Ding-Dong, the Pellet Stove is Dead

45f2e-dscn3711Let’s talk about heat. I didn’t think too much about it growing up in San Jose. The old-time gas heater embedded in the floor between the living room and the hall poured out sufficient heat to keep us warm in our three-bedroom tract house. It was also a great place to spy on the grownups because we kids could look through the grill from the hall and see what was going on, especially on Mom’s canasta club nights. The only drawback was our marbles falling through the grate and into the depths when we were shooting them across the brown tweed carpet. Bang, rattle, rattle. Quick, get it out before Dad catches us.

No, we didn’t think much about heat. The outside temperature stayed above 70 degrees most of the time, and it rarely rained. The heater would come on with a gentle whuff, and all was well. Deep inside, the blue flame of the pilot light kept burning. Almost 70 years later, it still works. The fireplace, also a trap for errant marbles, was mainly for entertainment, not for warmth. It hasn’t been lit since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

In San Jose, we thought more about avoiding heat. The temperature crept into the 80s, 90s and 100s from late spring through fall, but ours was a low-tech house. Air conditioning? Open a window. Turn on a fan. (Don’t touch the fan, it will cut your hand off.) That old house with its minimal insulation soaked in the heat. Still does. When I walked in last summer to visit my father, it was so hot I wanted to walk right back out. The only place I could find any relief was on the front porch, and even that was relative. At night, I’d sleep uncovered and backwards, feet on the pillow, trying to get my head as close to the window as possible. My hair almost touching the dusty screen, I was still sweating.

But here on the Oregon coast, heat is an issue, not like in the places where houses and cars are buried in snow. I don’t know how folks in the Midwest and East Coast stand it. Our temperature is more chilly than cold, I guess, miserable, but not life-threatening. When I woke up this morning, it was 46 outside and 62 inside. No big deal, just turn on the heater, right? Ah, but in the forest where I live, heating is funky. Natural gas lines do not reach this far, and few houses have whole-house heating systems. Or cooling systems, as if we ever need that. We have baseboard heaters, cadet heaters, plug-in portable heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and pellet stoves. Most houses, including mine, have firewood stacked high and deep for the winter. Shops selling pellets have a hard time keeping them in stock.

With all of these heat sources, a body has to think about heat. Chop the wood, light the fire, fill the pellet stove, turn it on, clean it out, buy more pellets. Turn on the little heaters or not? Don’t forget to turn them off lest you burn the house down. We think about heat all the time. We turn on NPR in the morning, listen to the weather report and groan.

I’ve got five different thermometers in the house, one of them an indoor-outdoor one. I’m constantly checking. Is it warm enough inside? Should I turn something on or off? How cold is it outside? Do I need a coat and gloves or just a hoodie? Dare I sit out on the deck and read my book? Is it going to freeze? Should I cover my pipes? Will I be able to drive to church or the store if there’s ice on the road?

Heat. For years, I have been posting about and cursing about my pellet stove. Yesterday, a repairman declared the old Quadra-Fire dead. Unplugged forever. May it rest in peace, amen. How many hours have I stood in front of that thing reading, writing, thinking, playing my guitar, or gazing out the window, usually with my feet straddling the dog. I singed the back of my old bathrobe getting too close. If I could add up all the time I’ve spent feeding it and cleaning out ashes and half-burnt pellets, it would probably come out to a couple of weeks. If I added up all the time I have spent waiting for repairmen to fix it, it’s probably a year. But now that it’s done for, I’m sad. Forever hopeful, I had just bought 15 bags of pellets and given the stove a name: Charlie. I probably jinxed it.

When Kevin from Airrow Heating pulled it apart yesterday, he exposed the ruined heat exchange mechanism as well as an information panel that said the stove was installed in 1992, six years before Fred and I bought the house. Twenty-five years and change, a longer-than-average lifespan for a pellet stove.

I have ordered a new one, opting to stick with the devil I know rather than try a different system. It’s coming a week from Thursday. It’s going to cost far more than I can afford. I’m going to be doing some fancy financial footwork for a while. A miracle infusion of cash would be helpful.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a patchwork of little heaters that make it almost warm enough. My body is adapting. Right now I’m overly warm in my bathrobe, and my office thermometer says it’s 62 degrees in here. At a jam session Sunday night, I got so hot I had to strip down to my tee shirt.

