Tuesday, January 29, 2019

THE SECOND COMING OF THE ICE AGE



I really do enjoy the winter. Not only is the cold air refreshing, the snow also covers up my ugly dog-ruined yard and makes it look white and fresh. Even better, there also are no annoying, blood-sucking bugs to contend with.

But the one thing I don’t like about winter is...ice.

Don’t get me wrong, when I was a kid, I loved, even was obsessed with, ice, because of ice-skating. In fact, during the winter months I practically slept in my ice skates, I wore them so often. But now that I am of a more “advanced” age, I associate the word “ice” with compound fractures, and cars becoming intimate with trees.

Last week, my area had an uncommonly warm day for January – nearly 60 degrees in some parts. This, in New Hampshire, could be considered swimsuit weather. It would have been a day to enjoy...if the skies hadn’t opened up and dumped enough rain to warrant the building of an ark. Even worse, the warm weather melted all of the snow that previously had been on the ground. So the end result was water everywhere...including in my basement. But that’s a whole other story.

Following the deluge, a cold snap arrived and instantly froze all of the water into an assortment of skating rinks. My entire backyard was so thickly covered with ice, I expected to see Nancy Kerrigan out there performing triple toe-loops at any moment.

When I let my poor dogs out to “do their thing,” they ran out there at full speed, as usual, and both ended up sliding right into the fence. Then, I couldn’t help but giggle as they tried to assume the crouching position so they could “go,” but couldn’t get a solid footing and kept falling over.

It wasn’t so humorous, however, when I tried to maneuver my car down the long, curvy driveway, complete with a slight incline. It had so much ice on it, it honestly resembled a bobsled track. And even though I was crawling along, when I came to the first curve and turned the steering wheel, the car decided to just keep going straight, right toward a huge pine tree. At that moment, my life flashed before me – not because I was afraid the tree would kill me while I was going only about five miles per hour, but because I knew that any impact, no matter how slight, would deploy my car’s air-bag, which would come exploding directly at my nose at about 1,000 m.p.h.

By some miracle, I was able to get the car to go around the curve at the very last second. Once I made it out of the driveway, I headed straight to the nearest hardware store and stocked up on something called Ice Melt, which the container said would leave my driveway stain-free and ice-free. Sounded good to me. I knew, however, that it would take a truckload of the stuff to fully de-ice my driveway, which is over 400 feet long, but I figured I at least could remove the danger of the curve, if nothing else. I never wanted to be able to see pine needles that close to my windshield again.

When I got home, I put on my ice cleats (a necessity where I live) and stomped out to the bobsled track. I unloaded the Ice Melt on the curve, then, for good measure, also put some on my garage floor, which was covered in ice, thanks to the rain leaking in underneath the doors and then freezing.

THE CONCRETE FLOOR
If I’d have been smart, I’d have read the caution label on the Ice Melt, which said not to use it on poorly sealed, improperly mixed, improperly cured or old concrete because it might cause damage. Obviously my garage’s floor fell into one of those categories because I woke up the next morning to find part of the top layer eaten away, right down to the dirt underneath. I also discovered that the weather had been too cold for the Ice Melt to do anything other than sit on top of the ice in my driveway.  

This presented a problem. First and foremost, I had to take out the trash. And then I had to pick up my mail.  Even with my ice cleats securely on my boots, I could take only tiny baby steps as I dragged the heavy trash container behind me down the ice-covered driveway.  Any step bigger than a baby step all but promised I’d wind up doing a split worthy of an Olympic gymnast. When I’d made it about three-quarters of the way to my destination, the garbage truck went whizzing right past my house. Had I been able to run with my cleats on, I’d have chased after the truck to its next stop and thrown myself in front of it, then demanded that they turn back and pick up my trash. 

So back to the house I went, once again dragging the container behind me.

And then I came up with a plan.

I grabbed a broom, a dustpan, a sifter, a bucket and a cup, and slowly inched my way back out to the road – the road that was covered with a nice layer of fine sand the town had dumped on it during the ice storm. The sand was completely dry, perfect for sweeping up into my dustpan, sifting it of any debris, and then flinging it over my driveway.

So I ventured out to the middle of the road and feverishly began sweeping up the sand. Usually, I’m lucky if I see even two cars and a mail truck on my road all day. But on this particular morning, everyone in town seemed to be using the road for a drag strip. Just as I’d manage to sweep up a dustpan full of sand, a truck would come barreling toward me and I’d have to jump out of the way – losing most of the sand in the process. And not only was I worried about being flattened by a propane truck, I also was afraid a police officer would drive by and arrest me for grand-theft sand.

