In the Zone

In case no one has told you, there is a difference between living in a construction zone and working in a construction zone. Just like there’s a difference between living in a hospital and working in a hospital. Even if it’s an excellent hospital, it’s a pretty stark contrast. Like the difference between living in a hotel and working in a hotel. Except in reverse. Or so I imagine.

In any case, you tend to hope it’s temporary.

The living in a construction zone part, I mean. And probably the living in a hospital part, too. Okay, some folks might not want to live in a hotel long term either. Or work long term in any of those places for that matter. But for now, let’s all try to stay on topic.

The goal, in any case, is not to let your construction zone become a war zone. It may look like one sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. Especially around demo time. And when you discover that your main sewer drain (or sugar pipe, as the plumbers so delightfully called it) consists of flexible PVC rather than rigid PVC pipe. And when you discover that said pipe was installed at a negative slope. And when you have to cut a 12-inch wide, 40-foot trench through your mint condition 1990s beige ceramic tile living room floor so the plumbers can dig down under the slab foundation and install a new one. Ka-ching!

But if you’re like me and the Jarhead, you try your best not to come to blows with each other. Or your contractors. Especially the ones with solid skills and reasonable rates. And the ones who show up. Because the last thing you need when you’re up to you’re a$$ in concrete dust is for someone with a solid work ethic to decide he/she has better things to do than fix or install your plumbing, wiring, flooring, or foundation in exchange for your hard-earned money.

That can happen even when you haven’t exchanged some choice words. But at least if you haven’t argued with someone a day or three before they disappear, you can reasonably assume the problem is with their character and not your attitude. But lose your cool in front of the wrong person and suddenly you’re a difficult customer. And like the wife and kids Bruce Springsteen left in Baltimore, Jack (when he went out for a ride and he never went back) you won’t know how long to wait before you can lay claim to their tools. Or wait for their invoice, look for their replacement, or have them declared dead.

It isn’t merely fear of someone walking off the job that keeps things civilized. Nor is it just my sweet, accommodating nature. Although fear is a good motivator and my sunny disposition well established, the reason I like to keep things amicable relates to personal safety. It may sound a bit self-interested, but I can see no point to rocking the boat when there are literally dozens of sharp objects and blunt instruments—plus electrical cords, nail guns and other power tools—all within arm’s reach (or a short walk or a flight of stairs) of someone who has only a passing financial interest in my continued existence. And let’s not forget the multitude of tripping hazards, ladders, and other obstacles that the homicidally inclined could use to make manslaughter look like an accident, or the abundance of vacant land, plastic sheeting, shovels, pick, and ready-mix concrete that would help someone cover their tracks if they should opt to take the tampering with a corpse route instead.

Sorry to veer off track again. It’s been a long year.

So, to catch you up, in May of 2019—just as we were knee-deep in our Craftsman renovation—we bought another project house. I mentioned it a few posts ago in Mill Street Blues: Love It or List it, Too but that was two years ago, so you are to be forgiven if you’re lost. Feel free to check it out. I’m happy to wait.

At the time, we still had much to do at Mill Street, but we figured a good deal was a good deal. So we bought it with a view to starting work once the Craftsman was sold. It was a solid plan. But then, we all know what they say about best laid plans.

Anyway, demo was completed by September of 2019, and the furnace was installed in time for the team to work without freezing to death two months later. Everything looked like it was going to come together nicely.

But then the only toilet in the house—in the only bathroom that we hadn’t demolished—wouldn’t flush. And wouldn’t stop running. And there was a strange smell.

That’s when we discovered the bad drain. And that the drains were vented into the attic. And that there was almost no insulation in the attic. And literally none in some of the attic. And that the rafters weren’t actually rafters, and the items that were supposed to be serving as rafters weren’t going to serve us much longer.

Which meant, we had a lot more work to do before we could close up the walls and ceilings and put things back together. But we had to heat the place if we didn’t want our fancy new water lines to freeze. And we had to heat the place if we didn’t want our contractors to freeze.  So, for the entire winter we ran the furnace and held our breath as dollar after dollar wafted into our attic and melted the snow from our fancy new roof.

While the guys worked on that, we worked on getting Mill Street finished so we could put it on the market the minute the new money pit was habitable. (Define habitable, you might be thinking. But we’re not going to go there. At least not today.) Our hope was to list Mill Street by May of 2020. Spoiler alert: We missed that mark by several miles.

On the upside (and there is always an upside if you look hard enough and/or drink plenty of wine, beer, scotch or vodka):

  • We had plenty of time to devote to the work. We were three months into the Covid-19 pandemic when May 2020 came, remember. And working on a seemingly endless list of household projects is a good way to keep busy when you can’t go anywhere or see anyone.
  • I never liked that blasted living room floor anyway. It was in great shape, but the beige ceramic tile didn’t offer enough contrast to the floor-to-ceiling knotty pine walls, or the wall-to-wall knotty pine ceilings to really do them justice. We had only decided to keep it because it was in pristine condition, and it seemed capricious and wasteful to spend money to replace it. So when the news came that we had to cut a trench through the floor and put down another one, I wasn’t the least bit heartbroken. At least not until we got the plumber’s estimate. Thank goodness Wisconsin allows stores to sell alcohol via online pickup.
  • We now have a brand new, dark gray slate-look ceramic tile floor, which contrasts nicely with the knotty pine walls and ceilings and matches the living room furniture and black baseboards.

