Archive for Surlywood

Rain delay

About six this morning, I was dashing outside to retrieve the newspaper before the rain started. I looked over at the ginormous stack of Shingles ‘N Stuff over by the driveway, and thought, No way are they coming out today.

I’d left for work before the roofing company called me to advise me that no way are they coming out today, what with the storms all morning. It was nice and clear at noon, but of course the day was half gone by then.

Speaking of the newspaper, the Big Headline this morning was “Losses from Oklahoma’s May storms likely to top $1 billion.” At the time I saw it, I shrugged: what’s a billion these days? The Feds can spend that in a matter of minutes.

But eventually the math demanded to be done, and assuming that I have somewhere around the average amount of damage — just on the near side of $10,000 — then more than a hundred thousand people were hit by either the funnels on the 10th or the ice cannon on the 16th. Maybe both. Under the circumstances, I suppose I ought to be thankful I’m getting my stuff repaired during the first week of June — provided, of course, it doesn’t rain.

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To top it all off

The adjuster was here, and we apparently will be adjusted: new roof and new gutters.

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that, since underneath the old roof is an older roof, with shake shingles, that will have to be removed. (Which I knew beforehand.)

Still, if it’s a hole in the wallet, it’s a load off my mind. I have one of these newfangled hail deductibles, equal to one percent of the insured value of the structure. It’s more than the deductible for other losses, but not that much more.

And it’s another round on the rollercoaster. So far I’m taking it well, especially since the insurance company fronted most of the replacement cost already. But I’m starting to wonder just how far I am from being officially declared bipolar.

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Sadder still

From last summer:

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “This model uses its own special [fan] motor, not used by any other air conditioner in the line, or for that matter in the industry.”

Add to that “And it apparently lasts for only ten and a half months.”

Bottom line: If this thing can’t be fixed, I’ll have to replace the entire unit. Which I can’t do: I have no credit, the result of a Chapter 13 plan that was confirmed — get this — today, and my bank account is in the low four figures. I certainly won’t be able to sell the house.

Is there some reason why I shouldn’t go drive into a bridge abutment and get it over with? I can’t take this emotional rollercoaster any longer.

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Hailing frequency open, and then some

Now I know what it’s like at the bottom of the popcorn popper. Minus the hot oil, of course.

Doesn’t look like a lot of damage around here — a couple of fence panels down, and so what else is new? — and rather a lot of broken tree branches, but I figure any storm that doesn’t take out my old metal shed, which stands in the back yard as a sacrificial offering to the Weather Gods, is less than maximum severity. The winds, I guesstimate, stayed below 60 mph or so.

But Jebus, that hail was loud. Nothing too huge — golf-ball size, mostly — but golf balls, I seem to recall, make a hell of a lot of noise when they hit something they weren’t supposed to hit. Just my luck, the minor deities picked this afternoon for a nine-holer.

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I resisted as long as I could

But with 90 degrees outside and pushing 80 inside, I decided I’d go ahead and crank up the A/C. This is, I note, about three and a half weeks later than usual; it helps that the weather has been (relatively) cooperative.

Tomorrow, a cold front arrives; Monday, if not earlier, they’ll read the electric meter. I figure I’ve done my best.

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And the curves cross here

Last year, about this time:

Because of the cap rule, during periods when valuation increases, taxable market value lags assessed market value by several percentage points; but there’s no mechanism to push taxable value back down again unless the assessed value drops low enough to take up all that slack.

The County Assessor has now sent out the Notice of Change in Assessed Value, and it appears that all the slack has now been taken up, at least on the palatial estate at Surlywood, the taxable value of which has been deemed to have increased by a mere $834. At the current tax rate, this will cost me an additional eight bucks or so in property tax when the bill comes out this fall.

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A day late and several dollars short

I mentioned earlier that the tax on the palatial estate at Surlywood had jumped up a bit for 2009, mostly due to an increase in the actual millage, since the value on which the tax is based didn’t go up a whole lot. It occurred to me that this might cause a substantial upward adjustment (current euphemism for “frickin’ ginormous increase”) in the monthly outlay, and since the mortgage holder normally calculates these things in March, I figured I’d send in the March house payment with an extra $250 or so to keep the escrow account from looking like a Federal deficit chart.

Score this as a temporary Connivance Fail. The payment duly arrived on the first of March, as it’s supposed to, but they ran the escrow analysis on the 27th of February. Which was a Saturday, and since when do bankers work on a Saturday?

