Septic System Problems, Snow-Gauge Clif & and a Review of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
—Joni Mitchell

The past two weeks have been hard ones. First we lost our beloved cat, dear little Ms. Watson. Then, our septic system decided to stop working—toilets wouldn’t flush, and showers wouldn’t drain. As I’m sure readers can imagine, this was no fun at all.

Being Mainers, we tried to fix the problem ourselves. Clif used his trusty plumbing snake to see if he could find a clog. He couldn’t, and we set up a camping toilet in the big bathroom. We used a dishpan for washing up, dumping the water into a bucket and then emptying the soapy water outside. (In the summer, when we haven’t had rain for a while, I sometimes use the gray water on my perennials.) So we had a system, albeit a primitive one.

Eventually, Clif gave up and decided to call the plumbers. I am happy to report that they came came swiftly as did the folks who pumped our septic tank. Finally, after the second time the plumbers came, they found the problem, and with their much larger plumbing snake, they were able to dislodge a big clog that Clif had mistakenly thought was the edge of our septic system.

I thanked the plumbers profusely as they packed up their truck to go off to help someone else with a problem. Smiling, they indicated it was all in a day’s work. For them, I suppose it was. For us, it was something akin to salvation.

Now, the toilets flush, the shower drains, and life is back toย  normal. The quotation at the beginning of this piece sums up how Clif and I felt about the situation.

Joni got it exactly right.


Plumbing problems or not, Clif was out with his trusty snow gauge to measure the snow.

Here he is in the front yard by the driveway and then on the walkway leading to the front door.

Over the past week, the weather has been warm and sunny, and the snow has actually gone down a bit. Here are last week’s pictures for comparison.

And here is Clif in the backyard.

Again, last week.

The path to the compost bin was actually muddy this week, and I had to step carefully so as not to lose my Sloggers. In Maine, this counts as progress, but up the East Coast, a nor’easter is blowing, and tomorrow’s forecast is for another foot of snow.

Dang! Snow-gauge Clif and I are ready for the snow to melt, not to accumulate.



Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Note: There are moderate spoilers in this review.

With its spare, beautiful writing, this gem of a short novel—set in the 1980s—is nearly perfect. In the Irish town of New Ross, Christmas is coming. Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, works long hours to ensure his customers have enough fuel to stay warm over the holidays. At home, his wife Eileen and their five daughters bustle to get ready for Christmas. In her own way, Eileen is as busy as Bill is. I’m guessing many women will identify with Eileen and the hard work of getting ready for Christmas. I know I did.

While making deliveries, Bill reflects on his life as an illegitimate child raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic servant for “Mrs. Wilson the Protestant widow who lived in the big house a few miles outside town.” Mrs. Wilson, frugal but kindhearted, provided Bill and his mother with a warm, stable home and even helped Bill as an adult. Fortunately, in New Ross, there is little antagonism between Catholics and Protestants.

There is, however, a convent in New Ross where on one side is a school and the other side a home for unwed mothers. The convent, in many ways, is important to the economy of the town and especially to Bill, whose daughters go to school there.

In a tense, heartbreaking way, Bill’s reflections of his childhood converge with bringing coal to the convent and what he discovers. Then Bill must must make a decision that will reverberate with his family for years to come.

I’ll certainlyย  be reading more of Claire Keegan and have ordered Foster through interlibrary loan.


83 thoughts on “Septic System Problems, Snow-Gauge Clif & and a Review of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan”

  1. Such a ‘not fun’ problem. I had a clogged kitchen sink, and that was bad enough. After the plumber leaves, it’s like having a new lease on life. Whatever it costs, it’s worth it.

  2. So sorry for all your plumbing woes! As Jane says, plumbers are worth their weight in gold. (And their fees indicate they are fully aware of that, heh heh).
    Indeed, winter isn’t finished with us yet. But I plan to plant peas on the Ides of March regardless. How long before you think about digging in the dirt?
    Just completed Dictionary of Lost Words, which I thought was marvelous. I’d recommend it if you haven’t read it already.
    Stay warm!

