Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Wheels On the Bus...

Day three of riding the Mountain Line bus and I had my first foul up, learning my first lesson in bus riding...don't try to beat the system!  Smarter people then me figured out the routes and I need to follow them. I tried to jump off route 12, walk 4 blocks and catch route 6 to beat the 12 bus to the transfer station. Only I looked at the wrong line on the route map. So I walked 4 more blocks and caught the U Dash bus to campus and got back on track. My move cost me 30 minutes.
Why am I taking the bus? Beyond wanting to support public transportation and Mountain Line being zero fare, we have no working go car at the moment.  Our van is in Coeur d'Alene after it took the brunt of the elk collision and two days ago my car went kaput. We have to either get a new head gasket or drop in a refurbished engine and considering our budget is in shambles, not looking forward to either option.
Maybe we'll move to Australia! (Reference to kids book and movie intended).  I am loving the bus and my bike, maybe this will be a good start to not using my car...ever!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Someone Saved My Life (Our Lives) Tonight





The bad luck train made yet another stop at the O'Connor house Sunday night, but as the title of this posts suggests, divine intervention and happenstance stepped in and saved the day and our lives. We hit a bull elk at 75 mph on Interstate 90 heading towards Missoula at about 10pm Pacific Time. He was bigger than a horse and, for a flash, a thing of beauty.

It had been a glorious day. Liam won a free pass to Silverwood from his school last year for reading and had asked us at least 50 times when we could go...and after all we've been through this year it seemed right to take a day off from the stress of the house and do something fun with the kids. His buddy Rowan spent the night on Saturday and we'd cleared it with his folks, so on Sunday morning I jumped in the van with Jen, Quinn, Rowan, and Liam and headed west to Silverwood Theme Park to take in the last day of the season. We rode roller coasters, krazy bumper kars, the log flume (I got soaked much to their delight), and merry go rounds. We ate cotton candy and kettlecorn and we played midway games. We stretched the fun out as long as we could and then began the trek home at about 7pm local time, all smiles.

On the drive over I'd noticed an unusual amount of animal carnage on the highway and commented to Jen that we had better be careful on the drive home. Thinking about it now, I don't ever recall seeing more dead deer, other animals, and blood spatterings on a stretch of interstate, it was literally every mile or two where signs of a vehicle-animal accident were visible.

After leaving the park and getting closer to Coeur d'Alene, we decided to give the boys one more treat and stopped for dinner at Tomato Street. We'd really wanted to get on the road as soon as possible, but at that point it didn't seem like it would make much difference and Tomato Street is a fun family restaurant. After dinner, we even paused to observe the lunar eclipse in all its glory before Jen snapped us out of our daze with a, "we better get on the road".  Off we went.

The drive between CDA and Missoula goes over several mountain passes and through national forest. It is a sparsely populated area, heavy with timber, light with people, and full of wildlife small and big. I was extra cautious, even going below the speed limit at times when we were driving through an area that felt "gamey".  So you might imagine my surprise and horror, when right outside of Kellogg, ID, a massive bull elk appeared out of nowhere in my headlights. A car with its brights on had just passed us going west and I was just getting ready to curse him when the elk, standing taller than a horse with its beautiful coat and rack, materialized in front of the car. It was surreal and bizarre...you could see the lights of the exit and the Wal-Mart...we were clearly right next to a populated area yet here was this beautiful wild creature standing in the road.  All I could think at that moment was, "don't swerve....don't swerve". It all happened so fast yet the time between when we saw him and when I hit him was slow motion in my mind . I remember he started to jump towards the middle of the interstate and I had time to veer, not swerve, right.  The slight movement may have saved our lives because we only hit the left hindquarter of the beast. had we hit him straight on, who knows if I'd be writing this post now! He rolled up the hood and his butt smashed through the front windshield. His head jerked back and hit the driver's side rear view mirror and sent it hurling through the driver's side window and into my face. He then spun down the side of the car and vanished into the dark, scraping the car with his antlers along the way. I had the wherewith all to get to the side of the road. For whatever reason our airbags did not deploy but there was glass everywhere. I could hear one of the kids screaming and the engine running. Jen sprang into action immediately,  first checking on the kids (Liam sat in stunned silence, Quinn remained asleep throughout the whole thing to the point we thought he had a head injury, and Rowan was shaken and upset), then getting a towel and telling me to press it against my head before calling 911. I sat frozen in the driver seat with glass everywhere and chunks of the front windshield swaying in front of my eyes. I could feel blood running down my face but knew enough to know not to panic. I really wasn't sure how badly I was hurt but knew I was in some trouble. Jen is a nurse and knew what needed to be done. She was nothing short of amazing.

About 15-20 seconds after we hit the elk, a pickup truck came through... we aren't sure if the elk was dead on the highway or if he tried to get up, but the pickup slammed into the elk making an awful sound, and then all we could hear were tires screeching and all I could see was Jen looking back in horror screaming, "oh no". The truck skidded by us, missing us by perhaps 2-3 feet and came to rest about 15-20 feet in front of us and then there was just silence. I remember it looked like a movie, with our headlights showing the truck and smoke billowing out...I could smell gas and we quickly realized the truck in front of us was leaking fuel badly. No one was moving in the truck.  It seemed like only seconds later that the first responder arrived.

