Archive for Surlywood

Semi-tremendous waste

That water leak out in the garage last month might have started five minutes after I left for work, five minutes before I got back, or any time in between; there was no way to tell in the absence of a proper time machine without looking at the meter itself, which is a couple of feet underground, and I don’t have the key to open it up anyway. (Plumbers, as a matter of course, do seem to have such things.) The water bill, which came out a couple of days later, did not reflect any of this mess, inasmuch as the city read the meter the week before, so I was definitely sweating the next one.

Normal consumption around here is somewhere between 2000 and 3000 gallons a month, and is billed as one or the other depending on rounding factors: over the preceding year, I had six bills for 2000 gallons and six bills for 3000. The March bill was for 2000. The April bill, which arrived yesterday (one day early, actually), was for, yes, 3000 gallons.

So apparently it wasn’t as horrible as I had allowed myself to think it would be. Still, we’re running about one-quarter normal rainfall this year (after a 60-percent surplus last year), so I hate the idea of wasting the stuff.

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Carrying on unbowed

A medium-sized ice storm came to town in the third week of December, causing a bit more damage than the water volume might have led us to expect. I reported at the time that “one of the twin redbuds was cut almost in half,” which turned out to be about five percent too high. Still, losing 45 percent of a tree is tantamount to losing the whole thing, so I was worried that it was a goner.

“Not yet, I’m not,” it said:

Twin redbuds

Now this tree was an anomaly in the first place: a redbud that wasn’t even red, fercrissake. This is not unheard of in Cercis reniformis, but it’s not exactly common either, another reason for hoping for its survival. This shot was taken from about 12 feet away, where you can see both white and red trees beginning to put forth their ephemeral blooms. In less time than you think, these will be replaced by actual leaves and occasional seed pods.

(Full-sized version posted to Flickr.)

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Not a whole lot of fun

I got back from the polls at just after 5 pm, and the far corner of the garage was soaked. Weirdly, the water was warm, which meant only one of one thing: the hot-water line to the laundry apparatus was leaking.

Stuff like this, ever since I moved into this place, has motivated me to keep specialists on retainer. The plumber arrived right at six, and he couldn’t believe his good luck: he didn’t have to cut into the wall, just unscrew it from the studs. (The garage was insulated in 1997; they hung plywood over it.) Then he couldn’t believe his bad luck when he got to see the shape of the water lines.

He muttered the occasional imprecation, and under the circumstances I don’t blame him. (Even an insulated garage still gets down to 40°F or so now and then; the record is 29°F, set on a day when it was -5°F outside.)

It took about two hours to button everything up; I wrote a largish check, pressed a Jackson on him so he could buy dinner, and life moved on at subsonic speeds.

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Yeah, that’s what they said

Generally, within a few days after the lawn treatment is conducted, the rain comes in.

Except, of course, when it isn’t rain:

Yard sign in the snow

See the full, uncropped shot on Flickr, if you so desire.

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The bulb report

For each of the past six weeks, I have picked up a four-pack of 60-watt incandescent bulbs at the grocery store, which gives me a reserve of 24. (Actually 26, since I had two on hand at the beginning.) As of the first of January, these small and inoffensive creatures have been marked for extinction by the haters in Washington, so I made a point of stopping by the appropriate shelf at the store this afternoon.

The shelf was about four packages short of full, which is about where it always has been, so it’s too early to make any sort of prediction. (Most of them were branded Philips, with a single row of Westinghouse.) If, as has been suggested, the industry Big Boys themselves pushed for the extinction of incandescents, well, they haven’t made a great deal of headway at getting the spendy stuff into this store: there were plenty of off-brand CFLs going for about a third less than the GE-branded twirlers, and LEDs were conspicuous by their absence. Then again, this particular store draws mainly lower-income customers, who are not likely to be looking for ten-dollar bulbs.

On hand: 26 60-watt incandescents; two 40-watt decorative (for the bathroom); two three-way, 30/70/100; one CFL. (In use: three decorative; three three-way; three CFLs; two LEDs; the rest are incandescents, except for the floods outside.)

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And snow it goes

We set the clock back a couple of winters:

In that horrible month of February ’11, I broke my snow shovel; after waiting for the spring price break, I bought one of those not quite industrial-strength, but still formidable-looking, pushers, and dared the stuff to occupy my driveway. Total snowfall for the winter of ’11-’12: 1.8 inches. The thing is standing in the garage, still wrapped. If I thought for a moment this would work again, I’d buy another one.

