Flooded Basement Woes

Hurricane Joaquin is rapidly approaching and I am braced for the worst. While all the homes in our little downtown community have leaky basements, the recent 4 days of heavy rain have already flooded our basement once.

Here's how I found it yesterday around noon...

By the early afternoon it was much, much worse, with a solid 3 inches of standing water in the boiler room and a half inch (up to 2 inches) in the entire rest of the basement. (Except for the bathroom, which is apparently built on "high ground.")

I made an emergency call to our neighbor, who also happens to be a contractor, and he had a guy come out and pump over 500 gallons of water out that afternoon and evening -- but he was barely getting ahead of the incoming water, which was seeping in along the entire west side of the house.

The culprit: heavy rains and saturated land

The photos below are a big foggy, because of the rain and also because we were at 100% humidity and the camera lens kept fogging up. Let's not talk about its effect on my hair.

You'll notice that the dog had to get involved. At this point I was at the end of my rope and may have screamed obscenities at her (which she happily ignored), but I trust the worst of it was drowned out by the rain.

Today things look much better...

The water mostly drained away over night, and the crew came this morning to do the final clean up. We've turned the washer/dryer back on and they seem to be none the worse for wear after sitting in 3 inches of water for hours. We haven't turned back on any of the TV electronics, whose cords were all partially submerged, since I'm paranoid about electrocuting myself and want to give everything another couple of days to dry out. The floor, however, is ruined. The concrete paint and stain is peeling everywhere, leaving a gluey substance that I'm sure will be toxic for the pets. 

Of course, insurance covers NOTHING.

Apparently, water damage like this requires flood insurance, which we do not have. Pro tip: homeowners insurance generally WILL cover water damage from a broken window or a busted washing machine water line. So... you know... break that window the next time the basement floods. (Kidding! Sort of.)

The hurricane is coming, and they are predicting 3-6 inches in a "predecessor rain event" before it arrives properly over the weekend. We are almost certain to have a repeat experience of yesterday's mess, if not worse. My professional plan is to put a baby gate up to the basement stairs and ignore it all until Bill gets back home at the end of next week.

Did I mention that Bill is traveling for work so I'm on my own?

Yeah. It's not awesome to be handling this on my own. Fortunately I have a friend who is helping me do some hurricane preparedness, including try to track down some sandbags from the City to use in the basement if major flooding is expected. I love her.

Instead of ending with doom and gloom, let's go out on a high note.

Here is a photo of our cute new kitten. Not drowned by exploring the basement drainage holes. Yet.

Skid Steer 1, Tennis Court 0

Two days before I left for Thailand, we pulled the trigger on one of the biggest backyard projects: the removal of the tennis courts in the backyard. In case you didn't know, let me assure you that while a tennis court may be expensive to maintain, it is exorbitant to remove. (It takes a lot of time, machinery, and disposal fees.) So for this stage, we just tackled one of the tennis courts -- in the area that Bill spent all last year clearing.

We got a quote, and decided to act.

When you are willing to write a check, it's amazing what you can accomplish. The next morning a crew showed up with a skid steer, a jackhammer, and a giant truck for hauling debris. They cut down all of the trees along the property line, cleared away all the brush and trash that had accumulated, and tore up the tennis court. It was a glorious site to behold.

Ta Da!

I didn't get to see the finished product until I got home -- and WOW is it a difference. The entire space is flat as a pancake, and mercifully free of weeds. 

We're currently plotting our next move back there, including:

  • Putting a new, better fence up along the property line. Because this area will eventually be a massive garden, it's imperative that we have a deer-proof fence. And since Bill wants to do an entire wall of espalier trees, we're looking at a lattice structure about 8 feet tall. That will give us protection from deer, a structure to espalier the trees against, and some privacy from the road.
  • Finalizing the garden layout, including the location of raised beds, a new water line, an area for composting, a greenhouse for wintering plants, and a long table with a sink for harvesting veggies and re-potting herbs. Bill has a pretty solid design in mind, but we need to revisit it again and confirm that we're happy before we start buying supplies.
  • Building the raised garden beds. I want them to be brick (like this version, which would mimic our brick house beautifully), while Bill is arguing for some kind of wood (like this version) or possibly wood-metal combination (like this version). There are going to be a LOT of raised beds, so we need to carefully consider cost, time to build, and longevity. 

