Sunday, March 28, 2010

We're back!

Hey Y'all,

Now that Larry's sister is home from the hospital, we're getting back to normal.

We've lost some time this trip, so re-roofing the pump house will be put off until next trip. In the meantime, Larry installed two security cameras on the outside of the house (facing the dock and up the driveway) and running network wires around it. Having a network cable plugged into our DVR box also allows us to order pay-per-view movies. I miss those. Having the two cameras allows us to see the lake and anybody who may visit by boat or by car when we're not here. We have cameras at both our MA and RI houses, and looking at live action there keeps us connected. We have missed being connected with SC when we're up North.

He is discovering wiring skills he didn't know he had, but is willing to explore. The problem with learning a new skill is the frustration quotient. He replaced both end connectors three times already on a very long cable, already stapled to the outside of the house and drilled through the concrete blocks at both ends. The cable still doesn't work, so he is researching the problem. We both checked the staple job, and don't see any cable breaks or nicks. He has no idea what the problem is. Therein lies the frustration.

We expect to head north next week. So, between now and then, Larry will replace the tub faucet in the recently fixed bathroom, and I'll get a new shower curtain for it. He'll finish the wiring job and finish filling in the septic trench with clay soil and rock (just a few more inches will do). That'll be enough for one week.

I raked many piles of pine straw that need to be picked up and dumped, plus one last section of lawn to rake. Lots of grass has died, so the raking is hard. I can only do sections at a time. I already bought lots of seed and fertilizer, though, so once I'm done raking, I'll spread those.

We had a huge rain storm last night that we discovered was attached to a tornado three miles away. I had a feeling about the tornado late in the afternoon from the high winds and colors of the sky and water. Very eery looking. I'm happy my intuition is working, but wasn't sure what we'd do if one hit us. Larry and I discussed where we'd sit in the house if it did. I thought our roof would remain attached since it is steel reinforced. Larry said it would be gone.

The weatherperson says no more rain for a week, so one last job for Larry will be to prime our sprinkler system and get it running, so we can water the new seed. We'll have to look for timers as well, so it can get watered while we're away.

It's time to start planning to leave. I am very conflicted about that. I miss my son and my pregnant daughter-in-law, my good friends and some of my siblings, and our new home in RI, but I don't want to leave here. Two months have flown by. It seems like we've only been here for our usual ten days. I'm happy we'll be able to look at the lake once we're gone.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We're on hold

Larry's sister had emergency surgery yesterday to reveal her cancer is back and has taken over. We will be spending much of our time at the hospital, so this blog will be on hold for a little while. Thanks for ready.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Water, water everywhere..."

We bought a clean gallon plastic jug with a screw top (from KMart) to take the well-water sample that the SC Department of Health and Environment Control (SCDHEC) said they required on their web site. The site also said the chemical test for this sample cost $20. These people (along with Target, but that's another story) need to keep their web sites updated.

Once Larry removed the filters and tapped our sample, we realized how great our filters work. The water we presented for testing looked like chicken broth. If somebody handed me a glass of that and passed it off as water, I'd pour it in a plant before drinking it; just to be polite. The woman at the DHEC office said she couldn't use the container we brought. So, she pulled out a mailing kit from under her counter (Larry had to figure out how to open it) to retrieve the much smaller plastic bottle into which he had to pour our water. We did use the rest of the sample to water the beautiful blooming pink Red Bud trees outside their building. And, the test was $50! What's the point of using the internet for information, if the data is inaccurate? Update those web sites, people!

The site also said we'd receive our results in one to two weeks. Not so again! The multi-part form I completed at the DHEC office didn't offer us a "carbon" copy, so I asked the nice woman to make one for me. The form said it would take six to eight weeks. We won't be here then, so we won't know in this trip what kind of "proper" filtration/softening system we will need. Another annoyance. Oh well. We'll just have to deal with this in June.

Larry also discovered that a valve on the water pump was leaking. He used a wrench to close it, but it still leaked. This meant another trip to Home Depot. I wish we bought stock in this company years ago. We spend huge amounts of money here. Lowe's is our second best friend. I have also reacquainted us with the benefits of using the local hardware store. Unfortunately, remembering to use them requires more work than the huge chain stores. I'm not proud of this fact, it just is a fact. We had a wonderful experience with the local guys, though, so I'll try harder. Not only did they have bags of rock salt that my brother recommended we use to cover the septic pipe, thereby discouraging roots from growing before filling up the trench, but they were also very funny, helpful and made the experience more personal. We will definitely go back.

