Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pool Party - Spray paint and bushes

A couple weeks after we signed the pool contract, I came home to find a young guy lurking on my front lawn, tagging the grass with a can of spray paint. He tells me the pool company sent him to mark utility lines. Or maybe he was really a well-dressed, polite gang member whose gang symbols were short, multi-colored lines. Either way, there was celebration at the Sullivan house that night because of the spray paint all over our yard. Hopefully it meant a pool was imminent. Or maybe we were about to be in the middle of a gang war. Either way, out yard would soon be trashed.

A week later, there was still no pool, but miraculously the lines on the lawn had multiplied. More lines, more colors, going in more random directions. How many utilities could really be running from our house to the street? Cable, electric, water, sewer in blue, green, yellow, and red. But what's the story with all these other strange colors and shapes? What do purple circles represent? And was that an aquamarine rectangle?
In addition to the vagaries of utility lines, the other problem that was bugging me was a large bush in the middle of the spot where the pool was going to be built. This thing was at least eight feet tall and six across, so it was too huge for me to just transplant it with my little garden trowel. It might have been a magnolia or some other such Southern flowering shrub. It's impossible to keep the different types straight. Anyway, it was pretty and it had white flowers and it smelled good and it was healthy and hadn't done anything to me, so I wanted it protected.

I contacted a landscaper to come move it, but he never called me back. Plus, we were already spending a pantload of money on the pool, so spending more to move foliage felt extravagant. So every time I looked out in the yard, seeing that pretty, doomed bush made me sad. What would the pool guys do with it on digging day? Surely they wouldn't just run it over with the excavator, right? So, could they move it? I vowed to pester the construction team about it the moment they showed up at my house to install the pool. And I can do a lot of pestering.

Friday, July 31, 2015

David the Pool Guy

Last time, we took a trip to the pool store to consult the professionals about whether we could actually put a pool in our little backyard. We asked the kid some questions, and his answers were essentially, "You'll have to ask David." Apparently David is the guy who actually builds the pools. The pool store mostly sells chemicals and floating noodles, while David is the man who gets you to the point where you need chemicals and noodles. David is never actually at the store. He works mostly in his truck, from what I could tell. We were given his card.

My husband called David on Monday and arranged for him to come out to the house. He needed to tell us if our yard was large enough and flat enough for a pool and whether our gate was wide enough to allow the huge earth-moving equipment through.

Elliott pondering the pre-pool yard.
David showed up a couple weeks later. Our yard is fine. He said we might need a retaining wall unless we were willing to let them distribute a pant-load (technical term to measure large amounts of messy stuff) of dirt that will be dug out of the hole that will eventually become a pool. I was not willing to lose ALL my grass to this adventure, so retaining wall it will be. The gate into our yard might be wide enough for the excavator, but if not, they can take down a little of the fence on either side of the gate and replace it when the project is done. It would not affect our neighbor's fence, according to David. That would have been a deal breaker.

David gave us an estimate of approximately $965 billion dollars to build a 12 X 24 foot vinyl salt water pool. That included "free" start-up chemicals, courtesy of the pool store. Like drug dealers, they know that if they get you hooked with a freebee the first time, you'll keep coming back for more.

My husband said the multi-billion dollar quote seemed fair. He really wanted the pool, and the fact that it cost more than an aircraft carrier was irrelevant. He also wanted it immediately so he could swim for at least the second half of this summer. 

I asked David if the massive price tag was correct, considering that 12 X 24 is about the smallest in-ground pool in existence. David pondered the paper copy for a moment then said, "Oh, I did make a mistake! I forgot to add in the retaining wall. That could be anywhere from an extra $50 million up to $2 billion. We'll have to wait and see." Thanks, David! Way to be a team player.

So my husband signed us up, we gave the man a pant-load of money for a deposit, and David promised to get the pool ball rolling. He said that once they got the necessary permits, they could start by the end of the month. It would take six weeks, weather permitting. Hilarious. I came to learn that David has a really twisted sense of humor.

