Roughing it when the dryer quits

We have been without a clothes dryer for approximately 24 days, 6 hours, 44 minutes and 22 seconds. But who’s counting?

When the dryer stopped working, we did what we always do when an appliance fails. I informed the husband. He then pulled the dryer out, checked the plug, flipped the breaker a few times, hit the dryer’s start button a half-dozen times, shoved the dryer back into place and matter-of-factly said, “Nothing lasts like it used to.”

Those are our home repair skills at full throttle.

I proceeded to step two, which is calling appliance repair people. Call after call, it was the same story—short staffed, customers back-logged and the onset of cold weather had generated a lot of furnace tune-up and repair calls.

The earliest anyone could get to us was three weeks out. I snapped it up like the last chocolate chip cookie on a warm baking sheet.

In the meantime, I considered rigging something up on the patio or in the backyard to dry laundry, but we like our neighbors. They aren’t the sort of people we’d traumatize with our personal things flapping in the wind.

I remembered a friend who had lived overseas talking about hang-drying laundry because most of the places they lived did not have clothes dryers. She would routinely hang lines in the living space and hang-dry laundry.

Our best hang-dry spots are in a bathroom that gets a lot of sun (the shower rod can hold 15 hangers) and the utility closet that houses the furnace and a recently purchased folding rack.

It is a workable system, providing you don’t mind bath towels that feel like steel wool.

I’m not saying hang-dry laundry is stiff, but we no longer fold clothes—we bend them.

We no longer need a scrub brush for food stuck on baking dishes. An air-dried dishcloth is rough enough to clean any baking dish and sand down the kitchen table we’ve been meaning to refinish.

The real bonus is that our complexions have never looked healthier. We have roses in our cheeks. You would, too, if you washed your face with a Brillo pad.

We may be wearing our clothes a day or two longer than usual. Who knows, maybe three or four. What I do know is that last night the husband’s jeans walked themselves to the laundry basket.

The appliance repair people were to arrive last week. They called 8 a.m. sharp on Monday – to say they couldn’t come. One tech injured a knee over the weekend, one has Covid and another is starting vacation.

I’d bury my head in the sleeve of my sweater and cry, but the sweater is so rough it’d probably scratch my face.

We rescheduled. We were fortunate enough to find someone who can come in two weeks.

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When royal roots are relative

My better half has a mind for dates, numbers and details, and enjoys family history and genealogy. There are many people who enjoy genealogy, and they have many wonderful conversations. Usually with one another.

Because I do not have the brain capacity for infinite details, dates and numbers, we have guidelines about him sharing his vast wealth of knowledge with me.

First, he is to share interesting findings in brief, condensed, modified form. Further, he is never to share generational history with me when I have my car keys in my hand or when I am working in the kitchen with the blender and the mixer simultaneously running full speed and I’m trying to take something out of a 450-degree oven.

He has ample time for these activities as he is retired. I am not.

He recently cut out a headline and put it on the ‘fridge: “Wife still working while retired husband travels.”

He finds this hilarious.

I asked him where he plans on going.

The other day he revealed that he had found something stunning on a genealogy site that a second cousin, 59 times removed, or something like that, had directed him to.

Instinct told me to grab my car keys, preheat the oven and start the mixer, but heard myself say, “What is it?”

He said, “There is documentation that my 12th great grandmother’s sister was a queen consort of Henry VIII.”

He begins moving from screen to screen to screen on his computer demonstrating how the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone and the thigh bone . . . no, wait, the screens are showing how one generation is connected to another generation, when suddenly there we were among Lords and Ladies and his 12th great grandmother’s royal sister, Anne Boleyn (who, incidentally, the king had beheaded for treason).

I tell the husband that I find it hard to believe that records from that long ago were kept in such detail, let alone preserved. How is it that paper lasted almost five centuries? Not a single water leak in the castle? No termites or silverfish? Surely the records were moved from time to time and papers were shuffled. How is it they weren’t accidently thrown out with someone’s junk mail in the 1700s?

