Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On a Pool Cover Part 2

"The Year of Spider Man" concluded:

"So... how are you getting it off there?"


That was a good question. I was basking in my pool cover actually being suspended in the air above the pool to dry, and I hadn't even really thought about getting it down.

Well, I could get it down easily enough - back into the pool. But the whole point was to get it down dry. Dry.


I decided to marshal the troops. Shortish, youngish, smallish troops who somewhat resemble me. I positioned them on either far end of the cover to hold it up as one side of the cover was released from its rope web attachment to the fence.

Did I mention that the cover is heavy?

I must not have learned much from the previous year's attempt at lifting the cover. One year's growth hadn't increased the family horsepower enough to keep the cover lifted. As I loosened the web of suspension, despite the valiant efforts of all involved, gravity - the Kryptonite of this process - inexorably dragged the cover back onto (and into) the pool.

By the time I extricated the entire cover from my web the whole cover was more or less (really more) thoroughly re-wetted. I and my troops draped and re-draped it over the fence and left it to dry as best it could. Eventually I dragged it onto the yard for folding and then storing when my family was off erranding somewhere. And I slunk back into my house to lick my wounds.

I was however able to earn a (slight) commendation from my lovely wife: "How on earth did you lift the cover onto that shelf by yourself?" I chose to take that to mean that I was wonderfully strong and, well, really strong and, well, I don't know, but it was the only remotely encouraging part of that year's episode with the cover.

Year Three, or "The Year of the Sort-of-Tight Rope:"

I started hearing, "Daddy, when are we going to open the pool?" in early April. By the end of April it began to feel like a road trip, "Daddy, is time yet?" "Daddy, how warm does in need to be to open the pool?" "Can we swim today?" "Well, when can we swim?" "Daddy, it's warm enough, I won't be cold" "Are we there yet?" "Are we there yet?" "Daddy, I need to use the bathroom"

Ok, all but the last one or two or three.

One warm afternoon I decided that the cover's time had come. Only I hadn't thought much about the process this time, not that thinking had helped me much the last two years anyway. It occurred to me that at the end of last year we had draped the cover over the fence to finally let it dry. But the pool fence is so short that the cover had to be repeatedly folded over. What if I rigged a rope over the fence line, but much higher than the fence line, kind of a clothes line on steroids?

Yeah, that could work. The cover would be off the pool, but would dry vertically - not taking up any yard space!

I rounded up two long 2x4's, a couple of those garage organizing hooks with the large wood threads made to screw into rafters, two pulleys, some 1/2 inch diameter nylon rope and two of those ratcheting shipping straps. I didn't even try to explain my plan this time, but as I was dragging my collection over to the pool deck I did get a raised eyebrow and a "when there is something we can help with, let me know" from my wife.

I screwed one organizing hook into one end of each 2x4 and attached a pulley to each hook. I then ran my rope through each pulley and used the shipping straps attach my 2x4's to fence posts on opposite ends of the pool. Using my pulleys and some creatively knotted loops, I pulled my rope line to where it was hanging just above the fence. Good enough.

I started disconnecting the cover from the pool deck, and which triggered an immediate, "can we go swimming now?" Soon I had most of my troops arrayed and we dragged the cover off the pool and started pulling it over my improvisational clothes line.

Did I mention that the pool cover is heavy?

My rope immediately sagged onto the fence. No problem, I yanked on my pulley system some more to put more tension on the rope and raise it a up a bit. Each time more cover was pulled over the rope, gravity would pull it down, and I would tighten it more. Then I happened to look up and saw the Achilles Heel of my contraption: one of the organizing hooks was bent almost to breaking and the hook's threads were about to pull out of the wood altogether. I took that to mean that I shouldn't tighten the rope any further.

My wonderful clothes line started out at about 9 feet high on each end, and ended up about at about 4 feet one inch high in the middle. Or in other words, my wonderful contraption had gained me a whole inch of height compared to just draping the cover over the fence to begin with.

Oh well.

Instead of re-draping the cover over the line (which would have finished yanking the hook out of the wood) I allowed the cover to run out on the pool deck on one side and onto some of the yard on the other. I had also failed to wash it while it was on the pool, so I washed it as it was. Let it dry overnight, folded it up and -with the help of my beautiful bride- stuffed it on the top shelf in the shed the following evening.

The children rejoiced and went swimming, or more accurately they rejoiced, jumped in the pool and then screamed "It t ts, c c c c ooooo ld d d d."

Ahhh, the sound's of almost summer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On a Pool Cover Part 1

We opened our backyard swimming pool for "business" this past weekend.

"Opening" our pool involves removing the pool cover, un-winterizing and starting up the pool pump, vacuuming the pool, and messing with the water itself (balancing the pH, adjusting chlorine levels and other items.)

Easy enough.

Other than the pool cover.

