What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crud. Whatever standard issue crud I was run down by over the weekend continues to hang on grimly. I’m feeling mostly fine, but I’ve woken up every morning this week with a raw throat and very little voice. It’s not enough to really change anything I need or want to do, but it’s damned annoying. With as many shots as I’ve subjected myself to over the last three years, I feel like having one of them be the cure for the common cold really isn’t that big an ask.

2. Rumors. Having been moved away from my home town for going on 23 years, sometimes I forget how things work there. One thing that hasn’t changed is the rumor mill. Industries rise and fall, people come and go, but rumors fly as swiftly as they ever did. Here’s the thing… if you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right from a friend of a friend of a friend, maybe just pick up the phone or tap that message button and ask someone who would know. That way they can confirm, deny, or tell you to mind your own damned business. Though, I suppose that has significantly less entertainment value.

3. Still waiting. Here we are 7 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published seven weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

Communicating intent…

Halloween is fine as holidays go. It generally lacks the feasting that’s kind of the hallmark of my favorite holidays, but stacking three of those in a row over sequential months is probably overkill. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Halloween, but gods do I loathe the celebrants who can’t seem to abide by the rules of the road.  

I don’t like people coming to the door at the best of times. Jorah absolutely loses his shit when the doorbell rings, or a car door slams, or he hears voices he can’t identify. The same set of inputs send the cat fleeing to the deepest corners of house to burrow in. George, to his credit, is happily indifferent. Still, that leaves three out of four residents of this house who just don’t want to deal with it.

I do all the things you’re supposed to do when you’re not participating – cut off the porch light, the driveway lights, and even the landscape lighting. Still they came. Two years ago, I even extinguished the itty-bitty light in the doorbell. They still came. Last year I went so far as pulling all the blinds and reduced the interior light to the bare minimum needed to keep reading. Still they came. 

Today I made sure all of the above was done before dark and even added blackout curtains to the side light windows next to the front door in an effort to block out any ambient light that might make its way to the front of the house. By 7 o’clock this evening it will be pitch goddamned black in my front yard. The house is going to look like a hole in the woods. There’s not a thing about it that’ll look inviting. Still, I expect, they’ll come… and stand in the dark utterly confused when there’s no doorbell to ring. Short of posting sentries at the end of the driveway, I don’t know how else to convey my intent. 

Simply wanting to be left alone in peace in your own home shouldn’t require this level of effort. A thinking person could have picked up on the signs when I turned the porch light off… so I suspect what we really have is at least some number of people wandering around feeling awfully entitled to other people’s time and attention. Basically, behaving the same way they do the other 364 days of the year.

In conclusion, if you wouldn’t encourage your darling children to take candy from a stranger in a van, you probably shouldn’t encourage them to visit my blacked-out house. 

Like magic…

This is the third month of having someone come in and take care of the “heavy” housework – floors, bathrooms, and kitchen with a side order of regular dusting thrown in.

Once a month they show up for an hour or two and do their thing. The bathrooms and the kitchen sparkle, the dust is off the baseboards, and animal hair magically disappears from the furniture. I’ve gone from skeptic to full blown acolyte. It’s probably the only bill I pay every month that doesn’t make me wonder what, exactly, I’m getting for my money.

I think I’d still be vaguely weirded out if I were handing them a key and hoping for the best, but since they’re doing what they do while I’m happily sequestered with the dog in the back bedroom / tortoise habitat / book storage facility, it doesn’t feel sketchy at all. Maybe having bathroom contractors in and out of the house most days for three months has taken some of the edge off having strange people milling about.

I know I’ve said all of this before. I get the terrible feeling that I’m going to repeat it every month like a broken record, but it’s really just that magical.

Finally filtered…

After weeks of screwing around with companies that apparently weren’t interested in doing business, the large regional plumbing operation I hired last week to put in the new well filter arrived as scheduled this afternoon and did, in fact, install the spin down filter I ordered. After testing, the consensus was that the only thing that needed taken out of the water here was the fine sand that’s endemic to wells in this area. Blame that on having built the homestead here high atop ancient sand and sediment washed down the primordial Susquehanna River when the last glaciers retreated and helped form the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay.

Since they were here and had some time to kill, the two guys doing all the work also drained off the water heater, which has been a settling pond for sand laden water for the last two months. There was some add on fee for that, of course, but given how much sand has been caught in my poor simple Brita filter, getting most of that mess away from the heating element feels like money well spent. As they say, preventative maintenance is almost always more cost effective than emergency maintenance.

My new favorite plumbers weren’t the cheapest by a long shot. From start to finish they answered the phone when I called, arrived when they were scheduled, and did the work they said they were going to do. If that’s not service worth paying for, I guess I don’t know what is.

At the very least, it’s one more thing off my long and growing list of things that need doing around here. My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes this is the start of a trend.