We also need to figure out what we're going to do with the ground -- should we try to suppress the grass (and inevitable weeds) by laying down a barrier and covering it with stones or mulch? Or should we allow the grass to grow up (less maintenance, but more headache with weeds)? These and other questions are the frequent topics of conversation at The Manor these days. If you have an opinion (especially if you agree with me!), leave a comment.

Quick Fixes

The backyard and porch projects have eaten up almost all of our "Make The Manor Perfect, or at Least Structurally Sound" budget so for the next few months we'll be focused on smaller things. Here's my current list:

Better lighting.

Almost every room in The Manor needs better lighting, but I'm going to focus on the kitchen, the master bedroom, and my sewing room. With winter's early sunsets fast approaching, these are the places I most want to brighten in the evenings.  

Wall art. 

It's been 18 months since we moved in and while I'm still terrified of the plaster walls, it's time to move past the fear. I'd like to start a gallery wall in the entryway, as well as get a few things up in the guest room.

Painting the barn and storage buildings. 

Okay, this one is actually a job I'm saving for Bill. Although I'd my goal is to get the job done by winter I might have to get out there and help. Ideally I want ask of the outbuildings to be blue with white trim. The first task is finishing the trim on the chicken coop and fence to make sure that were on the right track. (The Tiffany Blue is currently looking VERY bright but Bill will kill me if I change my mind. So I need to be sure before risking my life with another set of color swatches. 

Seeding the stable area.

We had to get our house appraised for some paperwork last month, and the appraisal assistant was from Kenya. As we were walking around the yard, she mentioned that the stable area looked like the backyards in rural Kenya, with chickens and goats running freely around. She meant it nostalgically, but when she said the words "with lots of scrub" I realized that we needed to reseed the area.

The vision was a continuation of the backyard, with regular grass (and the occasional weed, sure). Instead, we have a partially seeded area that is pretty rocky and filled with weeds that are approaching my waist. The goats are shirking their "eat anything and keep down the brush" responsibilities, so it's imperative that we get this problem under control before next spring.

Unfortunately, we'll probably have to keep the chickens locked up in their run for a couple of weeks to give the seeds a chance to root and grow before the seeds are set upon as tasty morsels. I am normally against restricting their space, but if it means a more aesthetically pleasing yard, lock 'em up.

Things we will not be doing: 

  • Anything more to Sarah's room, until she learns some self control and stops writing on the walls and furniture (including the antique dresser I bought and painted for her -- yes, she is lucky to still be alive and kicking). Her brother went through a similar phase at the same age that seemed to last about a year. Maybe next fall we can revisit painting the walls, recovering the armchair, replacing the carpet, and restaining the bedframe.
  • Dealing with the heating situation. After dealing with the frigid temperatures in The Manor (particularly the kitchen)last winter I would have sworn in my life that we'd have a proper heating solution in place by this October. (Probably gas fireplace inserts in some of the existing fireplaces, which were designed for coal.) But the price tag is pretty steep and we've blown or budget on other stuff. So instead I'll probably just wrap myself in blankets and drag a couple space heaters around with me. 
  • Fixing the columns out front. While this is soon going to become a serious problem, the $50,000 to $60,000 it's going to cost to completely replace the rotting columns just isn't practical right now. We'll probably aim to replace one each year (starting with the one in the worst shape) and spread the project out over four years. Keeping our fingers crossed that they continue to hold up until we can get to them. ##loadbearing 

So, dear reader, what home improvement projects are you planning to tackle over the winter? Any particular projects that gives you nightmares? I have a recurring dream where I'm standing on the front porch watching the columns disintegrate before my eyes, but am helpless to move before they squash me like a bug. Good times. 


