Archive for the 'This Old House' Category

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!

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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.]

Sideways

It comes of not having a dishwasher, or, more accurately, of having a dishwasher full of light bulbs.

I was working in the kitchen and rinsing something or the other, when I noticed that the rinse sink was filling with water. A bit odd, but I know that I should run the disposal at least once a day, and sometimes I forget, so I flipped it on, thinking that that would clear it out and suck out the accumulating standing water. Well! You probably can’t imagine the horrid grinding noise that ensued. Within two seconds, I had shut off the disposal, and I stood there, wondering (a), what was wrong and (b), what to do about it.

We’ve had disposal issues before. To say the least. Stories could be told. The sound had been something akin to the sound when a peach stone got down in there. It was a terrific noise, so I was sure that whatever was down there was an item of, well, substance. Now, I’ve never relished reaching down into the disposal. I’m of the firm conviction that dealing with disposal contents is much like dealing with backed up septic systems, Personally, I think that full disposals fall into the same category as backed-up septic systems, clogged bathtub drain, snakes in the cellar, or evidence of in-house visits by any members of the order Rodentia. That is, a MAN should deal with them! Problem was that my man was out of the house for a little while; maybe 30 minutes.

I decided to be brave the potential slime and reach down in there. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? Well, I actually felt it before I saw it. (It’s hard to see much of anything in a disposal.) Something hard. Very hard. And smooth. Very smooth. At which point I pulled my hand out – and it was NOT slimy, whew! – and looked down in there and saw something clear… a juice glass!!! Of course! No problem. We’ve done this before. And we know that the very best was to get broken glass out of one’s disposal is to use the shop vac. But wait. I reached back in very carefully. This particular juice glass didn’t seem to be broken. Juice glasses are, you know, the perfect size to slide down into the disposal, and when they are not broken (and therefore not candidates for the tried-and-true SVEP, shop vac evacuation procedure), the trick is to spend way too much time trying to grasp the wet, slippery little glass and pull it up and out. The usual method is to eventually give up on trying to grab the rim of the glass (which can’t be done) and resort instead to a process of putting one’s hand IN the glass and trying to press out with enough force to prevent slippage while simultaneously pulling up and thereby completing the extrication. This latter was my intended plan of attack, but sadly it proved absolutely impossible because this particular juice glass had managed to position itself – are you ready? – on its side down in the disposal.

Oh, my.

In the spirit of loving my lips, I immediately realized that “This [was] more serious than I thought.”

The problems with it being on its side were that (a), it could not be righted, and (b), it could not be pulled out until it was.

At which point, I gave up but tried not to cry. And waited for Scott, who arrived home in a few minutes to a somewhat frazzled wife, who apologized profusely while explaining the situation. Scott is a problem solver extraordinaire, so I was sure that in a few minutes he would have the juice glass out of the disposal and all would be well, but one beach towel, one flashlight, one screwdriver, a few other tools, and a few minutes later, while he had indeed loosened the disposal enough that it would twist around a bit in the sink, he had removed neither the disposal from the sink nor the offending juice glass from the disposal. And he said, “I think the wisest thing to do is call Mr. Bill.”

Please do not, Dear Reader, construe that statement to mean that Scott was planning to call Mr. Bill. Oh, no. It simply means that I then had permission to call Mr. Bill. Which I did.  = )  He happened to be home (that’s nice; only .1 mile away), and said that yes, he’d be willing to look at it for me, but that he and LaShell had a guest coming for dinner (this was about 5:30 PM on a Friday), he didn’t know if the guest was there because he was just getting out of the shower, and could I give him about ten minutes. Yes, of course!

As it turned out, Mr. Bill arrived in ten minutes with his plumber’s tool bag in hand (but without his reading glasses – boo hiss), and in just a very few minutes he had the disposal out of the sink. And then came the real challenge: how to get that pesky juice glass out? He played around with it for a bit and suddenly the juice glass twisted itself enough for him to lift it straight out. Voila! He instructed Scott on how to put it all back together – minus the juice glass, of course – and returned home to his dinner and guest; the guest who, by the way, had been at their home when Mr. Bill departed for our house. Scott reassembled everything, found a minor leak that needed some play-dough-like putty stuff, applied that, and all is well. The juice glass has been very well washed and is no worse for the wear.