By the time I finally managed to fill the bucket, my back ached from bending over to use the dustpan so many times, my nose was running like a waterfall from the frigid weather, and my hands felt as if they permanently were frozen into a curled position from clinging to the broom handle for so long. Using the cup, I scooped up some sand from the bucket and flung it onto the driveway as I headed back toward the house.

When the bucket was empty, I’d managed to cover only about 20 feet of the driveway. That meant over 380 feet left to go.

I actually considered going back out to the road for more sand – until I heard the weather report. More rain, sleet, snow and ice were headed my way mid-week. This meant that all of the sand I’d just painstakingly collected and sprinkled soon would be buried...so all of my hard work had been for nothing.

You know, I’m thinking that maybe blood-sucking bugs aren’t so bad after all.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

MY RINNAI GOT ME INTO HOT WATER


Ten years ago, I invested in a Rinnai tankless hot-water system, and all I can say is I love it. For one thing, it provides hot water only on demand, so I don’t have to pay to keep a whole tank of water heated 24 hours a day. Also, because the water supply isn’t limited to only what’s in the confines of a tank, I am able to get as much hot water as I want, whenever I want it. If I took five showers in one hour, I’d still never run out of hot water. This is perfect for someone who enjoys soaking in a hot bath for two hours and likes to keep replenishing the hot water every 15 minutes.

Anyway, last year, when I had my furnace cleaned, the technician, who apparently had been snooping around in my basement, asked me, “When was the last time you had your Rinnai flushed?”

I just stared at him. “Flushed? Are you talking about the toilet?”

He shook his head. “No, you’re supposed to have your Rinnai system flushed out once a year to prevent mineral build-up, which can ruin it. We run white vinegar through it for about 45 minutes to clean it out.”

I actually thought he was joking, mainly because no one ever had mentioned such a thing to me in the 10 years I’d owned the system.

“I recommend you make an appointment for a cleaning ASAP,” he said. “Otherwise, you could end up needing a whole new system. And I’m sure you don’t want to have to spend that kind of money.”

So I reluctantly made an appointment...a year later.  Let’s just say I’ve never been known for being particularly proactive.

Last week, the technician called and said he would be over that Wednesday “between 10 AM and 1 PM.”

Foolishly believing him, I got up at 8:00 that morning, cleaned the house, showered, dressed, and put the dogs outside in the cold, mainly because if they were in the house when the guy arrived, not only wouldn’t they allow him inside, they would go into their “protect and defend” mode and stay by me, no matter what. Usually, I would gate them in their room, the laundry room, but unfortunately, that’s where the basement door is located, and I didn’t want the guy to end up being stripped of his pants.

So then came the waiting, as I sat stiffly on the sofa – not wanting to mess up anything in the house – or on myself.  That meant not having anything to eat or drink, and not even daring to go to the bathroom, for fear he’d show up just as I sat down on the throne.

The technician finally arrived...at 4:30 PM.

By then, I was so aggravated, I wanted to shout at him that he’d wasted my entire day, which, at my age is the equivalent of about 20 years. I wanted to shout at him that I was hungry enough to nibble on the birdseed I’d put in my bird feeder. I wanted to tell him the ASPCA probably was on its way over because my poor dogs had been outside in the cold all day (the fact they were chasing each other around the yard and rolling in the snow didn’t matter).

But all I did was smile at him through gritted teeth.

An hour later, he emerged from the basement and said, “You win the award for the most gunked-up system I’ve ever seen. You’re lucky it was still working.”

I wasn’t exactly thrilled with being the recipient of that particular award.

The minute he left, I let the dogs in, fed them, and then took off my makeup, tied my hair back in a ponytail, removed my bra (a.k.a the torture device), put on my comfy sweatpants and hoodie, and then headed out to the kitchen to get something to eat. I grabbed my teapot and went to fill it.

There was no water.

I rushed down to the basement where the shut-offs are, and everything looked fine. Then I stared at the Rinnai – it had knobs, handles and buttons – none of which I dared to touch. So I called the company that had sent the technician.  They closed at 5:00. It was 5:45.

The answering service took down the information and said someone would call me back.

An hour later, I received a call...from a technician other than the one who’d just been at my house.

“Face-time me from the basement and I’ll walk you through what to do,” he said to me.

“Um...I still have a flip phone and my computer is attached to a cable in the wall,” I said.

“Oh...I see.” His tone of voice told me he thought he was talking to Wilma Flintstone.

“Well, can you at least stay on the phone while you go down to the basement?” he asked. probably thinking I was talking to him on one of those old-fashioned wall phones.

“I can do that.”

I went downstairs and he asked me if I saw the yellow knobs on the front of the Rinnai. I saw them. He told me to turn them to the right. I did. He then told me to go back upstairs and check to see if the water was back on.  I checked.  Not even air came out of the faucets.