Next time: Preparing for Digging Day.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Pool Store

Once we decided to pursue the thoroughly impractical plan of installing a pool in our backyard, my husband insisted that we had to do it now. He hoped to have a couple months to swim before the thing covered over with ice this winter. I pushed to do more research and price shopping. My argument was that the pool might be cheaper in the off-season, so we should wait until Christmas. Or maybe Christmas 2025. But no. My husband has never been much for comparison shopping. It was off to the pool store. 
It's strange to recall what my yard used to look like. I miss grass.
We liked the idea of buying from a company that had a physical location where we could get a feel for what's available and where we could picket in the parking lot if things go horribly awry with our project. Spoiler Alert: There have been many times throughout this project when that fact has given me comfort and allowed me to fall asleep.

This pool store we visited had actual pools installed on the property. They were beautiful, clean, clear, and made you want to jump in. However, the sheer size and scope of the pumps, filters, gadgets, and other assorted knobs and hoses gave me pause. If anything, the complicated set-ups made the pools more attractive to my husband. He's a guy, after all, so he's attracted to bells and whistles on a genetic level. 

While admiring the displays, we learned about the joy of pools with vinyl liners. We'd only been in public in-ground pools before, so we were used to the scratchy concrete-feeling sides. But vinyl is smooth and it has a little give to it. It feels nice on your hands and feet. The fact that it's also cheaper than the gunite and fiberglass options was a huge bonus. And don't get me started on the advantage of not having a crane lift a fiberglass shell over my house. Apparently that's how you get a fiberglass pool into a suburban backyard. No matter how careful they are, I envision that thing breaking free and landing in my living room.

The only question that remained was to find out whether our yard was actually able to support a pool. It's a small yard with a slight slope to it, so we weren't sure if it violated the laws of the city, county, or gravity to install a pool here. It was time to consult a professional. 

Next time: We consult a professional.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pool Party

What have I been doing all summer? Glad you asked. I've been living in a pit of red mud, arguing with contractors, and paying exorbitant sums of money to do it. Yes, that's right: I've been having an in-ground pool installed in my Georgia backyard.

We did this as a compromise. My husband has always wanted a pool, but when we were moving down here, we couldn't find anything we liked in our price range that had a pool. After surviving two scorching Georgia summers (State motto: "Sugar with iced tea, and heat with humidity") we decided to buy a new house. I wanted a bigger yard, my husband wanted a pool. After wasting several weekends looking at places that would send the Property Brothers running with their twin tails between their gangly legs, we decided it would be easier to stay here and have a pool installed. Yeah, we're new.
The BEFORE photo. The yard wasn't a pit of red mud yet.

 Come back often to follow the Pool Party Saga. We'll all squeeze into our swimsuits and plunge right in!

Monday, March 9, 2015

I co-edit a nonfiction book review blog called with my cousin Annmarie Ortega. The following blog originally appeared there recently. It's on one of my favorite topics this spring. I hope you're inspired!

The global climate change movement howls about the evils of carbon in the atmosphere, but most ignore how important carbon is to the soil. It's vital to the health of plants and, in turn, to the health of everyone and everything that eats those plants. In other words, it's vital to us all. But humans have spent thousands of years taking lousy care of the soil, and we've only gotten worse as the centuries have passed. As a result, the carbon content of our soils has been severely depleted. So what to do? Read books, of course! This is a book review site, after all.

Organic is so last year. Sustainable isn't enough. We need to take action that regenerates the planet. That's a substantial part of the message in Kristin Ohlson's book The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet. Yes, organic and sustainable are good, and they're certainly way better than factory farming and pesticides, but there's more to it than that. We need to heal the soil by replenishing carbon, which will help heal the environment. The idea is that when carbon leaves the soil, it must go somewhere, which means it ends up in the atmosphere. Ohlson points out that even without burning fossil fuels, the carbon build-up in the atmosphere will persist if we don't change our damaging farming and land use practices. We need to put that carbon back in the soil where it can help us instead of kill us.

Want more fuel for your carbon fire? Try Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country by Courtney White. For the animal lovers among us, pick up a copy of Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth by Judith D. Schwartz. An advantage of these books and others like them is that they leave readers feeling hopeful. We're not at the mercy of polluting mega-corporations or factory farms or genetic engineers. Individuals can take meaningful action in their own backyards and at their local grocery stores.

Start planning your spring regenerative gardens now and be optimistic about our planet's future!