Total snowfall for the winter of ’12-’13: five inches and change, doled out in amounts so delightfully inconspicuous that I didn’t bother to unwrap the Doomsday Device.

Garand Yukon Ergo snow pusherIt couldn’t last, and it didn’t. Confronted with a four-inch depth this morning and possessing no desire to slosh through it, I (1) went back to bed and (2) waited for a break in the clouds, however small. I got one about 12:15. The machine was readied for battle.

Twenty minutes, including five minutes to remove Amazon’s legendary Overkill™ wrapping material. A better job than I normally do in an hour. (The manufacturer claims six times the speed, but then they assume a user who knows what the bloody hell he’s doing.)

This is the device. It’s 26 inches wide, or whatever that is in Canadian. Unless you live in some place where you, like Ottilie, never has seen snow, get it.

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Home, home again

It was ten years ago this very week that I took possession of the palatial estate at Surlywood, by a considerable margin my longest stay at any single address ever, and this observation from the first few days seemed like something worth fetching from the archives:

I’m just now learning the sounds of the new house. Of course, “new” is a relative term: the house is actually fifty-five years old. You might expect a bit of creak here and there, and indeed the wooden floors do have a recognizable jounce/rebound pattern, each room slightly different but none of them at all silent. And while the gas furnace is not particularly noisy, there is a pattern that repeats whenever the thermostat commands: a low-pitched grunt, as though the giant had been awakened from his slumber (“Fee, fi, fo, farm/Suppose this twerp would like some warm”), then a rumble as the gas valve opens, finally a snap of metallic fingers and the rush of warm air.

Of course, the house is now sixty-five years old, and in arguably better shape than its slightly younger owner; the furnace noise seems louder today, but only because over those ten years I have embraced a lower level of background noise.

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Where it all goes (’13)

Two things are notable about this year’s property-tax bill: the millage is up by a smidgen, and the value of the palatial estate at Surlywood is not exactly climbing. End result: the outlay drifted downward a bit. From the treasurer’s report that comes with the bill (last year’s numbers, as always, in [brackets]):

  • City of Oklahoma City: $126.58 [$133.46]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $478.05 [$494.54]
  • Metro Tech Center: $122.50 [$128.87]
  • Oklahoma County general: $94.52 [$100.43]
  • Countywide school levy: $32.77 [$34.53]
  • County Health Department: $20.50 [$21.60]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $41.16 [$43.37]
  • Total: $915.88 [$956.80]

Last year’s write-up is here. The actual millage is 115.70, up from 114.71; highest millage on record was 117.58 in 2011.

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Easily LED

Several of this house’s light fixtures are inclined to give me grief, though the one most likely to give me grief at a moment’s notice is the two-bulb fixture over the kitchen sink: it has a neat and tidy design — the lower 15 percent of a sphere — which allows for a reasonable illumination pattern but which allows considerable heat buildup, and it fastens with three twist-screws, none of them placed favorably unless you’re two feet tall and can actually stand in the sink.

The advice given last decade was to replace the garden-variety 60-watt bulbs with 8-watt CFLs, which use so much less electricity that there’s just no excuse for not using them. An excuse promptly presented itself: CFLs in this installation lasted about five percent longer than the Standard Bulbs despite costing ten times as much. Must be the heat locked up in that hemidemisemiglobe, I reasoned, and reinstated the classic bulbs, grumbling all the way at having to climb that ladder yet again.

When one of them died on a Sunday afternoon — a dark Sunday afternoon an hour before sunset, of course — I escalated to LightCon 3, installing a pair of funky-looking but still bulb-shaped LED lights, with approximately the same brightness — 800 lumens — and 12-watt power consumption. Color temperature, at 3000°K, is slightly higher (therefore less “warm” — go figure), and assuming three hours’ usage a day, these critters are supposed to last eight years. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to last eight years. The manufacturer, in his wisdom, provides a five-year warranty. And at least if these go, I don’t have to call a farging hazmat team.

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Goblin report

Previous record: 102, recorded in 2010. I didn’t expect to break that; in fact, I bought only enough Dental Mayhem for about seventy.

The city didn’t put out a curfew. However, some neighborhoods posted signs saying you had to finish up by 8 pm (70 minutes after sunset), and things dried up here rapidly after 7:59. Final total was forty-five, third highest on record.

Best costume, I thought, was worn by a tween girl who, had she been helmeted, would have been a passable Yori from Tron. Most of the lights worked, too. (She got an extra pack of Butterfinger Snackerz.)

