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Bug out

Gnats love the ridge.

Gnats also love vinegar.

Fill a jar lid with vinegar, add a drop of dish-washing liquid and stir.

Ridge 19, Gnats 0.

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It turns out my youth wasn’t wasted after all.

I was on the interstate entrance ramp when a taxi cut me off and then hit its brakes. I slammed on mine and avoided rear-ending him, but when traffic started moving again, my car wouldn’t go.

It was dead. No power. No clock. The transmission wouldn’t shift to park so I could try to restart it.

Shit, I muttered, forgetting my anger at the taxi and concentrating on my car.

I can’t afford to buy a new car right now. So I had to think.

Transmission won’t shift. I pulled out my pocket knife and popped the tab off on the console, depressed the button underneath with my knife and moved the shifter to park.

How’d I know to do that? 1982. My 1981 T-Bird. I ran over a school crossing sign with it in the middle of the night, back in the day when mothers weren’t mad and I thought I was about the best drunk driver on the planet.

The tow truck driver showed me how to make a transmission shift when it doesn’t want to.

Back on the interstate ramp, I tried to start the car now that the transmission was in park. Nothing. I pressed the button again and pushed the shifter to neutral, opened the door and pushed the car to the left side of the road.

As I was bending down to pull the hood latch, a police officer rolled up and asked if I was OK. I recounted the story of the taxi and the sudden death of my car.

“I need to look under the hood. I think my battery is messed up,” I told him.

How’d I know that? 1976. My ’69 Ford station wagon.

I was paying for college and working part time but my money wouldn’t stretch like I needed it to. The battery died and I needed a new one, so I bought the cheapest, not knowing they come in different sizes.

The battery I bought was too small for my car. So I looped some scrap wire from work around it to hold it into place and headed to school. It worked great until I turned from Menard Street onto Audubon Drive. The wire broke in the turn, the battery shifted and shorted out on an engine bracket.

The car died in mid turn and white smoke started to pour out from under the hood.

It looked like a new pope was elected, only I’m not Catholic or a cardinal, so I couldn’t vote.

I threw open the hood and yanked the battery from the bracket. The smoke stopped. I used my pocket knife and some electricians’ tape (this was before the advent of duct tape) and put the battery back in place (and extra tape on those engine brackets).

I eventually figured out I could use the scrap wire to replace the wires that fried when the battery shorted out. Once I was done, I went back to the fraternity house for a drink. It was 10 a.m.

Back on the interstate ramp, the officer told me I needed to get to the right shoulder since there was more room to work and it was safer. He stopped traffic and told me to drive while he pushed.

Thankfully, the ramp was downhill. In short order, I was on the right shoulder and I let it coast to the bottom of the hill.

The officer had to be in court, so once he helped me get to safety, he was on his way, telling me to call the station if I needed a tow truck and dispatch was waiting to help.

I thanked him again and as he drove away, I popped the hood open and saw right away that the battery had shifted when I slammed on the brakes. The positive wire had pulled loose from the battery terminal.

I grabbed some wooden paint stirrers I keep in my car and a scrap piece of 1×4 lumber from the back seat floor board. I used the stirrers to put the connector back on top of the post and drove it in place with the 1 x 4.

The car started and I was on my way. To work. I wasn’t even late because it took less than 5 minutes for me to figure out the problem and fix it since I’d been there before when I was younger and somewhat dumber.

On track

It was almost twilight this past Sunday when I noticed the footprints.

As I was getting in my car, I spied a couple of sets of animal tracks in the almost dry dirt between my house and the hill.

I hadn’t seen them there two hours before when I got home from the store.

My mind started working out the possibilities. I got out of the car.

I pulled out my Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass (my smartphone’s camera) and took a closer look.

Definitely two different animals.

Did I mention that I used to be a Boy Scout? I wish I still had my old Boy Scout manual.

No cleft in the track, so it wasn’t from the doe and her fawn that I have startled in the yard several times in the past few weeks.

Too compact to be a rabbit. Too small to be a bear. Too big to be a possum or raccoon. Definitely a mammal, though, which eliminated the turkey family that hangs out on Collier Bend Road.

“What’s left?” I said to no one in particular.

Coyotes and bobcats, my mind replied. Maybe a panther.

I consulted my esteemed colleague, Mr. Google.

“Dog,” Google said.

“Dog?” I scoffed. “Dogs bark. How in the hell do two dogs walk between the hill and the house with me inside watching TV and not bark?”

