A Visit From the Easter Raccoon

Once again, a seemingly minor problem has spiraled into major household repairs (and expense), although fortunately not on the scale of the Great Plumbing Adventure of 2016. I’m coming to expect this sort of thing.


It all started in January with the pitter-patter of tiny feet—no, make that the nightly stampeding of paws—above my head. We’d just had three days of cold weather so icy I couldn’t even get into Houston for work, and rodents had taken refuge in my attic. It wasn’t the first time in the forty plus years I’ve lived in this house, far from it, but I decided to take action and called in Pest Control.


The pleasant and knowledgeable man who came to evaluate my situation immediately spotted the Hole in the Roof, which I had managed not to notice despite the fact that it was located low on the roof not far to the left of my front door. No wonder there were rodents in my attic.


roof 1


The Pest Control technician came the next day, and after he’d laid out traps in the attic we covered the hole in the roof with a handy wooden crate cover from the garage. The technician knew his business; the noise in the attic disappeared almost immediately and the slab of wood on the roof stayed in place.


It stayed in place for several weeks, as I became more and more complacent and found any number of things more important than calling someone to repair the roof. I’d glance up there each morning when I went out to collect the newspaper, satisfied that everything was under control.


Until I woke up on the Saturday morning before Easter to a crash and the sound of paws running through the attic. When I went out to get the paper, it was clear that that the wood had been moved and the hole exposed. What an enterprising . . . rodent, I thought, as I moved the wood back in place. The traps up there will take care of this.


Nope. Come evening, great banging around upstairs told me that something was trapped in the attic, something larger than my previous tenants. I went out and moved the board, came back in and made loud noises by snapping the door to the attic, and went back out.


There was a raccoon on the roof, sitting next to the hole, staring back at me.


I waited half an hour or so, until I was sure the raccoon had gone on about its nocturnal business. Then I put the wooden slab back in place and weighted it down with a large artillery shell (my garage is full of a remarkable variety of strange objects) that my late husband used as an ashtray.


The next morning, Easter, I heard banging on the roof again, and when I went outside I could see that the wood had been moved again. Not wanting to trap the raccoon in the attic, I left my failed barricade as it was.


Sometime on Monday, though, I realized that I hadn’t heard any more noise upstairs. When I climbed the ladder to check the hole in the roof, I saw that it had only been partially uncovered. Had the raccoon been unable to get back in? Had it met with an accident, or found a better place to live, maybe a furnished apartment over someone’s garage? I decided to take a chance and cover the hole again, this time adding the second artillery shell from the garage. (Don’t ask me where Jack found them, or why I’ve kept them all these years. Amazing what eventually comes in handy. Besides, it’s not that easy to toss a heavy brass object in the trash.) If I heard furious action in the attic, I could always go out and uncover the hole.


roof 2


Meanwhile, I found a local roofer with many excellent reviews. I contacted him on Tuesday, and while I was at work, he scoped out my problem. It would take a full square (a ten-by-ten-foot sheet of half-inch plywood) to repair the rotten decking that had allowed the rodents to tear a hole in the first place, and several hundred dollars. Maybe it wasn’t worth starting to patch a 22-year-old roof? Twenty years is a pretty typical life span for a roof in this climate, and my homeowner’s insurance company had been giving me grief over it for several years.


roof 3


So the roofers came on Monday at 7:30. An amazingly efficient crew of six or seven men had the whole job, including clean up, done by 5. It looks beautiful. Well, it looks like a nice, clean, intact roof, and the old gray rodent-chewed vents have been replaced by handsome black ones with caps to keep future rodents out. Of course all the leaves that were on the old roof are now on my lawn, but that’s a minor problem.


roof 4


I’m still listening for noise in the attic, but so far so good. According to Nutmeg, my cat, no animal in its right mind would have stayed around with all that hammering going on. I guess I’m lucky she didn’t pack up and leave. She did demand extra treats and a lot of cuddles.


It all started with the dryer . . .

On August 20, my clothes dryer died, in the middle of the day’s last load of laundry. I wasn’t surprised. The dryer came from Montgomery Ward, years before they closed in 2001; it was at least twenty years old, probably older. I’d already gotten a couple of extra years out of it by replacing the main belt. The washing machine sitting next to it still worked, but it was just as old. Aha, I thought. My birthday is coming up shortly. I will treat myself to a new washer and dryer.


I shopped around, but there really isn’t much of a price range on appliances. I picked out a pair of machines from LG (I already had an LG refrigerator and an LG smart phone, why not go for something in the middle?) and ordered them on August 26.


