The taming of the yard…

I could have been justified in cutting the grass here on the homestead for the last two weeks. Two factors have led to that not happening. The first is that every spring my yard turns into a sopping, muddy morass any time it rains and generally just at about the time it’s dried enough to risk moving power equipment on it, there’s more rain. The second, and more personal factor, is simply my own procrastination. I know that from the moment I start it will be a recurring (at least) weekly lawn care project that historically stretches from sometime in April straight through to mid-January. 

Yard work is one of the very few kinds of work I do where, when it’s done, I can point to something and see a physical accomplishment. Maybe there’s even a little sense of pride there. It’s not the feeling of having done something I get when I’ve jammed together a really unwieldy PowerPoint or mastered the intricacies of a 6000-line spreadsheet. Yes, once I get after it, I’ll be pleased to see things looking neat and orderly, but if I’m honest, I’ve really enjoyed these last three months of not needing to keep up with it. 

I could probably get away with the procrastination for another week or two if I really put my mind to it. Alas, I have a yard rather than a lawn, so instead of a slightly-too-long expanse of grass, I’ve got a lumpy conglomeration of grass, clover, thin spots, and spiky miscellaneous weeds all growing at different rates and truly looking like a burning hot mess. If I can get one more rain-free day I might actually be able to properly begin the taming of the yard.

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.

A dream of spring…

As the days lengthen, the household is beginning to shake itself loose from four months of winter inaction and beginning to lay out the list of things that need done as spring arrives.

This week, I’ve got a repair scheduled for a garage door that’s badly needed adjustment for months. I’ve also made calls to get the yearly generator service put on the books and to get a date for the spring mulching, two other annual expenses I’m perfectly happy to incur. Sure, I could do both of those things myself, but once I figure in the value of my own time (and half a dozen trips to Lowe’s), letting the professionals handle it in 1/3 of the time just makes sense.

Still to come projects are having the windows recalked and the angle iron lintels and a few other bits of trim scraped and repainted. I’ll farm those out too. I’m too old and too fat to fall off ladders. Heading out to pick up a new battery for the lawn tractor is at least one item on the list I’m competent to manage without direct supervision. Judging by how green some parts of the yard have started looking, we’re nearly to the time of year where being able to cut and trim is important. That also means “summarizing” the snowblower and de-winterizing my venerable Echo string trimmer. By the time that gets done and the garage is reset for warm weather operations, it’ll be time to clear off a winter’s worth of grime from the back porch and get the planters ready for a bit of color.

That leaves the wildcard… the master bathroom renovation that I expected to start around the end of January is still pending. There was a 16-week lead time just for the damned vanity, but now we’re past the half-year mark from the date I signed off on the final plan. With a third of the price already paid out to purchase supplies, I feel like I’ve been reasonably patient to this point, but now I just want to get things started so it might actually end someday… though I’ll admit the heated floor felt like a much more reasonable expense in the fall than it does with summer just over the horizon. 

I just made my bi-weekly call to the contractor to check in and remind them I’m still here. I’m not sure it does any good, but it makes me feel slightly better in hoping I won’t be marking a one-year anniversary of starting the design/build process before demo even starts… though I won’t pretend that it’s outside the realm of what’s possible at this point.

It turns out any house can be a money pit if you’re obsessive enough about things being just so.

Downstream consequences…

I’m not a well driller, but I know just enough theory to realize that last week’s tinkering around inside the well casing was going to disturb the water column and kick up all manner of detritus. The professionals who raised the pump height and installed the new filter system warned me that it would take at least a day for that to clear up. Likewise, even after flushing the system, it would take a bit of time for any sediment (and ants) already in the system to work their way out. I tried not to dwell on some parts of that discussion too much.

For obvious reasons, I don’t use water like the “average” household, so I mentally allowed a few more days than their estimate. Sure enough, on the third day water from the tap was running crystal clear and free of bits and pieces.  it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Whatever’s left of the colony after my application of large amounts of boiling water still needs to be addressed. For now, though, the new and improved shields are holding and I’ve bought a bit of time to find the right solution versus the quick one. The well guy’s advice to “just soak the whole thing in ant killer” doesn’t necessarily feel like the right course of action here. I mean I’m sure it would kill the ants, but it feels like he may not have been giving enough thought to the downstream consequences.

It’s a deep subject…

The saga of why my well has gone wonky and what’s to be done about it continues. 

I’ve learned a few new things over the last couple of days though. Or instance, the homestead sits on three distinct layers of sand/gravel, sand/clay, and sand. The well goes 195 feet down through them to the final sand layer. That’s not overly surprising. If I remember my long-ago undergraduate geography class, the whole of the Eastern Shore is a sand berm pushed up at the end of the last ice age by the proto-Susquehanna River as the ice melted.

Knowing that, having a bit of extra sediment coming through is fairly easily explained – by someone who knows more about hydraulics than I do. The most likely cause, according to the well company, is a slight shift in how water is flowing through the aquifer coupled with a 20-year buildup of sediment in the bottom of the well. The proposed solution: Raise the depth of the pump a bit. Sounds reasonable to me.

The bug and bug part intrusion, remains more of a mystery. They’re not exactly naturally occurring at depth in the water table. There’s no evidence of bugs making their way through the well cap, either. The tentative recommendation there is swapping out my current single-stage filter to a two- or three-stage set up that should capture everything down to the one-micron level. Not much should make it through that – certainly nothing large enough to identify definitively as a “bug part.”