I cannot say enough about the first responders that night. They were professional, efficient, caring, and re-assuring. There were firefighters, ambulances, and sheriff deputies all doing their tasks and taking care of business, They quickly ascertained the pickup was not going to blow up and divided up into teams to care for the passengers in both vehicles. Once they figured out I was not going to bleed to death and no one else in the car was injured, they got the kids out of the car and started working on me. They put a neck collar on me first, then brought in the backboard and the ambulance. As odd as this might sound, I was not scared. I knew I could not undue what had just happened and couldn't do anything about the pain; that realization almost made the pain go away.  All I could really feel was cold...I was really, really cold. And I felt awful that we were entrusted with the safety of someone else's kid and I had gotten into a wreck. Even though there were many people working on me, I concentrated on Jen and the main EMT who was giving me instructions. I tried to focus on him and keep talking. And I tried to catch her face and reassure her everything was going to be okay. She beat me to it every time. They all just kept commenting on how lucky we were to be alive.

At first I tried to not go in the ambulance, recognizing it was probably going to cost several thousand dollars for the quick trip to the Shoshone Medical Center. I think I said something like, "can't we just try to dive the van there"? Jen was insistent though, thankfully, and so into the ambulance I went and headed to the local ER, IV started "just in case". The X-Rays showed nothing broken (although we discovered I have an extra vertebra in my neck and arthritis) so the nurses and doctor proceeded to remove the glass shards from my head and arms and legs and start patching me up. I got a few stitches in my forehead and upper lip but my lower lip wasn't so lucky.  It was split and mangled and the extremely capable Dr. Lawhorn spent about 45 minutes suturing my lip back together, When all was said and done it looked like I'd been in a bad bar fight and hit in the head with a broken bottle!

The deputy who helped us went so far out of his way to make sure we were safe...we just couldn't have been luckier. He arranged for a hotel room and transported our family, in two shifts, to the hotel.  He stayed with me in the ER, telling me stories and just generally making sure I was okay. He gave us his card, called his friends who could help us with an automobile, and called the hotel later to make sure we were okay. The good folks of Kellogg were wonderful.

While I was laying in the ER that night I learned a few things: I learned that this time of year there is at least one animal - vehicle accident a night in Shoshone County, Idaho; I learned that Idaho has a law that allows a person to collect road kill - and that this time of year folks listen to their scanners and rush to the scene of an accident to try and salvage game meat. I learned that Kellogg has a great restaurant that is only open seasonally called the Moose Creek Grill, and I learned an elk herd crosses the highway with regularity, Also I was reminded, once again, at how strong my wife is as she was a super trooper and never faltered under pressure.

So, I finally can say I bagged a bull elk...just not the way I ever intended. And now that I am 3 days post accident and all cleaned up, it doesn't look too bad! I might even look a little more Montanan! Life is good. We are lucky to be here and grateful for all we have and all those who love us and we love.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Yo La Tango

I've been a fan for some time and am really enjoying the new music from Stuff Like That There. Here is a link to their First Listen session on NPR First Listen: Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Trying To Find My Om Place

The pace of work on our basement has increased daily for the past two weeks. Our construction crew is doing everything they can to try and get us back into the basement before the 25th of August, which marks the 8th month "anniversary" of our troubles.  They are hard-working young men who all seemingly pity us and all we've been through. Yesterday there were painters and electricians, carpenters, and excavators (did I mention we have another problem?) all scurrying about and the basement is really coming into shape.

This insurance claim stuff is a funny business. It seems such a long time ago now that the insurance adjuster came to our house with his tape measure, utility knife, and laser pointer to measure and take samples as to put a value on our damaged property. Later, when the work began, it became clear the claim was going to be much bigger than originally anticipated, which made the insurance adjuster quite uneasy. Asbestos and mold were discovered and shortly thereafter it was determined we were going to have to dig up much more of the basement slab than planned. As time has gone on I've kept a binder of correspondence, estimates, reports, affidavits, and other documents in an attempt to keep on top of this thing and better understand what we will ultimately be responsible to pay vs. the insurance company.

During the past 8 months we've now had two of what I will call payment points from the insurance company (Travelers). The first payment point came when the insurance company determined the value of emergency services necessary in our home.  An amount was determined and then a portion of that amount was sent to us in a check with the explanation that once we proved we had spent that whole amount or more, the insurance company would send us a check for the difference. Now here is where it gets interesting...because we have a mortgage on the home, the check had to be made out to us AND the mortgage company. We had to then endorse the check and send it to the mortgage company (RoundPoint), along with complete documentation proving those services had been provided and were completed.  After several weeks the mortgage company sent the check back to us, endorsed, and we were then able to pay the folks who provided the emergency services.  The amount withheld by Travelers is still due and we haven't yet quite figured out how to get that money.  The second payment point came three weeks ago when Travelers sent a check for a portion of the repair work.  Again, they've withheld a portion of the claim until we prove we've spent the money.  Once again we had to send the check to RoundPoint. Curiously, this time RoundPoint did not endorse the check and send it back...instead they cashed the $36K check and wrote a new one for $24K made out to us and our main contractor. They say it is their right to withhold the money until we can prove the work is complete.  There seems to be an awful lot of proving we have to do, first to get the $12K the mortgage company is holing onto and then to get the $7K the insurance company is holding onto!  And it seems we have no recourse and the mortgage company has every right to cash the check, hold on to the money (hmmm...I wonder what they do with all the money they hold on to from claims????) and disburse it to us at a schedule they see fit.  I am a little frustrated.

