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Monday, April 30, 2007 6 comments

Home 0wn3rsh1p – a Thought Experiment

James Kunstler’s column today is the sort of thing that brings FAR Manor to mind. Not so much the state of architecture, nor even the shoddy build quality of most homes today.

My first thought upon reading it was that the real failure isn't architecture — or even construction — so much as people collectively have a “busted give-a-damn.” But then I thought about it a little further. Owning — or rather, being 0wn3d by — FAR Manor has taught me that two things are required to maintain a home: 1) money; 2) time (and improving a home requires the same, just more of it… lots more). Anyone who marketed any part of a house as “maintenance free” should have been summarily drawn and quartered, but that's another story. This tale is going to be a thought experiment that will perhaps illuminate the current situation.

Let’s look at Joe and Jane Average. They bought a tract house back when Joe had a decent manufacturing job and Jane was working part-time as a bookkeeper. Like most people these days, they bought something a little more expensive than they should have, but figured they could sell it in a few years for a tidy profit. Then comes the perfect storm: the decent job went to China, the local housing market cratered with the job market, and a birth-control failure led to a couple of unexpected kids. Joe’s “lucky” — he’s working a couple of so-called part-time jobs, six and a half days a week at crap wages, that bring in about 3/4 of what he used to make on a 40-hour shift. Jane still has her bookkeeping work, but she hasn’t had a raise in three years and is mostly tied up minding the kids.

Instead of owning the house, the house now 0wns them. They tried selling it, but the few offers they got for it weren’t enough to cover the mortgage, so they’re stuck. Fortunately, they were smart enough to nail down a decent fixed rate before things went to hell; most of their acquaintances with creative financing got foreclosed on last year, and most everyone else is looking at that reset and sighing in resignation. What Joe and Jane are bringing in would be enough, except for the credit cards. They ran up some plastic debt back when things were looking good; they bought a few luxury items and figured they’d have plenty of time to pay them off. Then the clock ran out and left them hanging — everything not going into living expenses is now barely keeping them abreast of the credit cards.

So the siding's starting to look a bit grungy, and it’s even coming loose in a couple of places. The fake-wood trim needs to be repainted, and the front door frame is dry-rotting at the bottom. The living room carpet is, to put it nicely, shot. Joe has little experience with construction or carpentry work, Jane none at all — they could do some maintenance, but neither one has much time or any energy to do so much as paint the trim.

They’re holding on by their fingernails, folks. They nearly got burned by a debt consolidation “service” that was saturating the radio with ads last year, which turned out to be little more than a scam — there may be legit ones out there, but they don’t trust any of them now. They looked into bankruptcy, but Bush-league made sure that door was slammed in their faces. Their few friends are in worse shape than themselves. The car is starting to make a weird noise (the second one got sold a few months ago, just before it went to pieces; they used the money to pay their property taxes). The bright spot is that they should be getting a few hundred bucks back on their taxes, which will go to fix the car.

Is it any wonder that people aren’t maintaining their houses?

Compared to Joe, I’m far better off. My job hasn’t been outsourced (yet), and I have (if Mrs. Fetched allows) a little time on weekends to fix steps or work on a wood floor. FAR Manor, as I’ve found by pulling up carpet, is far from quality construction (and I give Mrs. Fetched hell about buying this place every time, you betcha)… but it’s mostly maintainable. I can manage a few of the things that need to be fixed, and the few things I want to do.

The Averages might have a way out, though — now the thought experiment begets a thought experiment within itself. Jane’s bookkeeping skills have saved their bacon, so far; she set up a budget and has managed their money the way a skilled kayaker negotiates a Class V rapids. One mistake, or the submerged rock of an unexpected expense, could spell disaster; but so far so good. She made a little extra money this spring doing taxes — a local tax preparer was swamped with complex (i.e. expensive) returns, and farmed out many of the 1040A and EZ jobs to her. A little of the money treated the family to dinner at a cheap Mexican restaurant; the rest went to a credit card payment, opening up a little breathing room.