And removing and storing the pool cover isn't difficult per se, but the process is, well, awkward. It is one of those things that must be done, but I am not at all graceful in doing it. I've yet to contrive even a mediocre method of getting the cover off the pool and then cleaning, drying and folding/ rolling/ origamiing the cover into a package and ultimately putting it away for the season.

Getting the cover off the pool is OK - one advantage of a large number of children.

Cleaning the cover goes well - the beauty of a pressure washer.

And after it has dried I can fold the cover well enough.

But getting in and between these items, especially the drying part, is a lesson in how to provide endless humor to the rest of your family.

My wife's face should be photographed each year as she listens to my broken half sentence explanations of how I am going to "do" the pool cover each year. The resulting collage of pictures could be titled, "Studies in Incredulity" and subtitled "You are going to do What?"

Our pool cover is very good at covering the pool. But it doesn't fit well anywhere other than on top of the pool. It is large and heavy (a thick polyester type material reinforced with heavy nylon webbing.) And unless an experiment on mass mildew growing techniques is desired, the cover can't be folded and stored immediately after being taken off the pool, it must be cleaned and dried first. And to dry it needs to be somewhat up in the air. That is the trick: the entire pool cover held up in the air so all that all surfaces can dry.

This is my problem.

Did I mention the cover is heavy and large?

Each year of the cover's three year existence has seen a different method of solving this problem:

Year One, or "the Year of the Chairs:"

I scientifically arrayed several plastic 'outdoor' chairs along with six chairs from our patio set and miscellaneous items from my children's outdoor toy collection in an area of yard roughly the size of the pool cover. The idea was for the pool cover to dry, laying on top of my precisely engineered array of junk. After which I would remove the chairs, fold up the cover and store it away. Sounded good to me.

The cover is heavy...

We detached the cover from the pool, and quickly found out that one middle aged guy along with his beautiful wife and children did not have nearly the horsepower required to lift the cover up over and then set the cover down onto my array of chairs.

The best we could manage was to drag the cover off the pool, across the yard and then pull the front edge over and then onto the chair array. This study in gravity and friction toppled all the plastic chairs and toys and most of the patio chairs, dragging them along as we moved the cover into place.

I ended up hunched under the cover frantically resetting all the chairs and simultaneously transferring the wet sand and dirt the cover had acquired from the yard into my head and back.

When I was "done" the cover was suspended over the yard by my collection, except where it wasn't. The cover draping itself over my array of large bric-a-brac looked something like an upside down egg carton.

Washing it in this condition was a unintended experiment in how to form and drain mountain lakes and rivers. I was constantly pulling here or tugging there to try to drain the lakes and dry up the rivers. Eventually the cover was dry and I pulled my support structure out from under the cover and folded it up and heaved it onto a shelf in our shed.

Year Two, or "the Year of Spider Man:"

The spring of that year saw my dad and I build a sorely needed chain link fence around the pool.

Remembering the previous year's folly, I decided to not attempt to wash and dry the cover over the yard but instead to utilize the new fence and some rope to suspend the cover several feet above the pool itself. It made so much sense to me: I would be conserving space, not taking up any of the yard, and the pool is exactly the right size space for the pool cover. Explaining this particular scheme to my wife got (far and away) the academy award for "Best Utter Disbelief Facial Expression by a Person in a Supporting Role."

Also, in a flash of brilliance, I realized that I could wash the cover while it was still on the pool, rather than waiting until I removed the cover. Out came the pressure washer and the pool broom. In short order the cover top was clean.

Now to the lifting of the cover. The pool cover has a series of nylon webbing straps terminated with metal rings to secure the cover over the pool during the winter (picture a fat, flattened, dark green centepede with twenty or so short black legs.) I fastened a clothesline rope to a post in the fence. I then ran the rope through the cover's nearest nylon strap ring. Proceeding down the pool deck, I ran the rope around the pool fence top bar and then through the next ring in the cover. I wove a rope web between the pool cover and the fence. Every four or five loops I would terminate the rope at a fence post and start with a new rope. At the end of each rope I rigged two metal snap rings to form a rude pulley setup to aid in the lifting of the cover.

With my web woven, I worked my way around the pool deck (ducking in and around my web, tightening the rope pulleys. And roughly, slowly it worked! Gradually I had my entire pool cover suspended (yes, in the air!) above the pool. Although slightly droopy in the middle, the entire cover could now dry and not use up any of the yard, chairs, toys or anything! This was great!

And then my wife asked the (obvious) question: "So... how are you getting it off there?"

Monday, May 5, 2008

Roots, Rocks and the Garden of Misfit Plants

Yesterday afternoon I was tilling up a section of yard for an auxiliary (ancillary?) garden. Our garden "proper" has tomatoes, peas, lettuce, radishes and other members of the vegetable kingdom that tend to stay where you plant them, are typically well mannered, and generally have some sense of personal space. This "other" plot of ground, however, has been reserved for squash, watermelon, cantaloupe and their like. Vegetation that starts exploring the moment it is planted, has no problem ignoring boundaries, and contains no sense of personal space. It is a garden for misfit plants.

