Archive for the 'This Old House' Category

Let there be steps!

A few months back, I began noticing that when I went in and out of the smokehouse to deal with gardening supplies or to refill the bird feeder, the steps seemed kind of spongy. But awareness does not always equal alarm, and I usually have enough other things going on in my life that if I can’t immediately correct a mildly unpleasant situation, I tend to ignore it and hope it will resolve itself. This theory worked well for me until one day when the sponginess was, shall we say, significantly more prominent, and I perceived a distinct slope to the left on the way up. I still wasn’t especially concerned. After all, I went up and down those stairs every few days – albeit gingerly – and I just figured one or two of the steps was loose or something. I’d never really examined them very closely, but I figured I could just ask Scott to tighten them up.

I already knew the second step from the bottom had previously split lengthwise, and so I was accustomed to being very careful with it. And the very bottom step, the one that essentially sat on the ground, was also beginning to split lengthwise and therefore rocked back and forth a bit, but since it was almost totally supported by earth, that in and of itself was also not a problem that warranted attention.

But this ever-increasing slope to the left – now that was a whole ‘nother thing; enough to cause me to examine the steps more closely, and what I saw explained the problem.


This was indeed a problem.

For several weeks, I just gingerly walked up and down only on the far right (going up) side of the steps, but one day Scott was hauling the cuppers boards up into the smokehouse and forgot to walk only on the right, and the thing cracked loudly.

Sometimes when Scott is feeling especially magnanimous, he says to me, “Is there anything you’d really like me to do for you?” And I have learned to ALWAYS have an answer – or three – at the ready. So the next time he made such an inquiry, I immediately replied that I’d like the smokehouse steps repaired or replaced. I didn’t care which. I just wanted to be able to get in there with my gardening stuff.

Scott examined and evaluated the situation and then asked our friend Ron, who works as a handyman, to look at it. Ron did and he agreed to help Scott replace the steps. Wonderful! It was expected to take a couple hours of what ended up being the coldest Saturday morning yet this season, but due to some possible miscalculations on the part of the guys, and due to Menard’s selling them the wrong size stringers not once, but twice(!), which resulted in multiple trips back and forth to Hollister, it ended up being a parts-of-several-days project.

First, the guys removed the treads. Note the absence of the cracked step that sat on the ground.

Then the ripped out the stringers. (I’m proud that I looked up what you call those side pieces that the tread sit on. “Stringers” is my new vocabulary word for the day.) If you scroll up, you can see that the old steps were mounted on little side support boards that were screwed into the straight stringers. So in the old days, whoever built them just set the stringers and then could decide how many steps to add and where to put those side support boards. But the new plan was to buy stringers that were already cut with zig-zags and have the new treads be screwed directly into the stringers themselves. Having the old stringers removed left the smokehouse looking high and dry and kind of lonely.

Andrew was home for a few hours one day, and Scott asked him to help do something smokehouse steps-related; I’m not sure what it was, but they did it with enthusiasm.


Then Ron came over one evening after work, and he and Scott assembled the new steps.

Since they were doing it up right, and since the bottom step wasn’t going to rest on the ground – the old bottom step sat on the ground only because dirt had washed in from somewhere and piled up under it over the years – the bases of the stringers had to be on something firm. They weren’t going to pour concrete, but Scott said we had some flat, brick-like things that would work. They were actually holding up the camper, sort of. One was under the thing that you crank down to the ground when you set up the camper, and the other was somewhere else in the toyport. Scott hauled them down to the smokehouse, and they worked perfectly. I think you can see them in the above picture.

I thought it would take hours of work, but once they finally obtained the right stringers, got them set on the “foundation” stones, and attached them to the – well, what do you call that long piece of wood at the bottom of the doorway anyway? the foundation? the floor joist? – the whatever it is that the smokehouse floor is more or less nailed to, well it went really quickly after that. Darkness did fall, but they finished the deed, and here’s the proof:


And I’m telling you, those steps are absolutely rock solid. Not a bit of wiggle, and definitely no sponginess. Thank you, Ron and Scott!


I’ve mentioned previously that here in my late fifties, I’m finding that my experience of time seems to expand and contract like elastic. In some ways time is going way too fast, and in other ways what seems to be short is actually quite long.