But I digress. One day, one of her neighbors sees Jane playing in the front yard with her kids. She just landed a job at a big-box store, nothing to brag about but it will help to supplement what her husband Frank makes doing odd jobs. Would Jane watch her kids (close to Jane’s in age) in the afternoon? She couldn’t pay anything right away, but —

“I have a better idea,” says Jane. That afternoon, Frank brings the kids over. While the kids get to know each other, he tacks up the loose siding and pressure washes the whole house. The next day, he paints over the trim. The house is looking better already. Joe gets home and silently picks up the trash in the yard before collapsing with a beer in front of a TV he suddenly can’t stand to watch.

That weekend, the two families get together and have a cookout during the few afternoon hours that Joe has free. Frank says he can replace the front door, frame and all, with a better one that he bought for a job (that fell through) some time back. Joe offers to trade the lumber he’d bought for a deck, back when he had a life, and the deal is struck on the spot. “I’ll keep an eye out for some carpet for your living room, too,” Frank says. “If there’s no hurry, I can probably get a roll-end for nothing or next to it.”

At his jobs, Joe gives Frank’s name to co-workers — there are always things that need to be done, and people willing to pay someone else to do them. Jane starts getting money instead of barter for the day care work, and takes in one more kid (all she feels comfortable handling). Slowly, almost reluctantly, the credit card debt gets whittled down. Jane manages to squirrel away a few hundred bucks for emergencies; the car will need new tires sooner or later and gas prices are only getting worse. Joe and a co-worker start car pooling to split the expenses.

The Averages are nowhere near out of the woods yet; a major sickness or accident could put them under in a heartbeat. They have put their house back on the market; it’s the nicest one on the street now. But as tempting as it is, I can’t in good conscious pull a deus ex machina and give them an offer that would pay off all their debts with enough left over for a deposit on an affordable apartment.

In the end, it’s not completely their fault that they bought the Endless Growth line; it seemed true for so long. But they are slowly bartering their way into (what they hope is) a better future.

Linkin Park Music Video

I’m normally not a Linkin Park fan, but I’ll make an exception for this song (and video).

Linkin Park – What I’ve Done

Sunday, April 29, 2007 2 comments

Steppin’ Out

The steps leaving the porch out back have been in a state of disrepair for some time now. Daughter Dearest nearly hurt herself when the top step gave way on her one day, as she was carrying the litter box out to dump. Since then, she’s been taking the big step down to the second one, and recently told us that it was starting to get loose too. Mrs. Fetched suggested that I take care of it, since I had the supplies ready for some time, and so I did (after resting up from a bike ride).

end of the second stepThis is the end of the second step. You can see it's a little rotted-out, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the top step and I deemed this one salvageable. I cut a new tread for the top step.


New support piecesThe support pieces on the top two steps were split pretty badly, so I replaced them. The original ones had been painted, but not until everything was put together. I went ahead and painted them first, using some leftover paint from the gable job. Here, the top support is still getting leveled up before nailing it in.


BlackberriesWhile trekking to and fro to grab tools and other necessities, I noticed that the blackberries are opening up. We have vines scattered around the yard; if we get a normal amount of rain we’ll have some goodies for 4th of July.


painted stepsOf course, the newly-painted step was much brighter than the rest of the steps, so I brushed off the dirt and painted everything to match up.

The deck above is a postage stamp, but the railing needed to be scraped and re-painted as well. The deck itself had never been painted, so I guess I’ll tackle all that next.


More work than strictly necessary, but with any luck I’ll never have to do it again.

Friday, April 27, 2007 No comments

Friday Night Cinema

The drive-ins closed years ago, and it’s getting to expensive to drive anywhere anyway. Friday Night Cinema lets you take your laptop outside to enjoy a short flick al fresco!

Chick-Fil-A’s cows are trying to persuade you to “Eat Mor Chikin,” but… more radical elements might not find persuasion to be effective or quick enough. Keep your BBQ fork by your side and watch (out for) Cows With Guns

(Rated SBIF, for So Bad It’s Funny)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 5 comments

Notes from the FAR side

Another roundup…

The Boy got out today! The paperwork was apparently sitting on the D.A.’s desk: he called the public defender, that worthy soul put a call into the D.A., and the latter sent it on. He now gets two months of house arrest, with the ankle bracelet thing, but he has two weeks to get it. The roar of a guitar is emanating from the garage as I type.

