I’m going to sleep on it…

Six weeks ago, I was on a wild tear to get the master bathroom, at long last, updated to the point where it was a functional space for something beyond walking through to get to my closet and an out of the way corner to keep Hershel’s litter box. Getting proposals back that saw my own preliminary cost estimate bested by about 50% has given me a moment of pause… not because I want a real functioning master bathroom any less, but because it is only one item on my list of things to do.

The others, in no particular order of importance are: 1) Patch and reseal the asphalt driveway; 2) Repair or replace leaking gutters; 3) Replace 21 year old air conditioning condenser unit; 4) Replace kitchen counter tops; 5) Be prepared to replace all major kitchen and laundry appliances since every one of them is now well past the point of economical repair; 6) More bookcases (because we always need more bookcases here). There are, of course, other more minor items that need continuous repair and replacement as needed.

Before the cost run ups associated with the Great Plague, the price of a new bathroom would have been an all cash operation. Funding was saved and earmarked. Now, it would mean pulling a loan to cover the unanticipated increase in cost. Doing the bathroom now means sucking all the oxygen out of the room – and being unable to address any of the other projects without further borrowing or kicking them years into the future in order to reestablish a sufficient cash reserve.

I’m going to take the weekend to sleep on it. The most likely solution feels like taking on some of the smaller projects while stashing away more cash to get the bathroom done right. That’s all hoping, of course, that rampaging inflation doesn’t completely throttle the value of the dollar and that at some point the COVID premium on construction supplies and labor moderates back towards historical levels. Those are two significant “maybes’ that there is no way to control for other than sucking it up and paying the bill now.

So yeah, tell me more about this joy of home ownership, won’t you?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The algorithm. Every third ad Facebook has served me in the last couple of weeks is some variation of “Are you saving enough for retirement?” It’s a fine question and I’m almost laser focused on what I need to do to be able to walk out the door in 14 years and 18 days and never work again, but I promise you I’m not taking financial advice from the place I go to find dirty memes and posts about who got arrested in the area.

2. Timing. I’ve been plugging away for six years, putting a bit of money back here and there to correct the deficiencies in my master bathroom. Every time I got close to hitting my estimated budget number, some other critical project would come along and shave a few thousand dollars off that particular pile of cash. During the Great Plague, I managed to finally hit my number… and of course now the cost of building material has gone through the roof. I’ve gone ahead and put out the call for quotes to a couple of local builders, though. It seems my timing for this project is never going to be good… so the only thing left is to proceed. Doing otherwise feels like an open invitation to wake up one morning after another six years and realizing I’m still schlepping down the hall to take a shower.

3. Extortion. This week, one of the main oil pipelines servicing the east coast of the United States was held hostage. It’s owners reportedly paid $5 million to a vaguely described group of Russian or Eastern European cyber terrorists to regain control of their network. Here’s the thing… the Colonial Pipeline is, by definition, key infrastructure. We’ve seen the news reports of the chaos caused by this brief interruption. Setting aside that much of the panic was entirely self-inflicted by people rushing to fill every container they could find, our enemies have also seen the chaos a service disruption in one of our major pipelines can cause. Paying out millions of dollars was a business decision… but what I want to know is why we’re not now seeing reports of cruise missiles leveling the known and suspected safe harbors from which these and other cyber terrorists operate. If a country or non-state actor blew up a building or bridge, we’d come crashing down on their head like a mailed fist. I don’t make a relevant distinction between those who’d launch a kinetic attack and those who do their damage with keystrokes. 

Pity the poor designer…

At long last, after excavating the back yard, taking down a bunch of trees, replacing the furnace, and taking on innumerable other small tasks here at Fortress Jeff, I’m finally ready to start the wheels in motion to renovate the master bathroom.

It feels strange saying that. Six years ago, I almost took a pass on this place because the bathroom was so underwhelming. If I remember correctly, I had the place written into my house-hunting notes as “revenge of the tub” because it was the second house I looked at that was otherwise very nice, but had only a giant damned bathtub in the master bathroom.

I don’t have anything against enormous bathtubs in theory. In practice, though, they’re not my thing. I had a massive jetted tub in my house in Memphis and I filled it a grand total of one time in the three years I lived there. The only thing I’ve used the one in this bathroom for is for bathing dogs – and it wasn’t particularly useful for that. As far as the way I live is concerned, a giant tub is the quintessential waste of space – and represents money better spent on heated floors and, perhaps, a monstrous shower.

“But,” some will say, “A freakishly large bathtub will improve your resale value.” Maybe that’s true, but I’m the poor dumb bastard that will be living here for the next 15 years. Putting the room together to suit my reality makes far more sense than trying to project what some notional person a decade and a half from now might want to see. 

For now, I’m gathering up the list of contractors I’ll ask for proposals and putting together a list of what I’d like to get out of this project. I feel like I have a solid grip on the big bits, but as I troll around online it seems inevitable that the fit and finish will give me no end to trouble. I almost feel bad for whatever poor designer I ends up working with me to sort out the details.