We have great folks helping us and I just hope we can pay them in a timely manner for their work. Oh, did I mention we also got a letter from Travelers stating they will not renew our homeowners policy?  Too many claims in a 5 year period is their justification. I need to go find my Om place now...oh there is one of them, waiting for me down in the Bitterroot.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lake Street Dive in the Studio: Rachael Price Sings "What I'm Doing Here...



Wow, they are playing tonight at the Top Hat here in Missoula...while Wilco is playing at Big Sky Brewery. And we are supposed to be camping. Oh what to do, what to do.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Twerps - Full Performance (Live on KEXP)



A shout out to this morning to all my Aussie friends, especially Mark & Heidi Sowerby. This is a great Australian band, The Twerps. First song of the day on random play was "Peculiar" There is something about how the vocals are just a bit off of the music and how they dance together that strike me and sort of put me in a trance. Combine it with the lyrics and you have a really good song...albeit not for everybody.  Oh, Go, Mark GO!!!!  As you swim the English Channel this weekend. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Tale of the Leak, The Lake, The Crack, and the Family Who Had Enough

Those who've been following the travails of our house woes know that our journey has lasted 7 months as of the 25th of July. Water first appeared in our basement on Christmas day and has been the gift that keeps giving. At first we thought it was a small leak of some kind, but it turned into a problem big enough that we ended up having to reconstruct our entire basement, including removing a large portion of the slab. We discovered a lake of grossness under our house, fed for some years by a burst pipe. We also discovered an underground spring manifested under the slab as well, a spring that has probably flowed through our property off and on since the home was built...at least that is one theory. Like an onion, each time we thought we'd solved the problem we were simply peeling off a layer to another problem. Over the past 7 months we've discovered hidden floor drains, asbestos, mold (the really nasty black kind) and improperly installed electrical work, much of this in areas of the basement undamaged by the water problems. We also made the mistake of moving our washer & dryer into the basement, inadvertently changing our restoration job into a renovation job, thus opening our basement to the need to upgrade everything to code in order to pass inspection. It's been a bit of a mess to say the least. 
We've had a storage pod in our driveway since three days after Christmas and between that and the garage, our belongings have been in various stages of packed and unpacked since that time. An unknowing passer-by might easily mistake us for hoarders gone wild.
It has been both an interesting and frustrating experience, as our problem was multi-headed and the solution involved both insured and non-insured work. We've gained knowledge about water, the mountain we live on and the underground springs that exist all over, city code, plumbing, electrical, construction, mold mitigation, asbestos removal, and countless other things we never would have known otherwise.
My last post was two months ago and much has transpired since that time. Unfortunately, our basement is still in a state of reconstruction and last Friday water appeared in the basement again, this time caused by a grading problem in the front of the house, no doubt exacerbated by heavy trucks and trailers used to haul old stuff our and new stuff in to the basement. Luckily our construction crew was able to dig a trench as a temporary solution until we return from our annual Midwestern swing (also known as a vacation). No water since and the drywall was not damaged by the leak. In all probability we will have to excavate in the front next.
On the good side, we are finally getting some positive gains on putting the basement, and somewhat our lives, back together. Drywall is up and taped. Ceiling is back in (at least part of it) and flooring should arrive within the week. We think there might be some light at the end pf the tunnel and hope to have the basement back within a month (crossing our fingers).
Throughout all of this we try to remind ourselves just how lucky we are to have all that we do and that this is just a temporary problem, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit we haven't felt unlucky through most of it all. We are so very grateful though to everyone near and far who has helped us with donations, cards, calls, and physical labor. It remains extremely humbling and a little embarrassing when we know others need so much more than we do...we will be forever grateful. The total costs of the project are now over $150,000.00 and we would have been in some serious difficulty without the help of so many others. To all of you, anonymous or otherwise, we say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Monday, June 01, 2015

2015 Missoula Mile





Liam dragging me home. 9:54 for an 8 year-old with no training is not too shabby. Way to go buddy! We are at the 7:10 mark of the video.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys - Hot Hands





Thanks to Kevin Kronner, I've discovered a whole new group of artists collaborating through Earthworks Music in Michigan. I guess I have another excuse to head back to that wonderful state soon!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Life Marches On