Mrs. Fetched’s mom also got out (of the hospital) last night. She was more than ready to leave; the retarded howler monkeys who run their billing department may have taken over the rest of the place from the sound of it.

One reason I haven’t been around much: what little time hasn’t been absorbed by other matters, I’ve been spending finishing up reading the Dark Tower series. I’m on the last book now. I still kick myself from time to time for not grabbing a copy of On Writing when it was on the shelves… I enjoy King’s stories, but I enjoy his “liner notes” just as much, and a book of nothing but liner notes would be killer. Next time I’m in Humpus Bumpus, to pick up WinterMaejic (ordered it for Daughter Dearest), I’ll see if they have a copy.

DD’s boyfriend is still in Indiana. He said he’ll probably come back next month, once his car is running right.

We’ve started the long-awaited (again, by Daughter Dearest) replacement of her white carpet with wood flooring. We’ve pulled up the carpet and padding… to find a couple of humps that need to be sanded down and some spots of blood on the plywood. FAR Manor wasn’t even finished yet, and it was causing pain. It seems to have mellowed in its old age; instead of drawing blood it just squeezes my wallet dry. I’ll have pictures of the proceedings soon.

During the really cold nights we had a couple of weeks ago, we tossed blankets over the rhododendron bush (shot from last month) out front. It either worked, or the bush didn’t care. It started opening up last weekend, when I took this shot; it’s in full-zoot bloom now. We’re waiting for it to stop blooming so we can trim it back some, but it never stops.

Rhododendron

The pansies certainly didn’t care about a cold snap — I think the impatiens got nailed worst, with the butterfly bushes a close second (they look dead, and it’s nearly impossible to kill those dang things). The cherry tree was OK — the wind knocked most of the blooms off and the others weren’t affected. The dogwoods are a little frostbit, but the Flowering Whatever Tree on the garage side of the manor house looks like it got whacked a good one.


I took that strange “film” stuff that Clickzilla uses in for processing. I have a couple of portrait shots I took of some friends of ours, plus that hyacinth I posted a while back, so I’m interested in seeing how they turned out. (I tell you what, I’d pay $1000 for a 4–6MP digital back for that camera. The only thing I’d have to think about is how to get the money together.) I had them order me a couple rolls each of color & B&W film while I was there… I can put one of each in the two film backs I have. If I hadn’t been in a hurry, I would have checked out the lighting equipment they have on display… I have to go back anyway to pick up the prints. A roll of 35mm was laying on Mrs. Fetched’s night stand, and she doesn’t know what it is, so I guess I should take that in too. It would be a good excuse to have an early look at the lighting and other gadgetry, and they could do the 35mm while I was looking at Shiny Things.

Speaking of Shiny Things, I’m way overdue for a podcast. If I can get caught up on everything going on right now, I’ll do one. I recorded me reading a short story (that I haven’t posted here), which I was planning to use for the feature this time.

Sunday, April 22, 2007 3 comments

Visitations

The Boy is still “vacationing” at the Cinder Block Resort, but with any luck he’ll come home tomorrow. We’ve been pretty good about going to see him, and he seems ready to do what’s necessary (or rather, avoid what’s not necessary) to stay out and get his act together. I sure hope he follows through; I think he means what he says right now, but there’s no telling how he’ll feel in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Fetched’s mom is laid up after (successful) knee replacement surgery on Friday. She has gone stir-crazy even faster than The Boy — after three days, she’s impatient to be able to walk and otherwise get back in the game (kitchen, garden, cannery). The plan was to visit The Boy this afternoon after church, then roll on up to the hospital and visit her for a while.

Things rarely go as planned around FAR Manor. Daughter Dearest’s chorus sang at the big Baptist church, and Baptists usually run overtime anyway. We got to the designated restaurant, but the food was slow in coming and it was already past 1:30 (The Boy’s visitation time) when DD and I finished our lunch. Mrs. Fetched suggested we go to see The Boy, they (she and her dad) would go see her mom, and we could come on home.