So all’s well that ends well. Right?

Define, end.


Hose Improvement

Let me preface today’s post with the following: this time it was neither my fault, nor my imagination.

Yesterday at approximately 4:20 pm, as I was on the phone chatting with a friend about the my recent bathroom remodel, I happened to look out the front door and find the yard around the porch flooded and the mulch in my shrub bed floating like tiny logs on a mighty river. Since it had not rained in days, and having not turned on a hose, sprinkler, faucet, spigot, or other water source in over a week, I was both shaken and confused.

Having seen the bathroom contractor using the garden hose to mix grout for the floor tile, and to wash said grout from the container in which he’d mixed it, I briefly wondered if perhaps he had finished and left for the day without shutting off the hose. Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that the water was not coming from the hose but from one of the channels of the four-way hose manifold that was attached to the faucet. Further examination revealed that one of the hoses that had been attached to said four-way hose manifold had been blown off its outlet and was now drifting among the floating logjam of mulch.

Fortunately I knew I could handle this problem myself and, thus, did not have to bother the Jarhead to stem the flow and stop the flooding. Instead, I simply flipped that channel’s switch to off, made a mental note to inform my loving spouse that his attempt to mend a leak on that particular hose had failed spectacularly, and went on my merry way.

It had been leaking for several weeks before he got around to fixing it last weekend—after he got sick of having to go to the front of the house to turn on/shut off that channel whenever he wanted to use that hose so water didn’t run across the porch floor 24/7. And, knowing how little free time he was going to have in the coming weeks thanks to an approaching work deadline, I figured we’d be playing the hokey pokey with that spigot right up until it was time to winterize and put away the hoses for the year. But since that hose happens to be the one that wraps around the end of the house and to the back yard, and since it is the only one we have that CAN be used in the backyard, I also knew there was a chance he would get to it sooner—if only to prevent the lawn and his sweet corn plot from dying from lack of rain.

At this point you may be wondering why I didn’t just fix the hose myself. If so, I advise you to read back a few posts to “A Haunting in Oshkosh” where you will learn that I am wholly unqualified to use power tools. Although it is not a matter of written record, it should be noted that I am equally unqualified when it comes to plumbing and electrical repairs, so there was no way I was going to touch that hose. Even if my feminist dander was nudging me to do so, my arthritic hands held veto power, and so instead of grabbing the pliers and trying to join the hose and connector, I threw on my swimsuit and joined Princess Primrose in the pool.

Several hours later, after visiting the pharmacy, a retail store, and two home improvement centers—where I not only made returns and purchases but also managed to resist the urge to buy a hose repair kit—the Princess and I returned to the house and set about to completing our evening chores. A few minutes later, I heard expletives coming from the south end of the basement where the Princess had gone to clean the cat boxes.

Joining her there, I found the carpeting in the storage/litter room saturated and water seeping ever so slowly toward the laundry room. Immediately the Princess and I started taking from the room any and every movable object that could be damaged by standing water. Once we had removed every last wooden, paper, fabric, and cardboard item from the area, we began searching for the source of the water in hopes of preventing further damage to the rest of the basement.

The first thing that came to my mind, of course, was the plumbing in the newly remodeled bathroom two floors up. Yep. Despite the fact that the plumbing went in two days earlier and had not leaked in the intervening hours since then—and despite the fact that I had witnessed with my own eyes the flooding of the ground above that part of the house just hours before—the first explanation to enter my head upon finding a half-inch of water in the basement was a plumbing problem. Although it pains me to admit it, the Jarhead may have reason not to trust me with tools, pipes, or electricity.

In my defense, I have more experience with contractor mishaps than I do flooding. It wasn’t too long ago that a handyman whom I had hired to replace the floor of the cabinet under my kitchen sink managed to shoot a nail into the water line behind the wall. That mistake went unnoticed until 10pm the next evening when El Noble came home and found the ceiling in the basement family room raining and the carpet a sopping wet mess.

Still, I don’t know why I didn’t think of the most likely scenario instead of the worst. It’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with the water cycle or the concept of cause and effect. In any event, after finding no leaks in the water lines or drain pipes—and after ruling out both paranormal activity and an extinction level event—it finally dawned on me that the water in the front yard had not magically evaporated into the air above, but instead had seeped down into the ground, and taken up residence in my basement, below.

Satisfied that I had found the most probable cause for the water intrusion, the Princess and I then set about to finding the fans, the Shop Vac, and an extension cord so we could begin the cleanup. This, thankfully, was the easy part since, having run this drill in the family room three years ago, we both knew what to do.

The Jarhead, who conveniently came home AFTER things were already well in hand, took a look at the ground, the hose, and the basement and ultimately agreed with my diagnosis. He also agreed to have another go at fixing the hose.

He’d better get it right this time or I may have to ban HIM from hose improvements.