Since my last entry about our home disaster, much has changed and life keeps marching on. We are now well into our 5th month of disaster recovery and still quite some way from getting our home and life back, but we are definitely on the way.
It's been almost a month since Grant Creek Excavating showed up in front of our home on a Wednesday morning at 6:30 am with a large backhoe. The owner was there to go over the job with the crew and introduce himself. It was an incredible gesture as, you see, they were supposed to begin work two days earlier but had gotten delayed on another job.  He wanted me to know how sorry he was for our problems and to tell me his crew had every intention of doing whatever it took to finish the job still in the original time frame. And boy did they ever. I'm not sure I've seen a group of harder working guys. By 8:00 am they started ripping up our front lawn and having at it in earnest. They worked 12-14 hours each day digging, ripping, laying pipe and constructing the water containment system in our front yard. Thy then connected the system to the storm sewer for primary overflow and constructed the upper overflow system to daylight any water that reached that high into our front yard. Even though we still scratch our heads at being required to create such a sophisticated system,. we are grateful to WGM for the design and for everyone else who helped build  the Beast Container 9000 (I just made that name up).
Although it seems trivial and out of touch now, seeing the plants go, some of which were transplanted from my first house in Missoula, and others of which were planted with a lot of love and sweat by Jen and me was a little heart breaking. The first night I just stood in awe at the mess and monster hole that used to be our yard. On day two the big backhoe was replaced by it's little brother and a remote-controlled machine used to tamp down the earth when they started back filling. It really was a site to see.
After Grant Creek completed their portion, another crew came in to connect the interior drain to the exterior containment system. We all waited with baited breath to see if it worked. Within about 4 hours, water was successfully moving through the interior system and out to the containment system.  In a testament to just how compacted the clay and rock are on the side of the mountain, after several more hours water was already draining into the storm sewer, meaning stage 1 of the system was already full. Since that time we've been monitoring the system daily to make sure it works and are now prepping to finally fill in the remainder of basement slab so that we can move on to re-building.
As Will Smith so famously sang, we are now about ready to, "Get Jiggy Wit it" and have been busy getting bids for interior plumbing, electrical and other work, while Daysprings crews are arranging drywall, flooring, ceiling, and other details. Matt Schmidt and the pros at Beaudette Consulting Engineers have been helping us assess structural needs and concerns and we hope to have a stairwell back in our basement in a few weeks. We love our home, but it was built in the 1950's, so we are getting used to hearing contractors and inspectors say things like, "well now that this is exposed it will need to be upgraded as it doesn't meet code anymore..." every time a wall is opened or ceiling tile removed. I don't really go to sleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head these days...it is more like dollar signs adding up! But I digress...work has been at a standstill for a few weeks but should start again within a week.
In the midst of all this, our dear friend Kristin English started a gofundme page for us to help offset the mounting personal costs. When the idea first came up it was sort of brought up in a joking manner and we brushed it off. The second time she brought it up in a group and everyone agreed we should do it but we politely thanked them and said no. When she brought up a third time we had a serious discussion and talked to another friend who had a gofundme site built for him after a terrible crime was committed against him resulting in very large medical bills. I also talked to a few other people, all who advised us to let our friends help in any way they wanted and let them have a choice. So we said yes and the results have been nothing short of miraculous for our family. In less than two weeks the site has collected over $13,000.00 and other people have donated directly. It has allowed us to take less of a loan and relieved to much stress and worry. We cannot thank everyone enough and promise to pass it on to others in need.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

We are Humbled

Over the course of the past several weeks friends have asked us how they could help with our ongoing personal disaster involving our house. Due to some complications and exclusions in our homeowners insurance agreement, we are faced with a little over $50,000.00 in out of pocket repair/restoration costs.


Our patent answer was the same, "we're fine, We are still eating three meals a day, the kids are still doing their thing, we have a roof over our heads...we'll get through this". One dear friend suggested we set up a site where people could donate to us if they wanted to help. No thanks was our answer, there are plenty of others who need more help.

Then I had a conversation with my good friend Russ, who was the victim of a senseless attack in downtown Missoula that resulted in multiple hospital stays, a severe head injury, cracked teeth, and loads of rehab. One of Russ' friends set up a site for him and together his friends donated a significant amount of money to help defray his large out of pocket healthcare costs. He relayed some of the same feelings I had when this idea came up...it was a little embarrassing and uncomfortable and it seemed like others needed much more help than we need. I am charitable, but have never needed charity myself (well not entirely true...there were the lean years when I relied an awful lot on my friends for meals and my family for the same and more!) But Russ said in retrospect it was a blessing...people want to help, and frankly he needed it and I guess so do we.

