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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  I hated that book.  But it’s a great first line.

This past weekend we hosted February’s bi-monthly workshops – Bob did orange mead in the kitchen, and I had shiroscaelfgifa  teaching beginning tablet weaving in the living room.  Most of last week was picking up the house in preparation for having all these people over, hence the radio silence.

That and work was REALLY sucky.  I don’t want to/probably shouldn’t talk about that in this forum.

In the end we had almost twenty people, if you count the three that live here and the cats.  Some folks came for the brewing portion, which has been the weak link so far.  I’m providing outlets and socialization for the arts community – Bob is more or less trying to create a brewing community from scratch.  That’s going to take a bit longer.

I actually got up on time, woke up the woodstove, and got a fire started in the living room fireplace.  That’s a first for me.  I’m very good with woodstoves, but starting and maintaining a fire in a metal box where I can control the air, and doing the same in a pile on the floor against the wall are very different things.  So I was very pleased with myself.  I got the last of the cleanup finished just as people started arriving.  We milled for maybe an hour, and got started when Aelfgifa got there.  Some people brought looms, three of us didn’t have them, so we made them out of random scrap lumber and ¾” dowels.  You just can’t get better than that for low startup costs.  After that she had us warp them up.  That was… interesting.  It wasn’t so much that it was difficult as it was a pain in the ass.  She’d commented that in most classes they just hand you a warped up loom and teach you how to manipulate the cards, but she felt that this group would do better understanding how it worked from the beginning.  I agree completely, but I have to say that I understand why classes in a schola setting start with warped up looms.  First, it’s a pain in the butt; second, it takes either a bit of room OR good coordination to not clock people in the head; and third it takes bloody forever.  But we had all day, and Aelfgifa’s coordination is excellent.

In addition to tablet weaving and brewing, we also had cheesemaking and bread baking going on.  Anarra had started a batch of soft goat cheese at the canton meeting the night before, and finished up during the day.  I’m not a huge fan of cheese, but the process was pretty cool, and not horribly difficult.  Ana Ilevna had offered fresh bread for dinner, so she brought over the dough and baked it while we were working.

So we learned about twisting, and s-threading and z-threading, and rotating cards, and all sorts of cool stuff.  How neat is that?  Then in the midst of all of this crazy fun there was an almighty THUMP from the kitchen.  The sound that a body might make, hitting the floor.  A body holding a filled carboy, for example.  As I understand it, he picked up the carboy to agitate it in order to get the honey into solution, and lost his balance.  He’s fine, the carboy is fine, the only damage was to his pride and a quantity of liquid slopped.  Since mopping the floor is de rigueur after any brewing endeavors anyhow, not a huge deal.

So there was weaving and chatting in the living room, and brewing and tasting and chatting in the kitchen.  They had the woodstove, we had the fireplace.  Life was good.  Until…

There’s always a “but” in my stories.  Have you noticed that?

About two years ago we had a problem with a clogged drain from the downstairs full bath.  A fairly icky problem.  We bought a snake, augered out the drain, and thought we had resolved it.  No.  No we had not.  What we had done was to clear ourselves enough breathing space to allow it to reoccur on a day when we had seventeen people in the house.  Isn’t that when YOUR plumbing always backs up?


So we closed up that bathroom and directed people to the half bath by the door.  Which is a real shame, because in the winter the temperature in that room hovers just slightly above arctic.  Not a lot of encouragement to linger.  But we were still functional.

I got a big put of chicken and wine sauce on and a pot of rice, and that got done just about the point where weaving was beginning to break down into chatting.  My timing was accidentally perfect.  I even got compliments on my cooking, which made me happy.  I don’t really like to cook, but I do like to feed people.

I think everyone had a good time.  *I* had a great time, and now I have another hobby to indulge.  Tablet weaving is SO COOL.  I need to do more.  I have no idea what I’ll do with it, but I need to do more.  I’m such a dilettante.  I really am.


