This (not particularly) old house…

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an open call for readers to “Ask Me Anything.” One reader asked what projects I’d tackled around the house since moving in. This post is my best effort at describing what was, what’s been done, and where we’re going in the future.

Anyone who has ever owned a house knows that home ownership isn’t so much a state of being as a state of doing. Over and above the normal cleaning tasks, there is, literally, always something that needs some kind of attention – a leaking toilet, an overflowing gutter, filters to clean, driveway cracks to patch, trim to touch up, brush to haul away, or mulch to lay down… and that’s just the basic upkeep work that goes in to keeping a house from falling down around your ears. Sure, I know that people can go months or even years without doing any of that stuff but in addition to a place to live, home is an investment and it’s one I’d like to make sure pays off when it’s time to hang up the for sale sign.

I’ve been in this new house of mine for a little over two years now, which means I’ve lived with it long enough to have found a number of its personality quirks. Some of those quirks are tolerable – like the section of kitchen floor that’s just enough out of level that it will try to trip you if you are tempted to shuffle your feet instead of picking them up when you step. The basement window that let in a small flood every time it rained for more than 15 minutes was one of those that was less quirky and more demanding of an immediate fix. Mercifully that hole in the ground is now relatively dry and my paranoia about returning home after a rainstorm to find an indoor swimming pool has begun to recede. In the garage, I’ve removed the wheelchair ramp that occupied an entire bay when I moved in. That space is now occupied with set of steps cannibalized from parts of the ramp, a proper work bench, a bit of shelving, and a Jeep.

The work that never ends continues outside, where so far I’ve pulled out or cut down two score trees and shrubs of varying sizes, stabilized a muddy mess of a hillside that washed across the driveway in the slightest fall of rain, and filled in a badly designed flower bed with sod. As far as I can tell, most of this work is in compensation for 5-7 years of maintenance deferred by the previous homeowner. Adding a permanent generator sized to meet all possible power needs of the homestead was a personal priority of mine that felt like an extravagance… right up until the point where the power was out for the better part of 24 hours this past winter. After that, being assured that life can continue uninterrupted by weather or falling trees has come to feel like something essential. The last (I hope) significant outdoor project was adding a “rustic” fire ring in the back yard… since “burning brush” is frowned upon by the local home owners association, but having a fire pit is not. Two birds with one stone, that.

I’m sure there will be more to do, because there always is. I can’t even blame the honey do list on anyone else since mine is entirely self-generated. I want to move a few light switches and add a few electrical outlets, which (probably) I can do on my own. Unfortunately I’m also reaching the point where many of the things I want to do are beyond my level of technical skill and expertise. The master bath is badly in need of a walls-in renovation. Four rooms and a hallway need new carpet. I despise the laminate counter top in the kitchen. Seriously. That was a crap place to cheap out on the original build back in 2000. There’s also a 10×8 foot alcove in the living room that’s crying out to be floor-ceiling book shelves.

So the list of things to do never really gets any shorter with me adding one or two new things for every one that gets ticked off. I figure that at the rate I’m going, by the time I’m ready to sell the place off in eighteen years I’ll just have finished up everything I wanted to do with it.

Home sweet home…

Jumped two deer on my walk down to dump my bucket of trimmings. Before 8:30 my totals were up to two deer, half a dozen squirrels, a woodpecker, several humming birds, and sundry others. Add in yesterday’s box turtle and I am reminded entirely why ended up here instead of back in a cookie cutter shoulder to shoulder subdivision.

Election night prognostication…

So if you will all indulge at least one more post about the election of 2016, with polls a few hours from closing here on the East Coast it’s time for a little prognostication from your kindly local proprietor. It was a busy day today and I didn’t have time to do much reading or casting entrails or reviewing exit polling data, but that’s not the kind of thing that would ever stop me from giving you my two cents about what I think is going to happen tonight. To put it another way, my opinion on this is going to be educated rather than purely informed.

With all that said, you’re probably wondering what the election results are going to look like. Here’s my best guess of where things will stand once the dust settles and the last votes are tabulated: Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States. The Republicans will maintain a razor slim majority in the US Senate (51-49) and the House of Representatives will continue to be Republican controlled by a small, but comfortable margin.

In the end I think what we’ll find is that we’ve spent billions of dollars on this election season and absolutely nothing of significance will change. Washington will still be gridlocked. There will be even fewer moderate voices on both sides and the interminable bickering will continue for 25 months until the first voices start “exploring” opportunities to run in the presidential election of 2020.