Am I doing the right thing ordering another pellet stove? I don’t know. But I will never take heat for granted again.

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Garage sale exposes stuff you can’t even give away



You know what happens when you hold a garage sale? All those personal items that you have hidden away because you didn’t like them or they weren’t quite good enough to keep get exposed to light and inspected by strangers who often decide they’re not worth 50 cents. In some cases, they don’t even want them for free. Also, the people who gave you that “helpful hints” book you have placed on a card table with a $1 sticker or the goofy Christmas ornament on the freebie table show up and see that you decided their gift was not worth keeping.
A garage sale is a lot of work for a little money, but you do get to meet a lot of nice people, including neighbors you never actually spoke to before and friends you didn’t know spent their weekends buying other people’s junk.
It’s funny what people will and won’t buy. At the garage sale I held last Friday and Saturday in my actual garage, my first two customers were a couple of women who showed up early and ready to spend money. They got most excited about the bookshelf boards rescued from the great flood of 2013 in my den and bought them for $1 apiece. An outdoorsy-looking man who came a while later noticed a tall skinny log that has probably been in the garage since before we bought the house. It wasn’t even for sale; it was just holding up a rug. “How much you want for that?” he asked. That? He took it away for $2; he plans to make a table out of it. Or a sculpture. Or something. He was also interested in the big old clock on my wall, which was not for sale.
Actually several of the men were interested in things that weren’t for sale, tools and such that were hanging on the walls. Nope, sorry, mine.
Clocks did well. I quickly sold the two antique clocks that have passed through the Lick family and ended up here. It seems most people don’t share my aversion to chimes and bongs. The bike, the baby gate, and most of the wine bottle openers and corks went. I sold some books and CDs but not nearly as many as I expected to. I sold three out of four stereo components. But the records, TV, FAX machines, stereo speakers (giant) and typewriter did not sell. Nor did the bat house, and the croquet set, although they engendered much conversation. Seems what’s old and useless to me is old and useless to everybody else, too.
Of course, the hurricane didn’t help. Okay, it wasn’t a hurricane, but it rained in buckets and barrels, and the wind, with 60 mph gusts, did not help. Tree branches littered the roads, my spa cover sailed across the yard again, and the cover on my compost bin left the property altogether. Windy. Nobody came Saturday afternoon, but I kept the store open, moving the merchandise back as the rain and wind came in. I wrote a poem, sorted through old magazines, played my guitar, played my recorders and danced to old music on the boom box. I sat with a heater at my feet to keep warm and gazed out at the waterfall cascading from the defective gutter over the entrance to the garage.
At 4:00, I closed the garage door, took down what was left of my signs and started boxing up the remaining merchandise to donate to whoever will take them, with a few things destined for the dump. If anybody wants records from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, and a lot of other cool stuff, they’re in my garage. But they’re not going to stay there for long.  I’m going back to anonymously donating my stuff to charities, preferably those that will take them out of town so I don’t ever have to see them again.
Thanks to Pat and Bill, who provided great help and moral support in the early stages of the garage sale. Also, thanks to the world’s greatest dog-sitter, Jo Byriel, who came to shop and ended up taking Annie for a nice long walk.