So at about 8:00, all the people having been cleared out of the house, we went to investigate the plumbing.  No change.  Bob had talked to my dad earlier, and dad offered his auger which is longer than ours, as well as a different style auger which is really more of a brute force weapon than a tool.  I offered to Bob that I would clean up if he would run down to Brookfield and pick up the auger – that way we could see if it could be snaked out that evening.  So he went to Brookfield, and I picked up the house.  When he got back, he started working on the shower drain, and I kept working on the kitchen, intermittently running down to the basement to report on his progress (if you lay a hand on the pipe, you can feel where the auger is running.)  He snaked that thing out all the way along the bathroom waste pipe and about halfway to where the main pipe leaves the house.  Twice.  Nothing.  I had been hopeful.  Very hopeful.  Because when the auger doesn’t work, the next step is to take the cap off of the clean out port in the basement.  The cap behind which all the ick is sitting.  The one IN MY BASEMENT.  Pointed directly at my boiler, I might add.  We decided that midnight was not the time to be starting something like that, bailed the shower pan, and called it a night.  We would attack it first thing Sunday morning.

Sunday morning dawned with an awakening Charlotte who really wanted her breakfast.  Bob got up to take care of that, and I fell back asleep for a little bit.  I got up when I heard him on the phone with my father – dad wanted to know how it had gone, and Bob wasn’t at his most charming.  I found out why when he got off the phone – overnight the shower pan had refilled.  Started to overflow over the lip “refilled.”

Here’s something I would never have guessed – the pan on one of your standard prefab shower enclosures will hold ten gallons of liquid.  Who knew?  It doesn’t *look* that deep.

More alarmingly, we had water in the crawl space.  Did you know that the phrase “water in the crawl space” will trigger a larger adrenaline dump in my system than any amount of caffeine can accomplish?

So here were the issues:

  *  The downstairs bathroom drains were clogged beyond redemption, and we needed to open them up in the basement and clean them out that way.
  *  The boxes in the crawlspace had to be removed (as well as a piece of furniture,) which is a lengthy difficult operation.
  *  Any boxes which may have gotten wet would have to be addressed/thrown out.
  *  Any wet insulation might need to be stripped out and replaced.
  *  Any one of these tasks required both of us to work on it – in the basement.
  *  We couldn’t leave Charlotte alone upstairs, and we couldn’t let her down into the basement.

Fun, eh?  That last point was the real problem.  So I called dad back, and asked if mom could come visit.  I explained how the situation stood, and that we didn’t have enough people to do the work AND watch the baby.  They packed up and got on the road.  Meanwhile, Bob watched the baby while I cleared walking space in the basement and started pulling boxes out of the crawlspace.  Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I had thought during the first rush of fear.  I hadn’t put cardboard boxes anywhere on that side because – the pipes were over there.  Sometimes I’m brilliant.  A couple of flip top plastic tubs had gotten wet and the water got in the top, but frankly, it was stuff I should have thrown out years ago anyway.  I pulled out boxes adjacent to the wet area, and moved the old entertainment center to the opening – getting it all the way out is a two man job.  When I had gotten that far, I went upstairs to mind Charlotte while Bob went downstairs to shift brewing stuff out of the way and clear the stuff in front of the Bilco door for removal of said cabinet (which ultimately ended up going up the main stairs instead.)

Ironically, she went down for a nap ten minutes before my parents got there.  But I just know that if I hadn’t called, she wouldn’t have napped at all.  I suppose I could have just left her to scream in her crib, but that didn’t seem very nice for anyone.

Dad showed up with an assortment of tools and a change of clothes.  I love my father.  We assembled buckets and ladders, and he opened up the port on the pipe coming from the bathroom.  That pipe drained over ten gallons of things I’m not going to talk about.  Then he sent me for a wire coat hanger and went fishing for the clog.  I think Bob has a persistent sinus infection, because he can never smell anything.  For once, this was a good thing.  Dad is just impervious.  I almost threw up twice.  I’m not going to give you any details – I’m trying to forget them.  Let’s just say that while I still don’t want to pay a plumber’s prices, I can’t argue with them.  Dear God…

Unfortunately, what came out of that pipe didn’t appear to actually BE the problem.  Some experimentation showed that apparently when we snaked the drain the night before, we didn’t break through the clog, we pushed it downstream.  That pushed it past where the other drains from other parts of the house join the main pipe.  So when I got up at 3:00 am and flushed the toilet on the second floor… that water had nowhere to go except back up the pipes – and the shower pan is the lowest point in the system.