Oh, well. When the property tax goes up for this year, as I assume it must, I’m prepared.

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At least one impossible thing before breakfast

The plumber stared in disbelief. “Roots, all right. But this is a plastic line.”

Which, as we used to say, can mean only one of one thing: the suckers had grown into the junction between the metal pipe inside the house and the plastic stuff that leads to the city sewer. It’s a good ten feet from any actual trees, but trees don’t much care about distance.

For now, the suckers have been cleared away. For later, I’m thinking in terms of something that works like copper sulfate but less likely to kill everything within a twelve-yard radius.

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Ceci n’est pas une pipe utilisable

All the interior water lines survived the Great Freeze. The ones out in the garage, serving the laundry gear, didn’t do so well.

And this disturbs me greatly, not so much because I have two loads of wash to do, but because these lines are nicely wrapped and buried inside a layer or two of insulation, which in turn is covered by a sheet of plywood. Add to this the fact that the garage seldom drops as low as 25° F on the coldest days. Then again, a string of four “coldest” days in a row (lows below 10°) is extremely rare.

I can’t very well leave the washing machine running — the pump therein will commit suicide if it doesn’t get some timely H2O — so I’m playing a waiting game while the temperatures finally climb above freezing. I really don’t see what choice I have, as pointing a heat source at a 13-year-old piece of plywood is a really good way to start a fire. Maybe by Wednesday things will be back to normal.

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Shovels and rakes

In fact, bring all the implements of destruction you have at your disposal, for this is what’s outside the palatial estate at Surlywood:

Snowdrift

In the upper left, you can see the far edge of the flower box, which is eight inches — one standard American brick — tall.

I’m heading out with a shovel. (Rakes probably won’t help at this point.)

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Standing alone

The young sweetgum tree, aged three and a half years — first mentioned here — is presently surrounded by what Paul Simon once called a freshly-fallen, silent shroud of snow:

Sweetgum tree at night

This was taken about a quarter past midnight. I didn’t even crank up Photoshop: this is the way it came out.

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Which is master, and which slave?

My garage was built in 1951, three years after the rest of the house; the garage-door opener is clearly newer than that, but it’s pretty much an antique just the same. After six years, the aftermarket remote control failed — a new battery did not restore it to health — and I ordered a new one, same brand, pretty much the same model.

Now if you remember these old village-smithy openers, the actual remote code is set by a bank full of DIP switches, extremely easy to work but presumably very difficult, or at least very expensive, to duplicate in miniature.

And if you remember old IDE drives, they came with a couple of jumpers, which you had to set with a pair of needle-nose pliers to identify which drive was which to the controller. A genuine pain in the neck, but generally you only had to do it once.

Now copy that pain, paste it to the size of a remote control for a garage-door opener, and multiply it past all understanding: there are fourteen jumpers, each of which can be set in one of two positions. I wound up having to move eight of them and discard two others to get it to work. A genuine pain in the neck. I hope I never have to do this again. Then again, this opener’s days are probably already numbered: the guy who works on my door has warned me that parts supplies have long since dried up. (We’re talking seriously obsolete here.)

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I blame HGTV

Curb appeal, like sex appeal, can trap the unwary:

Our present shelter was sold to us because Mr Charm liked the the double green doors and the green trim at the front entrance. I liked the big screened in porch adjoining the patio. I could just imagine it filled with charming wicker furniture and charming guests sitting upon the same. A few potted plants, maybe some hanging ones. Laughter and jollity and good will all around.

We forgot to notice that there was a steep flight of stairs leading up to the second floor. Actually, we failed to notice that there was a second floor. The floors were hideous and there were no cupboards. Most of our kitchenware had to be stowed in the basement, where it resides to this day. The porch is nice, however.

It happens, I think, to all of us. Six years ago this week, I took possession of the palatial estate at Surlywood, persuaded by its mostly-undiluted 1940s charm, and by the price, which was about $15,000 less than the maximum the bank would dare lend me. I still love the place, even though I must concede that the bathroom — there’s just the one — is basically a tile-lined penalty box, and that doing the wash in the garage becomes even less enjoyable when the weather is at its intemperate worst. (The garage is decently insulated; I’ve never actually seen it freeze in there, but it’s come close once or twice. And then there’s July.) I do, however, have cupboard space bordering on adequate, and the flooring is lovely, though white tile in the kitchen is probably not the best option for a sloppy cook.