Larry replaced the valve and added another to make the tank easier to drain in the future. He really is a genius. He can do anything!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stop and smell the flowers

It's been raining for two days here, but we are happy for the rest. Of course, rest is not all we do on rainy days...we shop! Larry replaced the shower curtain in our renovated bathroom with one of those curved hotel rods. What a difference it makes. And he installed a new Waterpik handshower. Next he'll replace the rusty spout. Our long-term plan for this bathroom is to expand it by about two feet and replace everything in it. The tub will also become a large shower. But, this won't happen until next year, so whatever we can do to make this room more user-friendly and pleasant to be in is "a good thing".

Today, we will buy a gas grill (we only have a huge charcoal grill, and that just takes way too long) and an umbrella to sit over our new glider on the dock. I bought a two-seater glider from the arts & crafts fair at the State Fairgrounds last weekend. It's made from recycled plastic and is really comfortable. Now it just needs some shade. And, I need more grass seed (Centipede seed is really expensive) and fertilizer. We bought pelletized lime last night.

This weekend, Larry will get the sprinkler system primed and working again, so I don't have to depend on the rain to water the yard and new seed. The system is fed from the lake. A couple of years ago, he replaced the motor and some of the heads. Now it works great. He'll also get his brother's boat trailer tires inflated, so Bill can launch the pontoon boat soon. I want to go touring and check out the island across the way: up close and personal-like. Can't wait to get out on the water again.

The Forsythia are beginning to bloom, and I suspect by the end of the week, they should be full and gorgeous. Camillias bloom all year. We have double and single-bloom red, pink and white Camillias. I just love them. We have not been here enough, so I have never planted blooming bulbs. Next fall, those daffodils will go in by the dozens. They are in bloom around town now, and I just love them. I'm told tulips don't do well down here, but daffodils love this climate and soil. Next spring will be amazing.

Every tree and shrub is in "bud" right now. I hope we get to see everything fill out with greenery before we leave at the end of the month. The Oak-Leaf Hydrangea's leaves are starting to hydrate and look healthy again. They have that lovely deep maroon and olive coloring now. It seems more and more leaves are being born on it too. It is a huge bush, and is just beautiful in full bloom.

Spring is my favorite time of year. I just love being here to begin this season of renewal, only to witness another new beginning when we land up north in a month. We are very blessed, and today, I am the happiest woman in the world.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More on the fauna of Lake Murray

Larry and I took a break from our respective projects yesterday to sit on the swing and drink some water. We heard a high-pitched cheeping and I saw a huge bird carrying something in its talons land on a pine tree limb above us. It was a Red-Tailed Hawk calling its mate for lunch. I didn't realize such a large bird could have such a little voice. It sounded like a chicky. But lo' and behold, along came its mate and they flew off together around the point to snack on the little bird or mouse (we couldn't tell exactly what it was) the first hawk caught. They were beautiful. The symphony of bird song is so relaxing. Working outside each day, I listen to it instead of my iPOD.

"Lord love a duck!" Right now, there are three ducks sitting high in another pine tree we can see from our living room window. They are in sillouette, so we can't tell what kind of ducks they are. I've never seen ducks sitting in a tree twenty-five feet off the ground. Who knew? They are flying from tree to tree. There must be a ducky mating ritual afoot. It is spring now, and we've seen lots of mating going on around here.

We've seen pairs of several kinds of ducks: Mallard and Bufflehead mostly. We've also seen Loons, Coots, Cormorants and lots of geese. They swim in groups mostly, but we have seen some lone birds calling for a mate. They swim along and dive for fish. Then they pop up again and dive some more. It's very entertaining. Blue Heron and Kingfisher perch on our dock, sometimes eating their catch of fish. They are beautiful birds.