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Close quarters

I caught this bit of weirdness on the west end of the flower box, as though the Head Rose had ordered everyone to squeeze into a small area:

Roses in a small space

You can tell it’s fall, what with that yellow leaf at one o’clock about to fall off a redbud.

(Other sizes at Flickr.)

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New and actually improved

Every third year or so, I pick up a little foam cup to fit over the faucet on the north side of the house so it won’t freeze. (The faucet on the south side is one of those rural-looking handle-operated jobs that won’t freeze unless — well, it didn’t come close to freezing the day it got down to 5 below [-21°C], so I assume there was still some measure of heat retained by the ground.)

These cups are handy, sort of, but they’re a pain in the neck: you have to hook one end around the actual faucet and then tighten the little plastic nut for about forty-five minutes until you actually lock it down.

Or at least, you did have to do that. I didn’t even look at the new one I bought this spring, and it doesn’t screw down: push the button and you get almost-instant friction fit. Actual time to install: thirty seconds, twenty of which were spent wondering where the hell the screw threads were.

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Hailing frequency

When I bought the palatial estate at Surlywood, insurance on the place was a hair under $900 a year, which sounds high until you consider that we have every known disaster here except tsunami.

For about six years the premium stayed about that level. After a 35-percent increase, I changed carriers. Then came this:

Then came the spring, and suddenly every insurance company from Mangum to Miami was paying out bazillions of dollars in claims; my new insurer forked over $7500 or so to replace my roof.

So I figure that I may as well eat this year’s 35-percent increase, because all those guys are going to have to reprice their policies, presumably making shopping around a waste of time. Besides, Current Insurer did a creditable job of handling my claim, and more than a few people in this state were sent cancellation notices instead of renewals.

The following year, it went up 44 percent. I was not looking forward to this year’s bill. I did have one faint hope: after all the tornadoes this spring, the paper ran an article on how insurance coverage was inevitably going to get even pricier, and as a sidebar included a list of companies filing for a rate increase. Mine wasn’t on that list.

Comes the bill. It’s down $4. Main difference: wind/hail damage, which used to be a 1-percent deductible, is now a 2-percent deductible. I can live with that, I think.

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Made in the shade, sort of

Two cool cats, possibly related to one another, were engaged in two different sorts of frolic this afternoon in the back yard. This one was exerting less effort:

Cat under the evergreen

The other one at the time was alternately glaring at, then turning away from, a large chunk of tree that was taking up presumably valuable real estate.

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I, geezer

In fact, here’s one way you can tell:

I didn’t even know that AOL still existed.

Or that people still had email accounts with them.

Very, very old people, apparently.

Still got mine. Then again, I actually spent some time as a room guide in the old QuantumLink service, which eventually spawned AOL, so I’ve never really felt compelled to kill it off.

And yesterday, when I got home from work, an 8-year-old girl on a bicycle was being warned to stay off my lawn, or at least off my driveway — but not by me. I spoke with the nearest adult, and pointed out that the reason my driveway was in demand was because it’s the steepest slope on the block, and were I a kid on a bike, I’d have been launching myself from there all along.

(No, I didn’t ask the youngun who was best pony.)

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It’s just grass

I was delighted to see a fifth of an inch of rain two days after the first lawn treatment of the season — I bought a package of eight — and said so; and then by the sheerest of coincidences, Dan B, a regular in these parts, told this story on Facebook:

The home was bought from an older couple, and he was METICULOUS about his lawn, including yelling at kids to get off of it. He always had the best lawn in the neighborhood, and he made sure EVERYONE knew he worked hard for that perfect lawn.

The older couple sells the house to a family with a 5 year old boy, who has many of the toys typical to a suburban/exurban 21st-Century Lonely Only, including a battery-powered mini-truck that destroyed the old man’s 3 DECADES of effort in less than 6 months.

A hit, a palpable hit.

That said, I note for the record that I have never once told a kid to get off this lawn, not even on the day when several of them were lined up to run through the sprinkler.

And I do have one rule: never have the best lawn — or the worst lawn — on the block. I do believe I have been at least somewhat successful.

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Weedier than thou

For several years, I happily did business with one of the major national weed-control outfits, dropping them only when I realized that keeping the yard nicer was costing me a thousand dollars a year, far more than I could spare.

Two years and two-thirds the usual amount of rain later, you can actually hear the grass whine. I hunted around and found a local firm who offered me a yearly program for under $500. (If this sounds like a lot to you, keep in mind that the palatial estate at Surlywood sprawls over 11,000 square feet, more than 7,000 square feet of which is actual lawn.) I’m hoping that things will look a little better next year, or the next visit by Google Street View, whichever comes first.