    1. Thanks, Ginny! Plumbers certainly are worth their weight in gold. We are well over a month away from digging in the dirt. Thanks for the book recommendation. It has begun to snow here, and we have the heat turned up pretty high.

  3. I swore I’d never have another house with a fosse septique after our experiences with them in France yet here we are in Dorset with another temperamental one.
    I’m on the second book in the Andrew Taylor series you recommended a little while ago and really enjoying it,

    1. Septic systems have their good and bad points, that’s for sure. But Maine is so rural that many people must have a septic system. No other option. I’m guessing the same is true where you live. Glad to read you are enjoying Andrew Taylor. I’ve whipped through the series and am wishing there was another one to read.

  4. I love your way of documenting the snow, both coming and going. It really is astonishing to see how much melts (or accumulates!) in a week’s time. Clearly, we’ll need to remeasure come Wednesday!
    Your book review sounds familiar, I think I may have read this one. In general, I’m not so good at remembering titles and authors of books I have read, I should keep a notebook! A couple of times, I have chosen a book at the library that looks good, brought it home, started reading it only to realize that I had already read it! Oy!

    1. Yup, here comes the more snow. Hope we don’t lose our power. I have kept a book diary for many years. Let’s just say that my memory is not is good as it used to be, and the book diary is a very good way of keeping track of what I’ve read.

      1. Holy cats, Eliza! So far, we haven’t gotten much of anything here. Can’t decide if it’s because the storm is slow or if it has changed course. Anyway, we are waiting. Hope the snow stops soon for you and that your power comes back on soon as well.

      2. Hope that power came on at 6 pm as promised. Except for a momentary blackout, we never lost our power, and we only got about 4 inches of snow. Odd how it hit you harder.

  5. It’s horrendous when one if those “invisible” things go wrong:water, electricity,septic systems etc. It is bliss, though, when you finally accept you can’t fix it and get the professional in. Glad all is back to normal. From here (where snow of any depth is a big deal) Snow-gauge Clif is a bit surreal๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Sure is! And, yes, the time sometimes comes when a professional is needed. As for Snow-gauge Clif being surreal…that’s the fun and the beauty of blogging, isn’t it? Seeing things that are so different from what you know. Love it!

  6. So happy to read that your plumbing situation got worked out – what a pain! And I hope you’re ready for tonight’s snow. Just rain so far this evening — but the switch will happen soon!

    And I also loved Small Things Like These. Claire Keegan is brilliant! I can’t wait to hear what you think about Foster.

    1. Thanks, Katie! It’s 9:35 on Tuesday, March 14, and it’s just beginning to snow. No doubt it’s been snowing for quite a while where you live. Here we go! Looking forward to reading “Foster.”

  7. I’m happy for you on two counts. Of course I’m glad for the resolution of the plumbing problems, but it also seems like a good thing that Clif has snow to measure. You’re probably at the point where less seems more desirable than more in the snow department, but with each passing day, any additional snow should depart sooner rather than later.

    1. Yes, indeed. Phew. And now we have a nor’easter blowing into Maine with heavy winds and heavy snow, which can lead to power outages. What a month! But at least we can flush our toilets. As long as we have power. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. I am glad the plumbing problem is solved. A big relief. You still have a lot of snow around. Here the snow is melting fast but the fluctuating low temperatures make it dangerous to walk. Many had to visit the emergency ward.

  9. I’m happy to read you had very good and thorough plumbers….my heart always sinks when we have to get something fixed in or around the house. I guess for all of us, home is our ”port in a storm” and it is dreadful when things go wrong. Fortunately, a happy ending.
    I liked your review, and Claire Keegan has been mentioned by many book lovers on Instagram.

    1. That’s exactly right. Home is our “port in a storm.” Yes, a happy ending indeed. Claire Keegan is a wonderful writer. Looking forward to reading “Foster.”