That trouble notwithstanding, I’ll be extraordinarily pleased to finally be able to take a shower every morning without schlepping down the hall. 

Becoming those people…

Six years ago today the spot where I’m sitting to write this was covered by a stack of boxes freshly hauled inside by three guys from Allied Van Lines. If you find yourself in a position to move your entire household after the age of about 30, I promise you hiring the job out is absolutely worth the money. You’ll have plenty of time to throw out your back moving furniture into just the right spot or lugging boxes once they’re already in the house. Moving is chaotic enough without personally schlepping every item you own in from the curb.

For most of these last six years, every spring has involved a minor crusade against the green algae that appears inevitably on the north and east sides of the house. Usually, it was a minor annoyance that could be beaten back with a good scrub brush, a hose, a few helpful chemicals, and half an afternoon of concerted effort. It’s not the kind of yard work that’s particularly fun, but necessary for the sake of keeping up appearances.

Over the last year or two, the algae has been creeping higher than can comfortably be reached, even with a ladder. Worse yet, the roof is now showing undeniable signs that good growth of moss is starting to take hold. I love my woods full of old oaks and poplar, but this is one of the inevitable inconveniences – and not one of those that can be remedied by ignoring it until it goes away on its own. 

I’ve long since gotten too old and fat to risk falling off my own roof… a result that feels almost inevitable if I were fool enough to take on the job myself. Since I’m going to have the roof done, I might as well let them take on the gutters while there here. The fascia and soffit are filthy too. The algae needs taken care of. Since there’s a spot of it up towards the gable end, they might as well deal with that while the equipment’s already going to be here.

Yeah. I’ve apparently become one of those people… but at least the exterior of the old place will look better than it has since I took over the management here. Even if that means I’ve got to pay someone to scrub the place from roof peak to foundation.

I spend more time pondering shelving than is strictly reasonable…

I had one of those awkward moments this weekend. It was triggered by trying to add a book to the case and finding that particular shelf of one of my favorite authors was filled. That’s where I realized that the new bookshelves I bought for the dining room 18 months ago probably have no more than 18 months worth of space left on them. Same with the shelves in the living room. The non-fiction section in the office is all but full. No more than a years worth of space left there. So maybe 3 years of storage left between the lot of them. It’s likely less because if my habit of always having one fiction and one non-fiction title going simultaneously. None of this even takes into account the dearth of space now available on the recently installed “to be read” shelves.

I know it won’t seem like it, but I really have already curtailed the pace with which I’m adding new books to the collection. Sure, cutting that number to zero and de-accessioning some of what’s already there would resolve the ongoing issues with storage… but I’m trying to come up with solutions that I can actually live with, and not some kind of ridiculous, pie in the sky plan that has no hope of getting off the ground.

I’m left considering two long term options. Both involve, not surprisingly, adding extensive new shelving – either replacing and expanding what’s currently in the dining room or along the wall where my couch is currently situated. There’s enough space in either spot to buy a decade or more of storage at the rate I’ve been working through the collection in the last few years – about sixty books a year, or three individual shelves worth of reading material.

In my heart, it’s an easy decision – call a cabinetmaker and order up 70-100 linear feet of built-in shelving for the dining room. The heart’s bill could easily run to $5,000 or more to make it look good. My head, knowing that the current house is most likely temporary (although long-term temporary), would advise just laying on ten more Billy’s from Ikea – a cost that we could reasonably expect to hold under $1,000… although it would never look as nice as having the job done properly.

If you think I don’t have doodles showing the library with a few attached bedrooms and a kitchen I want to build in retirement, you likely haven’t ever heard me talk about books. I’m going to live here in this house for another 16 years, though. As much as I’d love a room filled with built-ins, what losing a dining room to gain a proper library would mean when it comes time to sell weighs on me. More shelving is going to happen, the only question really is whether I can get past my inherent reluctance to tinker permanently with bones of a house that eventually will need to appeal to more than my own sense of what goes where. Fortunately, I’ve still got a little time to consider the options.

A day of false alarms…

I was a little weirded out when I welcomed the exciting world of personal surveillance into my home for the first time. Like most other technologies, though, once you get over the initial “newness” it largely fades into the background. I go though my day barely noticing the little pods that keep an eye on the homestead even when I’m not.

Truth be told, I’ve gotten to the point where far from being creeped out by having my own personal surveillance state, I’ve come to enjoy being able to look in on what’s going on periodically – and having a record of it that reaches back days for the inevitable “just in case” moments when that sort of thing proves useful to have around.

As someone who depends on one of these systems as part of a multi-component home security plan, I probably shouldn’t admit that even the most current version of the consumer grade products have their limitations. The issue of the day is the fact that apparently once the wind starts blowing at more than 20 miles per hour the software that runs the outdoor cameras decides that it is constantly seeing motion and throws “warning” messages every 37 seconds. I’ve gotten a constant stream of them all day long.