Thank goodness I didn’t decide to take a shower up there.

So the next step was to remove the port that really frightened me – the one that leads out of the house to the tank in the back yard.  A direct pipeline to yuck.  Dad, of course, just waded in, so to speak.  If dealing with any of this stuff concerns him, he never shows it.  I can never tell where the competence stops and the confidence starts.  Which is not to say that he’s incompetent – he’s not.  My dad is the most competent person I know.  I just never know when he knows what he’s doing because he’s done it before, or when he’s certain that what he’s going to do will work because it ought to.

My fear, by the way, was not that I would open those pipes and horrible things would come gushing out.  Okay, it was for the first one, and I was right.  But primarily my fear with things like that is that I will open them up and then they won’t close correctly and I’ll have a leak.  A leak dripping unspeakable things.  These are the things I worry about at 2:00am.

Dad opened up the big cast iron four inch pipe and commented that if the clog was downstream of *there*, it would be time to call Roto-Rooter, but luckily it showed clear.  Once that was open he snaked between the two ports.  Then I spent a lot of time running up and down the stairs – flush the second floor toilet three times; flush the library toilet once; flush the toilet in the half bath; run the sink, the shower, and flush the toilet in the library bathroom; etc.  Eventually everything ran freely.

Bob helped me get the cabinet out of the crawl space, and I got in there to try to figure out where *that* water came from.  I had two wet spots.  One was a leak from the water supply valve on the toilet – it had started dripping a bit when we were turning the water on and off, and it had wicked down the water supply pipe and dripped.  The other one turned out to be a leak between the drain and the shower pan, and there wasn’t as much as had appeared at first glance – and it was clear water.  We cut away that piece of insulation, and will replace it soonish.  There’s a bunch of insulation bats that are hanging badly under there that I would kind of like to replace, but I’d rather do it in the spring.

Last night I started our “homework” to finish clearing this up and put about five gallons of hot water and a bunch of Dawn dish detergent down that drain.  We’re to do that every day for a week or so.  Apparently that drain had run slow the whole time we’ve been in the house, because it has never drained like that – I couldn’t pour the water in fast enough to flood the pipe.  That’s good.  I went down and could hear dripping in the crawlspace.  That’s bad.  For now, I’m going to put a bucket under it, but we’ll need to address that soon.

Here’s the punch line.  The reason we’re having this problem is because of a government regulation.  Our house was built in 1979.  Sometime after 1994, when Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the bathrooms were renovated.  That act mandated that toilets sold in the U.S. may use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush.  Now if you watch any of the home show trade show stuff, you’ll see the various manufacturers touting the newest, lowest flow low-flow toilets, and they usually have a great little visual demo involving a low volume flush and a lot of ping-pong balls.  Clearing the appliance isn’t the problem.  The problem is that I have a home that was plumbed to the standard of old four or five gallon flush toilets.  Once the flush has cleared the appliance it still needs to travel about twenty five feet horizontally through a four inch pipe before it hits a gravity assist drop to take it out to the septic tank.  Think about pouring 1.6 gallons of water into a four inch pipe.  How far do you think that water will carry any solids before the liquid it has spread out too far to carry any “product?”

Apparently not twenty five feet.

I gather that this is one of the most common problems plumbers see in pre 1994 homes that have renovated bathrooms.  I suspect that new homes are designed with shorter horizontal waste pipe runs.  Also, a lot of people smuggle high-flow toilets over the border from Canada.  It’s not legal for plumbers to install them, but who’s to ever know what’s been installed in your bathroom?  Or you can do it yourself.

