Archive for Surlywood

Where it all goes (’18)

Butch Freeman, the County Treasurer again — he was re-elected this past week — can be counted on to send out a notice to us lowly escrow-payers telling us just how the county is spending the proceeds from our property-tax bills. As is the usual practice around here, I’m passing the details on to you (last year’s numbers in [brackets]):

  • City of Oklahoma City: $122.21 [$123.21]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $465.42 [$479.27]
  • Metro Tech Center: $122.23 [$124.74]
  • Oklahoma County general: $92.63 [$96.57]
  • Countywide school levy: $32.75 [$33.43]
  • City/County Health Department: $20.49 [$20.91]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $41.13 [$41.98]
  • Total: $897.31 [$915.19]

This year’s millage is 113.44, up a pittance from last year’s 113.35. (Record millage: 117.58, 2011.) The assessed value, per the Assessor, is off a few bucks from last year, has increased by a whopping 1.3 percent over the last four years, and still hasn’t broken a hundred grand despite the notions of sites like Zillow, whose Zestimate starts at $114,000. Then again, I’ve been here long enough to fall under the state’s cap law: they can’t jack up the assessed value more than five percentage points in any single year, unless the property changes hands, and as of 2019, the valuation freezes solid, an example of Senior Discounts I can, um, appreciate.

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Lowball express

Two things arrive here in mid-autumn: the bill for the renewal of my current homeowner’s insurance, and suspicious-looking counteroffers from that company’s competitors. It was, of course, always thus, and by “always” I mean “for the 15 years I’ve lived in this one spot.” Once in a while, though, I want to see what the competition is up to.

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Been here a while

I bought the palatial estate at Surlywood in 2003; the 15 years since then represent the longest time I’ve stayed in one place since ever. Those who have survived similar terms tend to report results like these:

Oh, there have been problems from time to time, the problems every homeowner faces — messed-up plumbing, and a leaky roof, and appliances breaking. Since I’ve been there, I’ve had the roof replaced, and the dishwasher, and the water heater (twice, in fact) and I had had to buy a new refrigerator when I moved in (and will probably have to replace that some time soon) and a new furnace and air conditioner. And I still need to replace a ceiling light fixture and ceiling fan, but those are low-priority because I don’t NEED them and also they involved getting someone out who can work in my messy bedroom…

I got a reminder of these things last night, when a mere toilet flush resulted in an earth-shattering Kaboom. (Problem: the outflow gizmo from the flush valve disconnected itself from the water pipe in the middle of the tank. Quickly.)

On balance, it’s been good, owning my own house. Yes, when there’s no hot water and you realize you probably have the big expense (and possibly added code-changes) of getting a new one, you do long a bit for a maintenance crew that can just “make it so” without you having to juggle the logistics or pay (though maybe your rent goes up the next time you sign a contract). But there are also no mandatory “insect sprayings” and I don’t have to worry about the stacks of books that have built up, or the larger amounts of fabric and yarn I’ve acquired. And if it’s not quite as secluded and quiet as I’d hoped (right now I have a neighbor who has The Loudest Motorcycle and he tends to go out late in the evening and apparently goes to work at 6:30 am), still, it’s nice to have my own “castle,” where I only let in people I WANT to let in.

The one chopper on the block tends to leave at 4:49 am. Been a while since I heard it, though.

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Nomenclature update

A note from the lawn service:

Since 2004, I have worked hard to provide friends in my neighborhood the best lawn care services. Over time, people started recommending me to their friends and my little business expanded to other neighborhoods where I made even more friends.

Now I have a crew helping me provide the same top-notch service to even more people. Therefore, to reflect this growth, Andrew’s Lawn Service has been renamed LAWNSTER.


Then again, “Ground Control,” as Major Tom could tell you, has been taken.

Still, were this a woman-owned enterprise, I doubt if they’d have come up with “LAWNSTRESS.”

And their tag line, in quotes under the name: “We Mow Grass”. Um, yeah, I guess you do.

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And they did turn out

Right about 5:20 — I can’t possibly arrive at five anymore, and besides, I needed a fresh fill of 91 octane — I got to shove ballots #1729 and #1730 into the scanner. (The second one, containing State Question 788, the medicinal-marijuana initiative, got bent on the way in, and tell me that isn’t karmic.) If everyone got two ballots, I was voter #865; #900 reached the door before I left.