I asked Mr. Google to double-check coyote tracks.

He did. “Dog,” was still his answer.

“Can’t be a dog,” I said. “There hasn’t been a dog here since …”

I paused. I do that sometimes when my memory wakes up from a nap.

“… John and Kathy were here with their two dogs yesterday.”

Old age is not going to be kind to me.

dogtracks

Logistics

When I was in my early 20s, working offshore with lots of time to read, I read General Omar Bradley’s biography. General Bradley pointed out that wars were won through logistics — getting the right equipment to the right people at the right time.

In my 40s, working as an automotive writer for The Tennessean, I listened to a vice president of Toyota explain at the Detroit Auto Show that Toyota wasn’t a car manufacturer, it was a logistics company that made cars.

Now close to being 60, and being my own general contractor on what should be my last home, I’m reminded how important logistics is and how I didn’t learn a darn thing about logistics despite my exposure to it for the past 40 years.

I’m just lousy with logistics.

The house couldn’t be delivered on time because I couldn’t get the septic tank and land work done in time.

Once the house was delivered, it took two months to get the electrical lines, plumbing and gas lines roughed in and the house’s frame inspected, because I didn’t get the timing right.

And once I got the interior walls done, it took another month to get the electricity final and HVAC installed so I could get the flooring installed.

As I sit in the hotel room that has been home for the past 3 months since my apartment lease expired, I have to wait almost 3 weeks to get the last of the work finished on the house so I can get final inspection and my certificate of occupancy.

Why? Because I was focused on getting the plumbing finished and the kitchen and bathroom working that I waited until they were almost done and inspected before calling the insulator, who it turns out is booked solid until two and a half weeks from now.

I still haven’t found a company to install the skirting, but I have 3 weeks to find one now.

Hopefully, my logistical ability is improving. I have two out-of-town trips scheduled this month and they’ll allow me to finally check out of this hotel. But there’s some logistics involved in that too, and more hotel and motel stays ahead.

When I get back to town after my trip to Atlanta next weekend, I’m checking into a Bed and Breakfast (which doesn’t offer breakfast) that’s closer to my house. I’ll stay there 10 days, during which time the insulation should get done.

I have to head to Thibodaux for my grandniece’s wedding around the time the skirting needs to get installed and hopefully, I can get the final inspection scheduled then, too.

When I began this journey, I thought I would be in the house by Thanksgiving. Then Christmas, Groundhog’s Day, Mardi Gras, then Easter and April Fool’s Day.

I’m shooting for May Day now. I wonder if I should have been saying “may day” all along.

 

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Home Sweet Home, one of these days …

I had to take a personal day off from work today to manage several issues dealing with the house, especially the drainage problem between the house and the hill.

Yesterday started out with a call from AT&T telling me what I knew all along — my house is too far back in the woods to get Uverse internet.

What internet options are available there? I don’t know yet, because the customer service person who called doesn’t work with the DSL/phone line group and I didn’t have time for her to transfer me to another sales person when I’m up to my eyes wrasslin’ alligators at work.

Later in the day, I called to reschedule the appliance delivery yet again and discovered a secret policy at Home Depot. When buying the appliances in December, I was told I had up to 90 days to take delivery.

I was told that I could set up delivery but postpone it if the house wasn’t ready. But that I couldn’t set a delivery date and then change it to an earlier date. So the sales lady set it for the last Monday in January.

What I wasn’t told was that once you set up a delivery date, your delivery delay window shrinks to 30 days. So I have no choice but to take delivery by the last Monday in February. The flooring won’t be installed then, but the Home Depot  didn’t seem to care.

I told him to hold off on scheduling the delivery because I’d have to find a place to store them.

A little while later, my electrician told me there would be a problem getting the rain gutters installed and the HVAC system put in next week because rain from earlier in the week had ponded between the house and the hill and there was no way any one would be able to work there.

I was numb.

I thought I would be able to move into the house by Christmas. And when that didn’t happen, I said Mardi Gras. When that didn’t happen, I said St. Patrick’s day and now, I’m thinking, Easter if I’m lucky.

I took deep breaths. I checked my pulse. I was OK. No signs of a heart attack. Yet. I took a walk. I asked my boss if I could take a personal day to straighten things out and she said yes. I have the greatest boss.

