Category Archives: Change

Root Cause, Sewers, Trees, and Toilets

Whenever there is a change within your community or your home’s infrastructure, there is a ripple effect.  In the case of this posting, I’d like to discuss the impact of landscaping and excavating.

Earlier this year, a new high school was started, which is great for the community!  Unfortunately, it came with a few concerns, one being the need to use dynamite during excavation.  Dynamiting went on for several weeks, even months, and during that time, we (me and the neighbors) could feel the shockwaves.  We wondered if this would cause damage to our homes.  Our glasses tinkled and books shifted, so imagine our concern for the foundations of our homes.  Then, I wondered, what about our water connections?

One thing I noticed during this time, is that the water supply to the commodes slowed, and I heard the water pipes ‘groan and moan’ after every flush.  Professionals call this ‘water hammer’.  This results when the momentum of the water following a flush makes the pipe rattle because there isn’t enough air at the end of the line to buffer the quick change in pressure.  So, how could this happen?

According to the professionals, this typically occurs if the vent pipe, the one over the bathrooms on the roof, is clogged with debris, cutting off the air flow in the DWV (drain, waste and vent) system.  The air buffer can fill with water over time as well, especially in older homes.  This does not exclude a disruption in the water or vent system during major building excavations.  Shockwaves can compromise connections or disrupt shutoff valves, causing the air buffer to fill with water, or set off a cascade of blockages.

So, what do we do?  If ‘water hammer’ gets worse or continues for more than a week (sometimes the clog clears up), call a professional to determine and fix the cause.  I don’t have the skills, equipment, or motivation to undertake such a task, and I am not qualified to advise otherwise.

If the vent is blocked, it is often because there is a tree too close to the house, clogging the vent with leaves and small branches.  This can happen any time throughout the year, during storms and when trees shed their leaves, especially in the fall.  If this is the case, a plumber will have the equipment to clear the blockage.  And while there, have the plumber check your sewer line too.  If a tree is close to the house, especially in older homes, tree roots can find their way into the sewer lines, slowly blocking the drain.  You don’t want sewer problems!  In my humble opinion, it is better to take preventative action rather than restorative action when it comes to sewers.

Plumbing Forum:  Moaning Plumbing | Home Depot

Plumbing Forum: Moaning Sound … | Do It Yourself

How to Clean a Main Line Sewer Blockage | Thumb Nail Ranch (informational purposes only)

Drains Not Draining?  Sewer Line Clog Solutions | Roto Rooter




Is YOUR Town the Best Place to Thrive?

You know your town best – is it a great place for someone 50 and up to live a good life?  There are tons of reports on the Internet about the best places to live and retire.  Sites like Sperling, Money magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post, and so on use similar scoring techniques primarily based on health, economy, and access to cultural activities; but is that all we care about?

By the way, I’m not sure why these studies differentiate between LIVE and RETIRE as if once we RETIRE we don’t LIVE anymore.  Personally, I don’t want to survive … I want to thrive!

I think the most important aspect of a place to call home is that it supports our passion for living, our purpose.  I’m not talking about climbing mountains; I’m talking about the things that make us feel ALIVE – feel joy!  Maybe you love pottery; or perhaps your passion is refinishing furniture; or you just like to sit on the porch and read a good book while enjoying a cool summer breeze; or maybe you do like climbing mountains.  Whatever makes you feel ALIVE, the place you live needs to have the resources and geography to support your passion.

Is your hometown a great place to thrive?

Sperling’s America’s Best Cities
Money’s Best Places to Retire
The World’s 12 Best Places to Live or Retire in 2016
Retiring?  Don’t Use a ‘Best Places to Retire’ List to Pick Your New Home
The Best Places to Retire in 2016
America’s 10 Best Cities for Retirement
The Best Place to Retire Isn’t Florida



Where Are You From?

We are all from somewhere.  The sum of our birthplace, past residences, current home, even non-physical emotional “places” combine to inform our senses of self.

I am “from” Baltimore, more specifically Fell’s Point, more specifically what was once Baltimore’s most heavily Polish immigrant neighborhood.  Baltimore was second only to Ellis Island as a point of entry for the immigrant waves of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  After a typically arduous ocean crossing, many Baltimore-bound immigrants settled near where the ships docked at Locust Point or stopped after the short ride across the harbor to Fell’s Point.    

But even more precisely, I am from Ann Street, from the house my maternal grandparents built, a unique double row house that they constructed in 1930-31, first demolishing the two homes there and building upon the original 1855 foundations.   For grandfather Nikodem, or “Tata”, this was the culmination of his American dream, the reward for surviving the Russians, making the journey, learning a new trade.  In those adjoining spaces, he carved out his photography business, his family residence, a commercial rental, and a tiny residential rental.  With two additions, it maxed out at 5000 contiguous square feet of living space in all senses, with personality, breadth, and breath.