The good neighbor policy…

I’ve organized my life in such a way as to be reasonably unobtrusive and minimize the impact my day-to-day activities have on others. It’s probably reasonable to say I actively go out of my way to avoid people in anything but necessary interactions. Much as I’d love it to be otherwise, there are still times when people are unavoidable if you’re not an entirely self-sufficient operation. In those cases, I try to be polite, professional, and end the engagement quickly as possible so we can all get on with our day. In essence, I have a policy of trying to be exactly the kind of neighbor I want to have. Do unto others and all that.

I don’t let the dog stand at the edge of the fence line and bark at all hours of the day and night. I don’t have live bands on the patio well past 11 PM. I don’t light off a barrage of fireworks in celebration of July 27th. I don’t encourage any resident or guest to wander the property screeching and screaming at top volume for hours on end. The loudest, most intrusive thing I do is run the mowers, trimmers, and blowers that keep the yard neat and tidy once a week. All in, it takes about 45 minutes and with very few exceptions it takes place during a time when one or more of my neighbors are doing the same thing.

I suspect it’s our setting, being surrounded by woods, that gives people the illusion of privacy and distance from their neighbors. At the height of summer with trees in full leaf and thick undergrowth on three sides, perhaps it’s easy to forget that the next guy can be as close as 30 or 40 yards away. Then again, it also feels entirely possible that people are just legitimately the worst animal and do what they do without even a thought behind their glazed over, soulless eyes. As much as I’d like to believe it’s the former, the latter is likely more the case.

I won’t cast aspersions on all neighbors, of course. Some are obviously better than others. The best of the bunch are the ones who throw a wave when you drive past or speak and keep walking when picking up their mail. I’m lucky to count most of my immediate neighbors as falling into this good category. Sadly, it doesn’t take more than one of the other kind to disturb the tranquility of the place overall.

Without investing in thousands of acres, I don’t imagine you can ever completely control for how other people behave or what they choose to do for entertainment. The big ranch in Montana probably isn’t in the cards for me, though. I can certainly keep muddling along with how things are, but I’m definitely of the opinion that I’ll need more seclusion from the general population than 1 or 2 acre lots provides when I settle in for my last act.

Getting clean…

Before I get into this, I want the record to show that I keep a reasonably clean and tidy home. Despite the popular perception that men can’t or won’t do the domestic work to keep a house in order – whether it’s cleaning, cooking, or doing laundry – I have, since the year of our lord two thousand, done all of those things myself. Maybe I misunderstood the assignment in interpreting what was men’s work versus women’s work. I’ve just lumped them all in the same category as cutting the grass and getting the oil changed – otherwise known as things that need to be done if you’re going to be a functioning adult.

As time has rolled on, I’ll admit I’ve farmed some of those things out. I use to change my own oil. I use to muddle my own way through appliance repairs. None of that was a point of personal pride so much as it was a function of not wanting to spend money beyond what was absolutely necessary to get the job done. Over time, promotions and time in grade accrued. Deep into middle age now, I’ve reached the inevitable conclusion that time rather than money is my most limited resource – too limited to spend hours of a Saturday and Sunday doing things I don’t particularly enjoy simply because they must be done.

With that in mind, I’ve been making a conscious effort to offload projects to professionals. The bathroom renovation has helped me build a roster of plumbers, electricians, and painters to go along with the guys who clean the gutters, handle appliance repair, and do the heavy lifting on the spring landscaping. Could I do most of those things myself? Sure. It’s just not how I want to spend an increasingly limited amount of time.

After a decade or more of threatening it, I’ve finally pulled the trigger on hiring someone to come in a couple of times a month to keep up with the deep cleaning. Running the vacuum or dusting is easy enough to manage, but there are things I loathe – like cleaning bathrooms, scrubbing floors, and wiping down baseboards. The inevitable result is those things got deferred, often repeatedly. When they did eventually get done, it was always harder and took longer than it would have otherwise. So, I’m going to see about letting someone else keep up with it for a while and decide if having perfect strangers loose in the house is the alternative I can live with or if that proves to be a bridge too far.

Wednesday afternoon, I’ll decamp temporarily from my normal telework position in the sunroom to a small desk I keep back in the tortoise room and let the cleaners have at it. After that we’ll sort out details on how often and for how long I need to plan on them being here going forward. It’s probably not the best financial decision I’ve ever made, but there’s really no telling how having a truly clean house a few times a month will improve my overall mood. This one might not stick, but I’ve absolutely reached the point where I’m more than willing to give it a try.

Six months to bend the curve…

I managed to sneak away from the homestead the Saturday before last to do a bit of old school book shopping. It felt good to be back on the hunt through towering stacks of warehoused volumes. I knew I didn’t find anything wildly rare or collectable. That’s the trouble with buying from book people. Even those who trade at the wholesale level, despite the massive number of items on their shelves, know what they have… and have probably paid someone to cull the stock for things that shouldn’t be sold off at half of their marked price. Still, filling a basket or two at Second Story Books is among one of life’s great pleasures. Their stock is unpredictable, but I never fail to walk away with items that close gaps in my collection or that will simply be a pleasure to read.