Larry wants to make a Wood Duck box for our shore so we can attract them. We haven't seen any lately but the year after we bought this place is the only time we think we saw them. If it was Wood Ducks, they did something amazing we wish we could see again. A flock of hundreds of little ducks were swimming together. They hung out around our cove all season. The most amazing thing we saw was that when a predator bird flew overhead, the little ducks quickly swam together in a very large, tight circle and all flapped their wings simultaneously. We believe it was to fool the hawk or eagle into thinking they were one very large creature. It worked! We witnessed them doing this several times that season. It was great, but they have not returned. This is a huge lake, so maybe they are visiting each cove in turn. We hope they come back to ours. It was very cool.

There was a large, dinner-plate-size turtle, Larry calls a Cooter sunning on a fallen tree near the shore yesterday. I've seen them on that tree before. Sometimes several Cooters hang out on it. It is a fun site. As the weather gets warmer, we see little Cooter heads pop up in the water, only to disappear underwater and pop up elsewhere. We have fun counting the heads and keeping track of their numbers. The most we've seen in the water at a single sitting on the dock is eighteen. One spring when we had floating wood in the lake, we saw three Cooters getting friendly with one another. This is one horny place!

Once my brother-in-law gets his boat in the water, I want to pay a visit to Purple Martin Island. The Purple Martins nest there and return each year. People around here install gourd trees to attract them to their yards. The Martins eat mosquitoes, and are very handy to have around. This will be another project someday.

Spring is here, and the lake is alive with "randy" critters of all shapes and sizes. Love is all we need!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nature at its most basic

A Jeff Foxworthy-esk saying of what's happening to me would be, "I might be a red neck if I sit and watch sparrows having sex and get excited about it." It's true!

I took the pups outside while I finished my cup of coffee and meandered towards our glider on the other side of Larry's brother's pontoon boat. Low and behold, I saw a rumble of flapping wings and rolling little bodies in the sand and dirt. I knew they were little birds, and I think they were Black-cap Chickadees or small sparrows. I couldn't tell if they were two males fighting to the death over territory or having sex. I ran into the house to get my zoom lens and asked Larry. He confirmed the latter. I've never seen birds having sex before, and got very excited (just in a general interest way, of course). Boy, how do I "backstroke" out of this one.

Anyway, I got my camera just knowing I'd miss it by the time I got back out there, but they had just moved to the other side of the boat. I snuck up on them and got a few shots off, but couldn't get close enough for details. Mattie Grace happened to see them at this point and ran over to check out the commotion. The birds didn't even notice her head just four inches above them; just staring. Within seconds, though, Mattie bumped their union. They both looked up startled, instantly separated and flew away. I missed getting this on camera, but I let out the loudest belly laugh. It was great entertainment. Does this make me a Red Neck or just a perv?

Oh, P.S.: Woody Woodpecker (a Pileated Woodpecker) came to visit. It's the first one we've seen in several years. He landed on a pine tree in the water, so the picture I got is in sillouette. His beautiful red crest doesn't show up very well. But he was a handsome guy.

A different water issue

An addendum to the septic project is that the concrete pad that once was in the outdoor shower surrounded the hot and cold water pipes that feed the house. Larry used his brother's "cutter" saw to free the pipes. Unfortunately, the saw jerked and he cut the cold-water pipe. No water in the house for a day.

But, he replaced the pipe with lovely copper and it's in better condition than he found it. Of course it is. Larry can do anything. Today he is unsoldering the hot-water pipe and replacing the pipe with more copper in addition to adding joints. He'll add a mixing hose to both "boiler drains", so I can connect the hose to it and get warm water to rinse the puppies outside. Jackson is turning into a country dawg and is getting filthy every day.

Compared to the projects Larry is taking on during this trip, redoing these pipes is minor and an easy fix. Thank goodness. His poor body needs a rest.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Water Situation

Our lakehouse has the hardest water I have ever lived with. When we first bought this place, I took a shower and could not get the shampoo to soap up. When it dried, my hair still felt dirty. There is a jacuzzi tub in our master bathroom. This tub was one of the main selling points of the house for me. The first time I used it, I was very excited. I had never owned a jacuzzi tub before, and after a hard day of raking, I couldn't wait to soak in the hot water and feel those jets loosen my tight muscles. Of course, no jet tub experience is complete without a glass of wine and a candle burning.