The studio closed in 1955, before I was born, so my siblings and I knew the house directly only as a family home.  We six and our parents occupied about half the total area in what had been the public space of the business and the residence of Tata’s (my mother’s) family.  Our maternal aunt and her husband lived in “the apartment” upstairs which was an amalgamation of the old reception room for customers waiting for their photography appointments, the former tiny rental apartment on the second floor of the second row house, and the “galleria” (gallery) –  the huge room that spanned the front part of the second floor of both row houses, with its two large skylights, street-facing double French windows fronted with ironwork, massive scenery backdrops, industrial lighting, and props for staging the formal portraits of the time.  

The first floor of the second row house had been rented as a tailor shop, then used for storage before my aunt and uncle fixed it up for entertaining.  There they put the “nice” furniture, including the brocade sofas and chairs that were worthy of placement in any local funeral parlor.  My sister, Claire, and I, who as very small girls were expressly forbidden from that space when it was storage, once got locked in the enclosed display window there until a woman knocked at my mother’s door telling her that there were two little girls in the window next door, crying, and did she know who they were?  Our adorable tear-stained faces gave us little leverage for having disobeyed Mom.

In the basement was Tata’s darkroom, its eeriness unrelieved by its tiny window, filled with the mysterious chemicals, tools, and accoutrements used to develop film.  The remainder of the basement – a cellar, really, partly concreted but with stretches of dirt crawlspaces and the clear aura of past energies randomly pulsing through it – was a work area for hanging photos to dry and storing negatives and equipment, plus the physical plant: boilers, water heater, pipes and such.  My father later used it as a place to write, having been forced from his study by the increasing number of his offspring.  How he managed to produce anything readable down there in the always slightly damp, always slightly uneasy environs remains a wonder to me. 

A concrete yard, a small garden, and two walk out porches were our outdoor space, small to any suburbanite yet expansive compared to that of the typical Baltimore row house.   There was room to hang laundry, to play our favorite games like “Heidi” or “Polish Refugees” (What? You didn’t play “Polish Refugees”?), to dig mud holes and build towns from appliance boxes and sheets, and to bury dead birds and goldfish.

My grandmother, Jadwiga, had died in 1947 and when Tata died in 1964, his four children inherited the house.  My parents and resident aunt and uncle bought out their siblings’ shares so the home remained in the family.  Through another generation of inheritance, it has passed to Tata and Jadwiga’s grandchildren – my generation. 

We have been renovating the house for some years now as money allows, recovering it from years of benign neglect.  We’ve made a big dent in the infrastructure repairs and refits and we’ve made headway on some cosmetic fixes, but it progresses slowly as none of us live there full time.  

But our true inheritance, and the Ann Street upshot is this: no one who has lived in this house has ever fully left it.  They did not need to.  Purchase overtures have been made and rebuffed, therefore no new family, and certainly no drooling developer in the now “gentrified” formerly working class, immigrant waterfront neighborhood, have been welcome.  Whether family, friend, or passersby, Ann Street is steward of something from every resident.  Some exited Ann Street on foot and others feet first; but not a soul took it all when they departed.  Some, in fact, left it all.  

Once the home was built, my grandparents and aunt never lived elsewhere. My mother was born in the house and while she nearly escaped its orbit after nursing school, she returned after a scant few years, husband in tow, to bear us, raise us, and take care of Tata as he declined.  The aunt and uncle who moved out, left behind clothing, scrapbooks, letters, and furniture.  Only Jadwiga, realizing her imminent premature death, had taken pains to dispose of personal letters and belongings, yet even she didn’t get to everything.  And having been laid out at home, her casket flanked by the living room wall sconces where the sofa now sits, Jadwiga left much more than tangibles.   Even my mother’s friend, Harry, who roomed at the house for a few years, breathed his heart attack-induced last breath before the front stoop, leaving behind all of his earthly chattels.

We six continued the contributions, starting our adult lives unfettered by our childhood paraphernalia.  The house was large and accommodated the volume, if not stylishly, completely.

As our labor of love advances, we have found ourselves the unwitting archivists of extremes: Along with literally thousands of photographs by Tata and others including many of community historical significance, family letters from Poland, personal notes and cards, precious pre-WWII Polish folk art tchotchkes from Jadwiga’s little Polonia Gift Shop, and wonderful genealogical finds, we have sorted through years’ worth of National Enquirers and Cosmopolitans, hundreds of newspaper-clipped articles and recipes, and a boxes upon boxes of flotsam of no significance. 