Our fridge light has been on the fritz for several weeks. Initially it blinked intermittently – a truly obnoxious situation when one is bent down, peering in, and trying to figure out what needs to be used up first. For a while I tried to ignore the problem, but eventually I decided that the bulb must be about to burn out and I should just go ahead and replace it, for crying out loud. I put “appliance bulb” on the Walmart list, but the day before that shopping spree, I happened to look in the dishwasher and, SURPRISE! I already HAD a spare appliance bulb. Wowza! One point for the homemaker who at some point in the past had planned ahead.

I unscrewed the old defective bulb, screwed the new one in, and… it did the exact same thing. Ugh. The bulb was clearly not the problem, so I figured I’d save the new one; I just put the old one back in. Then after a few more days of intermittent blinking, it started just not coming on at all. This exasperated me, but I thought to myself, “I really shouldn’t be so frustrated about this. I mean, we have a great fridge. We have lots of food. Am I really justified in complaining because the fridge doesn’t automatically light up (and stay lit up) when I open the door? How ‘entitled’ is that?!?” 

I asked Scott to look into it (no pun intended), and he did all same the things I had done with the same results, so we just lived with the strobe effect for a few more days. Until the day I discovered that our treasured and much-enjoyed pineapple dip had turned blue, buried back in the fridge where we never saw it because it was too dark in there. After a moment of appropriate and respectful sadness, I threw out the dip and told Scott that it might be time for us to suck it up and actually pay Mintex a service call to come fix the silly thing, before something even more important succumbed in the darkness. Following which comment he said in a questioning tone, “We shouldn’t be having a problem with it. It’s a new fridge. We haven’t had it very long. Maybe three or four years.”

To which I replied, joking, “It’s probably closer to ten years! Hey, look on the side.”

When we bought the fridge, we had taped some paperwork about it, maybe warranty information(?), to the left (far) side, the side you can only see when you come up the cellar stairs or walk out of the pantry. Scott studied the left side of the fridge and eventually said, “Hmm.”

“Hmm?!? What does ‘hmm’ mean?”

“It says here we bought it on April 26… 2010”

“Seriously?!?” tells me that was 9 years, 5 months, and 18 days ago!

Scott did do something to the light – screwed the bulb in more firmly? – and now it’s working perfectly, but our “new” fridge is getting pretty close to ten years old!

Let there be light

On 9/11 the first two walnuts fell. One landed about halfway down the driveway, and the other must’ve hit the near side of the playroom roof and rolled down. It landed on the sidewalk just outside the front breezeway door. (Breezeway doors require direction or room affiliation, since there are four of them.)

Walnuts are much like tennis balls. At any time, if you unknowingly step on one, you are likely to lose your balance, and later in the fall when there are dozens or hundreds of walnuts buried under thousands of leaves, stepping on an unseen walnut is almost guaranteed to make one stumble and possibly fall. Therefore, particularly at this time of year, it is pretty important to be able to see those treacherous green balls. Especially at night.

We have a security light mounted up on the playroom above the garage door. It is motion-activated, but in recent months, it has taken to not coming on unless you stand on the driveway and wildly wave your arms – and even then, not until you walk some ten steps toward your vehicle. This is rather useless if you’re trying to avoid walnuts when leaving the house, and it’s even worse when coming home in the dark because to get it to come on, you have to exit your car and walk almost all the way to the door – carrying your whatever – while waving your arms wildly.

Why, you ask, don’t you just park up closer to the playroom/garage door? Two reasons:

  1. Farther up the driveway and near the playroom, we have two walnut trees. Birds like to hang out in these trees, and they consider these trees to be their toilets. If one parks at all close to either of them, one’s car will be liberally decorated with white polka-dots the next time one gets in it. Once in the past I counted 70 polka-dots applied to my just-washed Durango over one night. In addition, the walnut trees keep growing, so each year their reach (and hence the size of the avian toilets) extends farther and farther down the driveway.
  2. Farther up the driveway and near the playroom, we have two walnut trees. In the spring these trees produce yellow-green pollen in excessive amounts. Said pollen coats any vehicles parked within 50 feet of these trees. In the fall our walnut trees exude a sticky aerosol “mist” of sap that thoroughly coats any vehicles parked under or within “spraying” distance of them; which distance is affected by windspeed and hence cannot be accurately calculated. The result resembles the lumpy, glass that used to be used in bathroom windows. In addition, the walnut trees keep growing, so each year, their reach (and hence the scope of their nebulizer effect) extends farther and farther down the driveway.