  10. I am so glad your septic system is working again. many years ago we had a similar problem with ours and it was NOT fun! I have found that in this rural area tradespeople are very helpful in a crisis and I guess it may be the same where you are because that seems rural too. OF course for routine jobs you wait ages for them to come – they are too busy dealing with emergencies! I wil see if the Claire keegan book is in one of my libraries. Thanks for the recommendation. May the snow leave you alone, the books be enjoyable and all your plumbing work properly – you 2 deserve a break! Hugs to you both.

    1. Thanks so very much! Yes, Maine as a whole is very rural. Our largest city is Portland, population 68,000. And where we live, north of Portland, is even more rural. Hope Claire Keegan is available through one of your libraries. Such a good writer. She gets to the heart of the matter.

  11. I definitely can appreciate septic issues since we had an entire redo last year and will have final grading and seeding this spring. Long haul but it sure was worth it so we don’t have to worry and discuss flushing, dishwasher or washing machine issues. Glad all is back to normal even if it did include a probably hefty plumbing bill.

    1. An entire redo. Phew! An expensive job. Ours wasn’t quite that expensive, but expensive enough. Still, we were very glad to ditch the camp toilet and the dishpan. A flushing toilet is a wonderful thing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. Yes, an entire new system including tanks and fields are dang expensive, but once you’ve tried to live with one that isn’t working there’s not a lot of choices. Just so you don’t think you’re alone, I own a camp toilet too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Laurie, I’m so glad you got your plumbing problems resolved. Stuff like that really makes one feel dirty. Then again, I never was particularly fond of “roughing it”! I’m surprised to hear you’re ready for Spring, too. Of course, I am (have been, for weeks now!), but I thought you Mainers were content to enjoy all that snow. Perhaps it’s the itch to dig in the garden again??

    1. Thanks, Debbie! I do like snow, and I enjoy winter, but I also like spring, summer, and fall. I guess I am a four-season woman. ๐Ÿ˜‰ By March, I am ready for spring, but there are usually a few nasty storms that come this month, and the snow is typically wet and heavy and causes power outages. Fortunately, we did not lose our power, but many in the state did.

  13. I can’t say it as well as Joni Mitchell, but having to do without the things we take for granted makes us appreciate them all the more. Glad your septic system is in working condition again!
    Let’s hope the next round of snow won’t cause any problems.

    1. It certainly does. So wonderful to have everything working again. I’m happy to report that for us, the nor’easter wasn’t too bad. We only got about 4 inches of snow and no power outage. Other folks in the state got more snow and lost their power.

  14. I grew up with a septic tank system on our farm and the first house we built in Pietermaritzburg had one too, so I empathize with the problems you experienced. Thank you for the book recommendation too.

  15. I’m so glad you were only dealing with a clog, Laurie. Septic problems aren’t only a hassle, but they can be super expensive! And more snow on the way??? Wow. Even with the melting, you still have a lot of snow! Hunker down and stay warm. I swear spring is going to come.

  16. From one septic girl to another, I know the thought in the back of my head is always “Do we need a whole new septic system this time?” when the septic system goes bad. So I’m guessing that was in the back of your head, too. Thank goodness it got fixed! xo

  17. So glad the plumbers saved the day and the worst of the snowstorm missed you!! I find it harder each year to get through power outages and major home repairs, but my enthusiasm when things return to normal lift my spirits immediately. Had a sample of this book on my want to read list and ordered it after your review. Hope we see more of your lawn in next weekโ€™s snow-gauge report!๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Hard times often seem to attract more difficulties it seems. So glad you got the plumbing sorted relatively quickly. Onwards and upwards.

  19. I have a great appreciation for skilled workers when you have a crisis like yours. I appreciate DIYers too, and I’m married to one, but to quote another song, you have to” know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” I’m glad you’re back to modern plumbing.

    I’m so sorry to hear about Ms. Watson. They’re four-footed family members, and we feel a keen loss when they go. Arms around you.

    Thank you for sharing snow gauge Clif updates. Since it’s been a few days, I’m guessing things have changed once again.

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