“Well, turn the yellow knobs back to where they were, then,” he said, “and I’ll call you back.”

A half-hour later, he called back and instructed me to turn the same knobs again, as if they suddenly had transformed into something that would work. I did as he said. Still no water.

“I’m on my way,” he said, sighing. “I should be there around 8:15.”

So I got dressed again – put on my bra and makeup again, combed my hair and put the poor dogs outside once again.

This guy at least showed up on time. He went down to the basement and flipped two yellow paddle-like levers. The water came back on.

“They shouldn’t make everything yellow!” I complained. “It would make things a lot easier for clueless people like me.”

“Well, you’re all set now,” he said, then added, “And I won’t charge you anything for this visit,” as if he were doing me a big favor.

I wanted to shout, “Charge me? It’s YOUR company’s fault!  And furthermore, I’m starving, my dogs are freezing and I’m probably constipated for life!” 

But once again, I just smiled through gritted teeth.

Earlier, while I’d been waiting for him to arrive, I wrote a post on Facebook, venting my frustration about having no water, being hungry, and feeling like the world’s worst dog mother.  The problem was, I accidentally posted it on my neighborhood-watch site, reserved for non-personal posts that usually affect the entire neighborhood (e.g. – “There is a fallen tree across the main road, so seek an alternate route,” or “A bear has just been spotted in number 35’s driveway! Guard your children and pets!”).

Only when I started to receive offers of bottled water and hot soup from people whose names weren’t familiar to me did I realize I hadn’t posted my rant on my usual friends’ page.  One guy even wrote that he currently was passing by a Subway shop and would stop and pick up a sandwich for me if I wanted one.  Embarrassed, I quickly deleted my post with no further explanation.

So my neighbors probably think I’ve died of either dehydration or starvation by now.

But at least my Rinnai system is sparkling clean and churning out plenty of hot water.

And knowing me, it probably will take me another 10 years or so before I get around to having it cleaned again.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

CHRISTMAS GIFTS I THOUGHT WERE GOOD IDEAS AT THE TIME





Every Christmas season, I come up with what I think are unique and unusual gift ideas. And every Christmas season, I end up having to return a few gifts before I even give them.

This Christmas season was no different.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson from past disasters. For example, there was the wood carving of a buffalo I had specially made one Christmas for my husband, the buffalo collector. Unfortunately, the artist never had carved a buffalo before, so the end result looked like something that had been in some horrible, disfiguring accident.

Still, the artist was so proud of his work, I couldn’t bring myself to offend him, so I ended up forking over a small fortune for it…and then hid the buffalo in the back of the closet where, to this day, it still remains. I doubt that even a nest of hungry termites would want it...probably because they would be too busy pointing at it and laughing.

And then there was the round tablecloth I had a woman crochet for my mother’s dining-room table. It looked beautiful and I was very pleased with it. My mother also loved it, but when she put it on her table, we discovered that the center of the tablecloth wouldn’t lie flat. We tried stacking books on it, ironing it and starching it, but still the center continued to rise as if it were part of Houdini’s magic act. We were tempted to bring it outside and beat it down with a stick.

Another gift disaster occurred when I asked the glass blower at a mall if he could make a tiny bowling pin and bowling-ball figurine for my mother, who was an avid bowler and collected blown-glass items. He assured me it would be no problem. A week later, the masterpiece was ready, so I rushed to the mall, excited to see it. When the glass blower handed it to me, I just silently stared at it, unable to speak. The bowling pin and ball looked exactly like a turkey drumstick and a baked potato. I honestly thought it was a replica of someone’s lunch.

And I’ll never forget the gift I bought for our friend who collected pocket watches. The watch had wood trimming encircling the face and came in a matching wooden case. I decided to have the back of the watch engraved with, “TO BILL, CHRISTMAS 2005.”

A week before Christmas, I picked up the watch. The back read, “TO BULL, CHRISTMAS 2005.”

I wasn’t quite as creative this past Christmas season, however, which I felt was a much safer route to take. Still, ordering items online had its own consequences.

There was the scrolled picture-frame I ordered for a beautiful photo of a rose I’d bought months before. The frame arrived and was perfect, but the glass in it was so thick and heavy, it was guaranteed to bend any hook, nail or stick-up product anyone tried to hang it on, and inevitably would send the frame crashing to the floor. I had visions of the person I was giving the picture to lying in a pool of blood with a shard of glass sticking out of her jugular.

Also, the photo that came with the frame, a scene taken in England, actually looked a lot better than my photo of the rose. So I removed the glass and left the frame and photo the way they were.  My friend loved them.

