea that maybe someday I’ll go back to stay… but before long other realities of time and space crowd in and the moment is gone. There are real reasons I’ll never really go home again, not to stay… but those reasons will never, ever be because I’ve gotten tired of the view from down the crick.

Winter of our discontent…

It was 10 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning. It’s winter, so that’s not unheard of here along the shores of the Chesapeake. I do have to wonder at the first settlers who arrived here and endured their first long winter. What compelled them to stay here rather than picking up stakes and opting for somewhere south of Norfolk. I can only speculate that they were stranded and without means to build a boat of their own to get the hell away to somewhere more temperate.

The poor bastards that lived here in log houses with mud insulation and wood heat and managed not to freeze to death were surely hearty souls. Far more hearty that I feel during the current unpleasantness. I don’t mean to imply that I heat the place excessively. I’m generally comfortable around 68 degrees. I try to get by at 67 as at least a passing nod towards saving fuel. Even at that my fancy new ultra high efficiency propane furnace was running flat out more often than it wasn’t.

I’m fortunate in that the house is well constructed and reasonably well insulated. Even at that, it’s teaching me a few details I’ll remember when I build the final version of Fortress Jeff. I’ll have more south facing windows with interior shutters to close at night. I’ll cut back the tree line far enough to get unobstructed sunlight. There will be in-floor heat for the bathroom. It’s going to be way more insulated than code requires. And there’s going to be zoned heating. I find myself here pumping hot air into parts of the house I only walk into a couple times a year.

Finally, I’m missing the one thing on my wishlist that I traded away because the current house ticked so many of my other “must have” items – a wood stove or fireplace. Let’s face it, if I can prop my feet up on a hearth with a good book and some coffee most of my basic requirements are already being met. Unfortunately, with every passing winter I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of the cold. The amount of time I’ve already spent devising ways to push the natural environment away by a few degrees just doesn’t bode well for what I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about in the future.

Adding to…

It’s been three years since I made my mark on the sales contract taking ownership of Fortress Jeff. The first two years in residence has largely been about taking away – taking away overgrown shrubbery, cutting down encroaching trees, eliminating the basement waterfall, and dismantling the massively over engineered wheelchair ramp in the garage. It was and continues to be a litany of projects left behind by the previous owner who had really “aged out” of an active interest in home maintenance and improvement.

I like to think now that I’m starting the 3rd year, I’m finally reaching the point of adding too the place rather than just taking away. We’ve already tackled the living room, water heater, and furnace. The air conditioning will be next most likely based on age. Most prominently, there’s the long awaited and sought after master bathroom renovation that I’ve wanted from Day 1. Then new carpet for the bedrooms. Kitchen appliances, countertops, washer and dryer all make the list too. By the time that list runs out, the 30-year shingles will probably be reaching the end of their service life.

The think that no one ever tells you about home ownership is that there’s always something lurking in the background waiting to suck giant wads of cash out of your wallet. Still, if you’re doing it right, the place is a home in addition to being “just a roof over your head.” Hard earned experience tells me that’s one of those intangibles that can’t necessarily be measured directly in dollars and cents.

Three days of new heat…

After the better part of three days living with a new heat machine in the basement, it feels like I should say a few words. This is one of those rare occasions when an experiences actually exceeds expectations and therefore deserves special notice.

Being the creature of habit that I am and how much time I spend at home avoiding other people, I’m particularly well attuned to the sounds and rhythms of the house. I’ve gotten to know it’s noises and quirks. The new furnace has thrown a bit of a twist into what I’ve come to expect.

First and maybe foremost, the two stage blower appears to have fixed one of my biggest gripes about forced air heat. With the old furnace, the fan kicked on full bore before the air warmed and forced the cold air in the ducts out into the conditioned space with a noticeable “puff.” the cold air blown right up your back if you happened to be sitting near a register was an annoyance. With the two stage, the blower starts off slowly and displaces the cold duct air at an even, effectively unnoticeable pace before ramping up the speed. it’s a nice touch. I noticed and am appreciative of it.

This particular model also makes considerably less noise in operation – so much less noise that my normal television volume levels are noticeably more loud. (See, I told you I notice things). People seem to think I’m resistant to change, but the reality is that I generally welcome changes that make life more comfortable and peaceful. Why someone wouldn’t actively resist things that made their lives less pleasant or more of a pain in the ass eludes me completely, though that’s probably the topic for another night.

So, with the exception of the un-budgeted procurement costs, I am well pleased with the new bit of household mechanical equipment that we laid on here. It’s allegedly 6% more efficient than the unit it’s replacing so I’ll be curious to see how that works out now that we’ve replaced the two largest consumers of propane fuel in the house. Even if there’s no net savings, the improvements to comfort and safety are probably a win overall.

The sideways stink eye…

About once a week I drive past the house I use to rent. To say I have mixed feelings about the place is an understatement. Even with just me, two dogs, and a tortoise living there it felt cramped. The interior was too dark, it was too close to a heavily traveled road, and the mechanicals were all of an age where they just stopped working with little or no notice. Still it had the benefit of having a fence and being available exactly when I needed it. When you’re traveling one day ahead of a tractor trailer filled with your belongings, don’t underestimate just how much availability counts.