First World Problems, I Haz Them

Our housekeeper quit a few days after I left for Thailand. Bill reports that the house is currently drowning in pet hair. 

I'm in the process of screening a new housekeeper, but it's tough trying to do so from halfway around the world. So far, Craigslist has gotten us a shortlist and I'll do interviews beginning the day after I get back. 

In the meantime, I'm working on modifications to the cleaning schedule. (Our housekeeper comes in every day, Monday through Friday, for 2-3 hours.) We have a series of spreadsheets that outline daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, and it's  seemed to work pretty well. Here's the latest version.

I'm always curious to see if there is a better system out there. What are we missing? (After using this schedule for the last year, I feel pretty confident that we've got the basics covered, but you never know, right?) Anyone have suggestions or sample ideas to share? I've already scoured Pinterest and don't see anything obviously better than ours.

PS: I just want to note that I am 100% appreciative of the luxury of having a housekeeper, let alone a daily housekeeper. Just like living in The Manor, it's a privilege I am grateful for every day. I am so very, very extraordinarily lucky.

PPS: We discovered that a daily housekeeper that we hired directly was about the same cost as hiring a cleaning company to send their team once a week. Best discovery EVER. Might be worth checking out, if you're interested in whether it would work for your home.

PPPS: I have much to say about raising kids in this kind of atmosphere -- it's something that I really wrestle with. How do I teach them to be responsible, to be grateful, to be humble -- and above all to appreciate that very, VERY few people have the economic privileges that we do? Tackling that subject is probably too much for today, so I'll save my reflections for another time.

Recent Happenings at The Manor

I'm writing to you from Thailand, where the weather is hot and muggy, but who cares when you have a gorgeous private pool at your villa to relax in?

Remind me to tell you about that time I decided to go skinny dipping, but locked myself out of the hotel room and had to wander around the resort wearing only my sunglasses and a smile, looking for a staff person to help me get back inside. Actually, please don't remind me.

But I digress. I realize that I haven't updated the blog in a while, and since I have a spare afternoon before my final meeting tomorrow, here is a quick update on late-summer happenings at The Manor.

The goats are getting too big for their britches.

While they will follow Bill sedately into the barn at night, I end up wrestling them towards the barn door and then re-enacting what I can only imagine is a scene straight out of the Three Stooges as one escapes while I shove the other inside, repeat ad nauseum. It is slapstick comedy at its finest. I loathe slapstick comedy.

The chickens are happy (except when the goats are playing in their coop).

We're now reliably getting about 5 eggs a day (or about 3 dozen eggs a week). You might think that's a lot, but when I tell you that the kids can easily gobble down 5 eggs at sitting EACH, you understand why I am hoping the flock increases their production even more. (And I've learned a valuable lesson about choosing chicken breeds -- while I love our Asian Blue chickens, their layer/meat combo status means that they are big (and therefore eat more feed) but don't lay as frequently. When they do, however, they are GIGANTIC.

We removed the sacred flagpole.

I don't even want to mention this one, lest we incur the wrath of the local garden club (which put up the flagpole in honor of one of their members). But from the moment we moved in, I wanted it gone. First of all, it lacked the proper lighting due the American flag when flown at night, and there was no way I was going to take that baby down each sunset and raise it back up each dawn. I love America, but I got no time for that.

I also didn't want to install extra lighting -- it's hard enough for me to sleep at night with the streetlights, let alone with an upward-directed spotlight right outside my bedroom door. (Somehow I can easily sleep in the middle of the day with the sun directly on my face, but at night I like total darkness...)

TL;DR: we relocated the flagpole to a fellow citizen, with only a minor incident when he joked that he was going to fly the Confederate flag and I almost had to run him over with my car.

We have a new addition to the family.

After test driving eleven foster kittens in July (including a round of fleas!) we kept the best one. Daisy 2 (named after my childhood cat Daisy) has quickly become a favorite with everyone. At just over two pounds, she rules the roost.

Before I go, a few additional photos of the resort at Koh Samui... I'm already nostalgic...

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