Need more than duct tape to patch the holes in my life

The fenced area that safely contains my four Brittany dogs minimizes the threat of the busy state road in front of my house, and allows them a large area to run and play and explore. But it also gives them something else: a place to dig holes.

The holes would not be a big deal, but I have to mow the area in summer, my neighbor and I travel between our two houses through the fenced area, and the dogs run and play there. I constantly am worrying about broken limbs and torn ligaments because of those stupid holes.

The dogs also have dug several holes in an embankment of dirt that directs water away from the house’s foundation. I really need to do something about those or I am going to have a worse water problem in the cellar of my old farmhouse.

Bullet (left) and Quincy see what can be done to improve on the holes that they, along with Thistle, have dug up next to the house.

Bullet (left) and Quincy — the father-son duo — see what can be done to improve on the holes that they, along with Thistle and Sassy, have dug next to the house.

I’ve tried filling in the holes with dirt and rocks and packing it in. I’ve caught the dogs in the act, towered menacingly over them and emphatically yelled “NO!!!!” I’ve watched them wait for me to leave, peeked back at them and witnessed new digging with increased fervor. I’ve tried distracting them with treats and other activities, but the draw of the dig is just too great.

I’m at a loss for a good solution, but am debating the merits of concrete.

This is one of those many times when I really miss my husband Jim, who died of pancreatic cancer in December 2010. He loved puzzles like this. His thrifty Yankee ingenuity and his appreciation and knowledge of the mechanics of how things work would cleverly solve some of the most persistent problems in ways that never would have occurred to me.

Bits of duct tape, electrical tape, wire and twine, spare parts from objects unrelated to the problem, an understanding of electricity and mechanics at an intermediate level, an eye for level and aesthetics, and an ability to build just about anything with wood gave Jim an impressive war chest for problem-solving.

For example, topographically, the house is on land that gently slopes toward woods, swamp and ponds behind us. The spring thaw or heavy rain consistently leads to water in the cellar.

After other attempts at a good solution, Jim sank a plastic barrel in the dirt of the old root cellar and installed an automatic sump pump there to supplement the other sump pump already in the main part of the cellar. But instead of simply attaching a hose to direct the water out, he installed plastic pipes that follow the cellar walls, come out the corner of the garage and end along a raised bed that currently holds some shrubs.

The last section of piping is anchored to the side of the timbers of the raised bed with brackets, and there’s a removable piece that can be added to direct the discharge even farther away from the house in times of great volume.

The two pipes from the separate sump pumps come together inside the garage to flow into one exit pipe.

The two pipes from the separate sump pumps come together inside the garage to flow into one exit pipe.

The sump pump exit pipe is held on by brackets to the raised bed. The larger pipe can be placed on the end to extend the pipe and better direct the flowing water.

The sump pump exit pipe is held on by brackets to the raised bed. The larger pipe can be placed on the end to extend the pipe and better direct the flowing water.

It is so typically “Jim.” It is simple in design, practical in nature, and durable. It isn’t obtrusive. It’s not in the way of other things. And it still works great. Anyone who happens to notice it on the raised bed says, “What is THAT??” I take great delight in explaining. And these days, I take comfort in its presence.

Besides wishing Jim could help me with the problem of the holes in the fenced area, I also could have used some of his skills just a few days ago.

I am not totally inept when it comes to vehicle mechanics, but my van pulled something really funky. The dogs and I were heading out to meet my friend where we walk most evenings. I inserted the key in the ignition — nothing. Not even a sign that it was the correct key.

I removed the key and the van began making something like a humming noise. I put the key back in, turned it and lights flashed, door locks engaged and disengaged and other odd things happened. Electrical, I said to myself.

My mind started to go into panic mode as it does with the smallest of issues since Jim’s death. This one could be a logistical nightmare as the weekend was imminent, and I had to work the next day and was filling in for someone else too. So, I reminded myself, I do have Jim’s truck.

As I walked by that, I realized the inspection sticker had run out in October (note this is April) and I remembered I had a tire pressure light that wouldn’t go out, so I also had to get the truck in for inspection before I drove too far with it. Now I needed a solution for my immediate solution.

I loaded the dogs in the truck and went for my walk because I needed it.

Various scenarios whizzed through my head for the next day’s logistics. My poor friend had to endure my ramblings about the possibilities during our walk. I worried that if the problem were serious, it would interfere with a weekend commitment to travel downstate one evening for flyball (remember the dog relay racing sport) practice, and we have a flyball tournament coming up soon, and I hope the van’s issue isn’t too complicated and expensive and I really, really, REALLY miss Jim.

Jim would have expressed some expletive, gotten out his electrical meter, popped the hood, noticed the excessively corroded battery terminal, cleaned it up, tightened the connections and jumped the battery. Problem solved.

Instead, it didn’t occur to me to pop the hood because I’ve never seen a battery problem make a vehicle act like mine did. Besides, my battery isn’t that old. I am familiar with dead-battery syndrome. I know how to jump start a vehicle. I just assumed it was an electrical problem beyond my knowledge and its solution would require higher expertise.

It kind of galls me that I might have been able to solve the problem myself, had I stopped panicking long enough to do some basic investigation.

But this is how my life is different as a widow. I panic first and solve the problem later, and often not in the same way I would have gone about it if Jim were alive.

The next morning, I called AAA — which I had acquired for this very reason right after Jim died — to come to my rescue. The kindly serviceman assessed the situation, started to load the van for towing, and then said he just wanted to try jump-starting it if it was OK with me. Why not? I said.

Bingo. Van started. The serviceman pointed out the corrosion on the battery terminal and urged me to get attention for it immediately. Feeling a little foolish because I hadn’t looked under the hood myself, I gathered what I needed for work and hit the road, calling my garage to say I was on my way and I didn’t dare shut my van off for fear I would not be able to get it going again.

I just want to say here I love my garage. They accomodate my weird life and they never sell me something I don’t need. Consequently, my visit with them cost me just $54. I didn’t need a new battery afterall. Just cleanup, new connectors and tightening and I was on my way.

The truck also went in that afternoon for inspection, an oil change and to put air in the spare tire, which is easier to replenish when the vehicle’s on a lift.

In the end, I was proud of myself on one level: I didn’t let my panic immobilize me this time. I was able to tamp it down long enough to come up with a plan, then execute it. It also brought home to me that not everything is as complicated as it may first appear. Stay calm. Keep it simple.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do about the dogs’ holes (suggestions welcome), but maybe next time I have a vehicle problem, I will be smart enough to pop the hood.

Thistle the Pistol is a master hole-digger. Good thing she's cute.

Thistle the Pistol is a master hole-digger. Good thing she’s cute.

Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.