Last weekend when I drove past there were at least seven cars in the driveway. Like I said, the place felt cramped with just one of me. I find it hard to imagine what it would feel like inside even if each one of those vehicles represented only one person. It occurs to me that too much togetherness is definitely a real thing. Not my house, though, so not my problem.

The real pain came when I slowed down enough to eyeball the old place. Whoever’s living there now has let the landscaping go. Flower beds are overrun. Fence posts have collapsed. Shrubbery has grown up over the windows. Not one of the trees looks like it’s seen a pruning lopper since mine.

I spent the better part of four years beating what was then an overgrown mess of a landscape into a semblance of neatness and order. Sure, I did it on the cheap – cutting back some things, transplanting others, removing even more and hauling it away or burning it off – but the place was just a rental after all and throwing big money at it didn’t make sense. With a few basic tools and a bit of effort, though, I’d made the place look respectable.

The current residents have apparently given up on all that. It’s probably not entirely right to judge someone by the yard they keep, but I do… especially when it happens to be one that I left in good enough shape that it could be maintained with less than an hour’s work each week. Right or not, that tells me something about these new residents. It tells me all I need to know really.

It’s a damned good thing I’m not the landlord. Fortunately, it’s not my house and not my problem, but that doesn’t keep me from giving the place a sideways stink eye every time I drive past.

On change and furniture delivery…

I don’t like change. That’s probably the lest surprising thing I’ve ever typed into this blog. In fairness, it’s not so much that I don’t like change as that when change happens it tends to either be a pain in the ass or do away with something I like. Often it does both simultaneously. I’ve spent a lot of time crafting a world that I both enjoy and that curtails the number of pains in the ass. Change, therefore, is something to be avoided and fought against when necessary.

BE0F8201-AB48-4D18-BC4A-744DB0CC9BCC

Having said that, though, my 2006 vintage bonded “leather” sofa and chair set had reached the point where it was shedding more than the dogs and cat combined. They didn’t owe me anything, having been moved three times and not being particularly expensive in the first place. It was the first “adult” furniture I bought after I closed on the Memphis house and I probably kept it around a year or two past it’s use by date out of sentiment if nothing else. Still, in this one case, it was time for a change.

One thing that nobody mentions about furniture is it’s not like replacing appliances or getting a new mattress. The guys who bring the new don’t generally haul away the old – one of those things that’s changed over time for the worse, in my opinion. The nice folks at Got Junk, though, we’re happy (for a price, of course) to come manhandle the furniture out of the house, load it on their truck, and drive it away to I care not where.

And now we’re waiting for the replacements to arrive. Waiting in a room empty aside from a recliner, couple of tables, and a dog bed. When I say Saturday can’t get here quick enough this week, I really, really mean it.

Like a responsible adult…

It was a long day at the office capped off by a two hour meeting to end the day. Every fiber of my being is screaming at me to throw on something flannel, have some soup, and stick my nose in a book for the duration of today’s hours of operation.

Then there’s this shitty little voice in the back of my head prodding me to do the responsible adult thing and show up at the home owners association meeting scheduled this evening. Seriously, who schedules things at 7PM in the middle of the week without providing a phone or video conference option? Leaving the house in the middle of the damned night grumble grumble.

Yes, I know I should go defend my interests against an elective body whose decisions have the effective force of law in order to stave off any increase in the association fees or a directive that all front doors must be painted purple. It’s the right and responsible thing to do. It’s practical and sensible and I just don’t want to do it.

Look, I know these things are supposed to harken back to the town meetings of yore, but democracy at the lowest level is just ponderous. It’s necessary but inconvenient. Maybe that’s what government is really supposed to be in the end. Still, I’d be ok if the 15 out of 120 homeowners who bother to show up at these things adopted a more convenient way of doing business.

Lights out…

Reports are that the lights are out in Puerto Rico. It’s not that some power is out or that sections of the grid are down. The whole damned island has apparently found itself relocated back to the 19th century. Let that sit with you for a minute. You can’t pilfer electricity from your neighbor. You can’t swing a few miles down the road to a motel that’s left the light on for you. You’re one a rock in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and the only places with power are the ones whose generator housings were hardened and high enough not to get flooded – and those small points of light in the darkness will only last until the fuel on hand runs out.

I’d bet that not one in 10,000 of us have a plan for what we’d do if the lights went out and didn’t come back. One night sitting in the dark was enough to convince me to run out and buy a generator – of course it only runs as long as someone is keeping the backyard fuel supply topped off. Running flat out 24/7 I might get ten or fourteen days out of it… assuming the set doesn’t need any service beyond basic maintenance.

I don’t know how long it takes to restore power to 3.5 million people living on a rock in the middle of the ocean, but I’m guessing it may take more than a week or two. Here on the continent it’s a fairly easy thing to stage thousands of men and trucks just outside the danger area and surge them in on their own wheels when the winds subside. It’s an order of magnitude more complicated when getting that support to the people who need it requires both the people and the equipment to arrive by either air or sea.

Although the coverage of our friends in the Caribbean are much on my mind this evening, the wheels are already turning on what more I can do to stave off the 1870s if the power ever well and truly goes out here at home.