So we said go for it to Kristin English...an incredible friend who is family.  Kristen set up a site for us on Monday and we have almost $4,000.00 donated. We are extremely humbled and grateful to everyone who has helped, monetarily or otherwise.
O'Connor's Home Disaster Fund

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Those Winter Sundays (Poem)

#TWPT (Truly Wonderful Poem Tuesday...I just started this hashtag so help it spread)
Those Winter Sundays (Robert Hayden 1962)

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No on ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know,
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Biting the (Water) Bullet

When last we met our intrepid waterlogged homeowners (that's us), they'd played a gamble that they could tap into the old drain fields in their front yard (that's our front yard), a $950.00 gamble to be precise. The hope was by digging up the portion of the yard just outside the homes northeastern most foundation, they could replace the tiles that connected the old drain system under the slab with a newer version, connect them to an exterior gravel drain field that would allow the groundwater to seep back into the earth, button it all up, and be on the way to repair of their desolated basement.  That gamble failed and the family (us) was left with a huge hole in their front yard and no progress towards resolution. And they were poorer to boot!

Now, a month later, we rejoin our story, already in progress...

Today is day three of "il-proń°ett basmeent grand" (that's Maltese for The Grand Basement Project :) ). Much has transpired since my last blog post. As I write, our basement is a mere shadow of its former self. The walls, which had been mostly removed with the initial water damage, are now gone for the most part. The studs have been cut at about 4 feet high and removed down to the slab. The slab itself has been jack-hammered and chopped away on three sides of the house and today a crew came through and hand dug the earth under the exposed slab to below the foundation.
More of the old drain tiles were discovered and sit neatly stacked in a corner, perhaps on their way to some drain tile museum somewhere. This is surely a story for the ages.

Basement slab post jack-hammering
After learning that the drain field in our front yard was beyond repair, we began to reassess our situation. I was still convinced (and part of me still is) that the stream flowing through our basement was not an underground spring at all but instead was freed drinking water, recently escaped from a leaking pipe somewhere above our house in a Mountain Water supply line.  And so, because I was not ready to give up the ghost, I called Mountain Water yet again and told them we had a depression in our front yard that caused me to believe we had a leak...and they sent up a leak investigator.  The investigator was a great guy who freely admitted he hated coming up the hill to our mountainside neighborhood due to all the leaks in the system. Evidently the original water pipes were asbestos, not metal, and are to this day nearly impossible to locate. At some point in time the water company purchased the original Farviews Water Company that serviced our area and they've been paying the price ever since. All you have to do is drive down any street in our neighborhood to see the big square patches of replaced pavement where the water company had to dig. The City is currently trying to condemn the Utility in court so as to purchase them and one of their expert witnesses recently testified the system has had up to a 50% leak rate in a year...all this only buoyed my confidence in the leaking water theory. At any rate, the investigator was intrigued by our situation and agreed to call in another investigator with a sophisticated listening device that could locate leaks. The following Monday we had a glimmer of hope because they did find a leak a block above our house, right along what would be the fall line: Crews came in with a backhoe, dug up the street, creating yet another of the aforementioned pavement patches. The leaking pipe was replaced and I danced a jig in celebration, but it failed to slow the flow of water in our basement (still at 50 gallons an hour).  So, we finally raised the white flag and accepted defeat; this was going to be our problem to fix and our problem alone.
Busted concrete removed 
Because the bottom of our foundation is below street level, we were immediately faced with a predicament...how do we install a system that can move the water around the home and, if necessary, into the storm sewer.  The City was equally as concerned and told us we could only include the storm sewer in the plan if our new system was professionally designed by an engineer. Otherwise we'd have to find a way to "daylight" the spring to the surface, which also means that if water leaves our property and damages another downhill, we are liable for the damages. Once again the dollar signs started spinning like a slot machine in my head. In actuality, we managed to connect with a fantastic engineer at WGM Group who created a super cool design at a very reasonable price in short order. The system could allow us to potentially capture some of the water to use for irrigation on our yard! It sort of looks like a giant underground rain barrel with no bottom and slit sides. There will be 4 feet of gravel under this rain barrel-ish thingee, and a pipe flowing out of the top into the storm sewer with a pump above that. The theory being water will be caught by our interior drains, funneled around the
A River Runs Through it
outside edge of the interior and into the containment system. It should flow back into the ground but if it doesn't it will collect and rise in the system and be given the opportunity to flow into the storm sewer or be pumped above ground for our use. Very cool, albeit expensive, or at least expensive to our thinking.

Once the containment system was designed and approved, we then had to decide if we were going to go for the exterior curtain drain option, which would involve completely ripping up our back yard and digging a trench the entire length of our house (216 cubic yards of dirt would have to be removed) OR go for installing an interior foundation drain system. As the photos indicate, we went with the latter. Unfortunately, none of this is covered by insurance because we cannot show the water is anything but an underground spring, which is excluded in our policy.  So, off to the bank we went and because we have the most amazing banker in the world on our side, we were able to secure a loan tp cover the cost. Did I mention we will be having a bake sale to help pay for our kids college, because this project is costing us more than a college education (cue very small violins).
Once again, Ryan and the good folks at Dayspring Restoration jumped in and laid out a detailed plan for us of how they are going to restore our house and our sanity.  So far, so good. Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tweedy, The Top Hat, Missoula 03/11/2015

