It’s springtime here at the homestead and that means the year’s big improvement projects are about to kick off. Fortunately this year’s points of main effort don’t involve the evisceration of the back yard as I’ve opted for two smaller and slightly less invasive projects this year.
Phase 1, getting underway at or around 8AM calls for removing and disposing of three relatively large white pines that are encroaching a bit too far towards the house and front yard. Bringing these guys down should improve some soggy yard issues on that corner of the house, but mostly getting rid of them was an esthetic decision. Opening up that side of the yard will dramatically improve the house’s “presence” as seen from the street. More importantly, perhaps, it will give the front two bedrooms an unobstructed view out to the stand of oaks currently hidden behind the pines. It’s nice to see that not every project on my list has to involve major feats of engineering.
In Phase 2, we move inside to brick over the basement window that has been the source of constant consternation and aggravation since I moved in. A little excavation, a little block cutting, half a dozen new cinder blocks, and a whole lot of exterior waterproofing and backfill should at least get me to the point where there isn’t a readymade pit for the water to build up in. In theory, removing the pooling water should go a long way towards remedying the problem. There are a lot of other ways we could have gone after it, but doing away with a below grade window that served absolutely no purpose felt like a no brainer. Once the basement is closed off and the window well filled in, whatever water falls should follow the new path of least resistance which is out towards the back yard instead of down towards the place where a window use to be. Not being a hydraulic engineer, that’s my operating theory anyway. Once we get the first good rain, we’ll see how well that theory pans out under real world conditions.
So that’s it. I’ll have contractors crawling all over the place tomorrow and then have two of the three big projects for the year finished. After almost a year in residence, it’s starting to feel like I’m putting my own stamp on the place.
Since before we bothered with something as trifling as writing down our great deeds, human beings have made a point of moving stupefyingly large amounts of earth to build their monuments. There are pyramids in Egypt and Central America. Stone circles dot the European continent. We’ve excavated a highway of water to connect the Atlantic and Pacific – and then sent buildings racing a thousand feet into the sky. Historically speaking, we’re monument builders.
The little project I have getting underway this week isn’t monumental in any way. In fact by the time it’s finished and the grass sprouts telling the difference between before and after would give you trouble if you weren’t intimately familiar with the ground we’re covering. Even so, in my own little way I’ll be cutting into the earth in an effort to make my surroundings more hospitable… and by that I mean I’m writing a ridiculously large check to someone else who will actually do that while I stand in the kitchen drinking coffee and watching the work in progress.
As long as it means I can be a little less twitchy every time the rain falls, I’ll at least be monumentally happy with the result, even if there isn’t much to see for the effort. New hardscape, underground drainage for the back yard, and a slope that means water isn’t naturally inclined to flow directly into the basement and garage… be still my middle aged, suburban heart. It’s the stuff of dreams.
Five years and another $60 or $70,000 and we might just have this old homestead properly beaten into shape. In retrospect it may have been more cost effective to just knock down some trees and build my own henge…
Because I like lists and I’m feeling much more lazy than usual this evening, you’re getting a brief glimpse into the things I’m thinking about while I’m laying out my ideas for the back yard. Since they’re going to be shoving around a respectable amount of dirt I thought it would be helpful to go ahead and spell out exactly what I’m expecting out of this little project – especially since I’m looking for bids from three or four different companies. It’s only fair that I evaluate them using the same basic list of must haves versus wants. It’s certainly helped clarify my own goals… especially since I haven’t started assigning a dollar value to anything yet.
So far, the list looks a little like this:
1. Re-grade yard to drain away from house in the garage/porch area – add piped drainage if sufficient negative slope can’t be achieved
2. Remove mulched bed around a/c condenser – replace with sod/grass. Note this is a future zone for placing a backup generator so finish will need to support eventual placement of poured concrete pad
3. Remove boxwood shrubs at back porch steps, transplant to empty bed in front of house if feasible
4. Remove and dispose of “sticker bush” shrub at rear of house
5. Reinstall/replace sidewalk in existing area – all hardscape to be flush with surrounding ground/crossable with riding mower
Nice to haves:
1. Hardscape patio in current location of step down from porch – approximately same size as existing porch
2. Ramp/shallow steps from porch to ground level
3. Cut and haul away pine tree nearest house in front yard
4. Install privacy screen/surround for a/c condenser unit and similar screen for trash and recycling containers
The must have list is the bare minimum that’s going to have to be done regardless of cost… the rest, well, I’ll stretch the budget to allow for as many of them as possible… if there’s any budget left once the main effort is accounted for that is.
I’m sure that watching people build a fence isn’t nearly as tiring as actually building the fence, but after 9 hours of making sure (most of the) posts ended up where I wanted them, I’m just plain worn out. The 300% air-to-pollen ratio and two dogs barking non-stop probably didn’t help with that. I feel guilt even bringing it up, really. After all, I wasn’t the one knocking 30 post holes through tree roots as big around as my forearm. At best, my role today consisted of providing benign oversight, occasionally pointing, and offering access to the bathroom. It wasn’t exactly a backbreaking exercise.