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No poseurs, these posies

It’s the 26th of November. Everything in the flower bed should be dormant, if it isn’t actually dead.

And yet:

Stubborn roses, again

You do not mess with Rosa recalcitransia. These buds showed up last week, right after the first fall freeze, and they survived another one this morning.

This bush, admittedly, is favorably positioned: it’s on the west end of the flower bed and catches more sun than any of the others. (There are two more in this bed, and another one in the back yard.) Still: less than a week from December, and there are fresh roses. Yet another reason to be thankful, don’t you think?

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Where it all goes (’09)

Last year I put up an itemized list of where my property-tax money was going, according to the County Assessor’s official breakdown, and I figured I’d do it again this year. Figures in [brackets] are for last year, and they’re of course lower.

  • City of Oklahoma City: $130.71 [$125.46]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $517.11 [$439.83]
  • Metro Tech Center: $136.73 [$129.49]
  • Oklahoma County general: $113.81 [$94.29]
  • Countywide school levy: $36.64 [$34.70]
  • County Health Department: $22.92 [$21.71]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $46.02 [$43.58]
  • Total: $1003.94 [$889.06]

This is about as much as they could raise it without running afoul of either the cap law or the patience of the taxpayers, and I’m not so sure about the latter, especially since the notices haven’t gone out yet.

The actual rate chart is here. Many of the individual levies are actually the same as last year, though the OCPS levy is up 11.3 percent.

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Not quite going with the flow

The city assures us that there will be enough water around here for the next 50 years, and maybe there will, but I’m not the sort of person who really wants to put such a claim to the test, especially since I’m paying for some of that water and using somewhere around 25,000 gallons a year myself.

I concede, though, that worrying about the water table in 2060 wasn’t my main concern when I started working on the toilet this week: it seemed to me that it was running a little longer than it needed to be, and such a situation can’t possibly save me money, so I opened up the mysterious porcelain tank and started screwing with stuff.

Apart from one brief spritzing in the face from an accidental disconnection without the shutoff completely shut off — don’t even ask — things went fairly well, and in the process of checking for leaks, I tweaked the refill-height adjustment to the tune of about ½ inch, which seems to reduce the fill time by several seconds and the water consumption by some fraction of a percentage point. I don’t expect this to make much of a difference in my utility bill, but I’d just as soon not be wasting the stuff, on the off-chance that I might want a drink on my 107th birthday.

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A kilogram of flesh

Last year’s Oklahoma County property-tax rate, in my particular sub-district, was 106.08; this year it’s going up a little more than a tad, to 113.44, which is the highest it’s been in a quarter-century, though barely more than it was in 2002, at 113.33.

This will push the tax on the palatial estate at Surlywood to just over $1000. (It was a shade under $900 last year.) The rate two years ago was 110.42.

Percentagewise, I’m getting about the same hit as Jerry “Iceman” Butler: about 11 percent. Then again, he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which I’m not.

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Slightly fewer goblins

The count was twenty-six this year, down from thirty last year, perhaps partially due to a Porch Light Fail: the little gizmo that sets the On time was unwilling to do more than a couple of minutes at a time. Fortunately, it wasn’t completely dark when I noticed this, and in a couple of seconds I came up with a less-than-epic quickie fix: I mounted a couple of sparkleballs along the front walk, which drew attention from the street, if only to see what was going on.

The bad news: not only is the light fixture screwy, but I have approximately half of my 5.9 lb of candy stock ($20 worth) left.

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How sweet the sound

“Amazing Grace” ranks first, of course, but I’ve always been delighted to hear “Despite the fact that you have enough timber around this place to replant freaking Birnam Wood, fercryingoutloud, we’re not finding any evidence of termites anywhere on the premises.”

Seven years in a row.

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Priced out

We brag a lot in Oklahoma about our lowish cost of living, but there’s one item that costs a bundle: insurance for the home, which runs a good 10-20 percent above the national average, no thanks to our too-often-nasty weather.

And then there’s mine, which is going up 35 percent next year, to over $1200, on a $100k house.

Be assured that I am going to be looking for a new insurance carrier.

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Home, on a range

It was a lovely late-October day yesterday, just the sort of thing I’m seldom prepared for in September. With the temperature at sunrise in the upper 40s and then failing to break 70 all day, about ten degrees Fahrenheit below the seasonal norm, but with 80s and possibly 90 promised for the weekend, I was unwilling to crank up the furnace. (Besides, I’d just written a check for a sub-$20 gas bill, and I know I’m going to miss those.)