Delivery was scheduled for the morning of Friday, September 2. After numerous calls and a long day of waiting, the truck showed up about 6 p.m. The dryer was installed without problems. The washer had a slight dent, but by then I didn’t care. Sending it back seemed much more trouble than a dent.


Unfortunately, the washer wouldn’t drain, producing a puddle on my adjoining kitchen floor. The installers, whose competency rating was sliding rapidly downhill, blamed the problem on the drain hose. They chopped the end of it off and told me all would be well. It wasn’t. More water on the floor. The installers went out to their truck, made a phone call, and assured me someone would come fix it Monday morning.


I didn’t believe them. The drain hose explanation made little or no sense. The next day I went back to the store and spoke to the saleswoman. She checked with the delivery company and the service department—no record of any call or any help scheduled for Monday. And no one thought the hose explanation made sense.


So I went home and called the best appliance man I know, who said, “Nonsense. Your drain is blocked. You need a plumber.”


I couldn’t argue with that. The house is sixty years old, and I knew the plumbing wasn’t in good shape. In fact, plumbing-5I’d wondered if I might come home one day and find the ceiling on the floor after a pipe broke in the attic. So I called the plumbing/electric/air & heat contractor that I’ve used in the past, and they sent a plumber out on September 6. The drain was blocked, all right, and he couldn’t do anything with it.


On September 9, another Friday, three weeks after the demise of the dryer, a senior plumber came out with a pipe camera, and the project began to spiral.


No hope for the pipes draining my kitchen and utility room. They would need to tunnel under the house and replace the broken sewer line, running a new one across the back yard to join the old one. The city inspector would expect all the plumbing to be in working order, so he’d better check to see that the water heater in the attic was up to code. Good news: the relatively new water heater was fine. Bad news: the ancient pipes were not, and looked ready to burst any time. Worse news: since the inspector would look at everything, that included the guest bathroom, where nothing had worked for years.


Verdict: total re-pipe of the house, two tunnels under the foundation, two new sewer lines. The job would take a week or so. Not exactly the birthday present I was hoping for.


The diggers started on Monday, September 12th. The contractor’s pest control guy came by and gave me a plumbing-4price for rodent-proofing the house (I didn’t want poison in the attic, and they don’t use it) and spraying for termites. Both needed, still on the to-do list.


That night it rained, almost three inches. When I looked out the back door of the garage, the partially dug tunnel was full of water. Literally. Up to ground level. To my amazement, the diggers had the water pumped out and were back at work by mid-morning, but there was mud everywhere.


Meanwhile the inside plumbers got started, Nutmeg the cat began her exile to the only room in the house that had no plumbing and a door that stayed closed, and the electrician came out to look at my sixty-year-old circuit box. A total disaster, everything in it fused solid. Along with several other problems, including new GFI outlets throughout the house, that job is also now on the to-do list, above the pest control.


On September 19, the re-pipe was finished and the washing machine was hooked up and draining, through the sewer line that was laid but neither covered nor attached to the main sewer line. The diggers had moved on toplumbing-1 the tunnel on the other side of the house, and everyone waited for the city inspector.


Still waiting for official word from the first inspector on Friday the 23rd, and now a second inspector, from the water district, wanted his turn, but not until next week because it was raining. And he only worked part time. Meanwhile the contractor’s office was asking the job supervisor about the rest of the money (we both said, “When it’s finished!”) and the sheet rock repair man came to cover all the holes the plumbers had made (and a few they hadn’t).


Sheet rock guy was back the next day. So was the rain.


On Monday the 26th, the painter came to tidy up all the sheet rock repairs, and the tile man came to repair the damaged tile where a new faucet and shower control was being installed in the hall bathroom (along with a new toilet—by now I was saying, “Oh, sure, why not?” to just about anything).


More waiting until both inspectors gave their final approval—and posted it to the computer system where the plumbing-3contractor could see it. The diggers made quick work of refilling the tunnels and trenches (leaving my back yard awash in dirt, but some things can’t be helped. I’ve bought a pair of rubber boots), and on September 30 the plumber finished work on the hall bathtub and shower.


On Sunday, October 2, a friend from out of town stopped in, and I was able to say, for the first time in years, “Bathroom? Down the hall and to your right.” It wasn’t decorated yet, but everything worked. I hung the new shower plumbing-2curtain and arranged the new towels, and I had a bathroom that functioned.


On Monday, October 3, the job supervisor came out. We walked around the yard, looked at the indoor work, and I wrote another check.


