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.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. A plastic bag. There’s a white plastic bag in the top branch of one of the trees in my front yard. It makes me unreasonably angry. Mostly because even with a ladder I don’t have any implements long enough to haul it down. So, I’ll have this damned plastic bag stuck in front of the house forever or until I cut the tree down, I guess. Just another reason why I hate people. This bag belonged to someone but because they are an irresponsible asshat, now I get to look at it indefinitely out the front window.

2. The days of the week. The only real trouble I’ve had in this long stretch of working from home, is that the days have a real tendency to bleed together. Monday is a lot like Thursday which is a lot like Saturday and on, and on, and on. Hey, I’m a creature of habit, I’m not really complaining… but it does lead to a lot of minor moments of crises that start off with “Oh shit, that was supposed to do that today.”

3. r/wallstreetbets. The Redditors of r/wallstreetbets were mad geniuses last week, executing a classic short squeeze and costing at least one hedge fund a couple of billion dollars. Everyone likes it when the scrappy upstart scores one against the big guys. I get it. The fun part was once things started happening the broader world thought, inexplicably, that everyone could ride GameStop shares to the moon. Now there are posts awash with disbelief that people have the audacity to sell shares and take some profit. Maybe the folks over on Reddit play by different rules, but expecting anyone to ride a stock as wildly overvalued as GameStop had become and then hold it there at its highs indefinitely as the knife started falling back to earth, feels like exactly the kind of wackiness I’ve come to expect from message board people. 

What I learned this week…

It turns out that squirrels aren’t the only scavengers in the yard who will devour every scrap of bird seed they can find. A few nights ago, I watched Jorah sidle up to one of the pylons holding a feeder and then nudge it repeatedly until some seed fell out so he can eat it. I’ve apparently now got to devise an anti-dog device that might also help with squirrels. I knew these hooligans who live with me would race to eat dropped seed, but I had no idea one of them would figure out a way to turn the whole back yard into an on-demand treat dispenser.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. It’s glaringly obvious to me and maybe to you too if you’re a regular reader, that I’ve slipped back into what I fondly call a stream of consciousness blogging mode. Even when I set out with a target in mind, the narrative sort of zigs and rambles around to a point where it ends kind of wherever rather than where it might find a reasonably logical finish. Maybe it’s just the kind of thing I notice because I spend four or five days a week with my own writing. Maybe it’s less annoying to outside observers than it is to me. I hope so, because not being able to keep to the thread of a previously well thought out line of thinking is pretty goddamned annoying.

2. Jorah. The dog who won’t be housebroken. We’re still mostly hanging out in the kitchen, because as adorable as he is, the little beast is not to be trusted to avoid pissing all over whatever happens to be at hand when the mood strikes. It’s happening with less frequency now to be sure, but since he’s doubled in size the volume involved has also increased dramatically. There’s also the occasional middle of the night accident in his crate, which is doubly agitating since I know he can hold it far longer than the few hours a night I carve out for rest. To counteract that bit, he’s lost his soft bedding and gets no water after 7:30 each night. Who the hell knows if that will make any difference. At ten months old and after three months of consistent lessons on how to be a decent member of the household I’m running out of ideas with this one. The next stop is probably the vet to get a once over and confirm that there are no underlying medical issues involved. After that all that’s left is a turn to a far more Prussian discipline than I usually impose.

3. Mosquitos. I’m out in the yard at night so often with these hoodlum dogs that my legs currently look like I’ve got some kind of damn scabby plague trying eat me from the ankles up. I live in the woods. I know there are going to be bugs. The number of winged bloodsuckers inhabiting my little slice of the forest is absolutely out of hand though. So it’s either spend all evening smelling like Deep Woods Off or end up West Nile Virus and methed out legs. I don’t usually celebrate the end of summer but this year I’m looking forward to a good killing frost.

Experiments in lawn maintenance…

About a year ago I made the decision to stop hammering the front lawn with weed killer, fertilizer, and most of the other treatment products I had been using to keep it golf course green. The studies showing that chemical treatment for lawns is a large contributor to bee and insect die off and nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake are sufficient to convince me that I could tolerate a slightly less lush look out front in exchange for not contributing unnecessarily to those issues.

