Drain Pipe Ditches

When we came home after over a month away we found a very damp basement.  No actual puddles or leaks but a kind of miasmic moldy atmosphere and, we discovered, some actual mold in some cabinets.

We went out and bought a new energy-efficient dehumidifier (we had one that looks like it dated from the 1980s).  But Sarah also suspected that we had a gutter-drainage issue and when she dug down to look, it turned out that someone had once tried to repair a broken drainage pipe with a plastic shopping bag.  So, we dug a whole new drainage ditch after going to Lowes and getting what we needed (the piping, etc).  Of course I would never be able to do this competently but Sarah was able to chat with the Lowes guys and figure it out.

So we spent yesterday afternoon and some of today’s digging the ditch and cutting tree roots with a pole-axe thing that Sarah was calling an adze.  Especially today in 90 degree heat this was really hard work and good exercise.

I developed a blister on my hand so at the Los Campesinos! show I couldn’t clap very enthusiastically.

When I badgered her for a figure, Sarah claimed that we may have saved about $900 by doing this ourselves.  I don’t know if this is true but I like the idea.

Let it rain!

Fatherhood in extremis: Laura Ingalls Wilder & Cormac McCarthy

I finally read The Road — almost the whole thing in one sitting in bed and then finished it off the next day.  It’s pretty harrowing.  I’ve been haunted by that recent article in The New Yorker, “The Dystopians,” about ““back-to-the-land types,” “peak oilers,”… all-around Cassandras, or doomers,” and others who believe the U.S. and maybe the world economy are bankrupt and that we are headed for some more or less minimalist post-economic, post-oil future.  The Road jibes very well with with that ideology, on the more horrific, apocalyptic end of the spectrum (after all, few of the “dystopians” appear believe that we will descend into mass cannibalism).

I was struck by how much The Road has in common with Little House in the Big Woods.  Ingalls’ book looks back at nineteenth-century homesteaders with affectionate nostalgia; McCarthy looks ahead to a dystopian future; but in either case, the whole world focuses to a parent trying to provide for the family by eking out sustenance from the land.

So, Ingalls’ Pa kills bear and deer, harvests wheat, carves wood, builds the cabin and insulates it; McCormac’s father rigs up the cart, makes a tent out of a tarp, kills a threatening vagrant, scavenges food, makes a lantern out of a can of gasoline.  It’s all about survival skills and protecting and getting food and shelter for the kid(s).  (Admittedly, Ma is just as important in Little House as Pa. There is a wife in The Road, but she only appears in one retrospective memory: she tells the dad “They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you wont face it,” and then she goes off and apparently kills herself with a sharp flake of obsidian.  Of course nothing at all like this happens to Ma in Little House.)

Basically, for me the narcissistic takeaway of both books was this: If the apocalypse comes, your fatherhood-in-extremis skills are crap and you will not be able to take care of your family. We don’t even have a working flashlight (the girls always leave it on and run out the batteries) or jugs of water in the basement.  God help us if I’m called upon to do something like this on no sleep:

He unscrewed the bottom panel and he removed the burner assembly and disconnected the two burners with a small crescent wrench.  He tipped out the plastic jar of hardware and sorted out a bolt to thread into the fitting of the junction and then tightened it down.  He connected the hose from the tank and held the little potmetal burner up in his hand, small and light-weight.

And no way would I have been able to use that map ripped into little pieces to navigate past the cannibal compound all the way to the sea.

I did get one good tip from The Road: when you first hear the bombs or whatever, immediately turn the bathtub on since the water supply will run out momentarily.  I’m all over that one, am excellent at taking baths.

Another unrelated thought I had about The Road: it winds up with what struck me as a Robinson Crusoe reference, as the father swims out to an abandoned boat and strips it for useful supplies, very much like Crusoe at the beginning of Defoe’s novel; perhaps a little joke or conceit on McCarthy’s part about going back to origins of the novel form.

It could be fun to do a Little House on the Road mashup along the lines of that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies paperback that’s all the rage.

A really good read, for sure, but for 21st-century apocalyptic fiction I’d still give the nod to Jose Saramago’s amazing Blindness (1998, actually; don’t be put off by the movie version which is supposed to be lousy).

Puppet Show: Mousie and Bunny — Fights and Friendship

Celie and Iris got a new puppet theater today as a belated birthday present.  They wrote and performed their first three-act play: Mousie and Bunny — Fights and Friendship.

Dramatis personae: Mousie and Bunny

Act I.

One day Mousie went to a puppet show and he met Bunny.

Bunny: I am the biggest bunny in the world!

Mousie: And I am the squeakiest thing in the world and I like to steal cheese.

Bunny: You are mischievous and I say STOP or I will put a trap out.

Mousie: If you do, I will put out a bigger trap.

Bunny: You are so bad!

They fight and start crying: Boo hoo.

Act II.

Bunny:  It’s your birthday Mousie and because your mommy is sick I’m going to make you a big cake.

Mousie: I’m going to bring the knives and forks and everything.

Bunny: I am going to give you the best birthday party of all.

Mousie and Bunny: YIPPEE!!!

They embrace and kiss.

Act III.

One day Bunny went to the Chocolate Moose store.  Then he saw his friend Mousie.

Bunny: Hey Mousie, why don’t we get chocolate with rainbow sprinkles.

Mousie: I want chocolate with chocolate sprinkles.