I figure when I’m finished (if one is ever finished fixing up an old house) I will have spent just about as much as the house cost us in 1976 (it was twenty years old then). I still have to have the electrical and pest control work done, and there’s still a lot of mostly cosmetic work I’d like to do. But my plumbing problems are over.


And it all started when the clothes dryer died.

Back to Normal

Well, my household is as close to normal as it ever gets.  It’s been one thing after another the last few months, welcome or not, large or small, easy to fix or wildly expensive.  But that’s just life, isn’t it?

As welcome as it was, the Golden Heart call in March pretty much derailed my writing.  For a while I jumped between editing one manuscript and writing on a new one, while shifting my work into Scrivener.  As a result, I haven’t made much progress on the new story, and the editing isn’t quite finished on the older one.  I don’t really expect that to settle down until after the RWA Conference.

Then there was the day the door bell went nuts. Not that many people actually ring my door bell, so I let it slide for a while.  I didn’t know until I looked on line for door bell replacements that half of them are now wireless.  Wireless I can handle.  A couple of weeks ago I picked up a system with a chime that plugs into a wall outlet and bells for the front and back doors (and a different ring for each).

The garage door took a little longer, requiring phone calls (some never answered or returned) to four different companies over two weeks before I found someone who fixed the problem in less than half an hour.

Getting my trees trimmed and two dead trees removed proved to be easier than I expected.  I found a local arborist through a community magazine, and he did a very nice job over a three day period, and charged a reasonable (but definitely not negligible) price.

The pool demolition was expensive, but I was amazed at how quickly it was done.  My job fell right into a gap in the contractor’s schedule and was finished six working days, one more than predicted due to assorted traffic, delivery and mechanical problems.

Finished A

Here’s the end result of the pool demolition.  Expensive as it was, it was also long overdue, and every time I glance out the window and see that green space where the pool was, I’m pleased.  Now I need to keep all, or at least most, of that sod alive over the summer.  (The grass here spreads with runners, so if a square here or there doesn’t make it, the holes will eventually fill in.)  There’s still some wet earth and leaves to remove, but I bundled up the cut bamboo this afternoon.  Yesterday I picked up a new sprinkler head which is doing a good job of covering the sodded area (and now of course I can see how much the rest of the yard needs watering, too).

Heron in TreeI spotted this heron in the back yard this afternoon.  Apparently the disappearance of the pool, and the frogs who lived in it, hasn’t disrupted her life too badly.  She’s still here.

Pool Demo Update

Last week:  a sadly neglected but reasonably intact swimming pool.  Obviously, pool maintenance is not one of my passions.  Some good memories from years past, but life changes.

Before B

Day 1: Empty (and a call from my back fence neighbor making sure I didn’t have a broken pipe).  Happily, there was nothing down there but a few broken pool cleaning tools.  And a lot of mud.

Day 1 B

Day 2: There’s a small tractor with a flat tire in my back yard.  They had to take down a fence to get it back there (and then they put it back up for the duration — surely tractor theft isn’t a serious threat?).

Day 2 B

Day 3: Making progress.  There was more rebar in the bowl than I realized.  Most of the deck is still intact at this point.

Day 3 B

Day 4: Nothing left of the walls, and as far as I can see the deck is gone, too.  I think now we’re waiting for the dirt delivery.

Day 4 B

The initial plan was to be finished tomorrow (Day 5), but I’m not counting on it.  I suspect the flat tire on Saturday and scheduling the dirt delivery may have slowed the job down.  Who knows, if the dirt turns up in the morning, the rest of the job may go faster than I would imagine.  But I’ll be happy if they finish this week.


Farewell to the Pool

When Jack and I moved into this house in 1976, the swimming pool in the backyard was lagniappe.  We loved the house, and it came with a pool, so there we were.  Even though we moved here from Florida, neither of us had ever owned a pool, or we might have kept on house hunting.

It was a nice little pool, tucked on one side of our fairly large lot, kidney-shaped and no more than five feet deep, with a concrete deck and steps at the shallow end.  We enjoyed sitting in it, paddling around, swimming a little bit, although it was never really well suited for actual laps.  Albert, the basset hound who owned us in those days, knew his legs were not meant for swimming and refused to join us in the water, but he was happy to sit on the deck and attempt to lick us dry when we got out.  Among the many quirky things about the house was the half bath meant to serve the pool.  It had a sink and a shower.  No toilet.  That is not my idea of a bathroom, half or whole, and it has long since been converted to a storage closet.