So the practical answer is that for the two downstairs bathrooms, we need to retrain ourselves to push and hold the lever until the tank empties, thereby providing sufficient water to clear the pipe run.

I can do that.  I don’t ever want to open up those pipes again.

I washed my hands so many times that I’m surprised I have skin left.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC)
Soft goat cheese is my favourite cheese. (Of course, I'm very fond of provolone, too, but more for melting.) I once ordered a book on cheesemaking but it arrive damaged (the cover was torn and some pages stuck together) so I returned it and after glancing at a couple of the recipes knew there was no point reordering since they were so much work (so time consuming) that I'd never use them. Still, a very interesting idea.
Feb. 10th, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
This one was pretty simple. She got a half gallon of fresh goat milk, and on Friday night heated it to about 68F and added a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk with active cultures. Covered and let sit overnight. Saturday morning she added rennet, brought it over, and set it in a warm place to work. When it set, she sliced it to release more of the whey, drained it through cheesecloth (real cheesecloth,) and tied it up to hang and drain over the sink. After a few hours, add herbs if desired, and eat. It was a little bland, but for a spur of the moment project I was really impressed.

It was pretty neat. I may read up a little more on some other cheesemaking stuff. Just 'cause.
Feb. 10th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
You know, I grew up in a house with a septic system (built in 1950)with the pink ceramic fixtures, but luckily, we never had this issue. I know Daddy was finiky about how much water you used, but that was for kids who left the taps running...four of them. But I never remember a problem like yours, thank goodness. Wow! Glad everything "came out" all right in the end!
Feb. 10th, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
If you still had the pink ceramic fixtures, then you still had the old high flow toilets and everything worked together like it was designed to. It's when you renovate and put a 1.6 gallon flush unit onto a system designed to work with 4 gallons that you start to have problems.

I guess the silver lining to this whole adventure is that now we know how to clear out the drain pipes, so it's one more home system that we can deal with ourselves. Also, it's good to know that there's a leak in that shower pan *before* the subfloor rots out. I just have to remember that I need to make a sign for the next workshop that says "please hold down the handle while flushing."
Feb. 12th, 2010 12:57 am (UTC)
We had new fixtures in the last house, which had this strange bladder system in the tank, so that if they broke, I had no idea how to fix it, because I couldn't see any of the works at all. It did mean that they put out a mean amount of pressure with barely a gallon of water. It also meant that little girls were physically unable to flush because it was such a stiff handle. Heck, I could barely flush the things.

Of course right now I'm dealing with a toilet where the little loop on the flap in the tank is broken, so it works fine if you don't mind putting your hand in clean water half way to your elbow....

And the half bath wasn't that cold. The downstairs bathroom in our house was that bad the other week with the bathroom heater running.
Feb. 18th, 2010 04:17 am (UTC)
Google is trying to tell me something.
Many moons ago, (well, back in the mid-to-late nineties,) I was friends with Eilis Monahan. We did a bunch of SCA events together, and she introduced me to you. Actually, I think we might have first met at your house when she needed to pick something up, but after that, we would periodically see each other at events and Pennsics long after Eilis stopped attending.

In any event, while you and I have been no more than chatty acquaintances, I still remember you and how gracious you were about offering to teach me scribal arts.

I was just searching for the name of a merchant for a friend, and an LJ entry of yours came up. My brain went, "SCA? Eloise? Maybe it is." and I had to trundle on over and see. I've been randomly thinking about you recently since I started practicing calligraphy and illumination again for the first time in about fifteen years.

Anyway, I'm pleased to hear about your little one, and less pleased to hear about your house's plumbing, and glad that Google gave me an entertaining search result so I could come over and say hello.

Hello. :)

-Bran (my mundane name is Jillian)
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Google is trying to tell me something.
Oh my goodness - hi! Apparently there are some side benefits to being one of less than a dozen "Eloises" in the SCA.

I remember you well, and think of you occasionally also. I'm not doing as much scribal in this new World After Charlotte, but I'm thrilled to hear that you've picked it back up again.