I let the clean-running hot water fill the tub. After lowering myself down into it and turning on the jets, I sat back with my wine and breathed a huge sigh of satisfaction as my muscle soreness melted away. But, after a few minutes of sitting there, I looked down to realize I was sitting in what looked like oily pee. It was disgusting. I couldn't get out fast enough and, consequently, I never took a bath again. It's been eight years.

The well is in the pump house: a concrete-block little building whose roof needs replacing. Replacing this roof will be our next big project after filling in the trench from replacing the septic pipe. The well water was never filtered. Fred, the late previous owner, told us to add two gallons of bleach to the well each spring, but never told us why, so we never did. He also had a huge, funky drinking water filter that sat on the kitchen sink. Larry replaced this with a proper under-sink filter with a sleek little faucet just for drinking water. The water from the main kitchen faucet came out looking clear in the dishpan, but within a few minutes turned back into that oily-looking pee water again. The dishes couldn't get clean. In fact they got stained with oily orange stuff. Forget about removing cooking grease from pans, dish detergent didn't soap up enough to cut it.

Another thing I noticed was that divots in my fingernails and crusty benign keratoses on my skin turn orange from bathing and washing dishes in our well water. The toilets, sinks, tubs and tile surrounds all become stained a rusty orange color. The stains can be scrubbed off to an acceptable level with a lot of elbow grease, but never come completely clean. And, we just don't look in the toilet tank. That water in there is really disgusting looking.

So, Larry put in a preliminary filtration system in the pump house on the well. The first filter the water passes through is a fine filter with carbon. The second filter is a pleated-paper filter. We noticed that the first filter is always full and covered with orange sediment, and the second remains fairly clean after several weeks. I can always tell when it's time to replace the filter(s) from the dishwater and from how easily I can wash my hair. There is also a smell to the water that is unmistakable. So, now that we understand why Fred suggested adding bleach to the well, we add the two gallons. The water clears up within a very short time, but the bleach smell remains for a few days afterward. It's tolerable at best.

One day while we were in our home in Tiverton, RI, Larry was searching the web for information about well water and happened upon an article about iron-ore bacteria. Apparently, well water has some iron in it. When oxygen is introduced into that water, iron-ore bacteria can grow to cause the water to turn an orange color and be oily. He had his first "ah ha" moment, as Oprah would say, about the situation in the lakehouse well. He discovered that this bacteria is not harmful to humans or animals if ingested, but is a nuisance nonetheless.

Our plan is to have the well water tested by the state to find out it's chemical content. We just found out the building to which we bring the water is close by. We thought it was across town about thirty miles. What a relief. With the water analysis information, we can determine the type of new water conditioning system we should install in the cleaned-out pump house once the roof is replaced. As Larry said, why add softener if the water is already soft. I suspect it is not, but this chemical composition data will certainly clarify how to proceed. I certainly cannot have a clothes washer in this house until the orange water is eliminated. I'll buy orange panties if I want to were that color. So, for the time being, I trek to the laundromat. Not my favorite way to spend half a day, but so be it for now.

We bought a gallon, screw-top plastic container, and now we just have to collect the water and drop it off. It takes a week or two to analyze, but we won't replace the filtration system until our next trip down here in late June. What's another few months of minor inconvenience. We've adapted pretty well so far.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Almost done.

Larry made a box around the entrance to the septic tank and filled it with concrete to seal the hole. He is very thorough. It's working great and will be finally done when we fill the trench back up. My brother, Jimmy, suggested we get bags of rock salt to cover the pipe. He says the salt will discourage root infiltration in the future. One problem I didn't consider is that Larry said rock salt is only used to make ice cream down here. I wonder if we will even find enough to do the job. We haven't looked yet, but we will before finishing up. Who knew?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

We have septic!

My husband is a genius. He really can fix anything! By 6pm last night, I flushed the toilet in our "bathroom of fear", and was flushed with relief and release as I watched the most perfect swirling motion head down the bowl. The sound of running water, unobstructed down the new PVC pipe outside was music to both our ears. I cleaned the room and we have now reclaimed it. No longer does "fear of flushing" live there. Larry has vanquished the monster with his wielding power saw, wrenches and brawn. What a man!

As he removed the old pipe, we could not believe the amount of roots in there and in the entrance to the tank. The surrounding trees were living well off that area. They will be dead next year anyway, as we will have to remove them to make room for an expanding kitchen and a new laundry room. I documented the entire event with my digital camera for posterity.