Sure, I check them because I tend a bit towards the obsessive, but someone with a lesser degree of paranoia just might become a little less observant given the sheer volume of false alarms getting tossed around. I suppose there’s a way to dial back that kind of sensitivity, but personally I’d rather have a day of false alarms once a month than run the risk of missing the one that might matter.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Login.gov. The main platform for applying for work with the federal government, USAjobs.com, has introduced 2-factor authentication. In order to log into you account you now have to enter you user name and password and a six digit number provided to you via phone. That’s fine, except that in order to set up this new fancy ID with the 3rd party service, login.gov, you need the original phone number you used to set up your USAjobs account – which is a desk number I had more than 10 years ago. Without that one little bit of information you find you can’t log in to your old account, you can’t set up you new account, and there’s no way to fix A without fixing B witch requires you to fix A. It’s one of the most magnificent do loops I’ve seen the government foist on us in recent years. In discussion with the “help” desk it turns out I can’t even delete my old account and try again unless I can somehow transport back in time and answer a phone at a desk I haven’t sat at in over ten years.

2. Lawn Sprinklers. I have no philosophical issue with anyone piping water to their yard when weeks without rain threaten to bake it into oblivion. Sure, we’re all on wells and probably drawing from the same aquifer, but after three years of reliable water, I’ve got at least a small degree of comfort that we’re not going to run the damn thing dry. My problem comes when, after almost a week of nearly unremitting rain, when rainfall records are dropping like flies across the region, these same lawn sprinklers are running full tilt in the middle of a torrential downpour. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but in my mind that also makes it one of those that’s easy to correct. I’m tickled pink to come from the land of plenty. I’m thrilled that the rain has turned my own lawn from wilting embarrassment to lush green carpet again. Although it’s completely outside the scope of what I usually care about, I’d really appreciate it if the house down the street could just stop making it rain for these few days while nature is providing the service gratis. I’m sure there will be plenty of days in August when they can show off their new toy to the neighborhood.

3. HVAC. Heating and cooling systems can be complex even at the residential level. Scale that into a multi-floor office building with a warren of offices, conference rooms, and open space, and I don’t even want to speculate on what mathematics may be involved in trying to make the place comfortable. First, I don’t want to speculate on that because I hate doing the maths. Second, I won’t speculate because I honestly don’t care. I just want the system to work. I want it to spit out cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Beyond that it can do whatever it wants. All I know is that somehow we’ve managed to make the lobby with 40 foot ceilings nicely chilled even in the heat of the day, but haven’t found a way to get any of that cool refreshing air down the hall to the back of the building. The first safety officer who comes down here bitching about too many fans plugged in is going to get kicked in the junk.

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.

Just in case…

If you live long enough you’re sure to noice there are moments where you repeat habits and patterns of past generations. Resist as much as you want and there are some elements of your parent’s personality that are sure to come through lound and clear despite all protestations to the contrary. As much as the big story today should be that Fortress Jeff is now manufacturing hot air six percent more efficiently than I was when the day started that is, in fact, not the big story… even if the projected savings on electrical and propane changes alone would have rated a mention here.

I’m writing here tonight not to sing the glory of high efficiency HVAC systems, but because I caught myself squarely in the midst of following my father’s footsteps. You see, when I walked through to the kitchen to brew up another coffee, I noticed the demolished remains of the old furnace laying on the driveway. Next to the shredded metal carcass of the furnace was a stack of 3-inch PVC pipe, the former intake and exhaust, that had been cut into neat eight foot lengths ready for disposal. Being my father’s son, of course, I couldn’t let perfectly good PVC pipe get thrown away.

Despite the fact that I have never in almost 40 years had a situation where I though, damn I wish I had a 16 foot length of 3-inch PVC pipe handy, I went out to the driveway and toted the two lengths that were clean cut and without joints back into the garage and leaned them in the corner. I laid them up “just in case,” against a day that when I need just exactly 8 or 16 feet of pipe to take on some project here at the house.

These lengths of pipe join sections of trex and 1×2 that came off the access ramp that use to be in the garage, several coffee cans of mismatched screws, nails, bolts, and nuts, a few smallish squares of drywall, and some leftover tile that matches my kitchen floor. All of it is material in waiting – most likely for a project or requirement that will never come – but ready just in case.

What Annoys Jeff this Week? The

1. Water and ice. I had to pull the refrigerator out for the first time since I moved in to Fortress Jeff. It’s a nice enough refrigerator and it came with the house, but I’ve always been a little annoyed that it didn’t have an ice maker – or better yet, water and ice through the door. After almost three years of living here I’ve now officially discovered that the place is actually plumbed for a refrigerator that could make all the cold water and ice I could ever want. And now I’m even more annoyed by the people who made the conscious decision not to buy a fridge that takes advantage of it. Seriously. Who does that?

2. Republicans. I remember when one of the central planks of the Republican Party was controlling the deficit and reducing the national debt. The “budget bill” now before Congress is something that would make any decent Reagan-era Republican choke. I miss real Republicans.

3. Democrats. I remember when one of the central planks of the Democratic Party platform was building up social programs that benefited America’s most needy citizens. Based on the fight being put up in the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party now seems more concerned with securing rights for foreign nationals who are in the country illegally than they are taking care of business for actual United States citizens. I miss real Democrats.