So I keep parking the Durango farther and farther down the driveway. Worse, not only is my car-to-door distance steadily increasing, a couple months ago the security light decided that even when all my acrobatics DO cause it to come on, it will only stay on for a total of four seconds. After that, if I still want to see where I’m going, I need to repeat my wild arm-flailing routine. And now that it’s getting dark earlier, and the walnuts have begun falling, and the leaves will soon be drifting, I have told my husband that I would really like to have a motion-detector light out there that actually works.

My Hero gave me one! Yesterday he made a couple trips to town, spent quite a while on a ladder, persevered through MANY frustrations of various types for an extended period of time, and installed a glorious new security light on the front of the playroom! It works well, and one of our (hopefully quick little) tasks this evening will be to set its distance and duration.  Here’s a shot of it in daylight, just to prove that it really exists. I’m having trouble transferring pictures from my phone to my computer, so you’ll just have to trust me that it really does light up at night.


This new light makes me very happy!

Cool as a cucumber

And I don’t even like cucumbers.

I had trouble sleeping last night, and I think it was because I was hot. In my current season of my life I get to deal with hot flashes and night sweats, so at 2:30 AM, I set the AC down from 76 to 75 and eventually got back to sleep. However, when I woke up, our room still seemed awfully warm. Turns out it was 82 downstairs, even though the thermostat was set at 75 and the air conditioner was running. Something was wrong.

I called our trusty heat and air guys at 7:50 AM, and they told me they were heading out to do an attic install (can you imagine? the high today was forecast to be 96!) and said they could come at 9:00 tomorrow morning. That was OK with me. I figured I could turn on the attic unit, which hasn’t been running since Andrew went back to college, and it would do fine in the second floor for a day and a night. i’d just minimize my time on the first floor.  = )

I was pleasantly surprised when Brett and Dan showed up at 2:30 PM, having gotten their attic install far enough along to give their other customers air (they’ll finish it up tomorrow), and decided to come by our house. Super nice guys. Ministry supporters too. Scott had told me that that unit shouldn’t need major service because it wasn’t very old. He was half right. A capacitor – actually only one half of a capacitor, the fan half – had gone bad, and it was a quick and minor repair. I am so thankful. However, they checked the serial number on the unit, and it was dated 2002! That puppy is 17 years old!

I’ve found this time/memory disconnect to be an interesting aspect of being in one’s fifties, especially where appliances are concerned. I know it’s not just me, because it clearly affects Scott too. For example, it seems like we got our “new” fridge just a few years ago, maybe three or four, but it’s probably been more like seven or eight. And I know we had to replace the stove a while ago. I’m pretty sure that was shortly before the Browns moved back to Delaware, which should definitely be five years ago, max, but now that I think about it, it’s probably more like seven. (I just dug out the owner’s manual; we bought that stove in 2010, NINE years ago!) It’s clear that time keeps speeding up. I don’t know how that works, but Josiah could probably explain it to me; physics and the expanding universe and the relationship between energy and matter and time…

Anyway, today I’m really thankful that we’re blessed to have air conditioning and speedy heat and air service men. I’m not quite as cool as a cucumber, but the temp in here just passed 80 on the way down.


I really need to get in the habit of taking “before” pictures.

Decluttering my life is very fulfilling and brings me a lot of pleasure. Actually, I’ve been “kinda sorta” working on it off and on for many years, but it’s become a primary, regular focus in the past eighteen months or so. Decluttering applies to all kinds of stuff: digital stuff (scrolling through files), emotional stuff (working through feelings), and physical stuff (sorting through piles, boxes, drawers, shelves… and smokehouses).

I tend to take pictures of a space after it’s been decluttered because I’m so proud of having finished the task and I’m so pleased with the fresh, new look. But whenever I take those “after” pictures, I always regret that I didn’t think (or was too ashamed) to take a “before” picture, so that there’s no documentation to show the comparison.

In this instance, I once again forgot to take pictures of the smokehouse before Scott and I tackled it, but those of you who have seen it may remember – or can imagine – how embarrassingly messy and dirty and piled-up it was.

Well, here’s how it looks now. This first picture is looking straight in through the door toward the backyard side and far right corner. I tied all the tomato stakes in same-size bundles, and we threw out several tubs of junk. I think the Chuck Pennel sign adds a colorful and sentimental touch.