Another friend of mine, who is an artist, really likes a certain brand of marking pens that cost about $7 per pen. I saw a set of four online for $19, which was a bargain, so I ordered them for her. Two days later, I received an email from the company.

“We have shipped your marking pens,” it said, “but the plastic case they come in doesn’t have any product labels on it – they fell off. And we don’t have any others.”

When I gave the pens to my friend, I could tell by her expression that she thought they probably were $1 knock-offs of the original markers.

And then there is my friend, Colleen, who loves cats, warm socks and gardening. So I bought her a plant-growing kit and some socks with little cats on them.

She bought me some socks with little cats and dogs on them...and a plant-growing kit.       


All I can say is great minds think alike.



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Monday, January 7, 2019

I LEARNED TO BE MORE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT I WISH FOR!



They say to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, and believe me, last week I learned the true meaning of those words.

For those of you who are longtime readers of this blog, you’re probably familiar with the fact that the one thing I’ve always wished to see at my bird feeder is a cardinal. Over the years, I have done everything short of donning a cardinal costume and performing a mating dance in an effort to attract one of the beautiful red birds, with no success. I’ve even splurged on the finest Cardinal Chow – which the 20 squawking crows that showed up really enjoyed.

Well, the other day, I was in the laundry room, which is the nearest room to the attached garage, when I kept hearing an unfamiliar “thunk,”  “thunk” sound coming from the other side of the wall. Curious, I opened the door to the garage and looked around.

There, repeatedly flying into the garage window, trying to get inside, was the bird of my dreams – a gorgeous, bright-red cardinal. I was certain, however, it soon would become a gorgeous, dead, bright-red cardinal if it continued to keep smashing its face into the glass that way.

So although it really pained me, I went outside and shooed the bird away.

That night, I was telling one of my friends about the cardinal, and she said, “Legend has it that a visit from a cardinal is actually the spirit of a dead loved one returning to let you know you’re being watched over.”

I immediately began to wonder which of my deceased loved ones hadn’t been too swift, because this bird definitely wasn’t the Einstein of the cardinal world.

The next morning, I took out the trash. When I went back into the garage, I heard flapping overhead. My garage’s rafters are over 10 feet high, and when I looked up, there was the cardinal, sitting on one of them and looking down at me as if to say, “Ha!  You left the garage door open for three whole minutes!  Now who’s the one who’s not too swift?”

I spent the rest of the morning frantically trying to get the cardinal out of my garage because, for one thing, I have some furniture stored in there that wouldn’t look particularly attractive with bird poop all over it – and neither would my car. And if the cardinal decided to stay in there permanently, I feared it would end up dying, and I didn’t want to be responsible for the death of a bird that supposedly was representing the spirit of someone who already was dead.

No matter what I did, however, the bird seemed to be mocking me. I jumped up and down and made weird noises while waving a roof rake at it, hoping to scare it into flying back outside. I even went to You Tube and recorded an audio of a cardinal chirping, then kept playing it just outside the open garage door, hoping the sound would lure the bird outside to meet one of his buddies. But all I succeeded in doing was attracting the neighbor’s cat.

I thought about leaving a trail of food leading out of the garage, but then thought against it when I realized the trail of food might lead some other creature, like a squirrel or a chipmunk, INTO my garage, and that was the last thing I needed.

Finally, out of sheer desperation, I Googled, “How do I get a cardinal out of the rafters in my garage?”

The most popular consensus seemed to be to darken all of the garage windows and then open the garage door. The cardinal, or just about every other kind of bird, according to Google, would be attracted to the only source of light in the garage and fly toward it – kind of like a moth to a porch light.

There are four windows and an additional two glass panels on the big overhead doors in my garage. Rounding up enough cardboard to block out all of that glass took me over two hours. In the meantime, I left both of the overhead doors open, hoping the cardinal would suffer a sudden attack of homesickness and fly out.

But all the bird continued to do was fly from one rafter to another and then pause to look down at me...and (I was pretty sure) chuckle with fiendish glee.

After I managed to completely darken the garage, I opened only the small side-door, thinking it would keep the garage much darker than if I opened one of  the big overhead doors. Sure enough, the minute I opened that side door, out flew the cardinal. Quickly, I slammed the door shut and locked it, then sagged against it and breathed a sigh of relief.

I hate to admit it, but after that, I’d had just about my fill of cardinals for a while, and I honestly didn’t care if I ever saw another one, even if it did represent one of my deceased loved ones.

The very next morning, I heard a banging noise coming from the garage once again, so I grabbed my camera and headed out there to investigate.  Here’s what I recorded (keep your eye on the window)...


Give me strength!

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