Somehow I was in charge of pool maintenance, a job I hated passionately.  Cleaning the pool, running the pump, trekking to the pool supply store with the water sample bottle, battling algae.  Never my idea of fun, but a pool service was financially out of our reach.  One memorable summer a mallard hen with a limp got tired of migrating and settled in the pool.  Ducks have no respect for sanitary arrangements.  They will poop on anything, anywhere.  And the poor creature fell in love with Albert, a passion she expressed by nipping at his toes.  The poor dog would stick his head out the back door and look for her before he ventured out, until we finally caught her and took her over to an established flock on Galveston Bay where she was last seen limping valiantly away from several interested drakes.

A few years after we settled here, my parents moved from south Florida to a nearby neighborhood, and my dad loved the pool.  I’d hear a car door slam in the driveway and look out the kitchen window to see him in an open shirt and his favorite (and hideously ugly) harlequin patterned knit swim trunks.  He was the one who tried covering the pool for the winter, succeeding mainly in trapping water and leaves on the tarp and fooling poor Albert into stepping off the edge of the pool onto what looked like a solid surface.  (No dogs were ever harmed in this pool, but in Albert’s case it was a near thing.)  My mother, as far as I remember, never put so much as a toe in the water, not even when she lived with us for a couple of years after my dad passed away.

Albert the basset hound eventually crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and we were claimed by Fred the pit lab (the offspring of a smallish labrador retriever and an unidentified traveling sales dog), whose two favorite things in the world were tennis balls and the swimming pool.  Combine the two and you got a dog who would chase a ball from one end of the pool to the other until he could barely crawl up the steps and out of the water, exhausted but happy.  Evenings in the pool with Jack and Fred made the maintenance work worthwhile.

But over the years the pool, built sometime in the 1960s, began to deteriorate.  I kept it up as best I could even after Jack passed away, although Sandy the scruff terrier, Fred’s successor, refused to join me in the water.  Keeping it clean became ever more a battle, thanks to leaky plumbing and a faltering filter system.

Shortly before this area was hit by Hurricane Ike in the fall of 2008, the technicians refilling the filter tank damaged the electrical line to the pump; one morning I realized it was smoking.  By this time the plumbing was so unreliable that I never knew where I’d find water in the yard, and the deck was cracked and tilted.  And then the hurricane hit, and I said to myself, I’ll have it fixed next spring.

Or the next spring.  Or the next.

So I’ve known for years that the pool was doomed.  A habitat for mosquitoes, frogs, and the occasional heron doesn’t really belong in the suburbs.  I wavered between rehab and removal, and finally decided I never wanted to deal with pool maintenance again.  But pool removal is expensive, and I put it off until my insurance carrier finally gave me an ultimatum.

Demolition begins tomorrow morning.

Open, Sesame–or Garage Door

My garage door opener stopped working a couple of weeks ago.  It turned out to be a simple problem, but it was only resolved after I called four different garage door companies.  Good thing it wasn’t an emergency.

Jack and I bought the house where I live in 1976.  It came with a heavy wooden garage door dating from the 1950s.  The door featured a lock (but no key) and a row of perennially dirty windows, and a small round unidentified hole in one panel.  It never occurred to either of us to lock it, and we never had a second thought about opening and closing it by hand.

A few years after Jack died, I had surgery and was told not to lift anything heavier that a milk jug for several weeks.  That certainly ruled out the garage door (heck, it ruled out the fully loaded leather purse I’d been carrying), so I simply left the door open until I finally got around to having an electric garage door opener installed.  The man who put it in said, “Before long you won’t know how you got along without it,” and he was right.  I was thoroughly spoiled in no time.

A couple of years later, a cable broke, and the old door came crashing down, narrowly missing me and trapping my car in the garage.  On Friday evening of Labor Day Weekend.  That was an emergency.  I hunted down the company that had installed the opener, and someone came the next morning, jury-rigged a cable and got the door open (“Wow, lady,” he said, “I haven’t seen a door like this in years!”).  The next week he came back with a new door, light-weight but with no windows, and, I noticed much later, no handles.  On the (fortunately) rare occasions when the power was off, I could disconnect the door from the opener and open and close it with relative ease.

So when the opener suddenly refused to move more than a foot without reversing itself and returning to its locked and upright position, it wasn’t an emergency, just an inconvenience.  (And true to form, this time it happened on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend.)  I just left the door open, until my neighbor (a night owl) called and woke me up to ask “Did you know your garage door is open?”