The company I’m dealing with still wants to do a bit of homework and wait for the results of the water tests to come back, so we’re not at a point where we have a definitive plan of attack or a projected butcher’s bill for getting it done. Not that it matters all that much. It’s not like I’m going to opt to keep the bugs, regardless of the price put on making the fix.

The ghost of plumbers past…

The fact that there are now ants and ant pieces flowing through my home’s water system amps up the need to find someone qualified to service the system to a pretty high degree of urgency. I was willing to make due with a little fine sediment from time to time. Mostly that meant just clearing the filter more often than I had been previously. Now that fiddling with the filter and draining off the pressure tank a few times doesn’t seem to have satisfactorily resolved the issue, I’m just going to have to accept that the problem is now well beyond my level of competence.

So far, I’ve been wildly unimpressed with the various well drilling/service companies I’ve talked to. Most admitted they were weeks or months behind schedule and promised to call back when they were ready to come have a look with whatever tests, tools, and people they thought they’d need. Over the last quarter of a year, it’s resulted in a lot of phone calls, but no actual action.

While I was fiddling with the pressure tank last night, I stumbled on the original installer’s name and had a blinding flash of the obvious. Thanks to meticulous records from the pervious owner and the internet, I discovered his company is still in business. They’re not drillers, but starting out with someone to look over the pumps and tanks looks like a reasonable place to start. I left a voicemail for him this afternoon in hopes that the draw of revisiting old work might be enough to get more than just a call back. So far I like him better than the rest because thirty minutes later he gave me a firm date and time he’d be there to give the system a good going through.

According to his records, the last time they were on the property was in 2010, after installing the system originally in 2006. I eagerly await the arrival of the ghost of plumbers past with my fingers firmly crossed in hopes that the answer will be something other than, “Nope, drill another one.”

Revenge of the deferred maintenance…

I’ve spent most of the last year deferring things that would bring people through the door. Part of that is just my natural disinclination to have people wandering around the house, but mostly it was part of my personal plague protection scheme. You can’t catch the bug if no one gets closer to you than the end of the driveway. 

It means now that I’ve had all my shots, it’s time to start working through the backlog. Sigh.

A few weeks ago, I anted up for the whole house power wash. The siding has never looked better and the moss colony that had taken root on the roof seems to (temporarily at least) be a thing of the past. It would have taken me a three-day weekend and probably resulted in me falling off the damned roof. It took them about three hours.

Today, Stanley Steemer crawled through the house finding every HVAC distribution and return vent to price out what the damage is going to be to get the whole system cleaned next week. After six years, it’s probably well past time for that regardless of what it ends up costing.

After that it’s a call to my go-to landscape company to schedule us in for spring mulching. That’s another project that takes me two days followed by weeks of nursing a sore back, but the professionals get finished in a handful of hours. 

There was a time I wanted to do all the work myself. I think it’s safe to say we’re well past that now and moving swiftly into an age where I’m perfectly happy hiring the work done and clawing back as much of my time as reasonably possible. 

We’ll see how I feel about that in a few weeks when I put out the call for bids on the long-delayed master bathroom renovation. Sure, there’s no way in hell I could do that work myself, but paying for it is going to be an agony.

90 good minutes…

I had 90 good minutes yesterday. Between turning the light’s out on this year’s Big Event and getting home to find every faucet in my house was spewing sand-infused water.

Blowing out the filters and a bunch of pipes last night reduced maybe 95% of visible particulates, but there’s still a bit of grainy residue at the bottom of every glass of water, so I’m left to conclude that something is not quite right somewhere between the submersible pump and the filter.

Twenty-four hours later, I sit here with calls in to two local well drilling companies in hopes that one of them will call back and get someone over to give the system a look over from end to end. I’m going to take another run at the main filter tonight in hopes that I can get just a little more juice out of it until the professionals get around to taking my money.

I mean a little sand isn’t likely to kill me, but on general principle I don’t think the last swallow of water from any glass shouldn’t be crispy. I’m pretty sure that’s the situation that’s going to cast a pall over my weekend.

Annual dusting…

I love books. I love the way they feel in my hand. I love the way ink looks on the page. I love the entirely unique smell a room takes on when it’s full of books. 

Much as I love them, there’s one book-related task that I dread among all others. It’s the annual dusting of the books… and I’m in the midst of that particularly onerous task now. That means physically taking each one off the shelf, dusting it, making sure there’s no unexpected wear or damage, and putting it back. It’s not a complicated endeavor, but it’s intensely repetitive – one that I’m bound to repeat at least 1100 times across 15 different bookcases over the next few days.

It would be easy enough to let it go. I mean with very few exceptions you can’t even see the top edge of a book sitting on a shelf. The dust finds its way in there though… and I shudder to think what that build up might look like in another ten or fifteen years when I have a reason to do another wholesale move. I’ve seen too many books offered for sale, otherwise pristine, that were caked with top edge gunk from untold years of not being tended.

I like to think that these books will outlive me – going on to reside elsewhere, with someone who values them as I do, on the inevitable day when this collection must be broken up. Unless I come up with a better process, it means keeping up with the dusting.

From my admittedly biased position, it’s literally the only down side of having hundreds or thousands of texts at your fingertips. 

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.