Turning 90 degrees to the right, this one faces the Coffee Road side and corner nearest the laundry room door. We moved the shelf from where it had been (straight ahead when you walked in) to this corner, where the two beat-up, super-heavy file cabinets full of birds’ nests and other grahdoo had been. Scott insisted on keeping the slightly shredded kickball bases and all the scraps of wood. I agreed as long as the wood was neatly stacked (it is), and the other items were totally contained on the shelves (they are.)

Another 90 degree turn to the right has me facing the house side, where we hung our sleds. We ditched a number of the plastic ones because they were cracked or defective in some way. I was also going to ditch the wooden sled with metal runners because the runners are bent so that I’m thinking you can’t sled on it, but Scott said, “Oh, but isn’t it a heritage item?!?” And yes, of course it is. It’s the sled we had on Kingoak Drive when I was a kid. We moved it to NLR where it almost never snows – although we did usually get a nice ice storm the second week of January – and it came with me to Missouri. We Robertses used it for years to sled down Smart Lane before Mr. Zahner had it paved. The sled still says “VARNER” on the bottom in my dad’s handwriting, and Scott’s right: it is precious enough to merit a place in the smokehouse, even though it may not be functional. Although now that I think about it, there may be a way to straighten out those runners… hmm… It’s hanging up behind the red and green sleds.

One more turn to the right leaves us facing my gardening shelf, which I cleared off, throwing out a truly crazy number of pots, saucers, and useless items, and retaining only the essential products and tools I actually use. The orange bucket and green tub were cleaned and relocated to the playroom, and the pots to the left of the orange bucket were neatly re-stacked after this picture was taken. We swept up a Pigpen-sized cloud/pile of dirt, and then, since it is, after all, the smokehouse, we shoved as much of that pile as possible down into the large cracks between the uneven sheets of plywood flooring. What we couldn’t shove down we scooped up into a tub of junk that went out to the street where Raintree Disposal gladly hauled it off.

I am very satisfied with the results. Now I can go into the smokehouse with pleasure instead of dread. Over time, I’m expecting the same to become true of the rest of my life.  = )

Overly ambitious

Given our innate differences in personality (introvert/extrovert), our differences in what we consider fun, fulfilling, or energizing (“why do something with people that your could do by yourself?” vs. “why do something alone if you could do it with someone else?”), my current physical limitations (minor knee issue, major foot issues), and my ever-increasing “loss fatigue” (weariness with and resentment about nearly always losing to Scott – even at pure luck games!!!), we have been challenged lately to come up with things that we enjoy doing together. But we have realized that we both very much like to declutter. = )

We’ve successfully tackled the kitchen junk drawer and one or two other small areas, but I think we bit off more than we could chew with our choice the other day to “set a timer for 30 minutes and clean off the high shelf in the shop building.” Now really, what WERE we thinking?

For one thing, the shop is full of all kinds of things about which we disagree. More accurately, there are many items in the shop that we agree we don’t need to keep, but in most cases, I want to throw it out and Scott wants to give it to someone who could use it.

For another thing, even getting to the high shelf is a bit of a logistical challenge. I didn’t think to take any before pictures, but here’s the shop interior as we left it 30 or 40 minutes later.

While Scott navigated around the bike, stood on the end table, and pulled himself up onto the armoire, I fulfilled rather useless tasks like driving the Durango up to the shop and then walking back and forth to the house to get a broom and dustpan, enabling My Hero to handle all the climbing and heavy lifting. He’s a gentleman, for sure.

I could see the blue baby bath and a bed rail, and I knew the Christmas stuff was up there (~4 boxes), but the number of additional boxes he hauled down was truly impressive. Even more impressive was the fact that most of those boxes had numbers on them.  I had labeled those boxes with Sharpie marker numbers when we packed them in Little Rock 23 years ago, and I had listed in a small red notebook the main contents of each numbered box. As Scott heaved them down, weaved around the piles of furniture, stumbled over the rolled-up carpet, and hoisted them into the back of the Durango, he panted, “Some of these boxes we haven’t looked at since we moved! “My college textbooks; why on earth do I have these?”

“You don’t even like to read.”

“I never read them in school.”

[Note that my husband completed his bachelor’s degree in pure mathematics at one of the most academically rigorous schools in the state in three years without reading any books. I’m telling you, the guy is really, really smart. A scholar and a gentleman.]

“And if you didn’t read them then, you’ll surely never read them now! Even if you did want to read something, you wouldn’t pick up a 35-year-old college textbook. Throw them out!!!”