So I’ve been taking it easy this afternoon. DD needed a portrait in her black dress, so I shot one for her outside (very bright sunny day). I thought I had one more frame of film in Clickzilla, but it was used up — so I grabbed the digital and used it instead. I wrote an entry for my work-stuff blog (under my real name on Yahoo 360) then wrote this post. Now I’m going to do some reading.

With a window open in the living room and in DD’s room upstairs, we’re getting a good draft through the house. Very pleasant outside… I think I’ll take a book and a lawn chair outside and do some reading.

Friday, April 20, 2007 2 comments

Friday Night Cinema

For all those who are broke and hyper… Friday Night Cinema comes to the rescue, with short freebies and free shorties!

Tonight’s feature is rated RR for Really Rude (but hilarious!), and stars Wil Farrell.

The Landlord (from Funny or Die)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 5 comments

Waiting

Current music: BeirutNights Radio

Jimmy Last-Minute brought his tax stuff by late Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the chicken house festoovities prevented me from doing much with them until yesterday night. And of course, he'd left out some crucial information that we needed to expense the tools we bought for his business, which we got this afternoon.

So now his taxes are done, and Intuit’s “Filing Center” is too busy to take an e-file. “Try again in an hour or two,” it suggests. Unfortunately, it’s already past 10 p.m. so it can’t be two hours. I suggested several times yesterday that we file an extension for him and he completely ignored me (not even a “I don’t want to do that”). So I’ll be pinging the server every 10 minutes or so until I get through. WIth any luck, I’ll get through before midnight.

If he doesn’t have everything here before April 1 next year, he can take it to H&R Block for all I care.

Sunday, April 15, 2007 5 comments

Ridiculous

Middle of April? check
Planet Georgia? check

Now could someone explain WHY there is SNOW mixed in with the light rain this afternoon?

As if it couldn’t get any worse, my hands smell like a chicken house.

Someone just shoot me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 5 comments

Easter Magic… in the Strangest Places

A while back, The Boy ended up spending a few days in the clink for a probation violation. He got out, said he was ready to straighten up… and got arrested the very next weekend for underage drinking. Kind of hard to argue when you fall out of a (fortunately parked) car and throw up in front of a cop. Now this, amazingly enough, seemed to get through to him. He spent most of March at home, and was actually reasonable and helpful most of the time. However, last Thursday it was face the music time again: this time, we got to deposit him at the jail… not a pleasant duty, but a duty nonetheless. We had no idea at the time how long he would be there, which is partly why I’ve held off talking about it — I wanted to have a more complete story to tell here.

So our truncated family spent Easter first at church, then at the in-laws’ for lunch. I’d made a batch of Parker House rolls (my grandmother’s recipe), otherwise known as Crack House rolls for their addictive quality, before church; that contribution was taken care of.

I told you that, as Bill Cosby said, to tell you this. Family Man talked about the magic of Easter, and I found some of it in a rather unlikely place.

While we were eating, Mrs. Fetched suggested that I call the jail to see what time The Boy’s visitation times were — “maybe we haven’t already missed it.” Good thought… I called at 12:30, and one of his two times was at 1:30! So I bolted the rest of my meal, skipped dessert, and went on down to the jail. Mrs. Fetched had the chicken houses calling, and a cousin (Splat’s older brother) said he’d come but wimped out, so I went alone.

The waiting area was full — “packed” wouldn’t be exaggerating much. Lots of kids there, some dressed up, some not, all of them in a pretty good mood. None of the people there were members of what might be considered my socio-economic class, but everyone was friendly and upbeat — we all had something in common, after all. It was fun to watch the kids chattering, hopping about, sharing moments with grandparents, undoubtedly jazzed on Easter candy but it was all good because they were about to see someone they loved and cared about.

I settled in to people-watch, figuring The Boy would get delayed what with all the other people in front of me, but then I heard a woman’s voice call his name, then saw me and said, “I didn’t know The Boy was in there! What happened?” I rolled my eyes and she laughed, knowing that got to the root of the matter far more precisely than some ding-a-ling misdemeanor charge — which really is only a symptom of the real problem. Her son was one of The Boy’s best friends for years, and has been into the same kind of stuff he has, so she understands exactly what the problem was. So I stuck my head in the alcove, where there are two visitor stations, and there he was behind the thick plexiglas. An entire family — kids, grandparents, wife, and who-knows who else, were crammed chattering into the second station, but that didn’t matter anymore.