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer last Wednesday night at the Top Hat.  I wanted to go but missed the boat on tickets as the show sold out super fast (Missoula loves anything related to Wilco and Wilco seems to love Missoula as well). I'd resigned myself to just hear about the show, which unfortunately seems to be the trend in my life rather than the exception these days. But happenstance and luck reared their heads again and two tickets fell into my lap thanks to Alex & Nick Simmons making the state high school basketball tournament.  Jen pooped out and various friends couldn't go for one reason or another (the best excuse coming in the form of a text from Mexico apologizing he had to miss the show due to lounging on the beach....BAH), so I headed to the show with my friends Karl & Lolo sans listening partner.  As for the problem of the extra ticket, after standing out front for 15 minutes with no taker, I popped a message onto Facebook and sold the ticket within 5 minutes. The buyer was a friend of a friend and we did the age old, "I'm wearing a blue flannel-ish shirt with glasses - I'm wearing a denim jacket with a brown shoulder bag" exchange. Easy peasy and rather fun..

Minus 5 opened the show early. Most folks (including myself) were blown away by what has been called, "the side project to end all side projects" that Minus 5 represents. The band has had a who's who of rock n' roll float in and out, collaborate, tour, and just have fun with the leader of the pack, Scott McCaughey This time around was no exception with none other than Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame on guitar. Buck has played with the band on and off since its inception and was effortless in keeping up with the pace. They played a lot of music I'd never heard before and a great rendition of not ready to die, die, die. There was a cameo from Liam Cunningham, who is on the Tweedy tour. I came to find out he is Jeff Tweedy's son's best friend and he is a killer musician, Thoroughly enjoyable and a great way to start off the night.

Tweedy took the stage shortly after 9:00PM, a refreshing change of pace for an old fart like me who dreads it more each time when bands don't take the stage until 10 or 11.  The first thing I noticed was how much he was smiling. The crowd went crazy of course (did I mention Missoula loves Wilco?  Did I mention they've played here three times in the past 6 years and two of their films had their debuts here?).  Then I noticed his son Spencer on stage and man is he young but man can he play the drums. Tweedy engaged the crowd from the get go with plenty of jokes and references to Waltz's and the age of the audience. The band took there time and they appeared like they were actually having fun. Great mix of solo, covers, and Wilco tunes. In addition to his solo music, the band played covers of Mavis Staples, Uncle Tupelo, and Love Like A Wire, a lovely song written by Chicago songwriter Diane Izzo. Tweedy, rather on purpose or not, went from the melodic flannel rock Uncle Tupelo cover to a hard rockin' tune with a big smile on his face, perhaps his ode to want to be a punk rocker. About half way into the show the band left the stage and Jeff Tweedy did an acoustic set of Wilco tunes including plenty of music from A.M. and Sky Blue Sky.  At about 11 the band left but came back for a great encore set which included a fantastic rendition of California Stars. The show was incredible and made my week.  Thoroughly tired the next day but my head was swimming in the memory of good, live music!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Jets To Brazil- Sea Anemone





I am blown away, even to this day, every time I hear this song. 1998...if I had heard this while in college, I just might have remained frozen in time. JTB were just down right awesome.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Beast Outside the Footings

Our house - it just keeps getting better
We were having so much fun digging trenches inside our house that we decided just to go ahead and start digging outside the house. Actually, we weren't quite so nonchalant about digging outside, but it was a roll of the dice we felt we had to take.
After our attempts at using a camera to follow the drain tiles in our basement out under the foundation were met with a black sludge that resembled the old Beverly Hillbillies oil strike (but a whole lot more fragrant in a bad way), we were told we needed to expose more of the basement floor. Once again, the pros at A-Core brought their diamond-tipped blade in and sawed up more concrete and the burly men of Dayspring came in with their jackhammers and buckets to rip up and hand carry out the floor. More of our basement was removed and what used to be Coles bedroom was turned into an ode to WWI foxholes...stinky, muddy, nasty, rocky foxholes.  I'm beginning to think we could charge admission, add some fish to the stream, and recoup what can only be astronomical bills silently growing.
After a day of sucking out the black goo with "The Extractor", in came the cameras again to investigate where the drain tile traveled. With baited breath we waited to see if the camera could travel under the foundation, through the pipe, and hopefully to some path that would take the water and move it on down the mountain. But once again our hopes at finding a solution were dashed when the camera and snake ran into a wall; this time the wall was in the form of rock and crushed tile about three feet on the outside of the home.  It left us with a conundrum...should we dig out front to clear away the rock and crushed tile in hopes that the tile would pick back up, clear and clean as a whistle and travel down to the storm sewer or perhaps a drain field in the yard, or, should we raise the white flag and dig up the back yard to install the more expensive solution of a curtain/French drain along the back and sides of our home. It was a $1000.00 gamble we had to take and in came the Excavator.
The hole - after the black mess was removed
Last Friday was D-Day - Dig Day - at 610 West Crestline Drive. How fitting it should fall on Friday the 13th. I almost took the day off but I cursed the trench as I left for work and crossed my fingers. At 0900 I was notified the excavator arrived. At 1000 I was notified they were digging (and had already cut through our year-old irrigation system), to be followed by the 1100 notification that they were about a foot from their destination, but the excavator was broken. I could almost hear the trench laughing at me from my desk chair. FInally I was told they'd reached their destination but the dirt was too unstable to climb down.
By late afternoon the verdict was in...they reached the broken drain tile only to discover an even more gross and nasty mess. The "drain field" that was installed when the house was built was completely ruined. It was compacted with the same dreaded black tarry organic mess that caused the interior drain system to fail. And it smelled to high heaven. I believe "beyond repair" was the phrase used. We'd hoped to find the silver bullet but instead found a titanium turd - our hopes once again dashed.
Everyone seems interested, except for the homeowners insurance and the water company...the water company has had enough messes up here and are doing everything in their power to stay wide and clear of even looking to see if they have a broken pipe in the system and the insurance company, well we won't go there in this post. So now we are back to square one, except we have hired WGM Engineering to help us design a solution. We are hoping to have some sketches and rough estimates of our options this week...but I've been saying this week so long now that even I don't believe it myself. For those old enough to recall, we are now officially living in an unfunny version of Green Acres.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The (Water) Monster Under the Stairs

