Greenpoint: Family gatherings? Cue home disasters


GREENPOINT The kids came home last weekend, all grown up, with their grown-up partners. They spent some time showing off their old haunts — Fairyland, Gorilla Town — checking out the hatchlings in birds’ nests on the power lines or in the hedgerow, visiting with the goats, chickens and ducks, and a toad that moved into the basement.

They also helped with the dishes, which is how we discovered that something had clogged up the drainpipe in the kitchen sink, causing water to back up and pour into the basement.

This is the kind of thing that typically happens during family gatherings. Basements flood for graduation parties, roofs leak for Christmas gatherings, ovens break at Thanksgiving.

We’ve had our share of such disasters. We’ve had two ovens break at Thanksgiving over the years, just as I was about to bake the pies. My husband remembers rebuilding his family kitchen the day before his sister’s wedding. Once, water started pouring through the living room ceiling just as guests were arriving for book club.

So it was not really a surprise that both the oven and the car died the week before we were planning a little family gathering to celebrate the youngest child’s college graduation. We can’t complain about the oven. It was a freebie a friend of a friend was giving away, some time after the Thanksgiving oven disaster that resulted in our using the wood-fired oven for several years.

I can’t even remember how long ago that was, but eventually the four-burner stove had three burners, then two and a half, and finally the oven caught fire. Since much of the range was rusted out and the door didn’t really close, we figured it was time for an energy-efficient replacement, even if there wasn’t a free option available this time.

I don’t want to talk about the car dying. It had absolutely no right to, not even being one of our ancient vehicles with hundreds of thousands of miles on it. No, this one was a flat-out insult.

We didn’t notice the sink problem in part because I’ve been making a concerted effort to waste less water. With all the cheesemaking going on, I am constantly doing dishes — the half-gallon jars that hold goat’s milk, the cheesemaking pots, the other pots, bowls, strainers and molds I use to drain and form and press the cheese.

I hated seeing all that water just pour down the drain. Since I often have a big bowl in the sink to soak dishes or to cool pots of milk, I started pouring the washing water into buckets and finding uses for it. I brought the clean water, used to cool a hot pot of pasteurized milk, to chickens and goats. I used the slightly soapy rinse water for washing floors — we tend to track a lot of mud inside. Dirtier soapy water I poured down the old downstairs toilet that doesn’t really work too well but needs to be flushed.

Moving all that water made me realize how much I waste while I’m washing. I started remembering to turn off the water while soaping up the dishes, then turning it back on to rinse all the dishes at once. I was using a lot less water. But I also failed to notice that the sink wasn’t draining properly. We only figured that out when the kids poured the big bowlful of water down the drain. Much of it ended up on the basement floor.

Despite my panic about the possible need to replace ancient cast iron pipes, my husband fixed everything with a pipe snake. Now we have a working oven and a working sink again — and a reminder that you can wash lots of dishes with less water.

If only the car were so reasonable.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on June 19. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or on Twitter @Hartley_Maggie. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are not necessarily those of the newspaper’s.

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