And so it went.





But there were also a number of boxes of sentimental things, and on those I decided that I (or maybe even “we”) would need to go through those boxes, reminisce, cry, save a FEW especially meaningful items, take pictures of some – or a lot – of the others, and then either throw them out (my preference) or give them to someone who can use them (Scott’s preference).

In the meantime, our excessive ambition means I won’t have to worry about losing at pool any time soon.

Timing the strawberries?

Why is your travel alarm in the fridge, Patty?

It’s an understandable question.

I noticed a few months ago that the milk had been going bad early. Well, the Hiland didn’t, but the Walmart did. Repeatedly. So I turned the fridge somewhat colder and promptly forgot about it until several weeks later, when there wasn’t any appreciable change in the shelf life of our milk, but the lettuce and tomatoes were just a notch shy of frozen. Hmm.  So I nudged the fridge temp back up a skoash.

Then last week I began to wonder what temp the fridge actually was. And what temp it was supposed to be. To answer the first question, I needed a thermometer. The one that hangs in the oven only goes down to 100 F, so that was no help. But Scott had a brilliant idea. He brought in the little transmitter gizmo that hangs on the side of the smokehouse. We have its partner on the windowsill in our office, and that’s how we know what the temp is outside. The set has been setting there and showing us the temp for four or five years. It seems like only three years, but I have learned that nowadays those “seems likes” are always off. As in, it seems like we’ve had the new stove for about four years, but it’s really been seven. Or, it seems like I bought that can opener about five years ago, but it’s really been nine.

We also have the big round, cheap, Walmart thermometer hanging on the smokehouse facing the house, but it’s not very precise – only good for a range of, say, about ten degrees. It lets us know at a glance if the temp is 74 or 86 (depending on whether or not the sun is shining on it), but that’s about it. For more detailed info, we go with the digital one in the office. It has a button on top that, when pressed, toggles between “Indoors” and “Outdoors,” but we never think to press that button, figuring that since we’re by definition standing inside when we’re looking at it, we can already tell whether we’re hot, cold, or comfortable.

So Scott brought in the little gizmo and plopped it in the fridge, and an hour later, it read “73 F.” But the next day, it read “73 F.” As it did four hours after four more hours reposing in the fridge. That was alarming, to say the least. So we took it out of the fridge and set it on the kitchen counter where, for the next two days, it continued to read 73 F. Which was probably pretty close to accurate, although we do leave our thermostat at 80 during the day and 74 at night…?

It then occurred to me that our ACME wonder thermometer that had served us so well for (well, I guess I don’t really know how) many years, was either dead, dying, or… or maybe it needed new batteries! Of course, I didn’t have enough of the right size, so that would have to wait for a Walmart run, but in the meantime, I remembered that my nifty orange travel alarm always has a digital read-out of the ambient temperature. Aha! I got it out of my toiletries bag and set it in the fridge on top of a a clam shell of strawberries. Fifteen minutes later, it read 33 F. Finally! I googgled ideal fridge temp a, arrived at 36 F, and then played around with the fridge temp dial for parts of two days till I got it to stay at 36.

My travel alarm is back where it belongs, our high tech thermometer is doing well, our milk is cold, and our lettuce is crisp but not icy. All is well in the Shade.

Jeopardy question: What is 37?

Answer: The number of minutes it takes to cut up the [massive, thick, huge] box in which a new white, Kohler, round bowl toilet is packaged.

While Scott was away in Africa, I decided to clean the second floor (formerly “the boys'”) bathroom. That facility is no longer in daily use, Andrew having relocated to the third floor in June. He now sleeps and showers in the attic (formerly “Katie’s”) bedroom and bathroom. However, before moving on up, I did have him thoroughly clean the boys’ bathroom, so last week it didn’t really need much cleaning. Actually all I have to do in there regularly is clean the toilet because our hard water leaves rings in the bowl after about ten days.

While thus scrubbing the interior of the throne, I was dismayed to see a one-inch-wide ribbon of water standing around a fourth of its base. Ugh. Unfortunately, This Old House has proven time and time again that modern plumbing, while truly a wonderful thing, does by definition present two specific challenges: bringing water in and getting water back out. A flaw in either of those processes equals leaks, and those are never pleasurable and rarely quick or easy to resolve.

I could’ve called our good plumber friend (and rescuer from many calamities over the past twenty years), Mr. Bill, but since the water did not reappear after I dried it up, and since Scott would be home in only a couple of days, I waited.