My curious silence since last posting about the disaster in our basement has not gone unnoticed. The truth is, I almost couldn't bear to put on virtual paper what has been happening in reality. It has now been 31 days since we discovered water on the floor of our basement bathroom. What we thought was a leak, was in reality a seep, and the journey to today has been mind-blowing to say the least.

We left our story on the eve of the "battle of the scope" as I lovingly call it, the night before Pioneer Drain & Sewer arrived to put a scope down our drains to try and discover the source of our problem. Dave Rawley from Pioneer is a local legend and wizard at sleuthing out leak sources. However, it didn't take long until Dave echoed the chorus that has become all too familiar this past month when he uttered, "I've just never seen anything like this before". On the first day of his efforts, he snaked, jetted, pushed, and cajoled his scope through what I'll refer to as the poopie end of the house...all the pipes that flow out of our toilets, bathroom sinks and shower/bath drains. Dave agreed with us the odor we were smelling was definitely not ground water, but all he found were partial blockages here and a suspect fitting there, but no cracks in the pipes.  After over 4 hours of trying he resigned himself to say we had to find a catch or drain to get in to the other end of the house....the pipes that drain out our kitchen and laundry room. The following day he found it equally difficult to snake the pipes and ended up bringing in the big gun, the hydro-jet, to clear out all the lines.  It was with some sense of mystery he discovered water still flowing through the pipes after he'd cleared them of all debris out to the main sewer drain. All this was on videotape. As he began to draw back the scope it suddenly dipped into a pool of water and there it was, a large portion of the cast iron pipe was just gone.  Dave's camera dipped into what seemed to me like a deep sea cravass and he said, "bingo".  Boy was I relieved...a crack in the pipe meant our hypothesis that the leak was not ground water was true and insurance would cover the damage...or so it seemed at the time. Dave and his crew carefully measured and identified the spot in the pipe where it was cracked. He also noted two additional places where the pipe was failing.  Unfortunately the crack was located directly under the stairwell in a place requiring us to remove the stairwell and walls to get to it properly.

On Wednesday, January 7th, we finally got the adjuster on site. A former contractor himself, he identified with our plight but made sure we knew he was only able to pay for damage inside the home caused by the water and access to the pipe.  Repair of the pipe itself would be our responsibility. We had both Dayspring Restoration and Sentinel Mechanical up at the house at the same time to help bolster our case. It didn't take long for the adjuster to tell us we were going to need to rip out parts of the walls in a majority of the basement and agree to allow for a 27' by 2.5' x 18" trench to be dug through our basement to expose the pipe. It meant we were going to have to get everything out of the basement pronto and prepare ourselves for a long journey to repair. In came the storage container and Daysrping's crews spent the next two days helping us get everything out of the basement and into the pod or garage. We told the kids we'd sleep dormitory style and it would be a fun and short-lived adventure.

Did I mention they found both Asbestos and mold in our drywall? Queue the two week wait for the Asbestos mitigation crew to come in, remove the walls and test the air before more work could commence.


 The next Monday brought a crew from A-Core concrete cutting up to the house and the following day crews began jack hammering out the concrete.  What they discovered was a reservoir of nasty water under our home, indicating the pipe had been cracked or compromised for some time. They also discovered a hidden floor drain, meaning the problem had been there before (a story for another post).  Sump pumps were installed and we thought it would be cut and dry from that point on. Boy were we wrong.  Running parallel to the damaged drain pipe were a series of hexagonal hollow clay tiles, similar to the old fashioned drain tiles called Orangeburg tile. The lower our smelly lake got the more we could see water running, not leaking, running out of the tiles. More consultations with plumbers and the decision was made to try and expose on of the tiles to see where and what it was draining. A nasty black goo oozed out of the exposed tile, indicating both our cracked tile had been a problem for some time and that the drain tiles were also compromised.