Driving home Thursday evening, I called Lowe’s flooring department to see what the charge would be to move appliances. the flooring lady called the installers and it’s $35 per appliance. I’ll have 3 to move. $105. Cheaper than a storage unit and U haul truck. I paid the fee. Problem one solved.

I went online when I got back to the hotel and found rubber boots for $25 at a Walmart nearby. That was my first stop of the day this morning.

I got to the house mid morning. I had a huge pond, but no crawfish. I broke out my shovels and rake and spent a half hour trying to make the water go where I wanted it to go behind the house.

One thing you learn growing up in the swamps of South Louisiana is that water will take the path of least resistance. But to get it to go behind the house involved either making it go uphill or cutting a deep ditch in red clay that’s peppered with rocks.

I asked the water where it wanted to go, and it wanted to go under the house. But the work I had done last week built a small berm around the house to keep water from going under it. So I did the coonass thing and cut a trenasse in the berm. (My electrician scratched his head when I used that word.)

I also texted a picture of the pond to my land guy. And he came by with his Bobcat when the water was about half drained. He reworked the area, cutting it deeper behind the house and eliminating high spots. It should work. We’ll know in the morning because rain is in the forecast for tonight.

While he was digging out the drain, I took a break and sat on the front steps.

A pair of hawks circled the valley, riding updrafts and enjoying a breezy February afternoon where the temperature reached 70.  They circled the valley as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Hovering briefly, then tucking a wing and diving earthward only to rise up higher on the next updraft.

I got lost watching them.

A little while later, after they’d moved out of sight, I got up from the steps. The electrician was working on a new meter that will give me 200 amp service. One of the nagging problems we’ve been dealing with is how do we get a trench dug deep enough in the rocky hill that sits between my house and the power pole.

“Could we just run the wire from the pole to the back of the house and then run conduit to the breaker box in the front of the house,” I asked.

His eyes lit up. “We’ll have to get an engineer to come out and look at it, but I think we can do that,” he said.

We’ll find out next week.

So after a tumultuous 36 hours, I feel like those hawks again. I can’t wait to get to know them better.

 

 

 

Timing is everything

I haven’t posted this year because the year has been full of a flurry of activity and then long waits.

The house flunked the frame inspection for a variety of issues, ranging from the builder not using metal plates between wood and cinder blocks, to the wrong nail plate on a drain, to the porch rail being an inch and a half short for its distance off the ground.

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The interior walls are installed and coated with polyurethane.

In all, that took three weeks to fix, and involved me taking a day off of work to change the nail plate because my plumber decided to quit returning my calls. (That’s another story.)

The porch still doesn’t meet codes. The builder wanted me to spend about $400 on trucking in dirt to raise the level of the land under the porch so that the porch is less than 30 inches from it and then the porch meets codes.

I agreed at first, but once I thought about it, I decided to just add a 2×4 to the top of the rail and small spindles between the big ones so that there’s no more than a 4-inch space. I don’t have children, but my nephews and nieces have children and I don’t want them getting between the spindles and hurting themselves when they visit. My plan costs $30.

So the interior walls are complete now. I thought the flooring would be a breeze. I want wood laminate and when I went to order it last week from a box store, I discovered it’s not a simple matter at all.

The sales person called me after I ordered a measurement and asked if there was electricity in the house.

Me: “There’s an extension cord from the power pole that the carpenter, plumber, electrician and mechanical contractor used without issue.”

Salesperson: “The installers won’t work without power actually in the house.”

Me: “Why the hell not? Everyone else has.”

Salesperson: “It’s their policy.”

Me: “Thanks. I’ll find another store where the installers are a little more hardy and don’t run the show. How do I get my deposit back?”

So the store refunded my money and I hightailed it to their competition during lunch. The guys there were great. They couldn’t see why working with an extension cord would be a problem. As one guy wrote up my order, another guy called the installer.

New sales guy: “Is your house heated?”

Me: “No. Is that a problem? If it is, I have a portable heater I’ve used with the extension cord. It can make the house comfortable for them.”

New sales guy after talking with installer: “The house needs to have a working HVAC before we can install wood laminate. It has to sit in the house for a couple of days to acclimate. It can’t acclimate without a working HVAC.”

Me: “Shit.”

I walked out of that store dazed, my mind running through hundreds of scenarios, most of which included me spending extra months living in a $400 a week hotel.

I have a contractor who is planning to work on the drainage between the house and the hill as soon as the weather clears. But the weather hasn’t really cleared since before Christmas and the forecast was for more rain this week.

