Friday, May 14, 2010

A Happy Birthday and a Good Friday

I did promise a sequel didn’t I? I left you with a busted coffee maker and a broken washing machine. Pretty much how this series started out. I went to work Wednesday morning, planning on taking another afternoon off so I could meet with the repair person.

I’m blessed with a job that allows me to have fairly flexible hours. I also got a laptop computer instead of a desktop tower for my last computer upgrade. I used to be sort of an anti-laptop person. I’m a computer geek which means I look at computers the same way Tim “Tool Man” Taylor, from the TV show Home Improvement, looks at cars and tools. Bigger is better and more power is a desirable goal.

I still salivate over big and beautiful computers but have come to appreciate the mobility my new laptop gives me. It’s still got a reasonable amount of horsepower (or gigahertz if you prefer) and storage capacity for my needs, and I can take it with me when I have to be at home. This allows me do my job without actually being at the office. So at noon, I undocked the laptop and went home to meet the repair guy. He was actually running early so he beat me home and was almost done by the time I got there.

Thank goodness it was under warranty. The water pump was broken and apparently, you can’t just order the water pump by itself, you have to order a new motor with the pump, even though the motor we have was fine. Then, of course, you have the 2 hours labor which ends up costing more than the parts.

The down side was the parts had to be ordered and yet another service call scheduled for the installation. We would be out a washer for a week. Ouch! While visions of rolls of quarters danced in my head with daily commutes to a Laundromat, my wonderful in-laws came to the rescue. They graciously allowed us the use of their facilities while our washer was down for the count. So my wife accepted the job of laundry shuttle driver ferrying loads of clothes back and forth.

I decided to work from home the rest of the day. It is amazing how productive one can be when you get away from the phone constantly ringing and people barging into your office. Add the fact that my kids were in school and my beautiful wife was keeping the interruptions to a minimum. I’m not kidding, I got more work done in 3 hours than I would have done in a weeks time at the office. Employers need to look at this when they consider people for telecommuting. In certain situations, it really works.

Since I was at home and so was our dead coffee maker, I decided to give their customer support another go. Once again I was on hold for almost 30 minutes, and once again got annoyed that every 20 seconds the computer voice told me my call was about to be answered. However, again, a very pleasant English speaking American answered the phone. This woman needs to lead seminars on phone support. Other than my crazy-long wait, she got 5 stars across the board. She gave me fast, clear, easy-to-follow instructions on how to submit a warranty claim. I simply needed to chop off the plug, and mail it with a statement explaining what happened and a check for $12.99 for shipping the new coffee maker to us. I will gladly pay $12.99 for a $54.00 coffee maker any day of the week. Of course, getting to whack the power cord was an added bonus.

Lest you forgot, it was my lovely wife’s birthday. Wednesday’s are also church family nights with supper. That night it was going to be Domino’s Pizza. Deanna and I don’t really care for Domino’s and that happens to be Brianna’s (daughter) favorite meal in the known universe. Brianna also can’t stand Mexican or any of the American simulations of it. So we dropped Brianna off at church so she could eat with her youth friends and Deanna, Brian (son), and me went to enjoy a delightful supper at Paradiso with Deanna’s entree being free on account of her birthday. Things had started looking up.

The coffee maker plug, letter, and check were sent off the next morning. Thursday was uneventful and passed without incident. I alternated between moments of relief that the dreaded 3rd thing would yet come to pass, and trepidation that this was just the calm before the storm and things were setting up to really get bad. It turned out the calm before the storm was exactly that.

We woke up Good Friday morning to a howling mad blizzard, in April. Though not unheard of, the magnitude of this storm is something I hope never to see again. My wife, Deanna, and I were supposed to be in church to participate in our time slot in a prayer vigil we have every year before Good Friday. Various church members sign up for hour-long slots so there is a continuous stream of prayer. The plan was for us to leave early, go to my in-laws house, put in a load of clothes, and then head to the prayer vigil. After our hour was up, the one load would be done and we could do another.