What we talked about wasn’t that important; it seemed that we actually connected for a little while. I really can’t explain it; I got to express some regrets about stuff that I wasn’t able to follow through with, and he seemed amenable to a make-up session. I told him about our planned summer trip, and he seemed to actually look forward to joining us (I hope without a guest riding along this time). The nurse is actually making sure he’s getting his meds and tests done this time (written orders from the endocrinologist helps there), and he thinks he’ll be getting out this week. He says he’s “done with that shit,” and plans to do little else but work and save money through the summer. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe, but it’s so difficult. I can only watch, pray, and hope. Our half-hour went quickly, but at the end we ran out of things to say, and we’re not quite comfortable enough to enjoy silence together (something my dad and I can do), so we wound it up and I promised to be back on Thursday.

All kinds of miraculous things happen on Easter, and often in the strangest places — be it a jailhouse or an empty tomb, but it happens. You just have to be ready to see it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007 5 comments

A Late Freeze

Cherry blossomsWinter, or what passes for winter on Planet Georgia, has made one final visit to FAR Manor:

A BROAD SURFACE RIDGE CONTINUES TO BUILD SOUTH FROM CENTRAL CANADA AS A LARGE UPPER LOW REMAINS ANCHORED OVER SOUTHEAST CANADA. THIS PATTERN ALLOWS COLD CANADIAN AIR TO SPREAD FAR INTO THE SOUTHEAST UNITED STATES. A REINFORCING SURGE OF COLD AIR WAS MOVING THROUGH THE AREA THIS MORNING. TEMPERATURES WILL BE NEAR OR JUST BELOW FREEZING THIS MORNING...AND MOSTLY IN THE 20S SUNDAY MORNING...


Mrs. Fetched is understandably concerned about all the flowering stuff around the manor house, and wanted me to get pictures. Fortunately, I’d already done that except for a close shot of the flowering cherry outside our bedroom window. But as of this morning, it seems the wind (strong all evening and even stronger last night) was crueler than the cold — many of the blossoms got blown off the tree. One was on the ground when I was taking pictures; I took it into Mrs. Fetched.

Fortunately, it looks like it’s going to be slightly warmer tonight than last night, and (if we’re lucky) it will stay above freezing Sunday night. The wind may have rescued much of the fruit crop in the state by preventing frost from forming.

Blackberry Winter came early this year, and stronger than usual. Let’s hope that’s the end of it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007 5 comments

Sprouting!

Basil seedlingsIt took a while, but the basil seeds I saved from previous years’ plants are starting to sprout. I was starting to wonder… and most of the marjoram pots haven’t shown anything yet. But a good dozen basil plants will give me more than enough pesto this year. I might take some to the local farmer’s market later on, when the plants are thriving in the hot sun and I have plenty.

The Pesto King is seeing his domain grow. Unfortunately, we’re in for some below-freezing weather this weekend, so I’ve hauled them all into Studio FARfetched and plugged the electric heater back in. That should keep things happy.

I also bought a spearmint plant and put it over by the rosemary last weekend. It’s already half again as big as it was when I brought it home. The parsley seems to have given up the ghost, but I can get some more. It will probably like the impending chilly weather. I need to get some more oregano, too. I thought I’d saved some seeds from the first plant, but have no clue where they went. One of The Boy’s friends probably tried smoking them. :-P


Lilac bushMeanwhile, the lilac bush out front is blooming better than I’ve ever seen before. Or I might just be paying attention this year. Trying to upstage the dogwoods…

Sunday, April 01, 2007 8 comments

The Joke’s on Me

MegabytePet photography can be… frustrating. I learned that a long time ago (dang, has it really been 24 years?). Megabyte (age 11 months at the time), was in a mellow mood for a change, so I thought it would be cute to get him to pose for a portrait. Getting him to hold still for five seconds, though, turned out to be difficult. He would put his paw down, or stretch, or come over to see what I was doing with the camera. I persisted, though, and finally got the shot.

And what does he do but STICK HIS TONGUE OUT????

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