Today, he will seal the tank entrance with concrete and that will be that! We may wait a day or two to fill the trench back in, just to make sure there are no leaks. So far, so good. I choose that bathroom first now, just to do it. I avoided it for so long out of fear of overflow. No more, Baby!

We also have to get the area cleaned up fast today. It's hard to keep the pups from licking the old dirty pipes. Dawgs.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Raking

I finished raking half the yard and spread it with pelletized lime yesterday. And, I succeeded in creating a lovely meditation space for myself under the Camillia trees. It is so cozy under there, I left a green resin chair in front of some branches with vine fronds running vertically through them. The spot reminds me of Buddha sitting under The Tree of Life. When I started cutting branches a few years ago to reveal the space under these trees, I thought it would be a really cool space for little kids to play and hide. Little did I know until yesterday, that I was creating this space for the little girl in me.

This stand of mature Camillias is about thirty to forty feet high. They are a combination of single and double-bloom red, single-bloom white, and a varigated single-bloom deep pink. I cut a bouquet of them once a week for the kitchen table and the living room. They were Marilyn's favorite. We bought this property from Marilyn and Fred eight years ago, and passed papers on Fred's eight-fourth or fifth birthday. We brought him a cake to the closing. He teared up. It was very sweet.

When we visited Marilyn and Fred in Assisted Living, and when she was moved to the nursing home, I always brought her a big bouquet of "her" Camillias. They always made her smile and made her day a little brighter. She was very disappointed and unhappy with her body. She told me at our first meeting that she was "as active as you are now. Don't let yourself go here." When we first met, she found it difficult to walk without the support of a cane. The cane became a walker, then a power wheelchair, then she couldn't leave her bed. She was very unhappy, so when she finally "passed" at about eight-eight or nine years old, I was happy she no longer suffered. And, when I get lazy about exercising, I hear her words loud and clear in my head. "Don't go there". OK, Marilyn. Thanks.

I get a rest day from hard labor today too because it is raining. The fog is rolling in on the lake and the light has turned an eery light gray. The birds don't care about rain though. We've counted three Cardinal pairs, numerous chicadees, sparrows and black birds. They're queuing up in the Dogwood tree to get their turn on the feeder, and have now happily found the suet feeder in the same tree. The concrete angel-sculpted birdbath sits at the pink Dogwood's base.

Larry and I were just commenting that we haven't seen any Blue Jays for a long time, and none this year. Not a half hour later, Larry spied one on the feeder and I saw its mate on the ground pecking happily under it. Word travels fast in the aviary world.

Well, while Larry tries to get our new printer talking to this laptop, I'll be off to the laundromat. I can't wait until we can have a washer and dryer here at The Lakehouse.

Septic Update

Well, Larry dug about eighteen inches down along the south side of the "coffin-shaped" (his words) septic tank where he guessed the outtake pipe would be. He didn't find it. "That's ok, though," he said, "I remember that in the old days, sometimes the outtakes were put just inches above the bottom of the tank. I didn't find it near the top, so that must be the case with this one. That means I won't run into it when I replace the intake. Now I can move onto the replacement." So he went back to Lowe's to buy more four-inch PVC pipe and other supplies.

He wants to make sure that when he cuts the eight-foot length of pipe to the size he needs, he can cut it "square". So, he built a miter box out of old arsenic-pressure-treated boards we saved from renovating the dock. We can't burn that wood because of the potential noxious fumes, so he'll use it to build stuff as he thinks of useful things to make. Alkaline Copper is used in pressure-treated wood now-a-days.

It's raining today, so Larry gets a rest day from hard labor. He just laid those sturdy lattice panels that used to be a privacy screen for the outdoor shower over the hole to keep our very curious puppies out of it. Now he can get back to trying to make our new printer respond to this laptop.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Back to the Septic Fix

Larry lost sleep last night worrying about how to approach installing a new intake pipe into the tank. One of the "fixes" for our septic problem, is to create a "drop" for the flow from our house to the tank. He discovered that the existing pipe has about a two inch rise instead of a drop. Fluids can flow uphill, once roots are removed, but solids cannot. He dug up to the wall of the homemade tank to reveal a rim of brick. He grew up down here and, as a teenager, built a septic system and tank with his grandfather.

