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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. Lawn (work) envy. If there was ever a single sound that could get under my skin, it isn’t nails on a chalk board or the hi pitched whining of small human beings. The most awful of sounds is the sound of lawn maintenance happening somewhere next door when I’m working from home. No, I’m not mad that they’re doing it. I don’t feel interrupted or put upon at all. It’s mostly just a rising frustration that they’re able to get out there and do it while I’m stuck being more or less responsible and not able to take advantage of the good weather to do the same thing myself.
2. Calls from unknown or 800-number. By now you’d think your fancy algorithms would tell you that I’m not going to pick up. I never do. But I admire your hope-spings-eternal persistence. If you want to have any hope of getting my eyes on your product or service, try send me an old fashioned letter. I’ll at least scan the first line of that before shredding it… and every once in a great while I’ll read the pitch if you’ve got a good hook up front. Otherwise, feel free to continue going to voicemail. It’s entirely your choice.
3. Showing restraint. There’s really nothing worse than being forced by social convention to sit politely and try not to smirk when the person on the other side of a conversation so richly deserves being grabbed by the throat and pummeled against every flat surface in the room. No matter how much asshats like that deserve a bit of rough treatment, I’d be the one who ended up in jail for handing it out. Talk about living in an unjust world.
With all respect to Dr. Freud who argued that dreams are and exercise in wish fulfillment, I’m afraid I have to go out on a limb and beg to differ. I woke up in a cold sweat this morning near enough to 3AM in the aftermath of a dream in which I (for some unknown reason) was sitting on the back porch watching the back yard wash out all the way down to the bottom of the foundation. I can assure the good doctor that I in no way have any wish to do that kind of excavation work. Ever.
Maybe the most entertaining part is that Dream Jeff was completely uninterested by the every growing chasm that was appearing where his dream yard was supposed to be. I can only assume that the entire thing was just a bad reaction to too-late-in-the-evening meatloaf sandwiches and spending too much time obsessing about a dry basement.
I’d like to think the couple of hours I allocate to sleep are supposed to be a restful time. Fortunately last night is largely an exception to that rule. Even so, it’s yet another of the many reminders that sometimes inside my own head is a very strange place to pass the time.
I’d forgotten what a lesson in patience waiting for grass to grow is. As good as it was to see the first shoots coming up yesterday I’m ready for the process to be over. I’m ready for the muddy paw prints to be a thing of the past. I’m ready to not have enough clay to open a pottery store clinging to me every time I need to go from one side of the yard to another.
The virtue of starting a lawn from seed is that it’s cheap and relatively easy – assuming your not the type to obsess over soil conditions, watering schedules, and average sunlight. I really, really thought hard about going with sod. Roll it out, give it plenty to drink, and *poof* instant yard. If it hadn’t been another budget buster in a project that was already suffering its share of overruns it would have been a no brainer.
I’m trying to remind myself that this is the kind of thing that pays off in the end when you do it right. That’ll be an easier lesson to remember once i’m done scraping the clay off my shoes for the 3,756th time in the last two weeks.