Archive for Surlywood

The quiet intruder

The hell of it is, you can always tell if there’s a mouse in the house — they tend to leave, um, calling cards in favored places — but ferreting (!) out their hiding places is difficult, and they’ve evolved responses to our feeble attempts to dispatch them to Mousedom Come.

I hadn’t heard (as opposed to “seen”) any indications of this little guy’s presence until Wednesday, when there was rustling along the wall opposite my desk. I wasn’t quick enough to spot him, but I figured I could do the old trap routine this weekend.

It may not be necessary. He left no pellets Thursday that I could find, and Friday afternoon, I found a mouse keeled over in the 96-degree garage. (Temperature outside the garage: 96 degrees.) He’d nearly made it to a gap in the garage-door weatherstripping before giving up the ghost. I almost felt sorry for the critter, even as I swept him out onto the lawn for the amusement of predators.

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Fan disservice

Bayou Renaissance Man and Miss D. are once again Not Sweating:

To my surprise (and irritation), we learned that modern A/C motors are no longer the simple units of old. Apparently one has to tell the supplier the type of unit (manufacturer, model, etc.) in which it’ll be used, and it’s then “programmed” to work in that particular system. I can see how making a single motor that can be programmed to work in 20 or 30 different units is easier from the factory’s perspective, but it means one can’t just walk in, buy the motor one wants, and take it out the door. Now one has to provide the necessary information and wait two to three hours until the supplier can put it through the programming process — and pay rather more for the motor as a result. I’m not sure this is an improvement from the user point of view.

It’s not. Then again, the last motor I had to buy (back in 2009) was specifically designed for this oddball unit: there are others, much more common, with exactly the same specifications, but the output shafts are something like a quarter-inch too long, so they won’t actually fit. This could not possibly have been good for the price. (I asked an HVAC tech once if the shaft could be filed down a bit: he looked at me as though I’d asked him for a Federal unicorn license.)

The only time I’ve come close to this sort of predicament before was with my old Toyota Celica. Apparently at the beginning of model year 1975 they changed the starter design, and then midway through the year changed it again because the newer design sucked the Japanese equivalent of donkey balls. Replacements, therefore, were difficult to come by. In the twenty years between Off The Showroom Floor and Off My Hands Entirely, little Dymphna went through four starters, and judging by the scratches in the paint, her fourth one was her first one, rebuilt. Too bad they can’t rebuild air-conditioner motors — or at least they say they can’t.

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LED astray

Last November:

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.

Admittedly, they got more than three hours’ usage a day — six was typical — and yet one of them has died at the pitiful age of nine months. It also made a weird blat and emitted a strange smell, like I don’t get enough of that in the kitchen already.

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The Death Star comes through

You’ve already read about my downed phone line, and also about my failure to read my trouble ticket correctly:

I got the “Monday” part correct; what I didn’t catch was which Monday. Turns out to be, not yesterday, but a week from yesterday.

Or, in other words, tomorrow.

I am pleased to report that AT&T actually beat their predicted repair time by a whole 24 hours. The tech explained that they were actually caught up from the stormage. The repair was completed in less than 15 minutes.

What still amazes me after a decade is that the phone line and the cable line actually cross, halfway across the yard — the poles are about 35 feet apart — and what has amazed me this month is that the cable line wasn’t affected when the phone line went.

No, seriously:

Non-intersection

The actual electrical power line doesn’t come close to either of these, but of course it has had its own issues with trees.

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A killa in manila

Friday the 13th started out about the way I thought it would: my weekly file-purge routine crashed, not once but twice. Eventually I figured out that the size of one particular array was set too low, and ran it twice more, each with half the batch. No one’s reported anything horrible to me yet, so I’m assuming this workaround actually worked.

Still, this was nothing compared to the horror that awaited me in my mailbox at home: a large, official-looking envelope from the bank that holds the note on my house. It didn’t precipitate a cardiac event, but it seemed to come awfully close. What in the world was this? Foreclosure? Not likely: I’m never actually late on a payment. Eventually I picked out one of the swirling thoughts that sounded plausible, and decided that they were selling me out to some uninterested (as distinguished from “disinterested”) third party.