Upon his return and examination of the problem, Scott determined that it was a wax ring problem, and over a couple of days, a couple of trips to Home Depot, and a couple of conversations with Mr. Bill, he was very pleased to have the repair 97% complete. He was tightening the base screws when I heard from around the corner a very loud “Oh, NO!!!” followed immediately by an equally loud “I can’t BELIEVE it!” The porcelain base of the throne had… cracked. Aarrgghh! Scott guessed he’d tightened the screws too far, and he was SO disappointed and aggravated with himself. This would mean buying a new toilet, and we did that little task after the church picnic and baptism this afternoon.

We’d already looked online at toilets, and Scott had figured out which one he planned to buy. We wanted to spend as little as possible to get a decent toilet, and my only stipulations were that it be white and have a round bowl. And while perusing the pertinent aisle where the boxed toilets were all stored beneath their respective at-eye-level (for Scott!) display models – were they strategically mounted off the floor so they could not be test driven? – I saw a box with this label, which reminded me of “plums in the toilet” and did make me smile:

My actual comment to Scott was, “How’d you like THAT in your septic tank?!?”

This was not the one we bought, but we did learn that boxed toilets are significantly hefty items. A friendly Home Depot man helped Scott load our trusty Kohler #K-11464-0 into the Durango, but there was no way for him to carry it in and up to the second floor (“rarely quick or easy”) alone. I being no help whatsoever in the lifting department, he had to unbox the beast inside the Durango and haul it upstairs in two pieces. His role was to follow all those little diagrams and instructions and mount the thing. (I will note that although the box did as advertised contain “everything needed to install the toilet,” the project also involved a finer variety of tools, including a hacksaw and a level.) My role was to cut up the box.

We recycle cardboard and plastic weekly, and since the recycle center wants the former broken down flat, I keep a box cutter in the med basket to cut up boxes. This toilet box was SO BIG and had SO MANY layers of SUCH THICK cardboard that it took me 37 minutes to cut it all up into pieces that would fit in my recycle boxes! But we got er done, and I’ll make a nice recycle run in the morning.

Meanwhile, Scott finished the job perfectly, cleaned up all the mess, put away all the tools, and then invited me (his Queenie-Poo) to witness the initial (royal?) flush. He pressed the lever, bowl water (but no golf balls) went down and out, and tank water came in. Like a boss! Now all is well in the boys’ bathroom, which Katie will be using when she visits on Saturday.

Yesterday we put an old school desk out by the road and it was gone in three hours.

Today Scott put an old but clean toilet bowl with cracked base out by the road. Hmm… Come to think of it, the tank may still be on the porch swing… Anyway, Scott is sure the trash truck will take it on Tuesday morning with their regular pick up. I hope he’s right, but maybe someone else will make off with it before then. After all, we do live in the Ozarks!

Why do we have water?

Because she likes exploring.

Like her mom and sister, Jessica loves to explore remote country roads. Several years ago, on such a trek she found Lone Star Church. She knows I also delight in such finds, and when she took me out there to see the church, we happened to meet Pastor K, who happened to be there doing some grounds work. Jessica wasn’t even dating anyone at the time, but the building is very quaint and unique, and she told me she thought it would be a wonderful place to get married.

Roll the clock forward a couple years… Once Jessica and Matthias were engaged, she asked me to contact Pastor K about possibly using Lone Star Church for the ceremony. He didn’t know me, so when I called, I gave him my name and explained that our daughter, who was a missionary in Hong Kong, had seen the church and fallen in love with it and wanted to know if she could rent it for her upcoming wedding. No, he said, she could not rent it, but she could use it for free. (Amazing!) And by the way, he wanted to know, how did she get her support? Their church was looking for a missionary to support… And that was the beginning of Pastor K and his wife and and Lone Star Church getting to know Jessica (and later Matthias), inviting Jessica to minister at their church, and supporting them monthly. That connection also led to them meeting Scott, inviting him to minister at their church, and supporting him. And in all of that, we got to know a bit about Pastor K and his wife, including the fact that his day job is running a backhoe; he has a one-man, two machine excavating business.

Which is why, when Scott and I learned yesterday that we needed to dig a 190-foot trench diagonally across the back yard to bury the electrical line that we fondly and fervently hoped would power our pump and once again allow us to enjoy the luxury of running water, we wondered aloud together about who we might know who could dig us such a trench at a good price. After all, when one must have one’s entire back yard sliced with a trench on short notice – as in “right NOW” would be just dandy – one doesn’t really want to just “look in the phone book” (does anyone really do that anymore?) and pick a company.