Why not just chuck it all?  Because among the Enquirers and within the deteriorating leaves of acid-papered hardback books, we will inevitably find a few sheets of a family personal journal; a baptismal certificate in Polish; an irreplaceable notebook of Jadwiga’s efforts to learn English; Tata’s naturalization certificate.  We assume nothing.  We leaf through everything.  We are often rewarded and we dread to miss something.  Of money, we found just one $20 bill and dispatched it by ordering pizza.  No hidden millions in this house!

Now we are five sisters and we like each other’s company very well, especially when telling family lore and laughing until we cannot breathe (we lost our dear brother, our “muscle” and humorist, in 2014).  A box of letters and papers that some could sift through in a trice is a full evening’s entertainment for us.  Faced with generations of treasures mixed with oddments mixed with castoffs, from a large family that loved and loves to read, and that is rife with unorganized artists and packrat writers, we despair that we will finish in our lifetimes.  Yet as each person is remembered, discussed, laughed over, sometimes lamented, they join us, they light up the room, they fill the house until it is bursting with their semblance.  It can be done no other way.

I am of this house, this family, this history.  I am “from” it and it holds me willingly, loosely, yet tenaciously.    Still, we are not its completely original inhabitants, and those keep their place here as well, typically secreted in the confines of the foundations, drifting up from time to time to remind us we aren’t alone, we aren’t first. I have traced prior ownership of the two properties back to 1876 and with a bit more sleuthing, I’m sure I’ll get to when they were just lots being developed in the burgeoning Baltimore waterfront of the period.   I hope I can ferret out details to supplement our sensibilities and guesses since while we don’t know many of the prior residents by actual name, we do know some by the names we’ve given their shades.  

But that story is for another time.





Don’t Give Up on the Ones You Love

Every day is a challenge for me, good and bad; this is who I am.  I constantly challenge myself to be a better person, yet it is sometimes difficult to tell if I’ve met my goal.  Some days I’m a good person; others I’d like to forget.

The constant goal in my life is to live up to my expectations, which some say are too high.  One in particular, is to protect those I love.  This includes my pets, of course, but I cannot protect them from life – from the uncontrollable events and choices they make.  Not only must I have the courage to live with my choices and consequences, but the fortitude to live with theirs as well.  And this does take great courage when you love someone.

So today I give myself a bit of advice; don’t give up on those you love.  This includes myself.

Believe in yourself, and thanks for ‘listening’.

Roll Call for your Representative

I’m really liking this service,  It tracks not only your representative’s voting activity, but all votes, details, and summaries of the legislation as it moves through the Legislature.  The details regarding the bills is phenomenal.   Give this a try if you are interested in tracking representatives’ votes and current legislation.

I’d recommend you take the 3-step approach, but you can get what you need in just 1 step.  You will need to sign up for Roll Call to get started.

I’m using H.R. 699 as an example.  The Email Privacy Act is a popular bill which impacts our privacy.  This bill would require government agencies to seek warrants to gain access to communications older than 180 days.  This is a big change as previously they could access this information with only a subpoena.  You can read the latest text version of H.R. 699 on the GovTrack site.

Step 1, Link to the voting record and summary of the legislation – select title of bill in email

Step 2, Check out the history of the legislation from introduction to current status – select legislation – Example:  H.R. 699

Step 3, Read the actual text of the legislation and compare it to changes made as it works through the process

Joshua Tauberer, the creator and self-proclaimed ‘civic hacker’, established as a legislative tracking tool in 2004.  It may have started out as a hobby, but it has become a rallying point for the open government data movement.  He’s also written a book about it, which can be accessed online at Open Government Data (The Book).

About in the Press

Civic Impulse, LLC


We regularly chastise our representatives about politics, but it is we who voted them in, yet once they are in office, we often abandon them to the “wolves of Washington.”  I’m assuming we vote for people who have the same values we have, but politics have a way of changing people, even though they may struggle against it.  Our representatives are only human, and they need us to keep them on the promised path; after all, are they not our representatives? So, don’t let them down.

Write to your representatives on a regular basis; they need to know if they are representing your interests as promised.  After all, you are their employer, are you not?  You pay taxes to support them while they are in congress.  If they are too busy to reply, there are a number of ways to find out how your representative is voting and protecting your interests.  Writing to them directly does not always garner a response, and if it does, it is often too late or too little.  As one who likes to see and act upon what is going on in DC, I like to not only write to my representatives just to check up on their responses, but I like to see how they vote.  Action speaks louder than words.

And action is what I find at the site.  This site tracks congressional voting records by individual, so you can select your representatives and receive immediate access to find out if they are voting as promised.  Think of it is a performance appraisal.  We all got them if we worked outside the home.