The Democrats, as before, were allowing independents and such into their primary. (The Republicans, as before, weren’t.) But some of those second ballots might not have been handed out:

Once at the polling station, you should always insist on getting everything you’re allowed to get.

There were lots of kids at the precinct, presumably just picked up from day care. One lad’s eyes got really, really big as I passed, and Mom said “Yes, you used to have one of those.” It then dawned on her what she’d said, and she gave me a look that was, I guessed, two parts contrite, one part embarrassed. Not to worry, Mom. I may have had something like that myself, back in the middle 1950s.

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From the Married … with Children wiki:

“Bud, the toilets of today aren’t worthy of the name. They come in designer colors and they’re too low. And when you flush them, they make this little weak, almost apologetic sound. Not the Ferguson. It only comes in white. And when you flush it, ‘BA-WOOSH’. That’s a man’s flush, Bud. A Ferguson says, ‘I’m a toilet. Sit down and give me your best shot’.”

Wednesday morning, the plumber was dealing with my toilet issue: fill valve couldn’t be bothered to fill. When he’d finished, he gave me a demo flush, so to speak, and noted for reference: “It’s going to take several minutes no matter what. This tank holds two and a half gallons. They don’t make tanks like that anymore; a gallon and a half, maybe.” I swear, he sounded almost wistful.

I pondered this matter after signing the check. Migawd, I thought, it’s a fricking Ferguson. I don’t really know how long this particular porcelain facility has been in this house, which dates to 1948, but it looked pretty darned old when I arrived here 15 years ago. I duly went out and looked for a screenshot from that particular episode of Married.

Ferguson toilet as owned by Al Bundy

And then I looked into the bathroom. Migawd, it’s a fricking Ferguson.

Then again, I think it’s too low.

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Let there be chills

Monday after Game Four of the Thunder-Jazz series, a game which made me wonder if there was going to be a Game Five, I wasn’t at all in the mood for a cold shower, but that’s what I got the next morning.

Okay, fine. I have a 24-hour number to call, and I pay these guys a small monthly retainer to make sure I climb to the top of the clipboard. A wholly different operation answered.

After a few minutes, we arrived at the facts of the matter: said guys had been bought out by these other guys. I recognized the name, figured that if they had enough money to buy daytime TV spots, they probably weren’t a fly-by-night operation, and engaged their services for Thursday, five-ish.

There are only a few parts that matter in a gas water heater, and all these parts tested good. The whole, however, seemed to be less than the sum of those parts. The tech, amused by the installation job from a decade ago, reassembled the lot, cranked up the gas, and watched bemusedly as the ignition kicked in and the burner started. External forces, he concluded: something had shaken loose on a windy day, the gas flow was duly halted for safety reasons, but nothing was actually broken.

I didn’t mention that little retainer, inasmuch as the tab came to only 53 percent of the proffered estimate. But I did thumb back through several months of American Express statements, and the last time I’d been billed by OldCo, or more precisely by the finance company to whom OldCo sold my contract, was late in 2017. So apparently NewCo is not only on the ball; they are ethical enough to cancel the old plan.

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No fun aloud

About every other year, I somehow manage to trip the alarm around here, and the beeper is close enough to the control panel to make one wish for a remote control. Fortunately, I have one.

Friday night, I’d just brought in the last load of groceries when that tell-tale shriek began. I pressed the button on the remote, with no discernible result. Remote battery dead, maybe? I wheeled over to the keypad, punched up the appropriate code and the Off button. It continued to squeal. The thing finally shut up as the phone rang. And of course, it was the security company, wanting to know if we were having problems. We were not, and said so. And as the ringing in my ears started to subside, I noticed that the screen next to the keypad had not cleared.

It would not clear. Didn’t matter what I did. Finally I threw in the towel and called the security company. Apparently they’d heard of this happening before, and rattled off a series of Things To Try, a couple of which didn’t ever make it to the manual. None of them worked. The next available technician would be by on Monday, from eight to twelve.

The guy showed up at 11:56 am. After glaring at the wall for a moment, he detached the panel from the wall, pushed a couple of buttons, got no response, and declared it dead. I frowned. “Not a problem,” he said, and headed back to his truck.

About 90 seconds later, he returned with another slab of plastic, not much resembling the other one but apparently identical in function. The next few moments were frighteningly loud, but I had to concede that the fellow’s testing regimen looked pretty thorough. About 12:20, he pronounced the system healed, I wrote a check, and life resumed. Quietly.