So I said, “You know, Pastor K has an excavation company. Maybe he could dig us a trench.”

Scott said that was a brilliant idea, called him, and left a message. That was yesterday afternoon.

Scott didn’t hear back, so this morning, knowing Pastor K to be an early riser (he and Scott once met for breakfast at 6:30 AM), Scott called him again at 7:00 and explained the situation. Pastor K recommended his friend J, who also attends Lone Star Church, lives in Bradleyville, and also owns a piece of machinery that would be appropriate for such a job. And it turns out, J is also a monthly supporter of Take the Challenge. Small world.  = ) Scott called at J at 9:30 AM, and he arrived at our house at 12:15 with a nifty Case machine (a bulldozer? a tractor? an excavator? I don’t know, but it has all these nifty attachments to do all kinds of different things, and it even bends in the middle!) on a big trailer, a bucket of tools, a great attitude, a strong body, a creative mind, and a readiness to do whatever it took to get us up and running again.

Meanwhile, I had planned to be at the church working on the bulletin this morning, but when I realized (standing in my birthday suit in our tub with the faucet on and nothing coming out) that I couldn’t shower after my sweaty walk, I put my nasty, smelly clothes back on, loaded my backpack with clean clothes and other necessities, and went on up to the church, where I was grateful to be able to take a shower before doing the bulletin, a fact for which I’m sure Cheryl was thankful.

And back at our house, J worked steadily and cheerfully in the 90 degree, 90% relative humidity weather from 12:15 PM till 6:55 PM:

~ surveying the situation and making a plan

~ digging the trench

~ ordering the materials (initially electrical cable and PVC conduit and connectors; later junction boxes and few other odds and ends)

~ disconnecting the existing power line at both ends

~ dismantling the decrepit electrical fixtures on the smokehouse (this required extreme physical strength and mental resourcefulness; no repair or remodel related to our 105-year-old house is ever easy or simple)

~ laying the electrical cable alongside the trench

~ threading some 22 eight-foot sections of conduit onto the cable and gluing them together

~ completely changing the way power was routed into and out of the shop building (this required removing a section of our “Chuck-resistant” underpinning at the base of the shop) and bringing it all up to code (it may well be that there was no code when the pump was initially wired!)

~ moving the conduit into the trench

~ mounting new junction boxes at each end (including replacing the one inside the well house that was “well, pretty dicey”)

~ re-connecting the power, confirming that the pump was running, and rejoicing that we did indeed have water (YAY!!!!)

~ using the Case machine to put the dirt back in the trench and pack it down (so many hand controls so deftly maneuvered)

~ cleaning everything up, gathering his tools, and re-loading the Case machine (watching him get it up onto the trailer without a ramp was worth selling tickets)

We paid something like $320 for the materials, but as far as paying J personally, he said he was donating his time(?!?), that it cost $25/hour to run the machine, and a check for $50 would be just right. (!!!!!!!) I could NOT believe it. I was so overwhelmed it made me cry. I told him how VERY much we appreciated his expertise, his equipment, and his quality work. He said, “It’s an offering. You guys are doing something that’s making an eternal difference, and I get to be a part and help. God helps me and I like to be able to help someone who’s doing his work.” And with that and a grin, he threaded that big old trailer back down our driveway and drove 23 miles home.

Now all things electrical between the house and the well house are fixed and fixed right; much better than they’ve ever been in the 21 years we’ve lived here.

And today we have water because Jessica loves to explore remote country roads.  = )


Everything but the kitchen sink

I was relaxing in my favorite green chair in the living room while Scott was taking his shower this morning. Our bathroom is directly over that chair, and partway through his shower I heard from above – in addition to the WORLD News podcast he often listens to when showering – a very loud and somewhat rhythmic thumping. I couldn’t figure out what he could possibly be doing up there other than maybe… dancing?!?

Oh, well.