I’m going to need something more tangible than a computer screen before I start decreeing myself a shirt-tail relative to royalty. Perhaps a memento of some sort that has been handed down through the generations. A key chain would do, a refrigerator magnet or even a ballpoint pen that says, “Consort of the King.”

When my maternal great grandfather came as a teen stowaway on a ship from Germany, he had some marbles in his pocket that are still in the family.

Likewise, I’d find the 12th great grandmother’s story more believable if someone had passed down the king’s shaving cup, or perhaps a signature ring. A jewel-studded crown falling into our possession would be fine, too. I try to stay flexible on these matters.

The husband is skeptical of my skepticism. (Is there no end to the cycle?)

“Show me an ancient carbon-dated hand towel or little soap stamped with VIII and I’m all in,” I say.

I wonder if people long, long ago would be as interested in finding us as we are in finding them.




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Chillin’ out in the backwoods

The fine print describing the rental I secured for a leaf peeping jaunt to Maine said the cabin had everything we could possibly need. All the reviews said that, too.

The pictures showed a charming old house with original wood paneling, wood floors and exposed beams. It could have been next door to the place that Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn stayed in “On Golden Pond.”

Pictures showed a small kitchen with a small stove and small fridge, and an adjoining sitting area with a sofa, a chair and a wood stove. What a clever idea to add a charming piece of décor like a wood stove, I thought to myself.

One of the reviews praised the place for maintaining its “vintage” character. Vintage is often code for no updates. We haven’t been updated in years either—we’re vintage, too. It would be a perfect match.

“Great choice!” the husband said when we pulled up.

“I can smell the wood paneling!” he said as we lugged in our things.

“Where’s the heat?” the husband asked when the sun set and the temperature plunged.

“I think you’re looking at it,” I said, nodding to the wood stove.

I’d already looked around and realized the wood stove was not for décor or ambiance, it was for heat. Who would have thought a vintage cabin would come with a vintage heat source?

We enjoyed the fire until the hour grew late, hesitating to go to the bedroom upstairs since the heat was downstairs.

“I’m sure it’s toasty up there,” I said, lying through my teeth.

“Heat rises,” the husband said.

“Yep, heat rises,” I echoed.

Except when you count on it rising. Then heat doesn’t rise; it hovers around a wood stove. And then it dies out—at approximately 2:30 a.m. by our calculations.

The bigger problem was that I am the early riser and it is an unwritten rule that the early riser stokes the fire. And, if all the kindling and wood was burned the night before, then the early riser must venture out in the pitch black for more wood where hungry bears, territorial moose, aggressive deer and killer squirrels lurk in wait of easy prey.

I am torn between a desire for heat and a desire not to be maimed in the dark. A faint outline of the woodpile at the edge of the woods appears by the light of the moon. I calculate the distance between the woodpile and the cabin, multiplied by the odds of me falling in a divot on uneven ground running at breakneck speed with arms full of wood fleeing my four-legged attackers.

It is simple math. I put my big puffer coat on over my thick terry cloth robe, long pjs and wool socks—and wait until the woodcutter awakes.

I make coffee but am unable to hold the cup as my hands refuse to leave my coat pockets.

The woodcutter finally awakes, gathers wood and restarts the fire. What’s more, he traipsed downstairs in the middle of the night for the next two nights to keep the fire going.

The colors were so gorgeous that I returned home with 100 pictures of red, orange and yellow foliage on gorgeous hillsides and 500 pictures of red, orange and yellow flames flickering in a wood stove.


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Shore looks like they’re in the water

I am completely certain that I said, “Do not get in the water. There are no dry clothes in the car. You did not wear clothes for wading.”

I turn my back for maybe 10 seconds, then look around and there they are—in the water.

It’s my fault really. I should never have said, “Do not get in the water.” It was like telling fish not to swim and birds not to fly.

This may be one of the best days of fall. Sunlight dances on ripples of water. Trees on the riverbank arch in a fashion that clearly says, “Y’all come.” Naturally, you get in the water. You can deal with the grandma later.

Besides, the grandpa is in the water, too, so there’s that – the old man on your side.