The real shock to my bookish system came when it was time to catalog my new finds and get them loaded up onto the to be read shelves. Thanks to the requisite poking around on Goodreads and LibraryThing, I learned that I’ve fallen significantly off the pace. By the mid-point of 2020 and 2021, I’d read about 40 books. This year, I’ve notched only 25. Those were Plague Years, of course, so it’s possible I’m simply reverting to the mean now that the world has stumbled along being open for business again. In 2018 and ’19 I was reading about 60 books a year so I’m on track to get close to those numbers.

In any case, I’m feeling that I’ve inexplicably let myself get distracted and not at all happy with the meager numbers I’m putting up. The to be read stack grows far too quickly to let the number of books being read slip too far. The solution, I think, is obvious… I’m going to have to quit being a post-plague social butterfly and get back to the ease and comfort of the days of “safer at home.” I’ve got six months left to bend the curve in the right direction.

The Bathroom Report: Day 5

When I looked in on the work yesterday, most of the walls had been stripped back to the studs, there we gaping holes in the floor, and materials were stacked across every open foot of my bedroom floor. The whole thing looked a lot more like destruction than construction. 

Today, though, something magical happened. The crew arrived this morning and started framing. I’m ok at reading the big sweeps of a floorplan, but I’m also notoriously bad at spatial awareness. This is the first time I could start really getting a feel for how things might look when all this is over.

It was also the first time I got a sense of how absurdly large the shower I asked for is actually going to be. I’ve always smacked shoulders and elbows into the sides of every shower I’ve ever been in, so I told the designed that was the number one thing I didn’t want in this new layout. She delivered on that request in spades. In my defense it also had to be pretty damned big so that I could get away with not having to deal with water getting all over the place since I also didn’t want a shower door or curtain. Giving up a linen closet and a foot off the walk-in closet finally feels like it might have been a good idea.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I used to have to walk through the bathroom to get anything out of my closet. It was a design I hated with an irrational level of ferocity. That issue is gone now with the new door cut in and framed. It’s seven square feet smaller than it was when this project started, but still would be room for me to double the amount of clothes I have and still have plenty of empty space left over. Making that trade off was a no-brainer.

We’re all taking a breather for the long weekend, but next up will be the plumbing and electrical rough in. Then we’re off to the races with wallboard and what feels like absolute acres of tilework. 

As week one closes, I know we’re nowhere near the beginning of the end, but I feel confident we’ve at the very least reached the end of the beginning.

Well, well, well…

The bullshit of homeownership continues at pace. I’ve often thought whoever coined the notion of finding joy in owning your own home probably never owned one himself. Or maybe he had staff and an unlimited sinking fund for doing maintenance and repairs. In any case, unbridled joy is rarely my first thought when I consider what goes into keeping the roof over my head.

Maybe that’s because every damn time I turn around something needs fixing or replacing. You regrade the back yard because the basement leaks, then replace a water heater, then a furnace, then get the gutters tinkered with every few months, then you’re due for a new clothes dryer before replacing the faucet on the kitchen sink. That’s all before you take on more basic general maintenance tasks that need done weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Don’t get me wrong, I like the place well enough, but it’s all a labor of necessity rather than one of love.

It’s possible that my view of the whole things is currently jaundiced because the ants that I thought we cast out last summer and now comfortably (for them) back in my well casing. I know this because teeny tiny ant parts are getting sucked into the well, passing through my fancy filter system, and showing up in the sink, the shower, and every other place water is piped through the house. It’s almost equal parts disgusting and infuriating.

Last year, I tried the advice of the well and pump experts. This year I’m starting off seeking a fix from a local exterminator. I think I was very clear with him on the phone that I was going to insist on a solution that didn’t involve pouring poison directly down my own well. I like to think that would go without saying, but life experience tells me sometimes you need to say that obvious out loud.

I have no idea what the next step is if there’s not an effective way to kill these little bastards without killing myself in the process. I wonder if I need to pull a county permit to dig up the front yard, bury a cistern, and have potable water trucked in once a month.

Sometimes good things happen…

I went to the office today. That’s rarely the start of a good news story. As often as not, it’s the lead off line to some mind bending bureaucratic asshattery that’s driven my blood pressure up by 20 or 30 points. Plenty of that happened today, of course, but that’s not what I’m choosing to focus on today – lest anyone begin to think that I don’t see a bright side to anything.

The good part of having been in the office today was that I missed all four hours of landscape contractors attacking the front of my house. Instead of watching, obsessively, through the front window, I returned home to sleek edges, four cubic yards of fresh mulch already spread, and bushes trimmed.

In short, I got to miss all of the work and now get to enjoy all of the benefits. There’s the small matter of the $800 dollar check I still need to cut, but I’m choosing not to think about that at the moment. For now I’ll be happy that at least the front side of the house is properly ready for spring and that I didn’t completely destroy my back to make it so.

As it turns out, sometimes good things do happen while you’re at the office.