And then – for the most obvious reason – I visited the first floor bathroom, and when I flushed, the toilet commenced a most disturbing mighty roaring and thumping sound that made me jump. I hollered up to My Hero who concurred that there was “something wrong with the water.” Indeed. Back in the kitchen, I turned on that faucet and it just sputtered. Hmm… A bit of investigative research on Scott’s part revealed that yes, the holding tank in the well house was empty, and no, the pump wasn’t running, but it turns out that wasn’t because the pump had died. It was because the power line that runs diagonally across the back yard from the clothesline pole (where power comes onto our property) to the well house was severed. Evidently some heavy overhanging limb had blown against it and snapped it. This was not good, but a lack of power is better than a dead pump, especially since we had plenty of power in the house.

There were no limbs down in the yard, but one end of the power line from the clothesline pole was just lying in the yard. Probably still live. And it looked like it was about to rain.

The inconveniences caused by having faucets that produce no water became obvious pretty quickly. I was thirsty and my water bottle was empty… but I couldn’t fill it. It was time to make lunch… but I couldn’t wash my hands. I had just spent 75 minutes putting away a massive grocery run, and because that had involved a lot of food prep (dividing, organizing, chopping, etc.) and because some of last night’s dishes and cooking pots were still on the counter, I had a LOT of dishes to wash before I could even create counter space to make our lunch salads… but I couldn’t wash the dishes – or even wet a cloth to wipe off the very small bit of counter space I could clear. I usually use hot soapy water to wipe the counters, but I figured that in a pinch I could just squirt a little cool water onto a dish cloth from my water bottle… but wait; my water bottle was empty. Etc.

We do use water for many tasks. Drinking, washing dishes, washing clothes, showering, flushing, you name it. So I contacted a couple neighbors to ask permission to use their outside faucets to fill some jugs and other assorted containers, after which, much like the woman in 2 Kings 4, Scott took a great number of empty vessels, “not a few,” loaded them in the Durango, and went to get water. Unfortunately, it poured down rain for about five minutes in the midst of his journey, but Scott is never easily deterred. He made a successful trek and returned home with our small yellow water cooler, our large red water cooler, our soup kettle, our massive canner, and our new blue ice chest all totally full of water. The back carpet of the Durango was also soaked, but wet Durango carpet is not newsworthy. The driver’s seat carpet was already wet because we’ve had a couple days of rain.

We now had plenty of containers of water, so we set some to heat for later dish washing and then enjoyed our salads while I soundly beat Scott at Minus Five.

Meanwhile, he contacted a workman who had done the wiring for the hot tub at the Alpine to see if he could come and advise us on how to deal with the live wire out back and how to restore power to the pump.

I will say that doing that massive lunch clean up was significantly less than recreational, but by pretending I was camping in the kitchen I was able to keep a good attitude. Of course I did have hot water and dish soap to wash the items, but I had no way to rinse the greasy ones before washing, so the water got pretty nasty pretty quickly. And then there was the matter of rinsing the soap off afterwards, but I figured out that by balancing the yellow jug on the edge of the sink and squeezing the spigot valve, I was able to fill the watering can, which it proved ideal for rinsing off soap suds.

Shortly after I finished the dishes – and be it noted that the tower in the dish drainer is impressive – only 90 minutes after Scott called, Tim arrived, and Scott went out with him to survey the situation. They decided that a ditch would need to be dug diagonally across the yard from the clothesline pole to the well house, but until we could arrange that little excavation project, Tim had rigged us up a temporary power-to-the-pump fix. I looked out back and saw what appeared to be an orange extension cord strung through the trees. While that did give me pause, I certainly knew better than to complain, so I just rejoiced with Scott that we could once again have running water. He confirmed that the pump was working, and I suggested the name of a friend who might give us a good deal on ditch digging.

We walked back into the kitchen and turned on the faucet, but (read it and weep) no water came out. Well, that kind of made sense; the line had gone completely dry, so it would probably take a few minutes for the holding tank to fill and water to run back into the house. Meanwhile, Scott walked through the house turning on other faucets, all of which worked just fine. It’s now been an hour or so, and without exception, every single faucet, tub, shower, toilet, and washing machine in the entire house is working perfectly, except for the faucet in the kitchen, which we use all day every day, and out of which comes absolutely nothing, no matter what.

Hence the title of this blog.  = )


[Update four hours later: After church, Scott called Mr. Bill, who in less than 30 seconds diagnosed the problem as a clogged aerator filter on the end of the faucet. Mr. Bill is rarely wrong and this case was no exception. The filter was totally full of what appeared to be mud, which offending sediment has been removed, and as a bonus for the past year of generally uninterrupted service, our friendly filter is now enjoying a relaxing overnight vinegar soak.]

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