And I’m hoping nopony reminds me of this:

Desert Brush took a bite of his sandwich. “If I’d known dandelions were this tasty I’d have never spent all that time trying to kill them.”

“I never understood that. Dandelions break up the monotony of grass, grass, nothing but grass, even if you’re not going to eat them.”

“It’s those crazy humans,” Brush explained. “They like the monotony of grass, grass, nothing but grass. It’s like the ideal place to live is on a golf course.”

Perhaps I need to renew my Crazy Human card.

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Dried cell

Back in the fall of ought-seven, I related a tale of woe that began with the failure of the backup battery in the Surlywood security system. I ended up with two batteries, one purchased locally at Batteries Plus, one dispatched from the monitoring service’s secret headquarters, and Tatyana asked, reasonably enough: “So your back-up back-up will have to wait for 6 years to be installed? What is its shelf-life?”

Answer: five years, three months, based upon the events of the past weekend.

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Time life

1970s clock“Sweet smoking Jesus, what was the matter with these people?” asked James Lileks in his epic Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s (New York: Crown Publishers, 2004), and you may be certain that this ghastly clock, which I bought in an Eighties garage sale for $1.50 or so, does not actually hang in my crisp mid-century house, but in the garage, where it’s kept indifferent time for the last decade.

Usually it loses about three minutes a week; when it stops doing that, it’s generally time for a new C battery. Since New Year’s, it’s been gaining about three minutes a week; yesterday, it stopped dead. I duly fetched another C-cell from the pile, and it refused to start. Okay, fine, it’s more than earned its eternal rest. I set it back on its mount and started contemplating its replacement. About two hours later, I went out to the garage, and it had started up again. I assume it can’t be due to temperature variations in the garage — it’s been within a couple of degrees of 45 since Saturday morning — so it must be Just One Of Those Things.

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Standing watch

Of late, mostly due to hot and dry summers, there have been two distinct cycles of rose growth: early in the spring, then late in the fall. I have four blossoms remaining on this particular bush.

2012 stubborn rose

This flower will not abandon his post until the weather gets much, much worse. After all, it’s only the last week of November.

(Multiple sizes at Flickr.)

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Where it all goes (’12)

There’s really only one good thing about stagnant or declining property values: in a properly designed property-tax system, one’s tax bill should remain the same or even go down. And indeed mine went down this year, following the double whammy of a calculated $4500 drop in value — all attributable to the house, since the figure assumed for the land on which it sits remains unchanged — and an unexpected 2.87-mill decrease from last year’s record-high tax rate. What I’m paying for, with last year’s numbers in brackets:

  • City of Oklahoma City: $133.46 [$141.26]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $494.54 [$548.87]
  • Metro Tech Center: $128.87 [$136.58]
  • Oklahoma County general: $100.43 [$107.23]
  • Countywide school levy: $34.53 [$36.60]
  • County Health Department: $21.60 [$22.90]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $43.37 [$45.97]
  • Total: $956.80 [$1039.41]

For the curious: the County Assessor considers the palatial estate at Surlywood to be worth about $3500 less than what Zillow does.

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Goblin report

I was late pulling out of 42nd and Treadmill today — there were idiots to denounce, and I wasn’t going to miss out on that — so I missed the bulk of the Neighborhood Event this time around, and decided I’d actually hand out the goodies myself this year. The sparkleball I have been employing as a substitute porch light, I’ve discovered, is genuinely creepy from the curb, and since getting to my front door is a genuine hassle — thirty feet up (quite a grade) the driveway and fifteen more down the walk, unless you cut through the hedgerow, in which case the rosebushes will get you — I figure anyone who makes it through deserves to be served.

I opened up at six-thirty. No takers until seven, and then the floodgates opened: twenty-one in ten minutes. Final count was 49, about half what it was in 2010, which I attribute to losing a lot of the smaller fry to said Neighborhood Event. Still: second-best year ever.

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Fleecing as white as snow

This is normally the day I get my online billing notification for the landline, and the amount thereof varies very little: the taxes creep up now and then, but that’s what taxes do. Today’s arrival was startling, but there is, of course, no way that I’d owe $2,328.05 on a landline, and the handy links for online payment go straight to a scammer.

Curiously, my homeowner’s insurance bill, which also arrived today, is for almost exactly the same amount, a 44-percent increase from last year, which in turn was a 35-percent increase from the year before. (Last time I switched carriers was 2009.)