With that said, the project advanced nicely so far. Tomorrow calls for digging about five more holes, hanging the rails, and running wire mesh inside it all. Supposedly it’ll all be wrapped up by closed of business tomorrow. Maybe it is doable, but it feels like something that falls into the category of “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Until then, I’ll just go on about the day trying to remind myself that 4:30 PM isn’t an acceptable adult bed time… Which right about now feels like a real shame.
It’s been a slow week for petty annoyances… and while that’s technically a good thing because it tends to mean my blood pressure isn’t all over the map, it also doesn’t make for a great weekly spot. Despite being a pretty good week overall, there are a few things that I can’t let pass without mentioning.
1. Support services. Theoretically, office trash is supposed to be picked up three times a week. That happens probably 50% of the time. 40% of the time, someone shows up for it twice a week. Last week was one of those 10% moments when no one came by at all. I tote and haul my own trash at home, so I don’t have any philosophical issues with carrying it to the dumpster here at the office – it’s more so a function of a) not knowing where the trash actually goes once it leaves my cubicle, b) not having any of the baby-sized trash bags to replace the one I need to throw out, and c) we’re paying someone good money on a contract that calls for them to, you know, take the bloody trash out three times a week. It’s a small thing, I know, but I have a creeping suspicion that it’s just the surface-level indication that government writ large doesn’t have a clue what kind of quality service it’s getting for our money.
2. Favors. As a rule I try not to ask for favors. That’s mostly because I don’t want to end up then owing someone a favor down the line. If someone asks, though, and it’s not too off-putting, I’m generally open to helping them out. All I really ask is that you be clear about your request. For instance, if you say something like “Hey, can you pick me up a Coke when you go get your lunch” don’t act surprised when what I bring back is a Coke. You see, the thing is, I can’t read your mind. I have no earthly way of knowing that by “Coke” you mean Diet Coke. Honestly, I just don’t pay that kind of attention to people’s daily beverage choices, so I make the blithe assumption that you’re asking for what you actually want. If I asked someone to pick me up a cup of coffee, I’m not sure I’d be offended if they brought back a cup of regular black coffee instead of a vinti-vanilla-latte-extra-hot-with-a-shot. I would have failed to specify what I really wanted… and I damned sure wouldn’t have stood there expecting the person doing me the favor to cover the cost of what I asked them to bring me because they weren’t able to read my bloody effing mind and know what I asked for wasn’t what I wanted. I would have just said “thanks” and gone on about my day. From here on out, the answer is always “no.” Thanks for playing.
As a side note, this is the 53rd regular installment of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Hard as it is to believe, you’ve been listening to my weekly list of grips for a year now. I won’t say it’s actually been cathartic, but it sure is fun to take a little time once a week to call out stupid for what it is.
I think it’s great that we have a contractor that handles the building’s janitorial services – cleaning restrooms, emptying trash, buffing the hallways. But I don’t understand why all of those things need to happen during normal business hours. Ever tried having a phone conversation when 2 industrial strength vacuum cleaners were running in your 40×40 foot section of cubicle farm? I don’t recommend it.
And while I’m on the topic of office cleanliness I’d happily trade one round of vacuuming a week for the occasional pass of a swiffer over the top of the cubicle walls. As a small test, I’ve had my name written in the dust on top of a file cabinet since Christmas. Seriously. I occasionally have to go back and go over it again it so the new dust doesn’t fill it in. I understand that it’s an office and not an operating room, but some attention to the little things would go a long way.
Editorial Note: This is part of a continuing series of previously unattributed posts appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
We’re now at D+5 of the construction project. As of late yesterday afternoon, the slab is poured, the roof is on, and all of the inspections have been passed. It’s hard to believe the City of Memphis thinks a patio needs three separate inspections, but it is what it is. I stayed home this morning to meet the contractor and pick out stain for the ceiling. Once we get that squared away, it’s off to Lowes to pick out new light fixtures. The problem part of all of this construction is that I’ve come to realize I like seeing what I sketched out literally on the back of a napkin coming together. Of course it also has reminded me of all the other projects I have thought about doing to the house, too. I think I’d better get this one paid off before I bite off another chunk.
One of my biggest annoyances with the house since the day I moved in has been that the back yard is essentially useless in the summer (a full southern exposure, Memphis heat, and a brick wall = impossibly hot) or when it rains. I’m hoping to resolve those issues in the next couple of weeks. I’ve had three contractors here over the last week and am waiting on the last of the estimates. So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with even the higher of the two being almost $2500 less than I had budgeted. With or without the final estimate, I’m making a decision at the end of the week and will hopefully have work started shortly thereafter on a new 12×17 covered patio. Who knows if it will actually add any value to the place… of course lately, nothing anyone could do would really add value. Worst case scenario, I have a couple of years of not getting rained on or sunburned when I take Winston out. Seems like a good deal to me.