Bunny: No!  You should have chocolate with rainbow sprinkles, like me!

Mousie: No!  You should have chocolate with chocolate sprinkles, like me!

Both shout: You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong!

And cry: boo hoo hoo.

New Wall Project

Sarah is working on a major project — rebuilding the wall adjoining our front driveway. It looked very picturesque, covered with ivy, but sagging & bulging all over.  When we pulled the ivy off we realized that it was in mid-collapse.  This is a classic D.I.Y./ My Wife Does it Herself project in that I have had very little to do with it.  Depending on her mood, Sarah is resigned or mildly irritated about this.  I did carry some heavy stones on several occasions, I’ll say in my defense.

Sarah did a lot of research on the mechanics and hydraulics, etc., of supporting walls in preparation, but she is not truly doing it herself — she now has Jack and his assistant Hunter on the project, but she has so far worked side by side with them the entire time.  They spent all day Wednesday on it and one other afternoon.  Sarah pressed them to set a dollar amount on the value of her labor.  “Admit it, would I be the $10 per hour guy?” she asked and they assured her, “no, no, you’d be the $12/hour guy.”  She felt OK about that — still on the bottom of the pay scale, but respectable.

The one thing Sarah is regretting so far is that she realized too late that they had probably already destroyed the chipmunk home.  We have this chipmunk Chippy who is hanging out in the driveway 75% of the time and had some kind of lair in the rock wall which has now obviously been obliterated.  But we are hoping that he’ll have time this Fall to figure out some new arrangement.

Painting Crate

My extremely handy wife Sarah made this totally cool crate to ship two of her big paintings in. I’ve created a category called D.I.Y. but it should really be called My Wife Does it Herself because I rarely do it myself, although sometimes I help a little bit. Like if she has to reach something high up, or if it takes two people to carry it.

Anyway, I am kicking myself that I did not take a photo of this crate. Our awesome friends Melissa and Steve, who moved to Philadelphia a few years ago, all of a sudden wrote Sarah that based on the images on the website, they wanted to buy two of the big paintings in the show (“Full Moon Sushi Night” and “Swamp”). Fantastic! But it turns out that it is no easy matter to ship the paintings. Fed Ex and UPS will not ship original art. Too many liability issues, presumably. Probably too many people insist their water colors were worth $10,000 or whatever. So, you basically have to lie or fudge, and therefore cannot get insurance. Also, you need to make your own custom crate.

So Sarah made it herself. This all happened in the basement over two afternoons when I was in my office at school. I came home and there was this five foot high crate, in two halves, into which each painting was bolted, put together as a sandwich, and screwed together with a power screwdriver. It weighed 85 pounds. We lugged it to UPS and Sarah claimed it was a “fabric wall-hanging,” which is technically true, I guess. It cost $136 to mail. The embarrassing thing was that there was — what were the odds? — a Fabric Arts guild member in line behind us, a friend of an acquaintance, who got all excited and interested at this enormous piece of supposed fabric arts being shipped off to Philadelphia, so Sarah kind of mumbled something vague and made her get-away…


We are practicing Hugelkultur — we are hugerkulturists. Our garden is hugelkultural. Actually I don’t know much about it, it’s Sarah’s doing. Hugelkultur is a kind of ‘permaculture’ (‘agro-ecological design theory’) that is basically all about using wood as compost. So, as I quipped, someday our descendents will enjoy rich, fertile soil. No, apparently it can work relatively quickly.

Sarah’s explanation: “you make a pile of sticks and dump dirt on top of it, and plant on that. The twigs rot and release nutrients. Also, the area with the twigs acts as a big sponge.” Our whole back yard can become somewhat sponge-like (see previous post about the flood) so moisture-management is important.

You can also see that we made a stone barrier for our vegetable garden — these were stones we found buried in the ground, presumably left over from some older garden. This is where I came in, doing some garden-golem labor. The beans have started to come up.

One effect of our hugelkultural mindset: Sarah now is always looking for promising sticks to steal from peoples’ front yards. She’s previously done this with bags of leaves — in our old neighborhood she used to drive around filling the van with peoples’ bags of yard waste to use as compost. But now sticks too have emerged as valuable garden fodder. Hugelkultur is, according to Wikipedia, also called ‘Magic’ Mound Composting.

That’s Iris with a wiffle-ball bat in the hugelkultur area. Celie took the middle photo.

Cleaning gutters

We cleaned our gutters for the first time ever. We never did it in the house we lived in from 2001-2007, and I’m a bit unclear on whether there was some reason we didn’t have to. We’ve been here for almost a year, since June, and had never done it here either. The gutters were packed full with thick, sludgy, stinky composty leaves. You had to dig in and pull the gunk out by the handful. How many of our family does it take to clean the gutters? Four: one to climb the ladder and pull out the leaves, one to hold the ladder and lift up the bucket, and two four-year-olds on Bucket Brigade to run the bucket to one of our several garden-waste enclosures around the yard. The Bucket Brigade was initially enthusiastic, then Iris’s interest flagged (she started delegating to Celie more than working), and Celie’s soon after.

Sarah climbed on the roof but it was too scary to get onto the top level. She wants to ask Jack to install a little handle thing to facilitate safe climbing onto the top.

It rained all the next day and it was satisfying to hear the exotic sound of water flowing down the gutters.