Because of the weather and some errands I needed to run in town, Deanna was going to drive herself to her folks and would try to meet me at the church. But if the weather was too bad, she would just stay there and pray at the house. I would go to the church so I could run my errands afterwards. She left first and wasn’t on the road 5 minutes when she called back telling me under no circumstances was I to leave the house, the weather was that bad. Unfortunately, I had already left.

Horrible driving conditions. Wet, slushy, and very slippery. I don’t think I exceeded 15mph all the way to church. It’s a miracle both of us made it to our destinations. After calling Deanna to ensure she was safe and letting her know I was safe, I proceeded to pray. I really enjoy this quiet time. If you have never participated in a vigil, it can be an extremely moving and rewarding time. Praying for a whole hour seems kind of intimidating but you get used to it very quickly and usually my time is up and I'm still going strong.

I was a little disconcerted the lights kept flickering on and off in the church. At the end of my hour the power went off for good. I shoveled the entryway and dug out my car. The snow was still falling in huge amounts so I was sure the entryway would fill in 10 minutes after I left but I had to make the effort anyway. I got in my vehicle and called Deanna to tell her I was on my way to the grocery store. The driving conditions were still bad but not quite as much as they were North of town where I live. It was almost fun plowing through the slush.

After getting the needed groceries, (I was getting ingredients for a fantastic cheese ball made from cream cheese and shredded beef jerky of all things, it tastes amazing and gets better the longer you leave it in the fridge-recipe available upon request), I called Deanna again to let her know I was on my way home. The power was still out and she had a load of clothes half way through a wash cycle. She had to stay at her parents just in case the power came back on.

I made it home. It’s always interesting to watch me open a heavy garage door with no electrical power. The kids, of course, were home alone. Our daughter is 14 and our son is 11. They are, for the most part, responsible, and can be left at home for a few hours. Brian was a little freaked out the power had been out so long. He was pretty excited to see me. Brianna was rocking away with iPod plugs in her ears, not a care in the world. I expected she would change her tune when the battery ran out.

Before leaving for prayer vigil we had boiled a dozen eggs for dying purposes. I had a dozen more to go with no power in sight. I was not discouraged, however. I’ve got a propane grill and a camping cook stove. Three burners just begging to be used. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, my son likes to cook. So we loaded up with eggs and utensils and made our way to the garage now turned camp kitchen. I set Brian to work monitoring the boiling water for the eggs. You have to do this carefully or else your hard-boiled eggs get that ugly green colorization around the yolk.

I’ve also got this barely ever used camp cook set which includes a coffee pot. The old fashioned kind with no filter. You do remember I’m a coffee junkie and had been without for a few days? I also remember the hideous coffee we had on my fishing trip to Canada. (I’m sorry fishing buddies, but the coffee just wasn’t the best) I was determined to do better. I carefully read the instructions (I know, a novel idea) on how to make camp coffee. So I monitored the coffee production. My son enjoys coffee too.

The trick where we went wrong in Canada is to take the coffee pot off the burner when the water boils before adding the grounds. The grounds just need to steep and we boiled the beans out of them up North. Brian enjoyed it so much he wanted to make coffee like that all the time. We went for the whole experience and drank out of the camp cups that came with the cook set.

While waiting for water to boil, we passed the time throwing Whitewings paper airplanes around the garage. These are really cool airplane kits which involve cutting out index card pieces and gluing them together, they fly so sweetly and come in all different styles. We had a great time.

Deanna, not so much, the power never did come on and wouldn’t for several hours yet. Deanna had to go to work, not to mention getting Brianna prettied up for a Good Friday Passion performance at church. It was getting desperate for the females. Deanna gave up, left the soggy laundry in the washer at her parents and came home.