Every expert we've talked to says they've never seen a drainage system like this running underneath a home; certainly around a home, but not underneath. No one knows what to do.  In addition, it was discovered the drainage pipe ran under the load bearing footer in the middle of the floor and then rose back up to meet the meet the main drain, a major no-no and probably a contributor to the eventual failure of the cast iron pipe. So a structural engineer was called in from Beaudette (thanks Mike Nielson) and measurements taken to make sure we could chip away at the foundation and run the new replacement drain pipe at the correct angle. Beaudette is also the firm where Jen's ex-husband, Matt Schmidt is a partner and he has been a great source of information for us through this ordeal.I really can't say enough nice things about the crew of professionals trying to help us sort all this out from Dayspring, Sentinel Mechanical, Pioneer Drain & Sewer, Beaudette Consulting Engineers, and Travelers Insurance.

Unfortunately, when Dave came back to try and scope the drainage tile, he found it was clogged all the way through with black sludge. Meaning the leak in our cast iron pipe also led to the downfall of the drainage system that purportedly keeps groundwater (aka a Spring) moving under and away from our home. We had the water tested for chlorine, thinking perhaps the water company has a leak somewhere above our house (we live in the side of the lower portion of a mountain). No chlorine. Dave's magic scope ran into three dead ends, meaning we now have to expose more pipe by having more floor cut up form the basement, Worse still, the insurance company says they will only cover the cost of exposing the pipe and are not responsible for replacing the broken drainage system...they say that will be our cost. The restoration folks have told us we need to prepare ourselves for all possibilities, including tearing up the entire basement floor!

As you might imagine, stress and despair have been winning out over hope and satisfaction in the moment here at the O'Connor household. As I write this missive I am being serenaded by the continuous sound of water being sucked up by the sump pump, We've had sump pumps, negative air machines, and fans running 24/7 since December 28th...can't wait for the electric bill.  Where do we go from here? We can only wait until more concrete is removed and the path of the drain pipes are discovered. Send good mojo, prayers, thoughts, and invisible rays of positivity our way please!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Leaky Basement Part II

It's been over a week now and our basement has gotten worse. We've had drain people out, plumbers out, and restoration experts out here trying to determine the source of the water, which has gone from ruining one room to 4 and from possibly being ground water seeping in to sewer water backing up into the house. Everyone has a different theory, from a water utility line break above our home seeping in, to a pipe break and partial blockage outside the home. We had a master plumber up who is certain it is a break...I'm throwing my chips behind his theory. The water increases when the washer runs, which to him means the water can't drain correctly from our home and he has wondered aloud if we don't have an old floor drain somewhere that was covered when the house was renovated back in 1980. We had to remove all personal items form that end of the basement, which happens to be the part of the house we remodeled to make bedrooms for Cole and Macy!  The restoration crew was able to remove the soaked pad and carpet from one room, but the other rooms remain intact but desolate. Our downstairs recreation room has been turned into a shared bedroom for now.
Nice moldy wall post carpet removal
Tomorrow is a big day, when a plumber with a specialized camera on the end of a snake hose will explore all the drains to locate the leak. It's also going to be the first time our insurance adjuster will be in the home and he will be determining our fate. We've had three different people tell us that if anyone can find a leak, it's this particular crew from Pioneer Plumbing. And Chuck from Sentinel Mechanical was fantastic, just as Andy Lennox said he would be...he is like a super sleuth plumbing detective, exactly what we needed. In the meantime, we've had some good news and some bad news.
A few days ago the test sample of drywall they took out came back positive for asbestos. All work had to stop and we'll need a specialized asbestos mitigation crew to come in and do demolition on both bedrooms, the bathroom and the kids craft area. Unfortunately in my quest to move things along, I ripped out a wall in Macy's bedroom myself prior to the results coming back with no mask or even gloves (yeah, I know, stupid)...so I've potentially been exposed to asbestos inhalation. Considering I grew up in the '60s in an old battleship of an elementary school with asbestos everywhere...I am not too worried. The mold and e-choli tests are not back yet so we'll see what other dangers lurk. The flu bug that started with Liam and Quinn, hit Jen hard. Nonetheless she drove all the kids to Idaho Falls for Cole's hockey tournament on Friday. And Cole woke up Saturday puking...so Macy and myself are presumably next. I've been downing extra Vitamin C, and Kombucha with Chia seeds...anything I can think of to stave off the virus.
smelly water
The good news is, if it is confirmed to be a break in a line and the water is backing up, the damage it caused will be covered by homeowners. In yet another odd twist of homeowners insurance jargon, the  repair of the broken pipe will only be covered if the pipe is in the house, or under the concrete foundation of the house. If the pipe is exterior, insurance will not pay to repair the pipe and we'll have to pay to have that done before interior repairs can begin, And since we are in the midst of another sever winter storm warning, repairing a broken pipe somewhere in our front yard will not be an easy task.  Hearing this news awakened memories of my childhood, when the flu bug was running through our house (just as it is now) and a water pipe broke during a major winter storm...the ground was so frozen the backhoe struggled to get through and a plume of water froze right in front of our house. It was pitiful, as neighbors trekked buckets of water over to our quarantined home so we could survive. It was pretty gross as I recall. Let's hope we don't have the same result here.