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The Story of an Often-Flooded Basement

Digging to seal the foundation and install a French drain

It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time. – David Allan Coe

About three years ago, when my family and I moved into our current house after living four years in Prague, Czech Republic, we were very excited about have a new place in the U.S. to call home. The usual inspections took place — the house looked perfect. It was; it still is. But one surprising thing began happening a month or two after we moved in — the basement flooded.

The Story of an Often-Flooded Basement

Actually, the water came in more like a waterfall, pouring down the concrete wall of the unfinished basement. My cat, Morris, who loves water, ran and romped and skidded through the lake, which covered most of the floor. The water looked as if it had seeped through the seam at the base of the concrete wall where it meets the floor, but after another couple of floods over the coming year, it was clear the water was coming from the wall itself.

Then, I discovered this:

missing wall
missing wall in the basement

At the place where the black shows where the insulation is lifted, the concrete foundation wall is missing. The builders, years before my family and I moved in, left out the wall in that section of the back of the basement and covered it with insulation. The black is plastic-coated fiberboard, placed on the inside of the brickwork on the exterior of the house. The section without a concrete foundation wall is a whopping 20′ long.

The best my dad and I could figure out is that when it rains heavily and the ground is saturated, the water table rose on the outside of the foundation of the house, regardless of what the sump pump could handle. When water reached a seam where the plastic fiberboard met the foundation concrete wall, water flowed into the basement freely. Definitely a problem. We didn’t really know what to do but attempt to fix it.

The first step: dig.

Digging to seal the foundation and install a French drain
The beginning of the digging work, still smiling, but wondering how long we can do this… (my oldest son with me)

Step 2: keep digging and try to find the leak.

Digging at the foundation to seal the leak before installing a French Drain
Digging at the foundation to seal the leak before installing a French Drain

At some point, four feet below the soil line, I found the seam where the leak was happening. Which meant more digging.

Step 3: spread Quikrete Hydraulic Water Seal along the entire questionable surface and allow it to dry. My dad was a pro at this.

Working to seal the leak along the foundation before installing a French drain for the flooding basement
Working to seal the leak along the foundation before installing a French drain for the flooding basement (my dad and youngest son)

Step 4: Keep digging because the water needs to drain away from the house better than by only regrading the dirt. We realized we needed to install a French Drain.

Step 5: We tried to calculate and figure how to transport drain pipe and the incredible weight in pea gravel we would need to lay around the drain pipe. At Lowes, we discovered this brilliant new lightweight French drain product. This made the whole process much easier for installation. It didn’t help with the digging, though — the same amount of earth had to be moved. Can you say — I became very tired from digging all of this mud and clay in 2 days?

Digging, Sealing the wall, before Installing a French drain for a flooded basement
Digging, Sealing the wall, before Installing a French drain for a flooded basement

Step 6: We installed the drain pipe and filled in around it with pea gravel (pulled from excess under the deck — my youngest son in orange above was a wonderful pea gravel mover).

Step 7: Move all of the dirt and clay back and fill in over the drain pipe after ensuring the pipe declines in elevation for the entire length.

Regrading after installing a French drain for a flooded basement
Regrading after installing a French drain for a flooded basement (with my middle son)

Step 8: Regrade the soil away from the house at an angle to encourage all rainwater and runoff to flow away from the foundation of the house.

Trying to uncover the dormant rose bushes while regrading after installing a French drain
Trying to uncover the dormant rose bushes while regrading after installing a French drain

Step 9: Cap the end of the drain pipe and create an open area for the exiting water to collect.

Step 10: Collapse, recover, and pray while it rains that all the effort and work pays off.

In the past three months since we all worked to seal the foundation, install the French drain, and regrade the soil, our corner of Ohio has had several flood watches and flood warnings. We’ve had a LOT of rain, snow, freezing rain, etc. And the best news is that through it all, the basement has stayed completely dry.

It worked!

It’s also interesting how many people I’ve talked with about this since the project, and how many of us have similar problems. The one thing I keep emphasizing is this: if I can do it (with the wonderful help of my dad and three teenage sons), so can you.

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The Importance of Home: 9 Favorite Quotes and Photos

Maremma, Tuscany, Italy

The longer I circle the sun, the more I realize the importance of home. I’ve written about home here before, but to me there is no more important thing than to have a peaceful place to call home.

As always, I collect quotes. When I read, I jot one down, or I keep them in a journal. And recently, I’ve read quotes which have hit me about the word home.

There may not be any more beautiful word in the English language than home. It embodies more than a place, but a warm feeling, hopefully, that draws us up and nearer to those we love. It is a place for the heart. It is peace.

At least, that’s my hope. Home can be a place of acceptance, warmth and peace. That is one of my most important goals — to create a place for my family and our friends to gather and stay, to find respite and happiness, peace and laughter. For that place, home, is where I want to be, too.

The Importance of Home: 9 Favorite Quotes and Photos

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou

Tuscany, Italy, and the Maremma

“Peace — that was the other name for home.” – Kathleen Norris

Maremma, Tuscany, Italy

“Love begins at home.” – Mother Theresa
Poppy and Morris happy to be home
Poppy and Morris, my cat and dog at home
“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” -Christian Morgenstern

 

Colorful flowers at home

“There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireside.” – Cicero

my viola and fireplace, home

“Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.” – Helen Rowland

home

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

peonies

“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than any magician ever spoke, or spirit even answered to, in the strongest conjuration.” – Charles Dickens

Peace

My home is covered with a blanket of snow right now … it’s cozy and warm. Just the way it should be through the cold winter. Soon it will be spring!

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4 Things I Love This February

The Goldfinch

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” – Edith Sitwell

Winter is an enchanted time for me. I love the cold, dark nights and days of frost and snow (though the snow in Boston sounds horrific right now). I love the pots of soup my husband cooks up on winter weekends. I love time beside the fire, snuggling down beneath heavy blankets, and the warm hand of the one I love in mine. I enjoy a bit of hibernation, as we call it around our house, but by February, I’m feeling the nudge toward light, and spring.

4 Things I Love This February

Books:Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

  • This week at Great New Books, I’m recommending a book I enjoyed very much, Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner. It is the story of Emmeline and Julia, two sisters evacuated from London before the Blitz bombings in WWII. If you liked Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, or Jojo Moyes’s The Girl You Left Behind, you’ll love Secrets of a Charmed Life. Click here to read more (live on Wednesday, 2/11/15).

 

  • Also, I’ve recently finished reading the stunning novel The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s the story of a Baptist preacher-turned-missionary who takes his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959. The voices of the females are captivating, and the story is oh, so powerful. I loved it.The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

“For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take charge of beginnings and endings. Not the marriage proposal, the summit conquered, the first shot fired, nor the last one either–the treaty at Appomattox, the knife in the heart. Let men write those stories. I can’t. I only know the middle ground where we live our lives. We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending. Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on.” -page 383, The Poisonwood Bible

 

Chocolate:

chocolatesThis chocolate is fueling me through the winter. My favorite is the Venezuela Dark Chocolate with Brazilian Coast Sea Salt. It’s a mix of salty with rich. I hope Costco will sell them forever.

 

Painting:

There is nothing like a new canvas on the easel, the smell of oil paint as it dries for weeks as I write daily, and the accomplishment of a painting created entirely with my own head, hands, and heart, where once there had only been a blank white canvas. This is my latest, of Venice, Italy.

 

Oil painting of Venice along the Grand Canal, by me, Jennifer Lyn King
Oil painting of Venice along the Grand Canal, by me, Jennifer Lyn King

 

Backyard:

We’ve had frequent snow and ice here in Cincinnati this winter, and in an otherwise bleak, brown landscape, I love seeing (and feeding) the birds. The backyard birds become long term residents, and if I might say also, friends. Here, two favorite photos I’ve taken this winter.

Cheerful, twittering wren
Cheerful, twittering wren

 

The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch

 

What do you love this February? Have a wonderful Valentine’s week, showing that extra bit of love to your loved ones. xo

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Flower Garden in a Weekend: the Quick and Easy Installation

Me, planting a rose (my favorite)

Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. – Hans Christian Anderson

 

When my family and I moved into our house last spring, we moved into a brick house with literally nothing outside but very sparse grass and a neglected deck. Although the emptiness in the backyard was overwhelming, it was also an opportunity, a blank slate. After renting out of the country for many years, the prospect of turning our new backyard into whatever we could dream up excited me.

Since the furniture and furnishings we’d brought with us to Prague hadn’t arrived (and wouldn’t for another 7 weeks — eek!), I spent the first weekend in the house refinishing the deck and the second one installing a flower garden / landscaping. But, from many years of digging at our former US house, I wanted to try to do it the simple way.

I’ve long thought about writing this post, and waited to put it together until I saw the garden had survived the first winter. It did. So here I am in the second spring with the quick and easy, do-it-yourself way to add the garden of your dreams to your own yard …

Flower Garden in a Weekend: the Quick and Easy Installation

June Rose Gardensthe gardens at my former US house, created with the same method

Ingredients:

Shovel

Garden gloves

Roll(s) of landscape fabric

Mulch

Steps:

1. Lay out a garden hose in the shape of the flower bed you want, on top of the grass or dirt.

2. Dig a trench along the length of the hose, and remove the grass. The trench only needs to serve as a barrier from grass growing back into the garden area.

3. Lay landscape fabric over the entire surface area of the grass in your future garden. Pin it at the edges in the trench you’ve dug.

the quick and easy flower garden
the quick and easy flower garden

4. Spread mulch in a thick layer over the landscape fabric. (I use Cypress mulch because the odor is much more palatable for me…)

5. Set containers of the plants and shrubs you plan to add and arrange them as you’d like them to be.

After the landscape fabric and mulch, before the flowers
After the landscape fabric and mulch, before the flowers

6. Cut an appropriate size X in the fabric where you want to install a plant. Dig and plant according to directions. Discard the grassy clumps or turn them over inside the hole.

Me, planting a rose (my favorite)
Me, planting a rose (my favorite)

7. Add sunshine and water, grab a drink, sit back, and watch it grow. You’re done!

 

Flower garden in a weekend, the quick and easy method: the results!
Flower garden in a weekend, the quick and easy method: the results last spring
Phlox and Gardens
Phlox and Gardens from my former backyard

 

July gardens
July gardens: from my former backyard

Hopefully, in another year or two, this new flower garden will look like the ones above. 🙂

What to Plant?

Here are some other posts I’ve written:

20 Favorite Flowers to Plant This Spring

Why Garden? 5 Reasons to Get Dirty This Spring

Category: Gardens and Flowers

 

flower garden quote
A daisy in my first garden

I’d love to hear about your stories … have you put in your own flower beds? What is your best way?

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The Importance of Free Time, Especially While Juggling a Busy Schedule

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

– from Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Richard Swenson, M.D.

Timeless moments with my guys a few years back, Maremma, Italy
Timeless moments with my guys a few years back, Maremma, Italy

It’s that busy time of year, back to school, when the school supply lists arrive, the class open houses begin, and I, as a parent, begin to feel completely overwhelmed. I have three children I love dearly, one going into high school, one to middle school, and one into intermediate.

This year, probably more than the previous 4 we spent in Prague, the back to school experience is almost shocking, fully American, packed to the 120% limit.

It’s not so much the list of “one blue two-pocket folder, vinyl, no clasps; one red vinyl folder, no pockets, with clasps …” and 50 other items to buy for one child. I can do that.

It’s not the arrangement of bus times, parent-teacher conferences, making of lunches, paying of school fees. I can organize the times and rearrange the budget to fit those things in.

But for me, it’s how free time evaporates instantly with the start of school. It’s the loss of moments of bliss, for the spontaneous game of Bananagrams or dessert on the deck as the sun goes down. I realize I have to work — hard — to build free time in.

Margin = Free Time

I’m a writer, and the concept of Margin makes sense to me. Margin is the white space to write extra notes or to doodle in fun figures beside the the concrete text which has already been written on the page. Dr. Swenson’s point in his book Margin is true for me. I believe in building in free time, or margin, into a busy schedule–to help preserve sanity.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

I believe we need free time to remember who we are. We need free time like we need air to breathe. It reduces stress, creates meaning, and allows us the chance to focus on what is most important.

To keep margin in my life, I know I’ll have to say no to things that are good.  But without a certain amount of free time in these busy years with three active sons and husband, I will lose who I am.

My Busy Schedule Survival Kit

  • a paper calendar, with months and weeks at a glance
  • a clear list of personal priorities and goals
  • date nights with my husband and fun nights with girl friends
  • incorporating open times, intentionally, into the schedule
  • an open eye for moments to spend with each child

I know it’s going to be a great year. I’m looking forward to soaking it up, one day at a time.

How about you? How do you build free time into your schedule? (I’d love to hear tips that work for you!)

 

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America: Land of the Free

Portland Head Light, Portland, Maine, USA

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! –Star Spangled Banner, 4th stanza

Wall Street, New York City
Wall Street, New York City

Having lived abroad for nearly two years, I must say out loud that I love the USA. I treasure its land, its mix of people with an unsinkable spirit, and its stature. I love the loud chorus that resounds in my mind every time I see an American flag — that Star Spangled Banner. Yes, it’s true: America is a land of freedom, of hope for a better tomorrow, and belief in our neighbors. And most true of all is living in foreign lands only makes it all more clear … the United States of America is a great nation. Quirks and all.

 

the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, USA
the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, USA

A few photos I cherish of landmarks in the USA …

 

Beehive Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Beehive Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
the Badlands, North and South Dakota, USA
the Badlands, North and South Dakota, USA

 

Portland Head Light, Portland, Maine, USA
Portland Head Light, Portland, Maine, USA
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, USA
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, USA

Happy Memorial Day, Americans! And thank you to all who give of themselves to uphold our great nation.

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Finding A Place of Tranquility

Lupine flowers: the soft colors of tranquility

“The heart has its special places, quiet retreats, fragrant with the sweet perfume of flowers.” -Thomas Kinkade

Lupine flowers: the soft colors of tranquility
Lupine flowers: the soft colors of tranquility

Sometimes I stop to catch my breath in the whirl that is life as a wife and mom to three boys–in between the frequent grocery runs and the ball games and practices, in the midst of media hype and tragic world news–and I think I need to do it more often. Catch my breath, that is. Because I definitely do not need more television or internet or media hype. Life and living brings a need to find tranquility.

Sometimes, in order to do the creative work I do and to love the people I love best, I need to step away from the whirlwind and make time to search out the quiet. To find a place of respite for a world-weary heart.

Just as there is a softness to the colors in the photo above, of the enchanting, rich color of lupine, so must there be a softness at the center of our lives. Maybe there doesn’t have to be softness to live life, but I think there must be a tranquility in the center of our hearts if we are to live well, to live large. Because the places of living when we can reach another comes from that tranquil place–the gentleness that embodies kindness to others, the confident peace within that allows an open mind and a free spirit, and the encouraging words we can offer to friends who need a hand. In order to do that well, to live large, our hearts must have a place to rest.

That place to rest can start with tranquility at home. Home is where the heart is … and with tranquility, the heart can be at home.

Sometimes all we need is a personal delight — a photograph or a painting or a vase of fresh spring flowers — and we can find a ray of joy.

“I think most of us look at personal delights as somewhere between minimally important and borderline immoral. We like them, but we’re not sure we ought to. We seldom give them the high priority when other demands are competing for our attention. Nevertheless, the soul feeds on simple joys and withers without them.” -Victoria Moran

What do you think? Do you have a favorite simple joy? Can you indulge in it this week?

 

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Which Flowers to Plant this Spring?

Echinacea

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.  ~Claude Monet

Echinacea
Echinacea

It’s no secret that I love flowers … and every year at this time, I get excited about Spring and the possibilities to grow in the garden.

Photos of my all-time favorite flowers dance through my head. Delphinium, Echinacea (pictured), Daylilies, Roses, Clematis, Lavender … I could go on and on. But my garden here in Prague is tiny. So I have a short list of plants for this year. Echinacea is definitely on it.

How about you? What is on your planting list this year? Which flowers to plant this spring?

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The View Heading East

the Czech countryside

A surreal experience: driving Sunday evening from the West to the East. Across the Iron Curtain border.

the Czech countryside
the Czech countryside

Since we hiked the Austrian Alps this past weekend, we drove back to Prague through Germany on Sunday. We passed through the flatlands around Munich to the rolling hills of hops fields in Eastern Germany, past the German rest stops with the automatic cleaning toilets and toward the step back in time at the Czech border. As we drove, the sun set in brilliant tangerine-orange across the Western sky behind us.

We headed toward the darkness, toward the inky hills and rural countryside. Toward the East.
I think for all of us, passing the sprawling, rusting former communist checkpoint at the German-Czech border was chilling. It was just dark enough out to send shivers under the skin. To think of the years from the sixties to the late eighties when countless lives were lost trying to escape to the West at that very border crossing …

Unsettling. We all have thoughts—where are we living? Where is our home? We’re going back?

But, as we stopped to refuel a few kilometers inside the Czech Republic, we remembered. While paying, I inadvertently spoke in German to the cashier. The amazing look of surprise in his eyes! And then, one of our sons said so innocently, “Finally—we can speak Czech. We’re almost home.”
It was at that moment that we realized that yes, we were almost home. To Prague. The former East. A beautiful country with a priceless soul.

Let Freedom Ring …

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Departure and Arrival

Krivoklat Castle, Czech Republic

Not more than three months ago, our family decided to seize the day, take the large risk, and embark on a great new opportunity called moving to Prague, for an expat assignment there with my husband’s job. Weeks of careful planning and work, by our family and with professional assistance, has gone into the process. Moving across the ocean has involved selling our former home and cars, moving our essentials by sea shipment, and storing things that needed to remain in the States (like the piano), and also has included school preparations for our boys, and countless details for every facet of an international move. And after weeks of envisioning how things might actually go, we are here. Yes, we are in Prague.

Krivoklat Castle, Czech Republic
Krivoklat Castle, Czech Republic-- It's a new world here!

In all, physically departing our lives of ten years in the United States was not easy. But, the whole process went without a significant glitch. And once we arrived in Europe, our boys have been thrilled to discover many parts of the world are the same—especially pleasing has been the discovery of swimming pools, and ice cream (zmrzlina in Czech), of knowing a simple “please” and “thank you” in several languages really works. Best stated was our oldest son’s proclamation that the world really is smaller than he thought.

Our stay in Berlin brought the discoveries of the infamous Berlin Wall, as well as the Brandenberg Gate or Tor, and many other significant landmarks, including the maze of granite pillars set up in memorial of the Holocaust. Each made their significant impressions on us all, for sure. And then, the swift ride via autobahn through the German countryside and over substantial hills and small mountains down, past checkered fields and picturesque villages of tiled roofed villas, and into the Czech Republic. From a foreigner’s eye, the crossing from Germany into Czech could not have been more pronounced, a very Western-type world embanked by the blink of a border and the just-out-of-communism feeling of a Republic only twenty years old. But the Czech Republic is beautiful, in every way, maybe more because of its new freedom and the old-European ambiance found everywhere.

taken from my iphone while riding 🙂 through the Czech countryside

Yes, we are here, in our new city, culturally rich Prague, adorned by its Castle shimmering alongside the Vltava River. We are here, and we are grateful. Soon, maybe sooner than we think, we may know this new country as home.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers on our behalf. I look forward to sharing our adventures (and misadventures) with you all…

With gratitude, JK