Curling irons and hair straighteners don’t work very well with no electricity. Deanna had the brilliant idea of trying my mom and stepdad’s house. They were celebrating Easter weekend in Minnesota, so I had to call a buddy who lived close to them to see if he had power, he did so off we went. Sadly, the house probably did have electricity, but the snow plow had gone by and left a ridge comparable to the Himalayas so there was no way to get in the driveway. We turned around and went to church, hoping they might have some power we could borrow.

Alas, it was not to be. Funnily enough the vigil had been cancelled. Ah well, at least I got my great hour of prayer in. The only thing left was to go back home, throw Brianna’s hair in a pony tail and call it good. There are times when a husband just needs to keep his mouth shut, and this was one of those times. I could have said all sorts of things, but none of them would have improved the situation.

One of Brianna’s school friends was also in a Passion reenactment at one of our local Catholic churches and she wanted to go to that. At that time, it was still up in the air if our own Good Friday service was going to be held, so we had to pack her clothes for that as we would have to go from one church to another. Deanna went work.

Meaning no disrespect or offense to the Catholics at this church, but it would be nice if non-Catholics wouldn’t get stared at as if they were little green men who just stepped off the mother ship and wandered into the sanctuary. It was extremely uncomfortable. We watched the service and left towards the end when everyone stood up for communion.

I called Deanna who told me our church service was cancelled. There was still no power so the service was moved to Saturday. We needed something to eat, so rather than worry about what we could manufacture at home, I called A&B Pizza, who blessedly, had power. We are not Catholic, but have a family tradition where we abstain from red meat on Good Friday, so we had a cheese pizza and a shrimp burger and french fries. We went home and to our delight, found electrical power restored. It turned out we were the fortunate ones as there were people who would be without power several weeks. The very wet ice and snow created so much weight on the power lines, huge metal towers crumpled like aluminum foil and the wooden poles snapped like toothpicks.

Since my mom and stepdad were out of town, I had mailbox and paper retrieval duty. So Saturday found me shoveling a wet slushy mountain just so I could get in their driveway. With any luck most of what was left would be melted by the time they got back.

It was an extraordinary week.

Friday, May 7, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours

This post is a bit dated but I had enough things happen to me the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, that I just had to write about it, albeit a bit late.

Monday, the coffee maker died. People who know me understand I can drink coffee by the gallon. I’ve alluded to this in a few older posts. I love the smell of coffee. I love the taste of coffee. I can drink it all day long and still not really get enough. When people look at me like I’m some sort of freakazoid from the java solar system, I usually respond with some comment along the lines of, “there are worse things to be addicted to.” I drink decaf as much as possible to keep the heartburn at bay and moderate my caffeine intake. Other than that I see no adverse affects I’m doing to my body.

My wife also uses the coffee maker to make hot water for her foo-foo cappuccino powder. Our coffee maker gets used every day and sometimes 2-3 times daily on the weekends. Having it malfunction is not a good thing.

So I called the 800-number support line. Of course they were closed for the day. So then I brought the user’s manual to work because that had the model number on it. After waiting on hold for 30 minutes I finally got to talk to a live body. Here’s a hint to businesses that use automated answering systems. It gets a little wearing when I’m told every 20 seconds that my call will be answered in the order it was received. I can’t even enjoy a whole song on the waiting system because the voice has to interrupt and remind me my call will be answered. I knew that, now please just let me listen to the music. Even bad music is better than an annoying voice telling me for the thousandth time my call will be answered.

The live body asks me what my problem is. “My coffee maker doesn’t work”.

“Did you clean it with vinegar?” she asks, way too quickly.

I was ready for this question. “Several times,” I said.

“When did you purchase this unit?”

“Less than a year ago.” I answered, patience running very thin at this point. I told myself to be thankful she was at least speaking English with an American accent. A rarity in phone support these days.

“I need to have the model number and series number, this can only be found at the bottom of the unit.”

“Excuse me?” I asked

“I need the model and series number from the bottom of the unit.”

“I don’t have that.”