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Lots to love

Is it just me, or is the local real-estate market going slightly crazy? Zillow — yeah, yeah, I know, Zillow — informs me that a house just off the edge of my neighborhood is now renting for $1200 a month.

The inevitable Zestimate on the palatial estate at Surlywood is, of course, risible. At $124,467, it’s down about a thousand from a month ago. And if this place could actually be worth that much, I would have equity actually exceeding the amount left on the house note. Then again, my august insurance vendor, Lloyd’s of Lawton, underwrites it to the tune of $139,000. And the taxman hath declared that property on this here block, without any tedious structures sitting on it, would be worth upwards of $100,000 per acre. I have just over a quarter-acre, so I’m not dazzled by this figure, but hey, I’m not the guy running the real-estate Web site.

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Where it all goes (’17)

Every year about this time, Butch Freeman, the County Treasurer, dispatches the property-tax bill, and this year it varies hardly a whit from last year or the year before. As is the custom in these parts, a breakdown of where everything is spent accompanies the bill (last year’s numbers in [brackets]):

  • City of Oklahoma City: $123.21 [$120.39]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $479.27 [$482.54]
  • Metro Tech Center: $124.74 [$125.29]
  • Oklahoma County general: $91.64 [$96.57]
  • Countywide school levy: $33.43 [$33.65]
  • City/County Health Department: $20.91 [$21.05]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $41.98 [$42.27]
  • Total: $915.19 [$922.07]

Somewhere this got rounded up by a penny. This year’s millage is 113.35, down a pittance from last year’s 113.43. (Record millage: 117.58, 2011.) The actual value of the palatial estate at Surlywood, per the Assessor, is within a Benjamin or two of a hundred grand.

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Fall flowers can really hang you up so much

Middle of the week, I spotted this newly opening bud, and thought it was awfully odd.

End of the week, I got a picture of it, and was further surprised:

An unexpected white rose

I mean, I’ve seen lots of shades of pink, but this isn’t going to pass for pink anywhere.

About 18 inches away from it, on the very same bush, this one’s coming in:

An expected pink rose

Matches the house pretty well, in fact.

(Click to embiggen: the larger sizes are for now stored on Flickr.)

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A piece of the neighborhood action

He’s looking to buy houses in this neck of the woods, and he’s trying to keep his overhead as low as possible, which probably isn’t a bad idea.

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Perpetually in suspense

It was a week ago Saturday when the toilet backed up beyond my ability to repair things, and worse, right about the time the plumbers got here, a water line in the garage gave way. The end result, of course, was a large check I had to write.

It’s much warmer this week, and the lines in the garage seem to be fine, but the toilet is backed up once again, and worse, it spews into the bathtub.

I noticed this at 9:30 last night. A bored receptionist informed me that [no sense mentioning his name here] would be out in approximately 45 minutes.

Three hours later, he hadn’t shown up, and they’re no longer answering the phone. I left some vague contumely on some unidentified person’s voice mail.

What I’m thinking: call every five minutes starting about 7:55 am. And then reconsider why I’m paying these yutzes three hundred-odd dollars a year as a retainer so that they’ll actually come out at times like 10:15. Evidently I am too stupid to live.

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In which I plumb, sort of

Late Friday night, and the toilet is clogged, something it hasn’t been in a while. I contemplate the matter, post something anguished to Facebook, and resign myself to paying extra for a plumber on Christmas farking Eve fercryingoutloud.

“There must be some kind of way out of here,” I said, and proceeded to fill up browser tabs. Half an hour later, I had a plan, sort of:

  1. Squirt half a bottle — the little 9-ounce size — of Dawn for Dishes into the mess.
  2. Add about half a gallon of warm — not cold, or the bowl might crack, which would make things worse — water.
  3. Whip out the plunger and push, push, push for several minutes.
  4. Hope it clears out by morning.

Which somehow it did.

Mental note: More fiber. Definitely more fiber.

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Collateral damage of a sort

You may remember this from the last time I was carted off to the emergency room:

Finally, with one last tug, I sank to the floor, to the accompaniment of the dreaded Spew Noise that told me I’d just broken the toilet.

The plumber, arriving the next day because of course he did, took a Shop-Vac to the place to suck up as much water as he could, an example of the sort of thoroughness that (sometimes) justifies my overpaying these guys. I thought nothing more about it until Tuesday night, when I got down to two rolls of toilet paper (Scott, if you care), and dug down to the bottom of the linen closet to tap the reserve.