Those who have drunk juice at our house in the past may recall that we have two sizes/styles of juice glasses: the shorter, squattier and the taller, thinner. Had this guy been short and squatty, I could have manipulated him (think turning a breech baby from the outside) into an upright position, but as he was tall and thin, that was not possible. He was too tall to turn and stand up, which makes Mr. Bill’s success even more amazing.

Moral of the story: If your dishwasher is full of light bulbs because you like the taste of your hard water, and if you therefore wash your dishes by hand, and if for that reason you have a dish drainer on the counter that is nearly always full of elaborately stacked and precariously balanced dry and/or drip-drying dishes, and if said incredibly full dish drainer happens to also sport a collection of juice glasses upended on its plastic draining prongs on one side, and if that side of the dish drainer is toward the sink so as to allow the draining water to flow into the sink rather than onto the floor, then you simply must ensure that your dish drainer doesn’t hang so far over the sink that when your husband starts to put away the dry dishes (to bless you; acts of service, you know) it becomes unbalanced, slides sideways, and sends all its remaining contents (including the aforementioned dangling juice glasses) crashing into the sink, thereby inserting one juice glass feet first into the disposal. Furthermore, if you fail to ensure such an eminently stable dish drainer placement, and if you then innocently turn on the disposal, you may rest assured that the water you are running into the sink to cool the disposal, combined with the suction generated by its ancient and wheezing motor will yea and verily cause the upright (intrinsically moral) juice glass to cave to pressure, lie down on its side in sin, roll over and play dead.

And you do NOT ever want a juice glass sideways in your disposal!

Gonna have a yard sale

We’re not, but our church is. The purpose is to raise money for the mission team that’s going from our church to Niger this summer. I think the total needed is about $21,000, so we’ve all been encouraged to donate as much used-but-valuable stuff as possible to the yard sale. This is a great motivator for me, as we have a house and multiple out-buildings just full of stuff. With so much fodder, all I need to do is to schedule the and then discipline myself to start somewhere and go through stuff. I have about a month to accomplish this, and I have already ruthlessly culled my dresser. I think next will be my closet, then maybe Jo’s closet. . . I really just need Jessica to come stand over me and tell me which area to tackle and what to get rid of. My goal is to put at least three things in the yard sale pile every day, starting tomorrow. Anybody want to hold me accountable?  = )

Shocking

On Scott’s side of the bed, he has a little “touch” lamp with a three-way bulb. You just tap its base to turn it on the dimmest setting and then each additional tap brightens up the light a bit.

Our bed comforter is rather lightweight and happens to be made of polyester. It’s great in the summer, but in the winter we add a heavy cotton quilt underneath it. I’ve noticed over the years that when I change the sheets in the winter, if I yank the comforter off too violently, I can actually create blue sparks with the static electricity. Since I know from experience that any exposed appendage (finger, nose, etc.) can get shocked, I am now fairly careful when I pull the comforter off. I don’t like being a human lightning rod!

This morning I decided to strip the bed and get the sheets washing while we were at church, but I must say that what happened in our bedroom had never happened before. Standing at the foot of the bed, I pulled the comforter off, and it crackled a little bit, but get this: When the comforter crackled at end of low end of the bed, the touch lamp turned on at the head of the bed! I thought it was just some weird coincidence (or as my dad used to say, “co-inky-dink”), so I turned the lamp off and tried it again – with exactly the same result!

Moral of the story: A static electrical charge can travel at least six feet through the air inside a very dry 105-year-old frame house.

Feel free to indulge your curiosity and try this at home. I actually think someone should figure out a way to harness the power of sheet-changing (or some other means of rubbing polyester against cotton) to charge a cell phone or something.

Jeopardy question: What is “clomp, clomp, clomp?”

Answer: The sound generated when a person going down the stairs wearing tennis shoes gets to the lower half of our main staircase, now that there is no carpet on those stairs.