“I need to know the series number before your warranty claim can be processed.”

“I need to call back later, are you sure I don’t need anything else, any other number?”

“That’s all you need, sir”

“You’re sure, absolutely nothing else?”

Now she’s laughing at me, “I’m sure, sir, just the model and series number.”

I groan, now I’m going to have to wait on hold again and who knows when I’ll have the coffee maker with me during business hours? But I resign myself to my fate.

Tuesday, the washer died. Things just got a little more serious. We’re a family of four and we wash clothes practically every day. Not being able to wash is huge. They say bad things come in threes, I can’t wait to see what Wednesday has in store. My wife calls me early that afternoon shrieking because the washer won’t drain. So I took the rest of the afternoon off and raced home to see what could be done.

The code on the washer was “LD” which apparently means “Long Drain”. I called an 800 number for this as well, I was put on hold again but this time it was only for a few minutes. I found out the washer was still under warranty and they would dispatch a repair person at once.

Now a smart person would have just left things in the hands of professionals. Unfortunately, I’m not always what one would consider a smart person. There was still a load of soaking laundry in the washer half filled with water. The “LD” code meant that the drain hose was clogged. So that sounded simple enough if I could get the drain hose out and clear it, maybe I could at least finish the load in progress.

I must also register a complaint with the Whirlpool owner’s manual. I found the page that listed the error codes. We have a wonderful digital push-button washer, too bad it didn’t work. “LD”-means long drain. The solution is to clear the drain hose. Absolutely nothing else to tell you how to clear or disconnect the hose. Totally worthless instructions.

The back of washers and dryers are never in convenient places. I had to pull out the washer, disconnect the power and water hoses, vacuum and clean the several inches thick of dust, and finally I was able to squeeze myself back there.

The hose entered the back of the washer at the top, but then fed down inside and connected to the wash basin at the very bottom. So I had a panel and some plastic tie-downs that I needed to remove first. Then I was able to see where the hose attached to the reservoir underneath the washer.

If you can picture the most cramped, hard to get to place, that’s where this hose was connected. There was a huge clamp securing the hose but no good way to press the pinchers together. The clamp was really big so I had to get my large long-handled pliers to get around it. My patience really started to get tested as I moved and jiggled the pliers in every direction imaginable to try and get the clamp off. Finally, I managed to squeeze the pinchers and remove the clamp. Then I pulled off the hose.

It was then that Hoover Dam broke open. The reservoir underneath the wash basin probably held 2-3 gallons of water. When the drain hose was removed all that water started gushing out. I quickly slammed the hose back on the outlet and considered my situation.

My hand was holding the hose onto the outlet, the clamp was off, and large amounts of water were spreading across the floor of the laundry room and soaking into the seat and legs of my jeans. What on Earth was I going to do?

I believe “Lord help me,” were the first words out of my mouth. It was then I noticed several rags lying about that I had brought in to help keep things clean and (chuckle) soak up any leaking water. I thought if I could twist a rag in a tight enough wad, I might be able to shove it into the outlet so I could take the hose off and clear the blockage. I might not stop it completely, but hopefully I’d avoid any more gushers.

It’s not easy twisting a rag one-handed. My other hand was still holding on to the drain hose. So I used my teeth, an elbow, and my one free hand to twist up a rag I hoped would be the right size. I went through step by step in my head the motions I would have to go through. Take the hose off, quickly insert the rag, twist and push it in far enough so it would not pop out once I let go.

It really helps to plan things in your head before acting. The rag plug worked surprisingly well, and I was able to avoid a repeat deluge of water. I twisted and shoved the rag as far in as I could and let go.

It stayed. I had to stare at it awhile to convince myself it wasn’t going anywhere. I grabbed the now separated drain hose and stood up. Grimacing as I experienced the cold soaking wetness of my pants.

I took the hose into the garage. I tried to blow through it. Nothing, totally blocked as I was told by the worthless manual. But now how to clear it? It was very long and narrow. I had nothing in my garage that would be able to snake its way through the hose.