Which is, as it turns out, where a lot of that water went. I wound up tossing out six thoroughly sodden and faintly ill-smelling rolls.

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Where it all goes (’16)

The property-tax bill has arrived, and it’s marginally higher than last year, owing to a marginally higher assessed value. As always, the County Treasurer duly sends out a breakdown of what is paid to whom, and I reproduce it here for future reference (last year’s numbers in [brackets]:)

  • City of Oklahoma City: $120.39 [$124.57]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $482.54 [$476.19]
  • Metro Tech Center: $125.29 [$123.21]
  • Oklahoma County general: $96.57 [$94.03]
  • Countywide school levy: $33.65 [$33.02]
  • City/County Health Department: $21.05 [$20.66]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $42.27 [$41.47]
  • Total: $922.07 [$913.14]

This year’s millage is 113.43, down from last year’s 114.50. (Record millage: 117.58, 2011.) I’m not complaining.

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No goblins

My fault: I wasn’t well enough to answer the door three or four dozen times, so I wound up blowing off Halloween entirely. I will add this to the burgeoning “I Hate My Life” files.

Addendum: Reports from the neighborhood indicate turnout was pretty sparse compared with previous years. I blame sidewalks.

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How cool is this?

An unusually warm October — the temperature has yet to drop below 40° F (4° C) — has encouraged the late-season roses to go flat-out while they still can:

Roses on the 29th of October

There are several other budding clusters elsewhere on this bush: it’s not exactly Spring finery, but it’s not bad.

(Other sizes at Flickr.)

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Not to be chewed

The annual Termite Inspection came yesterday, as it has every October since 2003. Usually I follow the inspector around the premises, but that wasn’t happening. And it’s probably just as well, since anything I’m likely to say is going to be a variation on the theme of “Sorry about the mess.”

They’ve changed one protocol since last time: instead of a paper receipt, they email you a PDF. As always, they asked whether this is the correct billing address; as always, I wrote out a check rather than wait for the bill. But this chap seemed surprised at my, um, “low account number,” giving me the impression that a lot of their customers move on after a few years, while I’ve been here for thirteen.

Me, I’m thinking warranty: if I keep this up, and some year they actually find the hungry little bastards on the premises, the contract says that they will remediate at no additional cost. Over the years I’ve forked over a little more than a grand, which is trivial next to the average Kill The Damn Bugs bill.

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As the escrow flies

I have received the renewal for my homeowner’s insurance, and the premium is dropping from stupidly high to somewhat less stupidly high: the annual savings will be just over $100. (Still, unless you live in some place like San Simeon, my premium is probably higher than yours.) At least part of the expense is due to my having specified some comparatively pricey options over and above the standard package, including an escalator clause that adjusts the amount of the policy upward when the value of the property increases. Still, Oklahoma has some of the highest insurance costs in the land, and this isn’t going to change so long as we have some of the most perverse weather this side of Baffin Bay.

Which means, I have to figure, that unless the county seriously jacks up the property tax rate, I will not be running an escrow shortage in 2017, inasmuch as the actual value of this property, as determined by the County Assessor, has risen by less than two percentage points.

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Twice the redness

You may remember this little guy from last year:

Red spider lily

He went into hiding shortly thereafter. But this year, he has a friend:

Two red spider lilies

Should I expect four next year? Or does it not work that way?

(Full-sized shots at Flickr; just click either to embiggen.)

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Bungle in the urban jungle

I wrote back in 2005:

Nobody knows for sure how long the Survivor Tree will, well, survive. It’s been given the best of care, including treatments to repel the blight, and it’s an integral part of today’s National Memorial, insuring that it won’t be forgotten. But this mute witness to the terrible tragedy of the nineteenth of April has brothers and sisters and cousins all over the city, and I believe that the strength of one, by some genetic anomaly, by the grace of God, by something, somehow resides in them all.

Except for two of them on my block, which subsequently survived multiple ice storms and typically horrendous winds over the next decade, only to meet with the chainsaw today, the result of Stupid Fucking Contractor putting down sidewalks on the wrong side of the street. I had read the original scheme at the time, and I’d complained; a couple weeks later, a revised scheme was released, evidently to everyone except SFC, which doggedly proceeded with the old one despite the fact that it made no sense — why have the sidewalk on the south side of the street on one block and then move to the north side on the next?