Has it really been that long? I think I lost a decade in there somewhere...

Eilis pops in here occasionally - I've lost track of what part of the world she's in right now.

Wow! Well stop in and chat if you have time - the more the merrier. You just brightened up a fairly blah morning.
Feb. 21st, 2010 06:12 am (UTC)
Re: Google is trying to tell me something.
I'm flattered you remember me; I can't have been more than one of many late-teenage kids running around the SCA trying to find themselves. :)

Alas, it has been that long. Eilis introduced me to the SCA about 16 years ago (not that I've been very…shall we say…dedicated in that time; I never really found my niche, so I still don't even have an AoA. No matter.)

I can't keep track of Eilis either. Every once in a while I catch a post on here, or a youtube link to one of her Astronomy Girl videoblogs. I suspect she's probably somewhere, however, doing something interesting involving dust or books. Or maybe both.

And yeah, scribal stuff. Kinda finding my own way here, since I'm having trouble getting any of my new local group to respond to my emails. (I'm down in Atlantia now, in Hidden Mountain. This is not my familiar Eastern home… Getting anyone to actually do anything here in South Carolina is like…doing something really difficult.) So I'm reading lots of links, exploring the Drogin book, practicing my Insular Majuscule to balance out my love for early-period Celtic illustration, and researching Middle Eastern design so someday I can start making scrolls for people with Middle Eastern personae, and, and, and. Mostly, I'm trying to walk before I run, which turns out to be the toughest of all. I want to SPRINT. :)

It makes me happy to know that I could cheer up your morning with my out-on-a-limb reply. It could easily have turned into a game of, "who are you and why are you reading my lj?". Feel free to friend me if you like, though I have to say it might not be very interesting; I've gotten a bit sidetracked by Twitter, and so right now most of my posts are full of random Twitter entries. I miss my lj friends, though, so I'm trying to work out a system. Who knows what that will be...
Feb. 23rd, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
Re: Google is trying to tell me something.
Oh please - you were perfectly sweet! We liked you lots.

"I suspect she's probably somewhere, however, doing something interesting involving dust or books."

I would bet on dirt and trenches, but who knows. We got to see her photos from Petra - way cool. I'm intermittently living vicariously through her.

Hey - if you need any input, moral support, what not, on scribal issues, drop me a line. I've got ideas about everything. Insular miniscule is gorgeous. The only downer to it is that the appropriate/authentic illumination to go with it is so understated that you really need a calligraphy wonk to have it appreciated. One of these days I want to work up a really kick-ass Carolingian miniscule. I don't know that one yet.

My big thing at the moment is making my own paints from egg and pigment. How's THAT for nuts?
Feb. 23rd, 2010 05:08 am (UTC)
Re: Google is trying to tell me something.
Awww... ::blush::

Thanks for the offer. Might have to take you up on it. :) Insular majuscule is pretty awesome, but way different from the Gothic textura-ish thing I learned back in the day. I think what's actually kicking my ass is that I haven't ordered good nibs yet, so I'm fighting to keep the very thin parts thin. It took me a couple nights of solid work to get it looking even a little not-amateurish, so I think once I get some good nibs I'll be golden. (I read somewhere that Mitchell are good. Which do you like?)

As far as Insular majuscule goes, I like the little bits of illumination around the letters and on some initials that I've seen on some of these source pages. I can't wait to get my calligraphy smooth and even enough to move on to painting some whole pages. I can see what you mean about needing a calligraphy wonk; I think most scrolls are oohed and aaahed over for the shiny colourfulness that can be seen from the audience at court, and any scrolls based on these pages will be less shiny and more intricate, and might look more like just text from the cheap seats. But whatever. The cool people will get it. ;)

I like Carolingian miniscule. It's so… smooth.

"My big thing at the moment is making my own paints from egg and pigment. How's THAT for nuts?"

Um, right after I got an email from LJ with your response, I got an email from Sinopia Pigments. So, uh, not nuts at all. ;)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )