Personal, Stories Told

Spending quality time in my crawl space

We’ve had a lot of rain lately. Days on end it has fallen. Inside my house, it was strangely quiet.

It should not have been. My sump pump should have been running, and I should have heard it.

Dagnabbit — that meant it had pumped its last.

The old, failed sump pump sitting on my deck. Which tells you where this story is going.

I’m not deeply experienced in the ways of sump pumps. My last house had one. It was there when we moved in, and it pumped faithfully for years. The crawl space was always a little damp, but that pump kept it from being wet. That wasn’t enough to satisfy my wife, so we had a perimeter drain dug, an additional sump pump sunk, and the whole place encapsulated. Holy frijoles, was that ever expensive. Point is, however, that I never personally had anything to do with our pumps. I didn’t even know what one looked like.

When I was deciding whether to make an offer on this house, the crawl space was the biggest point of risk. A lot of insulation was lying on the ground, having fallen out from between the joists. The vapor barrier looked pretty ratty. And there was no sump pump. But there was also no evidence the space had ever been wet, and the price was very right on the place. So I rolled the dice.

What I didn’t consider is that a crawl space that has been wet to the joists shows little or no evidence. A foot of water might leave a line on the foundation’s cinder block. But water to the joists leaves no such line.

I crapped out. Shortly after I moved in, a very heavy rain flooded the crawl space. I cleared it with a borrowed portable pump. (And got the worst case of poison ivy in my life. Read that story.) I promptly paid to have a pit dug and a sump pump installed.

Unfortunately, the lowest spot in my crawl space was under my bedroom, and so that’s where the pump had to go. I slept ten feet from it. And it roared like a diesel engine every time it cut on. WHAAARRRNNNNsplooooooosshhhhh, over and over, all night. When it rained hard I had to go sleep in the family room.

Last week we got a ton of rain. After the first night I knew there was trouble under the floorboards, because I awoke refreshed from a good night’s sleep.

Thank God for YouTube. Everything you ever wanted to know how to do is there, usually shot by some random dude on shaky mobile-phone video. This video showed me how easy it would be to replace the pump myself.

It took me two hours to do the job, including a run to The Home Depot for the pump and associated supplies. Not bad, right? Except that I had to do it in two feet of water. Cold water. Cold, dirty water. And immediately upon entering the crawl space, I slipped and twisted and suddenly cold, dirty water met my nether regions. That will take a man’s breath away.


I emerged sopping wet. I sloshed my way into the garage, where I stripped and dropped my soaked, dirty clothes into the washer. I grabbed a quick shower. And then as I was dressing, I noticed the quiet.

It should not be quiet! Was my new pump even working?

I looked out the window and saw water gushing out of the exit pipe. I listened more carefully, and realized I could actually hear a slight tinkling sound coming from below — the sound of water running gently through the pipe. That was it.

Silent sump pumps are a thing?!!? I had no idea. If I had known, I would have replaced that sleep-depriving old pump years ago!!


It’s easier to cut with a sharp knife

This post from 2011, which I’ve freshly updated, deserves another chance.


I hang my most-used kitchen knives on the wall next to my sink so they’re always at hand. Use wears them down, of course. When they won’t glide right through a tomato or when a roasted chicken shreds rather than slices, I know it’s time to visit my father. Dad has mad sharpening skills.

When Dad returns my sharpened knives he always says the same thing. “Now,” he begins, with an air of authority, “these knives are sharper than the day they left the factory. They will cut you deeply. You will probably see your blood before you feel any pain. But they are now safer than when you brought them to me. A dull knife tears rather than cuts. It is more dangerous because it can do more damage.”

It is obvious that a sharp knives work best. On the face of it, it seems just as obvious that a sharp person works best, but that’s been a hard lesson for me. I have pushed myself too hard for too long on many occasions, bringing on exhaustion so deep that recovery took weeks or even months. I’m definitely a type-A personality, and maybe I’ve had a bit of a martyr complex too. But fortunately, I’ve figured out that taking good care of myself gives me the resources to be the man I want to be – kind, patient, giving, involved, and effective.

I guess most people find that middle age brings deeper self-insight, but I’ve found it startling just the same. Happily, that insight tells me how to stay sharp:

  • I need at least seven hours of sleep each night. I can get by on less for a few nights, max, but then I become very grouchy.
  • I need to talk through things that trouble me, even small things. Just telling them to a friend helps, but it’s even better when my friend can ask questions and give feedback. I find that when I talk through these things, I am more likely to resolve them rather than let them molder and become big problems.
  • I need to hang out with bright, articulate people with whom I can have meaningful conversations.
  • I need to spend time with my sons, who are my favorite people in the world. I like to hear their stories and just hang out with them. Nobody makes me laugh more than my sons.
  • I need to spend quality time at home almost every day. My home is the center of my world.
  • I need regular quiet meditative time. My thoughts and feelings run at a hundred miles an hour. They need a break, even if it’s for just ten minutes.
  • I need to singIt’s cathartic.
  • I need to have personal projects that I can work on at my own pace. My career is full of discussing strategies, planning projects, building schedules, leading people, and driving deadlines. The pressure can be very high. I need little things I can do with my hands and finish them at whatever pace I choose. It feels freeing to work on them whenever I darn well please, and when I finish, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
  • I need hobbies that let me explore and learn. This is why I taught myself how to write code as a teenager and why I take pictures with old film cameras today. I find it exciting to build deep knowledge by discovering it through direct experience.

Sometimes life conspires to keep me from these things. Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I don’t need them. When it happens, I soon find myself tired and irritable. If I let it continue, my reserves are soon tapped and I risk depression and exhaustion.

Do you know what you need to be whole, loving, and full of grace? I’d love to see your list in the comments or, even better, on your own blog with a link back here.

Faith, Personal


Sleep comes slowly most nights, and not at all if I try it in my bed. So I lean back onto the family-room couch, pillows behind my back, a stiff but warm blanket wrapped around me when it’s cold. I watch cartoons, sometimes with a bourbon or scotch in my hand, for as long as it takes.

I pray there, cartoons muted, unburdening my worries onto God. I’m so glad he has broad shoulders to set them on. He never complains, never tells me to get on with it. He just listens. When I remember, I thank him for blessing me as he has, and I ask him to remind me to count those blessings. I feel foolish that I feel my worries so much more acutely than my blessings. My blessings have been so powerful, while my worries change with the seasons. But worries shout so loudly.


Lately I’ve been dozing off to old Popeye cartoons. Their simple stories charm me, distract me, help me let go. Most of the time I wake up in the middle of the night, shut off the TV, and finish sleeping in my bed. Sometimes I sleep through the night facing the TV.

Before sleep began to elude me, my bedroom was always the dustiest room in the house. Now it’s the family room. I wish my worries would settle like the dust on the coffee table, and be as easy to wipe away.