Where he grew up, outside of Columbia, he was in "the sandhills". Drainage is excellent there. In those days, one dug a hole about five feet deep, lined it with concrete block that was filled with concrete; leaving the bottom open. Then they cut an intake hole and an outtake hole a few inches from the top, and lined them with cement. The drain field was a series of shallow, rectangular (about eighteen inches long) concrete blocks cut in half and laid open-face-down on the ground with about an inch or so of separation between them. Stones were laid between and around the separations, then sand and soil covered it all up. The fluid found its way through the stones (that kept soil from getting into the "pipes") into the sand for leaching.

Here, we are in yellow and red clay that over time turns to rock with compression. Also, one to three-inch quartz-like rocks are peppered throughout the clay to make digging a chore, and ruins the tips of shovels and axe-blades alike. If you chop at a root in the ground, you inevitably hit rock, which chips at the blades and the edges. We really don't know how Fred, the previous late owner, designed this septic system. But Larry has ventured a guess about where the outtake pipe is located and how far down on the tank it is. He has to do more digging today to find that outtake point, possibly having to remove some of the soil over the tank lid, being careful not to compromise the lid or chip it in any serious way. The location of the tank is a walking area, so care has to be given for safety reasons.

He lost sleep because he is afraid of what will happen if he breaches the wall of the tank in order to replace the intake cast-iron pipe with PVC. This project has so far been a mushroom of discoveries. He has to lower the pipe overall to create a "drop", which will increase the efficiency of the flow to the tank. PVC is nice and slick, so solids will move through it cleanly. But without the drop angle, they may continue to sit at the new forty-five degree bend he will create. The terra-cotta bend now is about ninety degrees.

I called my brother, Jim, this morning, who works with septic systems in Massachusetts as a career, for a consultation. Larry surmised that in the 1950's when our system was built, the technology was about the same everywhere: there were fewer rules, homeowners did the work themselves, and the design was kept pretty simple. Jimmy suggested to Larry that he not worry about replacing, or creating, a "T" ballast inside the tank for the intake pipe (which would allow waste to flow and drop into the tank, while preventing back-flow). Jim suggested he just remove the cast-iron pipe, chisel the hole lower, and after the new PVC is installed, just plug up the hole and the entire entry area with a wheelbarrow of cement, allowing waste to just pour into the tank. Larry read online that plugging the holes with cement is a common practice now, as it was when he was a boy. Jim's advice was very helpful, and now Larry is outside digging.

Our plan within a year is to completely replace this entire septic system anyway when we renovate the house. We just need a system that works until then. We are both sick of having to snake the pipe every three days to prevent toilet overflow, and flow of disgusting-looking "stuff" into the tub next to the toilet. Another problem is that the kitchen sink empties into this system. So when the system clogs, any water from the kitchen sink also causes junk to rise up into the bottom of the tub. It is truly disgusting and rusty-looking. No smells to deal with at all, amazingly. Just a tub that is very difficult to keep clean.

Right now, I don't use that toilet. If I have to, and we have a note taped to the toilet lid for family and guests, pee in the toilet, I leave paper in the plastic-shopping-bag-lined waste basket. I'm sure some of you are yelling, "TMI" (Too Much Information), right now, but I thought a true picture of our predicament was warranted to get the full, quality-of-life impact of the problem.

Because this project is taking longer than expected (there's only room for one person to dig), it may be the only large project we get completed in our remaining weeks here. We will be heading back up north at the end of the month to begin preparing our Massachusetts house for sale, hopefully this summer. And, we own my sister's house up there, so we will also be putting that on the market at the same time. She says she's ready to move on, so here we go! We are not at a loss for work, that's for sure. This is retirement?

Now you know why we enjoy coffee and breakfast in a leisurely manner each morning. We have to gear up for the hours ahead each day and make sure our plan still makes sense. And, we take a few hours to relax and watch the changing light on the water, the rising of the lake level, how many fisherman are braving the cold and wind in what kinds of boats, and most importantly, the birds outside our windows fighting over turf surrounding the feeder and splashing in the birdbath. We keep binoculars on the table next to the sofa to check out bird markings, and to see far away. More about bird watching in another blog.