That’s my best guess on where we end up when this long election cycle reaches it’s agonizing end. We’ll all have a few less friends, we’ll be a little more jaded, and politics will continue as usual. Ain’t that a kick in the head?

A year later…

As most of the rest of the Western world is busy celebrating Easter, I’ve mostly spent this Sunday morning trying to wrap my head around the idea that one year ago almost to the hour I was sitting down and signing my name on 37,361 pieces of paper that allowed me to borrow a horrifying sum of cash and move into a far better house than I imagined possible. I won’t say that the year has been all sunshine and roses – it feels like there’s been some part of the place under construction for most of that time; not to mention an ever-lengthening list of projects yet to come.

Now with that being said, and despite the general pain in the ass of being a homeowner, this place ranks among the better decisions I’ve ever made. Good bones, good neighborhood – and neighbors I can’t even see for three seasons of the year – it’s a hard place not to like. The longer I’m here, the more I change to suit me versus suiting the last guy to live here, the more I like it.

I’m already struggling to imagine that a year ago I was standing in the middle of a totally empty house wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into.

Improving the margins…

With the budgets set and deposits for the major (planned) home improvement projects for 2016, I’m having to satisfy myself currently with making small improvements around the margins.

The big ticket items are easy enough to find – gutting the master bath back to the studs and putting it back the “right way,” pulling up the laminate countertops in the kitchen and replacing them with something more formidable, new carpet in four rooms, reworking the front yard a bit to improve grade, add deer-resistant plantings, and correct a few spots prone to erosion. All of those find their place somewhere along the grand 10-year plan. That’s not accounting for other general maintenance items – like the inevitable new furnace, air conditioner, or new roof. The joy of home ownership, right?

So yeah, knowing were I want things to go over the next 3,500 days, I’m trying to find and enjoy the quick hits where I can. Last week I added a few fire extinguishers – not sexy, but nice to have if you happen to need them. This week I added a battery backup to my a few of my key critical electronic components. That was a spur of the moment add after several round of the power not quite going out, but going out just enough to turn off all the computer gear. In the coming weeks I hope to see a few hanging tool racks and maybe a new work bench in the garage. Then there’s time allocated to make the basement more than a slightly leak prone but otherwise empty hole in the ground.

I’m pretty pleased with the improvements I’ve been able to make here less than a year after taking possession – even though they’re largely invisible unless you know what you’re looking at in the first place. All the little things – the nitnoid $50 improvements – go a surprisingly long way towards improving what you could call the quality of life. Given the length of the to do list I’m pondering, I figure I’ll have the last of it crossed off just about the time I’m ready to retire and let this place be someone else’s problem.

Stepford…

I can’t speak for anything beyond the field of view that stretches a couple of hundred yards on either side of my own driveway, but from all outward appearances the county has done a respectable job at getting things scrapped down to pavement. The fine exurbanites in the neighborhood have been diligently blowing, plowing, shoveling, and salting for the last three days. The whole place looks about as much like Stepford as anyone could ever want.

Being the hermit I am, hanging out at the house for the last two and a half days hasn’t exactly felt like a burden. It hasn’t actually felt like much more than a normal weekend, really. Now there’s an impromptu three-day weekend and curiosity is getting the better of me. The two winding back roads leading out of my little slice of Americana roll past farms and fields and a few sections of deep woods. In fair weather there’s a decided charm to it.

In the current other-than-fair environment somehow I doubt that they’re quite as inviting. I can think of two or three places on both routes where things are probably still sitting over the side or in the ditch from sometime yesterday. The whole county can’t be Stepford. I forget that sometimes. Maybe this afternoon I’ll fire up the four-wheel drive and have a look at what the rest of this mess looks like from outside the warm and toasty.

Plumbed…

Every time I hire a plumber I’m struck with a moment of wondering why I’m paying good money to have someone do things I could do myself. Then I generally remember that I’ve probably tried, and failed, to do the work myself and that’s why I called the plumber in the first place. Yes, they’re expensive. Yes, they disrupt the household. Yes, there are other things I’d rather be spending my money on. Then again, I do like indoor plumbing so there’s the rub.

With time and practice, trial and error, I don’t doubt there’s any system in this house that I couldn’t eventually learn to repair in its entirety. While I have many skill sets, though, plumbing and electrical aren’t currently among them. Maybe they should be, but they’re not.

In most cases it boils down to the value of time. Some small things are easy enough, can be whipped out in an hour and life can return to normal. Others, well, that’s when it pays to know what your own time is worth and be willing to farm out the jobs that are going to eat up too much of it.