I stand alone, the practical one, the one with a first aid kit, anti-bacterial hand gel and sunscreen in the car, the one focused on the “after.” After they get out of the water. After the pant legs they “rolled up” are soaked. After their feet are caked with mud and not one of them will be able to worm wet feet back into their shoes and socks.

After that will come the protest — the protest claiming they don’t need their shoes for the hike back; they can go barefoot. I’ll protest their protest, and someone will turn the tables and say to me, “But why not?”

I’ll be playing defense, explaining why you don’t hike uphill, over tree roots and rocks in bare feet.

But all that will come later, because right now there are more pressing matters, like what to do with all the teeny, tiny shells a little one has collected from the slope of the bank.

She has dozens of them in her small cupped-hand. What to do with these tiny treasures? Put them in one of your socks, of course! Then she has another idea—a far better idea—put them in one of Grandpa’s socks!

He’s already ahead of her, loading tiny treasures into one of his socks.

Oops! He dropped one. He picks one up. No, that’s not the one, she says. The one he dropped was a darker gray. Yeah, better make sure it’s the right dark gray shell among the billions of dark gray shells sprawling in every direction.

Her older siblings are skipping rocks, probing the riverbed beneath crystal clear water with sticks, when one of the boys shouts that he spies something bobbing in the water. An old, half-rotten wooden duck decoy slowly drifts into reach.

Perfect. They position the decoy just so, in hopes of luring two beautiful mallards upstream.

Maybe we can stuff a live mallard in a sock, too.  Or maybe the mallards will just naturally want to follow us back to the car.

The morning passes, the sun grows from warm to hot and it is time to go. I anticipate a conversation about whether the duck decoy will come or stay, but there isn’t one.

They position the decoy in a current and watch the water carry it away, confident it will be discovered by another band of explorers.


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When plans sour and the wind howls

Special dates on a calendar are punctuation marks in what could otherwise be one long, winding, rambling sentence spanning years. They are restful pauses, a contrast to the routine, something to look forward to.

Then it happens. The special events come undone and plans unravel.

You might as well knock over an extra-large latte on a desk calendar and watch the ink bleed and the coffee puddle into the shape and size of Lake Michigan.

The once-beautiful forecast for an outdoor event turns to severe storms with heavy winds and damaging hail.

You’re hosting a family get together and at 10 the night before one wing of the family calls to say someone tested positive for Covid. Again.

You arrive at a long-awaited trip to the beach and are met by purple flags snapping in the wind, warning of a jellyfish infestation.

Sometimes the unraveling is small scale, a slight tremor on the Richter scale of life. Other times, the undoing is catastrophic. The earth shakes, the ground cracks and threatens to swallow you whole.

A loved one is whisked off for emergency surgery.

Test results are back and they’re not good.

A horrific phone call with a voice saying, “There’s been an accident.”

You’d think we would grow accustomed to managing abrupt structural shifts of life, but it’s not just the logistics of change. There’s the emotional roller coaster of disappointment, dashed hopes and altered expectations.

We all have things to do, places to go, people to see.

One of the greatest skill sets in life is being able to adapt and meet new challenges, both large and small and in between.

One of my favorite Bible verses is one you don’t see in a lovely calligraphy hanging on someone’s wall, stenciled on tote bags or coffee cups. It is the verse where Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.”

Some translations say tribulation.

I find that verse affirming and reassuring on those nights I fall into bed exhausted, spent and completely wrung out. It is the reverb of trial and tribulation. A part of life. To be expected.

Even better than knowing difficulty is part of the landscape is the second part of the verse: “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” The affirmation that life is hard, for days or for seasons, is followed by encouragement and hope.

They say the race belongs to the swift and we duly shower awards and medals on those with lightning speed and incredible strength. But never, ever, ever count out those who move slowly, navigating life’s trials and tribulations one radiation treatment, one round of chemo, one physical therapy appointment at a time, one step and one day at a time, courageously leaning in to changing circumstances and new challenges.

It is the plodders and the overcomers who are the truly strong among us.

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