Thursday, December 29, 2005

Splish Splash

Although I find it hard to believe, we've owned our hot tub for four months now. That means it was time to do the very first drain/refill.

A hot tub isn't too hard to take care of. We add some chlorine whenever we use it and toss in a weekly chemical cocktail. Other than that, we test the water regularly and add "pH-Up" or "pH-Down" as needed, and my husband cleans the filters every month. Not too terribly complicated.

But three times a year, we have the big chore. The water must be drained and refilled every four months in order to keep the spa in good working order. That means removing and replacing several hundred gallons of H2O. Neither of us was looking forward to it, but this morning we decided that we couldn't put it off any longer. We deemed it the dreaded Hot Tub Draining Day.

We had picked a lovely day; it had rained overnight, but by the time we woke up the sun was shining in a bright, blue sky. It was breezy, but the temperature was the warmest it had been all week...a perfect day to tackle a soggy task.

My husband went out to start the process, but I was stuck on the phone finalizing a client's cruise reservation. It was an odd situation that took me longer than usual; by the time I got outside, hubby already had the hose hooked up to start the draining process. Unfortunately, the water was trickling out in an anemic stream. At that rate, we'd still be waiting for the tub to finish draining in 2006.

My intrepid spouse had hurried up the process by manually bailing with a bucket. I slipped into a ratty t-shirt and shorts (knowing that I would get drenched) and joined him. At first, we simply leaned in and scooped out the water. I poured as much as possible into our mulch beds, hoping that the chemical-laden soup would kill the weeds, although my husband warned that it would probably make them stronger. Finally, the water level got so low that I had to climb into the spa to bail. I filled up buckets and handed them to hubby like an old-time firefighters' bucket brigade.

As I sloshed around in the ankle-deep in water, I found it hard to believe that I was outside in shorts, and soaking wet to boot, on the 29th of December. In Chicago, the water would have frozen instantly and I'd be a candidate for pnemonia. In Florida, the temperature was flirting with the 70s. It was balmy enough to open the windows in the house, and outside I was perfectly comfortable playing in the water. Both my husband and I were soaked to the skin, but we weren't chilly at all.

Pretty soon the water level was too low for bailing. While my husband cleaned the filters, I got a roll of paper towels and soaked up the rest of the liquid, wringing it into a pail. I was sort of hoping that Chad Sexington (the Burly Towels man from "The Simpsons") might show up to assist, but no such luck. (Click here to hear Homer, in the guise of Chad - it will open in a second window.)

Eventually, the spa was high and dry. I was happy to see that there were no scratches on the interior, but the chlorine had taken a toll on the pillows and other dark plastic surfaces. Once they were black, but now they're a blurry's just the natural toll of the chemicals. Overall, the hot tub was in excellent shape, considering all the use we've given it over the past four months. Of course, I won't discuss the crack in the outer shell where a certain someone (insert guilty expression here) tried to open the cover without unlatching it first. Thankfully, the panels are replaceable.

Stitch had been lurking near the back door, miffed that we were outside while he was on house arrest. It would have been impossible to keep an eye on him while working, but he didn't understand that; all he knew was that if we are outside, he should be, too. His day is not complete until he's had a roll in the sunshine. When I take him out, he collapses the minute he reaches the sidewalk and writhes like he's in the throes of a seizure, or perhaps possessed by demons. He doesn't stop until he's managed to cover his coat with as much dust and dirt as possible.

He sat in the window, peering out with his pitiful kitty face, until finally I felt sorry for him. I let him out, where he found a rude surprise waiting: The concrete patio was soaked. Icky, icky! He doesn't like water on his delicate paws. He gingerly picked his way through the puddle and headed out to the alley, with me following close behind. He managed to find a dry, sunny driveway to roll in, and I let him get good and dusty before plopping him back in the house.

Meanwhile, hubby was getting ready to perform the refill. First, he poured in a bottle of Metal-B-Gone to protect against staining. Now we were ready to add the H20...thankfully, our neighbors allowed us to use their hose as well as our own, so we had double the water pressure. Still, it took a good hour before the massive tub was finally filled.

While it was filling, hubby called the spa dealer to find out the proper amount of chemicals to add to the new water. The dealer has been great about hand-holding us through the learning process of how to care for our hot tub. First, hubby asked for our salesperson, but she happened to be off. Next, he asked for the manager, since we chat with him whenever we stop in for our bi-monthly chemical stock-up. The person who had answered the phone panicked at the word "manager." She must have though we were calling with some monumental complaint. My husband quickly assured her that we are very happy with our hot tub and that he just had some simple questions on spa care. Soon, his query was answered and he headed back outside to monitor the fill-up.

It was soooo tempting to jump right in as soon as the water level reached the top, but we managed to restrain ourselves. The thermometer read 70-some degrees, so it would have been a very chilly dip. Instead, we closed the cover so the heater could do its work and bring the temp back up to a nice, toasty 99 degrees. Many people set their thermostats over 100, but we've discovered that 99 is perfect for everything from hot summer days to chilly winter nights. When the water is a bit cooler, you can stay in the tub a lot longer without getting dehydrated or woozy.

While the new water percolated, we headed off to Red Lobster for a hearty late lunch to celebrate the end of the monumental task. It took the better part of the morning and early afternoon, but it was well worth it...I'll happily trade a three-times-a-year refill for the countless days of relaxing in the watery cocoon of heat and the jets massaging my achy muscles. And better yet, we don't have to worry about it again until after the Easter Bunny's visit. In the meantime, we'll have four months of pure enjoyment.

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