That’s important because the power pole is on top of the hill and to get power to the house, we have to dig a trench and bury the wire in it.

We can’t dig the trench until the drainage work between the hill and the house is done. And I can’t install the kitchen cabinets and appliances until I have the floor installed.

And now I can’t have the floor installed until the HVAC is up and running and that’s being held hostage by the weather which is holding up the drainage work.

Shit.

I called the first salesperson back.

I told her that from what I understand, it’s not so much an electricity issue as it is an HVAC issue. I asked if we could get the house measured and the flooring ordered so we have it ready to go while we work on getting the HVAC running.

She agreed and I had to pay the deposit again, since she refunded it to me earlier in the day. The installer called me on Thursday and asked which room I wanted to have the flooring installed.

Me: “The whole house. If it has a floor in it, I want wood laminate on top of it.”

Installer: “We don’t install wood laminate in bathrooms.”

Me: “I’m living in a hotel that has wood laminate in the bathroom. If they can do it we can do it, humor me.”

The conversation ended and life went on.

Today I was looking at lavatories and kitchen cabinets at the same store when the flooring salesperson called to tell me the quote was ready.

Me: “I’m in the store. I’ll be right there.”

It turns out my house is a little bigger than I thought. But the bathroom issue came up again.

Salesperson: “We won’t install wood laminate in bathrooms.”

Me: “Why the hell not? If my hotel has it, I don’t think there’s a problem.”

Salesperson: “It’s our policy and the manufacturer’s policy. If its installed in the bathroom, it voids your entire warranty.”

Me: “Why in the hell is that?”

We went back and forth and finally it became apparent — wood laminate isn’t waterproof. I could buy that much better than “just because.”

So in the end, I ordered a vinyl laminate for the bathroom, which is waterproof, but stuck with wood laminate for the rest of the house. They’re not a perfect match, but close enough. My bathroom is 6 x 7 and I have three rugs for the floor there, so it’s not like you’ll see a lot of the floor.

I paid for the flooring and they’ll be delivered to the house in two weeks.

Two weeks. Shit.

So here I sit in my extended stay hotel room (which I did not budget for in the first place) and the WiFi is finally working for the first time this week.

The landscaping is set to start Monday, but there’s snow and rain in the forecast for Monday.

I’m buying light fixtures and working on doing as much as can be done without finished floors.

Hopefully the HVAC is running on the 23rd, when the flooring is delivered. It has to sit in the house for a couple of days before it can be installed. Installation will just take a day,whenever that day comes.

So I’m looking at the early part of March now, when I had originally hoped to be in the house by Christmas. We can get the bathroom fixtures and kitchen cabinets done fairly quickly but the appliances can only be delivered on a Monday and I fear the flooring won’t be done in time for them to be delivered this month.

I still have to get the water system up and running too, but that’s for another day.

My goal now is to have a cold beer on my code-compliant porch on St. Patrick’s Day.

Time will tell.

Taking it easy

Home sweet home in a month or so

This was my first stress-free day in months.

Decisions are coming at me a mile a minute from every direction since even before the house was delivered, so I took today off, and drove to Hartsville, Tenn.

The  Tennessee Lodge of Research held its quarterly meeting at Hartsville Lodge #113, a lodge that was founded about a year after my lodge, Charlotte #97.

I got there early and stumbled upon the town’s Christmas parade, which ran at a leisurely pace through town about a half block from the lodge building. Great little parade with local clubs, politicians, Santa and lots of folks on horseback waving and smiling.

It was also Dickens Days in town, so there were folks in 19th Century garb milling about the crowd as well. No one asked me what kind of thingamabob I was planning to use for a whatchamacallit in the house.

The meeting was nice, too. The lunch superb — fried chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes with pecan pie and cake for dessert.

We heard a talk on the Masonic connections to Boy Scouts and I had my application for membership in the Tennessee Lodge of Research approved.

I met lots of Masonic brothers today, some of whom don’t live far from the Ridge, and all who are interested in history and Masonry like me.

The drive back to Nashville was quiet.

I stopped at the storage place to pay my first month’s rent and get things squared away before the big move at the end of the month.

It turns out that I can use  my own padlock, so I used the lock that was on the gate, which simplifies things, since it uses the same key as the other locks on the Ridge.

All in all it was a simple day, serving as a reminder that when all of these decisions are made and executed, a simpler life awaits me on the Ridge.