Still holding the hose, I paced around the garage, thinking now what? I knew that rag plug wouldn’t last forever. It would either become too saturated with water, or it would pop out and then I’d have a real mess. I usually gesture when I’m talking to myself or others, so as I paced, I shook the hose up and down.

I heard rattling. Something inside the hose was loose. Well, maybe I could at least shake that out. I tipped the hose down and listened to the pleasant sound of rattling as the obstruction made its way down the hose. It finally stopped but nothing came out. When I looked at the end of the hose, I saw a kind of gasket inside that was preventing whatever it was from escaping. So I turned the hose the other way and listed to more pleasant rattling sounds as the object made it’s way out the other end.

I was very surprised when a penny fell onto the sidewalk. At some point in my pacing I had wandered outside. I have no idea why so don’t ask.

Here’s a picture of the obstruction. I apologize for my poor photography skills. I’ve placed a new penny next to it for comparison. It appears the penny had been there for some time. It was fairly worn around the edges. It’s possible it just finally got moved and jostled around enough by the water that it clogged the hose. I blew through the hose again and to my delight found it was completely clear.

I charged back into the house flushed with my success. I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts after I’d finally squeezed back behind the washer. There was a steady stream coming out of the outlet. The rag was quite soaked by now. I went through all the motions in my head again.

The hose went on much harder than it came off. Then I had to fiddle with it to get the clamp and these two notches in the hose to line up with the two pins on the outlet. People who’ve been around me know I have this annoying tendency to have everything perfect so I didn’t quit until the hose and clamp were in proper order.

Then my wife came home from work. (Queue the sinister background music.) She works weekday evenings and had gotten some groceries so it was around 10:30PM. She was hopping mad. “SO WE’RE NO LONGER GETTING IT REPAIRED TOMORROW?” Then, before I could respond, she launched another attack. “EVERY LIGHT INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HOUSE IS ON!” We’ve really been trying to cut expenses so any unnecessary power usage is a bad thing.

She had no way of knowing that it was only about 15 minutes ago I had turned any lights on to go out to the garage and then outside. I'm still not sure why I went outside. It’s not like they had been on all night.

She also had no way of knowing why I was in my predicament. Yes, I admit, I have a difficult time letting things go if I think I have a solution. But my real reason for attempting the repair myself was because the next day was Deanna’s birthday and we had planned to go out for her free birthday lunch at Paradiso, a local Mexican restaurant. Waiting for a repairman had not entered our plans so it was debatable we would even get to go. You don’t get a free meal every day so my plan was to try and repair the washer enough so we could still use it and then it wouldn’t be so critical for the repair person to come over so quickly and we could schedule the repair another time.

She didn’t know any of these things and if she had, she probably wouldn’t have shouted at me considering everything I had gone through to get to that point. As it was, now I was hopping mad. I told her to go away until I was done otherwise I would lose my temper. We would discuss this after I calmed down, cleaned up, and found a dry pair of pants.

I got the washer all hooked up, mopped up the residual water, and cleaned all the disgusting filth that lurks behind washers and dryers. Then I attempted to finish the load of laundry. Would you believe it still didn’t work? “LD” was still blinking in bold red digital letters. If I had a sledgehammer I might have fixed the washer permanently. Thankfully, the sledge was still in the garage.

Finally, I surrendered to the inevitable. The repair person would still be coming tomorrow and we probably would have to forego the free lunch.

I still had to have a conversation with the Mrs. I found some dry pants and she had made a nice cup of cappuccino (courtesy of microwave oven heated water) We were able to debrief like calm, grown-up adults. (how’s that for redundancy?) We both apologized and all was well. Considering we still had a defective washer and coffee machine.

Sorry folks, I know serials aren’t for everyone, but I’ve got to save the rest for part II. I’ll try very hard not to run into a part III.