It was, of course, none of the above. They’d sent me a copy of an appraisal they had ordered, stating no particular reason, though I figured that a two-year decline in property taxes might have spooked them about the value of the place, property values in this area having been stagnant for a while — or maybe it was just that I’d been here ten years. Worse, the cover letter was signed by someone from the Loss Mitigation Department, and contained the inscrutable phrase “one or more of the enclosed valuation(s) may or may not be used in determining the value of the property.”

The drive-by appraiser, though, figured it at about $8k above what the County Assessor had calculated earlier this year, and more than $25k over what I actually still owe on the place. (Status: Not underwater.) Still: never underestimate my ability to panic.

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I’ll just sit tight

Friday, you may recall, the top portion of a dying tree decided it couldn’t take it anymore and plummeted to the ground, directly on top of my telephone line, pinning it in place and pulling out just about all of the spare cable in the process. I left it there over the weekend, having misread the phone company’s response to my repair order. I got the “Monday” part correct; what I didn’t catch was which Monday. Turns out to be, not yesterday, but a week from yesterday.

Curiosity is, of course, considered a major cause of feline death. Having guesstimated that the line voltage was probably about 48 volts, and being stupid enough to consider that quantity trivial, I took it upon myself to separate line and tree. This actually proved to be fairly simple: the offending branch was not actually connected to the enormous trunk section that came down. (Smashed on impact, I suspect.) About forty-five seconds from OMGIMGONNADIE to “Take that, you miserable hunk of deadwood!” The line is still about 18 inches off the ground, but there’s not much left to fall on it.

Actually, this was motivated, not by my wanting to save the Death Star some work, but to clear some space when and if my lawn guy, who bailed last week because of stormage, shows up. (We’re tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. The lawn after 18 days is verdant to the point of nausea.)

There are downed branches here and there throughout the neighborhood, but the worst casualty was the Little Free Library, which was, after all, a wooden box on a pole; it took a swan dive. It has (temporarily, I presume) been replaced by a rural-style mailbox.

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Highly perishable

The last time I lost a sweetgum tree was back in ’06, in the wake of some 60-mph straightline winds.

Both its twin and the one that grew back in its place, once stirring (sort of) features of the back yard, have been on the wane for some time, and I’d about decided to have them taken out next spring when there’s a better chance that I can afford such a thing.

Then some time yesterday morning, the top third of the twin, thanks to similar winds and good old gravity, was testing an electrical line for deflection potential, which I discovered when I got home from work and was hauling some downed limbs from the front yard to the Informal Wood Depository at the far corner of the lot. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s an electrical line or a phone line: I have power, and I have phone. OG&E, which was summoned, is busy with actual outages, so maybe they’ll look at it later today.

Update: It’s the phone line. Now to inform the Death Star.

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Neither pink nor white

From the last time we were talking roses, which would be, oh, last week:

There is a bush in the same flowerbox producing deep reds, but it’s at the far end of the box, on the east end, about 16 feet away. If there’s some crossbreeding going on, color me impressed. (And that bush is currently producing lots of red, but red only.)

It occurs to me that “deep reds” demands more description than that, and since this doesn’t need to be 1000 words long, here’s an actual picture:

Red, red roses

Okay, maybe there’s just a hint of pink. And this bush, the closest to the house and therefore most likely to be shaded, has produced nothing for a couple of years.

(If you should so desire, resized versions reside at Flickr.)

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Without benefit of graft

This one particular rosebush, on the west end of the front-walk flowerbox, has in the last ten years resolutely produced pink flowers, and only pink flowers, when it’s bothered to produce anything at all. (The trick for dealing with these plants, apparently, is to bestow upon them something more than mere negligence, but not to go crazy with the TLC.)

This week, the pinks have neighbors, and I mean really close-in neighbors:

Roses photographed May 12, 2014

As you can see, it’s not just a couple of strays: there are white roses adjacent to all the pinks. And the pinks aren’t suffering: if anything, they’re pinker and prouder than previous.

There is a bush in the same flowerbox producing deep reds, but it’s at the far end of the box, on the east end, about 16 feet away. If there’s some crossbreeding going on, color me impressed. (And that bush is currently producing lots of red, but red only.)

(Embiggened version at Flickr.)

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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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