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The lone sentry

Bird on a holly

Here’s a different angle. I got off three shots before umbrage was taken and the premises were vacated.

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While your lawn dies

If you’ve seen late-Forties side streets in this town, you’ve seen concrete cracks a block long in various shades of green, courtesy of the vegetation that’s been growing in them for the last few decades. Traffic, of course, cuts it down to size on a regular basis.

For a few months, there was an apparently immobile Volkswagen — and not one of the cute ones, either — hard against the curb up the street. The strange grasslike substance, now protected from traffic, just grew and grew and grew. A couple of days ago, it was tall enough to reach over the Vee Dub’s bumper.

The city ticketed the offending vehicle, which was removed sometime yesterday. (By what means I do not know, but I’d be very surprised if it departed under its own power.) I brought out the trusty garden shears, walked up the block, and scissored the weed at street level. This won’t kill it by any means, but it’s a matter of principle, dammit.

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Birdies affected

An earthquake of magnitude 2.5 — trivial, right? — struck shortly after 3 pm yesterday. The epicenter apparently was below the 15th hole of the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club (par 3, maximum 148 yards).

For those keeping score, the palatial estate at Surlywood is about a mile and a half away. I didn’t feel a thing, but then I wasn’t there when it happened.

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Disrupting the limbic system

It’s, well, a limb, and it should not be there. It wouldn’t be there were it not for the Tuesday-night thunderstorms. This is how it looked on Wednesday:

One dead tree limb not quite coming down

The black line starting in the northwest corner is, of course, the power line. Note that the free-standing (ha!) limb isn’t actually touching the line, but it’s pulling down one that is.

This sucker being too unwieldy for me to wield, I put a call out to the neighborhood, and currently it’s in several pieces on the curb. I really need to buy me a chainsaw.

(As usual, the picture is shrunk for this column, but is rebigulated on Flickr.)

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Slower than the speed of night

The Big Storms converged right over my house at 8:10. I think. The power had dropped by 8:03, and stayed gone for the better part of three hours. (Which meant no cable, which meant the basketball game on the old portable radio on top of the fridge. Now you know why it’s there.)

As of last night before I turned in, I noticed rather a large section of tree out back entirely too close to the power line. If it doesn’t move too much, no problem. (And inasmuch as it’s practically screwed itself into the ground, it may actually fend off threats to the line.) Then again, this is May. Things move. I’ve had entire trees split in half in May.

For now, though, I am grateful to have a relatively unpunctured (we shall see later on) roof over my head. I spotted no hailstones over ping-pong ball size, but they made up in volume what they didn’t carry in sheer heft.

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Over my head, evidently

Some of you may remember the utter ineptitude exhibited by yours truly a while back when I was confronted with a bad bulb in the track-lighting array in the kitchen.

On the off-chance that you were curious, it’s a 50-watt MR-16 halogen bulb, running on 12 volts and casting a 40-degree beam. And apparently they last, at least in this installation, a bit less than four and a half years. (I had three spares on hand last night, because … well, because.)

Tangential note: These particular bulbs cost about five bucks apiece. I looked at one of them and wondered how it compared to automotive headlights, about which I know zilch these days since I haven’t had to change one since the days of sealed-beams. Gwendolyn, says the service info, takes an HB2 bulb, 55 watts (low beam) or 60 (high), for which the dealership will charge me $36, which is probably only about twice what I’d have to pay for the non-OEM product. Not that Nissan makes any of their own light bulbs, mind you. (I do not have the HID lamps, bulbs for which cost somewhere in the low three figures.)

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Mower than I bargained for

A couple of weeks ago, I sent the electric mower out for regrooving; they called Thursday to say it was done, but I didn’t pick it up until yesterday.

And I almost didn’t recognize it: apart from a couple of spots on the handle where the paint had scraped away, it looked brand new. From the looks of the invoice, they replaced everything that moved, and a couple of things that didn’t: even the handle grips are new. I can’t imagine they’re making a whole lot of money on this at the $90 (plus tax and the usual shop-supplies fee) price tag. I admit to not having tried out the machine yet: there was baby stuff to deal with when I got home, plus storms on the horizon. Still, all the parts about which I had doubts were replaced, so I’m going to assume that All Is Well.

Incidentally, once I wheeled the mower out to the car, I took the handle off so I could get it into the trunk; a fellow in a Ford, just pulling in, offered to help me boost it. I thanked him and waved him off, sure I could get it myself. He probably had no idea this machine weighs barely 60 pounds.

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