What to do? The brainstorm finally arrived: run the oven’s cleaning cycle and let the residual warmth waft through the premises. I couldn’t remember when I’d done it last, so I fished out the manual and looked at the back cover, where I habitually record the last service date.

Which was blank, which means I’ve never cleaned this sucker in the six years I’ve been here. “It didn’t look filthy,” I thought, and banishing thoughts of Sylvia Plath, I took a look inside. And it really wasn’t filthy: there was a little bit of scuzz across the bottom, and a fair amount of gunk on the door, but that’s it.

Then it occurred to me that I really should RTFM, and found this curt little note:

Soil on the front frame and outside the gasket on the door liner will need to be cleaned by hand.

Okay, fine. ScotchBrite in hand, I scraped off said soil, wiped up the residue, latched the door, and hit the magic switch. The stench was amazing: I had to fire up the attic fan, which basically defeated the whole idea of basking in the warmth.

And then I wondered: how much had this little experiment cost? The house was actually fairly warm when the cycle completed, up about 2.5 degrees from when it started despite the attic fan. I did the math: 3000 watts X 4.25 hours = 13 kwh = about $1.10 at the current (sorry about that) rate. I might have been able to run the furnace for less than that.

But no matter. The oven is clean. The burner pans, on the other hand, are kinda grungy, but they don’t have a cleaning mechanism other than good old elbow grease.

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A heck of a time to bloom

Last couple of years, I’ve had a early-fall eruption of roses in the front flower box — see here, for example — and I’m always surprised by this, what with the general nature of summer in these parts. (Two words: “hot” and “dry.”)

But we had about triple the usual August rain this year, so Rosa recalcitransia is back early, and looks something like this:

Rosa recalcitransia

Those in the back are actually about a foot behind and a foot lower, the result of a carefully-chosen (yeah, right) camera angle. And as you can see, more are coming.

(More sizes at Flickr.)

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Grackle? Oh, snap

Once in a while — not too often — I’ll hear from someone who insists that the world would be a kinder, gentler place without us, that without all those pesky humans despoiling the premises, the forest creatures and the sea kittens and all would live together in peaceful harmony. Inevitably, this proves to be someone who grew up in a series of condominiums and believes that leprechauns eat breakfast cereal: the vast majority of us know better than that. Left to their own devices, nature’s preferred — that is to say, nonhuman — creatures will behave in remarkably human ways.

This morning, a solitary grackle, probably from three or four blocks over, popped into my back yard and poked around on the freshly-mowed (last night, anyway) grass for potential food sources. At first, things were quiet. Then ominous shadows appeared, from all four corners: the mockingbirds who control this zone had spotted the intruder. The grackle, up to that point relatively oblivious to what was going on, decided to look up, and evidently didn’t like what he saw. Exit, stage left. The mockingbird patrol did a couple more laps around the premises, then retreated to wherever it is they conceal themselves. (I’ve spotted, or I think I’ve spotted, two nests, neither actually in my yard. Birds in general, though, are indifferent to fencing.)

What’s remarkable about this, at least to me, is that the birds’ concept of zoning, at least in this part of town, is rather like City Hall’s: your big, burly birds tend to be located closer to the shopping centers, the smaller birds occupy smaller areas with more trees, and neither group has much use for the other, irrespective of what connections between them may exist behind the scenes. I hesitate, however, to stretch this comparison any further.

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Lessons from life (one in a series)

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “This model uses its own special motor, not used by any other air conditioner in the line, or for that matter in the industry.”

(Sorry I couldn’t be Whittier.)

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Like it would ever do this in March

I have no idea what I’m talking about, but out behind the house is an air-conditioning unit with a pancake motor blown all to hell.

On, of course, a Sunday. In July. With a temperature of a hundred and five.

They tell me they’ll have a new motor early tomorrow morning, along with a nice, juicy bill.

Last time I checked, it was just under 90 degrees in the house. I have, of course, fled the premises.

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H2Overkill

This week’s Gazette cover story names names: specifically, the names that go with the city’s fastest-spinning water meters.

Beer baron John Cresap won the title by a slender margin: last year he went through 2.26 million gallons of water. Of the Top Ten, all of whom were at 1.3 million gallons or above, four were located in Gallardia and two in Heritage Hills. The average residential customer in Oklahoma City uses 84,000 gallons a year, so Number 10 is using about 15 houses’ worth, and Cresap, in his capacity as Number One, about 27. These are numbers worthy of Lance Armstrong.