Kind of like the island of misfit toys.

Our home has a rather large back "yard" - which the previous (and original) owners had left to go more and more wild as they grew older. Over the past few years we have been steadily reclaiming the more adventuresome portions of yard and have even made progress in taming the "jungle" of oak woods and brush behind the back fence. The particular spot that we have reserved for the misfit melons and such had previously been possessed by an old maple tree stump and various species of small sucker trees and scrub brush.

I had removed the majority of the scrub and sucker shoots three years ago, but the old (large) maple tree stump remained to become a pet project of my dad's during my folk's extended fall and spring migratory stops at our home. After several chainsaw blades and days of shoveling, prying, roping, block and tackling, and quality time with a pick axe, the stump finally gave it up for the team and was hauled one massive mangled puzzle piece at a time to the burn pile.

The formerly overgrown tangle of stump and brush now appears as a smooth, level plot of ground; an ideal location for the new garden of maladjusted melons!

But then, as my arms were being yanked from their sockets by a rototiller futilely attempting to unearth yet another section of buried tree/brush/sucker roots, I was re-reminded that our lives are determined not by how things appear, but by what, in reality, is really there.

Although, on the surface, the stump and suckers had been removed, underneath there was still ample evidence of their existence. And though much pain and agony had been done to remove the stump, still further work was needed to make the ground suitable for a garden. The barely covered roots had to be identified - usually by the rototiller - and removed, with a shovel, pick and an axe. Furthermore, much fertilizer and organic matter needed to be added to the remaining sandy soil to give the garden plants something to grow on.

This garden plot reminded me of another garden plot. As a child we lived in a house that also had a well situated plot in the back yard for a garden. But upon breaking ground for that garden we found rocks, rocks and more rocks. The first year of that garden's existence saw something like 15 pickup beds full of rocks removed from that one plot of ground. The next year another four or five, and the following year two or three. The end result was a bountiful garden. We found out later that the exact spot that we had chosen for that garden had previously been the neighborhood rock dump, unbeknownst to us. Although that plot had seemed to be perfect for a garden, underneath the surface were tons of rock that needed to be exhumed before a successful garden could be planted.

Our garden for misguided melons also made me think of myself. I am not a person who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Most often I have a calm exterior and take most of what happens in life in stride - maybe more of in 'amble,' my wife has more of a 'stride.' But just because my surface seems placid doesn't mean that my life is truly that way. There are roots and rocks that lie just under the surface waiting for the plows of life to come along and hit them.

Some of my roots:

Personal injustice. If I feel I have been wronged it can twist me into some fantastic emotional balloon animal or fanciful psychiatric piece of origami. It can take days, weeks or months before some particular variation of this root is untangled, dug up and dealt with in my heart.

Personal Politics (being used). If I feel someone hasn't been genuine and has instead used (or attempted to use) me for some ulterior end. I emotionally remove them from my universe. They physically exist, but I do not ask them for advice, the time of day, or anything in between. This is a very difficult root to exhume for me because it involves choosing to trust someone whom I feel has proven to be untrustworthy.

Misunderstanding. I am a peacemaker at heart. Peacemaking usually involves a person (or people) owning up to their stuff and apologizing and asking for forgiveness. With misunderstanding there are all the emotions of being wronged, but in the end no wrong was done. And what do you do with that? Let it go. . . Right. . . I understand this. But this is akin to telling me I am over weight (which I am), and so need to eat less and exercise more over an extended period of time. I understand this. But practicing both these understandings, is very hard for me to do. And therefore a troublesome root for me.

The "laundry day" bed at the end of the day. Frivolous I know. But at a day's end, walking into a bedroom with a bare mattress and sheets on the floor, can boil all the impatience in my life's stew right to the surface. A smelly, distasteful root.

My root list goes on, but it is enough to say that I have my many and various roots.

And you have your roots too.

And your spouse, friend, co-worker, brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, etc. all have their unique collections of roots as well.

Some people proudly display the visible twisted stumps, scrub brush and sucker plants of their lives in full view for all to see, complete with no sign to indicate any removal work will commence any time soon.

Others have lives that seem straight out of a master gardeners dream. Beautiful and serene. They display no visible issues.

But in spite of appearances, we are each gardens filled with rocks and roots, visible or not. And our lives interact with and crash into one another on many levels. We each act as instruments in each other's lives. We can be tillers and be in turn tilled. We can shovel, and pick and pull. We can even plant an encouragement or a word of advice or allow another to plant in our own lives as well.

Roots grow back, rocks work their way up, soil is depleted. Life ebbs and flows. But as our lives are worked, the soil turned, rocks and roots removed, fertilizer added and God's word planted, obedience learned, and perseverance practiced, we will produce fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. A life that displays God and His love. Beautiful fruit that grows in and through the imperfect soil of our lives.

Proverbs 20:5 (NIV):
5 The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.