An appraisal is meant to inform us how we are performing in relation to the goals we set.  If our representatives are not performing as promised, we need to let them know.  If they continue to perform poorly, we need to let them go.  So, please, don’t let them down!

Side note: wants to increase awareness of U.S. legislation through “… more and better legislative information …” and improve government transparency. Isn’t that what we want and need?

There is a lot of information on government sites (:gov), but it is not available in an easy-to-read format by representative.  It is overwhelming and convoluted, just like our government.  Together, and make it much easier to check in on our representatives and provide immediate feedback when necessary regarding upcoming legislation.

Find your elected officials

Spring is a Wonderful Time of Year … to Downsize!

Downsizing, what does that mean exactly?  Selling a large house in favor of a small house? Yes, and so much more.

After 35 years of working and collecting stuff to make my life comfortable, if not bearable, I realize I’ve got more stuff (clutter) than I need at this time in my life.  I’m not retired, but I’m getting close.  When I do retire, I don’t want to be shackled with so much stuff that it runs my life.  I want to do the things I love most like spend time with family, friends, and my pets; not take care of ‘things’.  “I can’t take it with me” is truly meaningful; and downsizing is not only about selling my 2 story home in favor of a much smaller ranch home, but uncluttering my life. 

The kids don’t want the stuff my husband and I collected, and I can’t part with it for pennies, so I donate my stuff and write it off as a tax credit.  Lots less aggravation and worry involved, and it helps a charity.  These days (as I get closer to retirement) I get a charitable donation tax credit almost every year.

Downsizing is more than just getting rid of stuff; it’s about getting rid of a few bad habits and regrets. For example, I used to ‘clutter’ my thoughts about my failures and regrets in life, especially regarding work – I’m a workaholic, and I’m not sorry for that; I love working.  I am sorry that I spent more time than necessary worrying about my failures; it was my failures that taught me the most.  As for regrets, I’ll probably still have a few, but I don’t let them run my life; I’ve decided to be kinder to myself.  I can only do what I can with the resources I have at any given moment, and to try to do more and beat myself up about it if I can’t is just unkind to me.  I strive to be kind to everyone, so why not myself? 

Anyway, downsizing is a great idea at any age, because it’s really about finding what is of true value to us.  How do you downsize?  What does it mean to you?

As always, I’ve included a few links that may be of interest.  Feel free to suggest other links.

Believe in yourself, and thanks for ‘listening’.

Downsizing your stuff


Habitat for Humanity

Lifehacker’s Downsizing

Salvation Army

IRS Tips to Donations

Eight Things You Can Live Without – Lindsay Schauer

Downsizing your life

Bloomsberg Psychological Center

Help the Hoarder in Your Life

Hoarding Cleanup

Downsizing your home

Tiny House Builders

Our Tiny House

Find a Charity



I ask you to please contact your state senator if s/he is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and ask him/her to vote “YES” for the amendment to defund the opening and inspection of horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil.  I’ve researched the pros and cons for horse slaughter, and I recommend against it.  In the past, I thought horse slaughter was a humane way of managing the huge number of neglected and abused horses in the U.S., but I was wrong.  Horse slaughter only encourages breeders to produce more horses, creating even more cases of neglect and abuse, justifying offshoot industries that would do the same.  We need to discourage indiscriminate breeding that would produce throw-away horses and destroy bloodlines.  Breeders and all horse owners are responsible for the humane treatment and euthanasia of their animals, not taxpayers.  And that is what would happen if we ignore this vote.  Every US taxpayer would be condoning and supporting horse slaughter if we fund horse slaughterhouse inspections.

The amendment It is expected to be up for a vote with the Senate Appropriations Committee in May, so quick action is necessary; please contact your senator now.

Meanwhile, we need to ensure a complete ban on domestic horse slaughter and the export of their meat to other countries to safeguard the future of our pets and our food sources.  Please call or email your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, H.R. 1942/S.1214You can find additional details on the SAFE Act here.

Senate Appropriations Committee members are from these states: 

1.       Alabama

2.       Alaska

3.       Arkansas

4.       California

5.       Connecticut

6.       Delaware

7.       Hawaii

8.       Illinois

9.       Kansas

10.   Kentucky

11.   Louisiana

12.   Maine

13.   Maryland

14.   Mississippi

15.   Missouri

16.   Montana

17.   New Hampshire

18.   New Mexico

19.   North Dakota

20.   Oklahoma

21.   Oregon

22.   Rhode Island

23.   South Carolina

24.   Tennessee

25.   Vermont

26.   Washington

27.   West Virginia

28.   Wisconsin

Mary Nash’s Horse Slaughter Website

Habitat for Horses:  Slaughterhouses

Horse Fund Organization

Vets for Equine Welfare

Animal Welfare Institute

Watch the SAC calendar