What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. New and improved. Last week the powers that be implemented a new procedure that was aimed at speeding up the time it takes to get people through the front gate. As far as I can tell all it’s succeeded at doing is creating a cluster fuck of the traffic pattern and made the wait time even longer. Forty years of experience tells me that “new and improved” rarely is… and mostly exists because someone needed a big box checked off on their annual performance appraisal.

2. I’m not particularly chatty at the best of times. When I have Post It notes stacked up like cordwood and a ten page handwritten list of shit to do, I’m even less inclined to want to chat about, well, anything, really. Sorry if the blank look on my face while you’re talking to be about a radom sportsball team I have no interest in at the best of times seems rude, but I have a limited amount of bandwidth. I’d really like to use it to make sure as many of the bits of paper on my desk are on someone else’s desk before the close of business. Unless what you’re telling me is something that’s going to make my life easier, it’s best for both of us if you bugger directly off until I’ve dug out from under the clusterfuck of the day, week, or month.

3. Maryland E-Z Pass. Let’s forget for a moment that until recently tolls at roads and bridges in Maryland were sold to the public as something that would be dropped “as soon as the cost of construction was paid off.” E-Z Pass is one of the ways that many states, including Maryland, have offered up to make their ongoing extortion backed by the full authority and power of the government less obvious to the average citizen… and I only say less obvious because the other option is handing over a fistful of physical cash money every time you drive through a toll plaza. If the state is going to continue to extort money from its citizens for things that have been long paid for and depreciated, it feels like the least they could do is make sure the back office is keeping the books right and not generating a daily email threatening to cut off your account for having a low balance when a quick look at the customer facing website shows there is very clearly both money in the account and a valid credit card from which to siphon more money as needed.

Four months later…

Jorah will be rolling over the 11 month mark this week (with his official birthday designated as October 26th). It feels like a good time to assess where we are now that he’s had four months of learning how to fit into the household.

I’d like to say that the whole process has been seamless, but anyone who follows along with the day to day saga on Facebook would immediately know that’s a bald faced lie. Since Jorah was about six months old when he picked us out, he’d had plenty of time to learn a lot of bad habits at the shelter. It also meant I missed out on the early training window when most dogs learn how to act in civilized society. I’d never say that an older dog can’t learn new tricks, but getting those new ways of doing things through their fuzzy little heads is just going to take longer and require a lot more effort. Jorah’s a smart little dog, but he’s no exception to this. Teaching him any new behavior has felt like it’s taking far, far longer than it should. My overall experience has been that young pups are far more receptive to basic training. Winston and Maggie had their share of training issues, but didn’t go through months where I was legitimately concerned that they were never going to “get it.”

So four months on, where are we? Jorah is a dog who happily goes to his crate – as long as there’s a treat involved. He’s gone weeks now without randomly peeing on the kitchen floor or sneaking off to the laundry room to go. He’s started to have some self-awareness and there are fairly noticeable signs that he’s ready to go outside – noticeable at least when you’re paying a degree of attention. He still doesn’t love road trips, but he’s learning to tolerate them – even willingly walking out to the garage instead of having to be carried the whole way. He’s caught on (mostly) to what should and shouldn’t be chewed to oblivion.

Since his overall bladder control has shown marked improvement, he’s now even getting to spend time in the living room. Mostly it’s limited to an hour or two in the evenings and he’s still a long, long way from being a trusted agent able to enjoy the space unaccompanied, but it’s progress. After spending ten weeks confined to my own kitchen any progress on this front is cause fo great joy and celebration. You don’t realize how much you miss regular access to the big television and comfy seating until you don’t have it.

Progress has been slow, but hasn’t been equal across all fronts. Jorah is still peeing in his crate at night once or twice a week. We’ve mostly ruled out medical causes, which leaves me casting around to sort it out as another problematic behavior issue. For now, it’s restricting water in the evenings and pushing back my own bed time to try giving him less time overnight to have a problem. It’s not ideal, but the alternative of scheduling a 2AM bathroom break is even less appealing.

Realistically, I know he’s come a long way from the scared-of-his-own-shadow little dog that came home with me over Memorial Day weekend. I don’t know if I can realistically say that the worst is over just yet, but at this pace, Jorah might just be a tolerably well integrated member of the family by the time Christmas rolls around.

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.

The must haves…

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:

Must haves:
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’ll get to it when I get to it…

Sunday afternoon I spent a not insignificant amount of time shoveling mulch off the sidewalk and driveway and back into it’s rightful place around the front flower beds. With a little raking it looked reasonably presentable and not at all like last weekend’s rain had washed a goodly portion of it into places it had no business being. It stayed there for approximately 30 hours before last night’s torrential rain promptly washed even more of it down the driveway and out into the street.

Sigh. I won’t even start on the volume of water laying against the back side of the house, ever willing to probe for a weak spot in the masonry. Funny how that sort of thing didn’t bother me when it was someone else’s foundation soaking for hours at a time. Paranoia is possibly one of the joys of home ownership.

The good news is I think we’ll start to have some of those issues addressed this weekend – with a little gutter cleaning to help resolve the issues out front and hopefully enough time to get some risers under the air condenser. As next week marches on, I’m getting some initial estimates from landscaping companies on reworking the drainage and slope of the back yard… and maybe a few other little projects that would be awfully easy to deal with while they have a bobcat running around the premises.

The thing that’s constantly surprising me about this house is that the little stuff is squared away… which only leaves the big things to do when time and funding allow. It’s safe to say that the master bathroom renovation budget is officially busted and that project is now on the “I’ll get to it when I get to it” list. That one hurt a bit, but the part of my head ruled by logic and reason tells me the mechanicals and drainage systems aren’t working right, all the other projects are purely academic.

Yep. The joy of home ownership indeed.

Auld lang syne…

I was rummaging around my old files looking for something this past weekend and ran across something unexpected. I had been under the impression that the posts from my original blog, hosted on MySpace back in the day, were lost amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the interwebs. But no, there they were, every post from June 2006-October 2008 safely tucked into a 147 page Word document just waiting for me to find them.

It could just be that I’m always critical of my own writing, but I’m pleased to see that there’s been a marked improvement in the style and substance of my writing over the last six years. I was certainly less circumspect back then, and a few of the posts I’ve read so far have a certain raw quality that surprised me… It’s hard to believe I said some of those things out loud right there on the internet for everyone to see. Still, there are a few real gems in the mix and it was something of an odd comfort to see that I’m still basically the same person I was back then at the ripe old age of 28. I’m a little older now, a lot more cynical, but the posts are unmistakably something that came from my keyboard.

I had planned it to be a surprise when these old posts started showing up, but I think some errant clicks Sunday may have let the cat out of the bag for those of you who get email updates whenever there’s a new post. So here’s the big announcement: Starting this coming Sunday and continuing every Sunday until I clear the archive, I’ll be making every effort to add five “new” old posts to the mix here. I’m going to edit them a bit for grammar and punctuation, but otherwise in the interests of preserving history as it happened you’re going to see them just like you would have on MySpace back in the day. Join me, won’t you, in this trip down memory lane.