When I called the outfit that installed the opener and the door, I got a phone company recording offering to find me a similar business, since the number I was calling was no longer in service.  I wasn’t surprised; I hadn’t been able to find them in the phone book, and the on-line references to the company were years old.  I tried calling two local companies: one gave me voice mail, and the other didn’t answer the phone.  But it was Memorial Day, after all.

I called the voice-mail number later in the week and left a message.  When the owner called me back, it was to share with me a five-minute rant against my local police, claiming that they had “harassed and extorted” him and he refused to work in my neighborhood.  Translation: he had turned onto my street at 30 miles per hour, passing the fire station, two 20 MPH speed limit signs, and the police station, and got a speeding ticket.  After listening to his story, I can only imagine what he said to the cop who stopped him.  The local police are the reason that my street is safe and I can leave my garage door open if I need to, and I think they may have saved me from spending time in the garage with a man wearing a tin foil hat.

Last week I had tree trimmers in and out of my yard, so I didn’t bother with the garage door.  Around Thursday I tried company number three again, and they still weren’t answering the phone.  I left a voice mail message with company number four, and we played phone tag for a couple of days.  Over the weekend it rained, and I remembered why I like opening and closing my garage door with a remote push button.

Yesterday morning Larry, the technician from company number four, took one look at the sensors near the bottom of the door tracks and pronounced them the worst installation job he’d ever seen (which may explain why company number one went out of business).  One of the sensors was broken, so the opener was not receiving the signal that it was safe to close.  Larry had the broken sensor replaced, both sensors remounted properly, and the garage door working perfectly in fifteen minutes.

Or two weeks, depending on how you look at it.

Fun with Home Repairs

I try to take care of things around my house one project at a time, but lately they’ve been piling up and overlapping, mostly little stuff, a couple of big jobs that need research, some that just need work.

About ten days ago, my garage door opener stopped working.  Well, it didn’t stop completely, but it only moves about a foot and then reverses.  Not an emergency.  I disconnected the door, a light aluminum affair that goes up and down manually with a minimum of fuss (and no handles, because apparently no one opens and closes their garage door by hand any more).  Some years ago, my fifty-year-old wooden garage door broke a cable, on the Friday evening of Labor Day Weekend, nearly squashing me and trapping my car inside the garage.  That was an emergency.

I called the company that installed my opener and door, and all I got was a recorded message from the phone company offering to find me another business in the same line of work, since the one I was calling didn’t exist.  The next two companies on my list, chosen because they appeared to be local, didn’t answer their phones on Memorial Day.  I left a message for one of them on voice mail, and got a return call the next day:  a five-minute rant about how the police in my neighborhood “harassed and extorted” him  (translation: he blew past a fire station, two 20 mph speed limit signs, and the cop shop and, surprise, got a speeding ticket) and he won’t work on my street.  The next company on my list still wasn’t answering the phone, and didn’t even have voice mail.  One of these days I’ll try one advertising 24/7 service, local or not.

This morning my doorbell rang at 8 o’clock.  I thought it might be Phil, the man trimming my trees this week, although I wasn’t expecting him to come by so early.  There was no one at the door.  Bell rang again, no one there.  When I went back through the hall where the bell is located, I heard an electric hum, until the bell rang again, and the hum stopped.  The bell didn’t ring again, or so I thought.

When I got home this evening about 7, Nutmeg the cat looked about as frazzled as a cat can–and the doorbell was ringing.  And ringing, every couple of minutes.  From the way poor Nutmeg was behaving, I suspect it had been disturbing her nap time all day.  I went out to the front door and took a good look at the ancient bell, which was clearly worn away to the point of not working at all.  Back in the hallway, however, the bell was chiming away.  I dragged my ladder in from the garage, climbed up with screwdriver in hand, and managed to remove the box from the wall and disconnect the bell.  Maybe next time I’m at Lowe’s I’ll look at doorbells.  Meanwhile, visitors can knock.

On the bright side, the tree trimmer is doing a good job.  Yesterday he pruned the branches close to my roof and the tree threatening the power line.  When I got home this evening, the dead pine tree in the front yard was gone, no longer a threat to either my house or passing cars.  Lots of clean up left, and when Phil stopped by (and knocked on my front door) to discuss the day’s work, I asked him about the gallon milk jug stuffed with leaves I’d noticed hanging from one of my whirligig poles.  An emergency nest, he explained, in case he’d found any baby birds in the pine tree he cut down.  He didn’t find a nest in the dead pine, but what a nice thought.

Whirly Birds