Nothing can be done, of course. The wood has been hauled away; SFC will presumably get some sort of bonus for beating a deadline, and the city will disclaim any responsibility for hiring them.

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The small break gets slightly larger

From a couple of months ago:

[A]fter some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month.

Further notification received. Payment is dropping by $12 more, and they sent me a check for $250.

I mean, I’m generally pretty happy with this bank, but there are times I wonder whether their fecal matter is properly aggregated.

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It’s magically malicious!

After a horripilating session of “Meet the Beetles!” I ordered up a grub treatment for the lawn, and there was spritzed upon the turf a product called, um, Malice. It fit my mood of the moment, and it’s claimed to be relatively non-nasty for an industrial-strength insecticide, but while the flowers and the trees can deal with it, the birds and the bees aren’t keen on the stuff at all.

In the case of bees specifically:

Experts believe that imidacloprid is one of many possible causes of bee decline and the recent bee malady termed colony collapse disorder (CCD). In 2011, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, no single factor alone is responsible for the malady, however honey bees are thought to possibly be affected by neonicotinoid chemicals existing as residues in the nectar and pollen which bees forage on. The scientists studying CCD have tested samples of pollen and have indicated findings of a broad range of substances, including insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. They note that while the doses taken up by bees are not lethal, they are concerned about possible chronic problems caused by long-term exposure.

Apparently not doing this all the time, as I don’t — this is the first time I’ve had the stuff on site in several years, and I may well wait for several more before doing it again, because it’s kinda pricey — was the right thing to do, or not do, all along.

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Squirrel update

Over the weekend, I discovered a dead bishop on the landing squirrel out by the curb. After contemplating the disquieting possibility of hoisting the poor deceased critter from his resting place and dropping him into the refuse bin, I decided that hey, I pay taxes for this, and Monday morning I left a note for the city’s Action Center.

Almost exactly 24 hours later, within the time frame expected, Animal Control failed to find the ex-furball, perhaps because it was in the shadow of said refuse bin. I know this because I sent a second note to the Action Center Tuesday afternoon, and that’s what they told me. Wednesday they were properly contrite, and promised to have it hauled off that day. Which they did.

I think this is only the second time I’ve dealt with the Action Center. Not bad for twelve and a half years, I guess.

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We are all roadkill

The Hour of Indecision presents: “There’s a dead squirrel on the curb!”

For comic relief:

Hope it works.

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The smallest possible victory

In the Battle of the Century, it’s Man vs. Bathroom Fixture!

Spoiler: See below.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A splash of color

Trini, wielder of the mighty smartphone, snagged this photo (and a few others) from the west end of my flower box this weekend.

Flowers of mine as photographed by Trini

A couple of clusters of roses, a trace of yellow-orange from irises — I also have white ones, but not at this angle — and off to the upper right, the pointy leaves of a holly.

I may serve up a few more of these in the coming days.

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A small break

Last year, the bank declared that I somehow had way too little in escrow, and duly commanded me to fork over an extra $130 a month to bridge the gap — or send them a check for a rather large sum I didn’t happen to have at the time. I did some calculations, because that’s what I do, and after some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month. In response, I spent rather a long time in Told You So mode, though it didn’t seem useful at the moment to tell them so.

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When things get complicated

Middle of the morning, I got a note from a neighbor via Nextdoor: “I am going to close your garage door.” This, of course, leads to the obvious question: why in the fark is it open? I contemplated several possibilities, the most unnerving of which was the chance that someone might have figured out the Double Super Secret Code that runs the remote. This particular garage-door opener dates back to — well, not the Pleistocene, exactly, but it’s old enough to have its code set by a row of jumpers, the sort of thing we haven’t seen since we got rid of master and slave drives in PCs. I put in a call to William of Ockham, who noted that I happened to be carrying two remotes, one in the car, one on my person, and if I started the process with the former and inadvertently engaged the latter while turning away from the house, I could easily have created this situation myself. I argued that I didn’t think the secondary remote had that kind of range, but to no avail. I arrived back home about 11:30, and everything seemed to be in order.

And it is an election day, so I figured I’d take care of that detail on the way back to work. Turnout was expected to be light, given the single race on the ballot: finishing the unexpired term of Oklahoma County Court Clerk Tim Rhodes, who resigned last year to take a job at the Corp Comm. I did not, however, imagine it to be this light: at a quarter to twelve, four hours and forty-five minutes into the session, I was preceded by a mere 23 voters. There are more than 1500 registered voters in this precinct.

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