Cherry picking history


If you own an old house, you might romanticize the good-old days.

I’m guilty. Even as I press my glass against the fridge water dispenser…. and charge my cell phone… I sometimes think, “I’m stepping on the same pine floor laid 100 years ago.”

A tenuous but historical connection.

When I roll open the living room pocket doors, I imagine someone doing the same a century ago. They probably warned their kids the same way: “Do not hang on the doors! You’ll pull them off the runners!”

We use the same doors and knobs and windows as those who lived here without electricity and running water. We’re connected to people who lived without traffic, noise and light pollution… who never stumbled over cheap, plastic toys discarded about the house. Those were the days…

Simpler days…

…but also days of dirt, disease and pestilence!


Living without electricity and running water was gross AND a major drag, I thought as I plunged two buckets into the horses’ water trough and hoisted them out. Last week a hefty rain (and faulty sump) shorted out the well pump. For two days the horse trough was our main water source. We used bottled water to drink and brush teeth, but we needed buckets to flush the toilets (which cease auto-flushing without water pressure). We hauled loads of water across the cold, blustery pasture, up the porch and into each bathroom. Several times.

And let me say this: dumping water in a toilet isn’t as… elegant… as modern flushing. And enlisting another person to dribble frigid water over your soapy hands isn’t as satisfying as a functioning sink.

I thought a lot about plumbing as I trudged outside, buckets banging my knees. Early owners of the house used a pump out back, though I’m not sure when that came to be. They might have used the pond (since drained) or the spring house (pictured above) which was twice the distance. For sure, the 1905 owners didn’t use a “water closet.” They hiked to the outhouse behind the barn. (Oddly, the privy hole still exists. Legend has it, this site has Civil War significance so it’s never been filled in. A historically-significant hole? Okay…)

At some point, the farmhouse was piped for radiator heat and the owners enclosed half of the hallway and plumbed it, rendering the outhouse obsolete.

I didn’t think about plumbing until it was gone. Fortunately after two days, our water was restored. We were back to scalding showers and other necessities like automatic crushed ice.

I can’t say I’ll continue appreciating these conveniences. And I still crave the olden days in a selective fashion. Like last night, when I despaired that my closet offered nothing to wear.

It was probably easier when people couldn’t afford clothes, I thought. I could live back then, with just a few outfits and a Sunday dress. I could live that way… 

As long as my washer and dryer time-travel, too.


Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink


Last night’s drenching rain wasn’t a name-worthy event. It didn’t deliver a hurricane punch, it didn’t catapult geeky, meteorology terms like “derecho,” into the urban vernacular.

It was simply a strong southeast storm, punctuated by wind, twisters and a wide swath of precipitation — its tendrils dangling down to the Gulf.



But look at it from a local perspective.

This was not the gentle sprinkle of a watering can. This was Mother Nature yanking the dunk-tank lever.

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And after a few hours the storm really flexed its muscles.

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 Actually, this photo shows our cellar flooding. Again.You don’t see that? Look closer…. see… that’s 4 inches of rain pelting the already-saturated earth…

And… see there? That’s a jam in the sump pump’s vertical extension shaft, and groundwater burbling through the cellar floor. Now do you see?

Post-Sandy, this is familiar territory. When I heard the trickle of running water, I ran downstairs and scooped up the toys, floor rugs and the dirty laundry by the washing machine. Then I phoned Martin — who was working late. “The cellar’s flooding,” I said. “You need to fix the sump pump.” Then I went back to making crab cakes.

By the time Martin arrived, four to five inches stood in the cellar. But with some tinkering, the sump pump recovered; only a few damp spots remain.

Outside is a different story. Puddles, potholes and pasture depressions are flush with rain. The ground is spongy. Water is all around us.

Except that it isn’t.

There’s water, but not in the house — not from the taps. The pipes are dry because the well pump ceased operation. It flooded.

Which is kind of ironic. 

Because there is too much water, we have no water…


Status: submerged

Sandy Sum-Up


Funny Farm has been victim of a weather delay.

And complications with Brynn’s health. And car malfunctions. And horse injuries. And pest problems. And pink eye. These in the last 36 hours. (But I’m in no mood to rehash. Let’s just focus on the weather, shall we?)

A week ago Friday Martin and I were focused on picture-perfect weather and sandy beaches, not Sandy. We were 2,700 miles away. Right here:



LA for three days and a friend’s wedding.

We arrived Friday to spotless blue sky but we couldn’t ignore what brewed back home. Standing in baggage claim a message flashed on my phone: Maryland… state of emergency for Sandy.

We tried to file the message and CNN’s continuous news crawls under hurricane hype. We pretended all was well, then quietly shortened our trip.

Shorter was not enough. Our Sunday flight was canceled. Try Wednesday or Thursday, Southwest said on the phone.

We hastily packed and left the beach house. “We’re going stand-by,” I told Martin.

At LAX a fantastically long line lapped the terminal, both inside and out. At least 1,000 people paralyzed in a sea of suitcases.

All bound for Southwest travel.

We didn’t stand a shot… we knocked on every other airline counter. Anything to DC? Phili? New York? How about Pittsburgh? Charlotte?


At an empty Air Trans counter, I asked again. The agent had two tickets.

How much? I asked.

$350 each.

Can I think about it for a minute?

Not really, she said.

I slapped down a credit card and she grabbed my shirt collar and dragged us to the front of the security line.


A sullen crowd waiting approval to join the sullen crowd cued for security check. 


Clutching our shoes, loose change, belts, IDs and plane tickets — still warm from the printer — we sprinted for the gate. We flew to Atlanta, then connected for our final destination: Columbus, Ohio.

Bleary, we arrived at 12:30 am Monday. I was thrilled.



Shivering in our shorts and tees, we rousted the car rental desk, and hopped into a four-door something. We drove all night, cracking the edge of Sandy in Wheeling, West Va.

Twenty hours after our LA leaving — following two flights and 485 miles of driving… after a car rental return and personal car retrieval — we reached the farm. In time for frantic hurricane prep and the race against power loss.


Hasty gutter clearance…


It wasn’t long before Sandy left her sticky fingerprints. A leak sprang from the light fixture in the newly renovated bathroom.

The leak’s origins were unknown so Martin gouged the ceiling, guiding the leak over the bathtub. Wet insulation, plaster and lathe littered the bathroom.


Disemboweled ceiling


Torrents lashed the house and by afternoon new leaks sprang in my office, spreading like a family tree. Out came the pots and pans, and then the plastic tubs.



The kids came home and by dinnertime someone hit the light switch and turned on the dark. Powerless and sump-pumpless, the cellar flooded. Martin and I fumbled in the dark to clear my leaky office but the cellar was hopeless. We went to bed, leaving the basement contents bobbing around.

Tuesday, Sandy scaled down, big-time. Still powerless Martin finally invested in a generator. And the act of buying it was enough — the electricity returned. Well rested the sump pump cleared 90 percent of the cellar flooding in a matter of hours.

It’s now three days later and the house is dank and damp and in need of sizable repairs. In the cellar we’re plotting a trash-it session. It’s a mess. Not comparable to New Jersey/New York but a mess nonetheless.

California seems like a lifetime ago.