The city says that presuming a 1.5-percent increase per year, the local supply should be “adequate for the next 50 years.”

Disclosure: I average right around 25,000 gallons a year, a figure equivalent to a mere 0.3 average city homes despite my Fergusonesque toilet; to borrow a phrase from Dawn Eden, I’m trying to uphold the highest American Standard.

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Mock I

Usually by now the local birds have established their territories. Some of them come back year by year to the same place: there are woodpeckers a block away, and they’re always detectable at a distance. But screwy weather has postponed some of the claims, including my particular piece of turf. In the past, robins and jays have traded off possession of the Surlywood grounds, but this year, there have been no jays and only a handful of robins — though their songs are still to be heard.

Now I know. In the past couple of days, I’ve spent enough time outside to observe, and the new occupants are northern mockingbirds, not overly noisy at the moment — few challengers, I’m guessing — but actively defending their zone. One of them actually landed on the handle of my lawn mower. Twice. Clearly these birds fear nothing.

Four of them showed up this morning while I was scraping down the back yard, three feeding while the fourth ran interference, swooping and diving over the premises with interim stops on the cable line and in the chaste tree, and emitting an occasional crow-like caw, perhaps a slap at the blackbirds around the corner. They do like fresh mowing: I presume the process makes it easier for them to get to the good stuff.

If nothing else, this explains why the pigeons on the next block, which have been spotted as close as two houses from me, haven’t moved any further: pigeons are no pushovers, but compared to mockingbirds, they are utterly lacking in ferocity.

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I, moweron

Remember that lawn-mower blade I bought in late April? It suddenly occurred to me today that I hadn’t installed it yet, so I got out the manual and the Vise-Grip and started unscrewing.

And parts dropped seemingly from nowhere onto the garage floor. Okay, fine, I thought, let’s see what the picture says. And the illustration was apparently done by someone who moonlights compiling White Pages records for the phone company: it’s so incredibly freaking tiny that I could barely make sense of it, and while the text spells out which part goes where, at no point are the parts actually identified, so I had to distinguish, purely by instinct, the difference between the fan spacer and the spacer washer, since neither of them actually looked like any washer I’d ever seen.

I got the thing back together, attached a cord, pulled the handle, and watched in dismay as the thing shook a pound of dirt out of its innards and then flung all three pieces — blade, fan spacer, spacer washer — across the driveway. Back to the manual I went, with the sinking feeling, one I’ve had several times this week, that I was too stupid to live (cf. the door incident, day before yesterday). Vibration, it said, might be caused by an unbalanced blade. Inasmuch as the sucker was brand-new, it had to be an installation issue, so I undid what I’d done before, redid it, and started up again. Still rattling like a cage full of Congressmen, but at least it didn’t throw any parts. The third time was the charm.

Of course, then I had to do some mowing, yesterday’s two-thirds of an inch of rain notwithstanding. The little beastie did well enough, but I still think it needs bigger wheels, or at least mud flaps.

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One more roar

One last batch of severe storms tonight before things are supposed to get suspiciously quiet for a few days.

I just hope it’s not enough to take out any more sections of fence, including the two new ones. (Of course, if it knocks down the whole thing, I may actually have an insurance claim worth pursuing.)

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Swollen door blues

Tonight was fix-the-back-door night, and I made an inglorious botch of it. Not only was the door a tad larger than normal, what with the tremendous humidity of late; one of the two screws holding the deadlatch in place had worked itself just loose enough to be in the way, and there wasn’t any way on earth I was going to get that sucker back into place, even after I had managed to get the doorknob off without destroying it.

So it was time to call in the pros, and fortunately, there are pros working after six-thirty. (They charge you extra, but not so much as to make you feel like you should have waited until morning.) The guy was thorough: he replaced the deadlatch with a new one, repositioned the striker plate and gave it some new screws, theoretically long enough to reach the nearest stud, and did likewise on the upper hinge, having detected (as I didn’t) that the door was hanging ever so slightly out of plumb.

“As long as you’re here,” I began, and in no time at all he’d cleaned up and adjusted the deadbolt on the front door, which wasn’t exactly loose but which might conceivably have given ideas to J. Random Burglar. All this and still not in triple digits, I marveled. Consider this an endorsement of Don’s Mobil Lock Shop in Norman.

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