I can report now that the yard definitely looks different than it did a year ago. It’s still surprisingly green, though that’s in part due to favorable sun/shade conditions and soil that holds moisture like a sponge. From the street it still looks remarkable “lawn” like – although closer inspection will show it is increasingly going over to clover with a strong presence of dandelions and other groundcover weeds mixed in during the early part of the growing season.

I’m still mowing once a week, which seems to be enough to keep the faux-lawn looking neat and tidy enough to not give off the appearance of having given up on the idea of yard maintenance. I’m helped significantly by the looks of next house up the road, the owner of which apparently does not believe in any kind of lawn care than can’t be achieved with a 42-inch riding mower. The unsurprising result is a landscape edged all over with tall weeds and “missed” patches. I’m a little surprised the HOA is letting him get away with that, really, but it provides ideal cover for launching my own experiments in lawn maintenance so I don’t complain.

I grew up in a house with a plain, old yard and it wasn’t until my adventures in west Tennessee suburbia, with our houses packed in elbow to asshole that I started to develop an obsession with a pure, emerald green lawn… ironic, perhaps, because the Bermuda grass faded to dormant brown three months out of every year.

Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve come full circle with what elements of the landscape I choose to care about. I’ve gone from craving a proper lawn to enjoying a yard again. It’s straight bonus points that I’ve also noticed an increase in the number of bees and other pollinators I see going about their business on the property. It’s a small win, but one that both the science and I agree is worth having… now if I can just gin up the time and money to rework two large front planting beds with something the local deer are less apt to eat, we’ll be making actual progress.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

It’s been an easy week. With Telework Monday and Vacation Day Friday, you might think there’s nothing to complain about. While there are surely fewer annoyances than during other weeks that doesn’t in any way mean there are none. What kind of rank amateur do you think you’re dealing with here?

In fairness, it’s an easy week so I’ll just give you two things:

1. Mid-day OS updates. There are few things better in the middle of the work day than getting a notice that “hey, we’re about to upgrade your operating system.” Great. Because what I need while I’m in the middle of desperately trying to put a cork in things so I can depart the premises and spend the long weekend blissfully ignoring work is for my computer to slow to an even worse crawl than usual and then reboot itself without warning periodically. Some days I long for the reliability of carbon paper.

2. In the great war between “I need to get the grass cut before the possible rain tomorrow” and the reality of it being 90-something degrees in the shade with murderous humidity, I’m opting to sit this one out after a day’s work. In the war between body and brain, I’m going to let the body win this one. Just this one time since I’ll undoubtedly regret that decision the minute the garage door rolls up tomorrow and I’m forced to look upon a scraggly front yard to my great embarrassment and shame.

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.

Clawed back from nature…

This won’t mean much to you, but since I’ve been working on it almost since I bought the house it’s one of those things that means a hell of a lot to me. You see, I’ve been trying to claw back about 500 square feet of back yard the pervious owner let go to the woods. Although 400 square feet is hardly worth a mention in man’s great efforts at deforestation, I’m taking it as a great achievement and point of personal pride.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time clearing brush and then deciding which trees and saplings to take to make that corner feel like part of the yard without clear cutting it. Although the heavy lifting was finished early this spring there were a few stray stumps that deviled my ability to bring in the heavy lawn care equipment.

Yesterday morning’s temperate conditions proved beautiful weather to hammer down the stumps with a maul and an ax – and marked the first time I could get the riding mower into that section to keep things cut down to a more yard-like style. It’s still filled with weeds and some of the native mountain laurel looks like it could develop into promising pieces. Considering where it started, I’m well pleased with where we stand now. After beating nature into submission with both blunt and sharpened steel, yesterday was the first time a cut and trim started to fall inside the realm of regular weekly lawn care instead of being a “special project.” Give it another two years of carefully tended growth and it should be a fine little plot of land.

Because virtually none of what takes place outside of my fence line ever feels like it’s ever completed work, I feel good about this small win.