Miralax Run and Dogsled Downhill

Been watching the Olympics? Me too, but in between, I’ve been competing in my own Oregon Coast Olympic events. Not sanctioned by the IOC, of course, but just as challenging. Let me describe a few of these events for you.
Miralax Run: To be done in preparation for my every-five-years colonoscopy, in which doctors send a tiny bobsled with a camera up my colon. I began with five days of a restricted diet and one day of nothing but liquid. Then came the big event, four laxative pills and 16 glasses of lemon Crystal Light laced with laxative powder, to be drunk between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. before reporting to the hospital at 6:45 a.m. I spent the next nine hours on a drink-and-run marathon, reaching the bottom of the pitcher just in time. Lost a few style points along the way, but I made it to the finish line.
Dogsled Downhill: Ten days ago, the coast was covered in snow and ice, but Annie still needed her walks. So I pulled on my flowered plastic boots and hit the slopes of 98th Street. My pooch pulled me up hill and down through patches of snow, ice, and slush while I screamed, “Don’t pull!” “Slow down!” and “Aaaaaah!” We finished in 497th place.
Slush Slalom: As the snow melted, the dog and I slid through the slush. Annie darted back and forth across the road, sniffing every weed, Starbuck’s cup, and pile of poo while I shushed along behind her, trying to stay up on my ski boots. Our form was less than perfect and we failed to earn a medal.
Pellet Stove Pentathlon: You drive to the lumber yard, load up the car with 40-pound bags of pellets, slide home through the snow, unload the bags in the garage, carry the bags one at a time into the house, load them into the hopper, adjust the thermostat, and watch the clock as the stove hums and twiddles its sooty thumbs. First competitor to see sparks wins. If the stove sighs and goes silent, push the reset button and start again. No medals here either.
Hot Tub Hustle: There’s nothing like soaking in 100-degree water under the stars, but one 30-degree night when the snow was all gone, I stuck my foot in and jumped into the air, did a triple flip and landed back on the deck. The hot tub was cold. Fast forward to standing with a service guy in pounding rain as he tested the electrical circuits and declared the heating element dead. While he ordered a new one, I moved on to the next event, draining the tub with a pump and garden hose while hail bounced off my head, the deck and the surface of the water and the dog hid inside because she’s no fool. Results pending return of service guy.
Flying Tree Fling: The snow and ice melted, and we were glad, but then the rain and wind came. As lawns turned to marshes and water rose in the ditches to the level of the road, 75-mile-an-hour gusts sent trees, signs, and yard art flying. The table on my deck moved three feet east. Bits of trees fell everywhere, and the giant tent just put up for next weekend’s Newport Seafood and Wine Festival collapsed into a pile of metal rods and torn canvas. I think I saw Dorothy’s house flying toward Oz. My house is still here. I win.
We have another week before the Sochi Olympics closing ceremony. Locally, the rest of the schedule remains unknown. But at least we have avoided Bob Costas’ pink eye plague.
May you rack up maximum points in every event this week.

A Picture-Perfect Day


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When I whine about the weather here on the Oregon coast, when I whine about being lonely or feeling hopeless or never having any fun, remind me about yesterday.
It was an honest-to-goodness day off when I did not feel obligated to work on my to-do list of writing, music and household chores. I slept late, luxuriating in the warmth of the electric blanket and the baseboard heater, waking to sunlight and blue sky. We have actually had a lot of that lately, but it has been coupled with bone-aching cold. Not yesterday. I wouldn’t call it hot, but it was warm enough to sit in the sun and wonder where I hid my sunglasses. It was a day when I read in the sun, played guitar in the sun, and walked the dog in the sun before that same sun set in a sky washed with blue and orange that made the water shine like liquid gold.
In the morning, as the sun blasted through the windows, I grabbed one of the big boxes piled up in the garage and started sorting through it. This was my darkroom box, and most of the contents dated back to the mid-1980s when I was processing film and developing photos at work and at home in the bathroom. I found photo paper and chemicals purchased in 1978. Are they still good? Probably not. I threw them away. Who uses film anymore anyway? I found my timer, my dodging tools (anybody know what those are?), colored filters, red light bulbs, and the black bag in which I moved film from the canister to the developing tank. White light would spoil the pictures. Not a problem in these digital days. It was fun to find these old friends and remember those happy hours I spent in the darkroom at various newspaper jobs and at home with the radio blasting, watching pictures magically appear in the tray of developing fluid. I can still smell the ammonia stench of the fixer bath that kept the images from disappearing.
But even more fun was finding the many photos and proof sheets from that era that were also tucked in the box. There’s Fred looking young and handsome, me looking slim and young with tiny Michael at my side. There are Fred’s grandchildren Stephanie and Brandon as babies, their mother Gretchen looking so very young. There’s my mom looking pretty with black hair. Uncle Bob. Cousin Tracy. Oh my gosh, even my first husband Jim and his family. Beloved co-workers from a newspaper in San Jose. A Veteran’s Day parade downtown. Vasona Park. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk. A tree that caught my eye 30 years ago. A flower. A dog. Our first trip to the Oregon coast, back when we had no idea we’d be living here a few years later. Newspaper photos that mean absolutely nothing to me now.
I filled a big trash bag with things not worth keeping, but I saved the family pictures, even the ones where I was clearly still learning my craft. Why bother with anything that has sat in a box untouched for most of 30 years? So that on a lazy day in 2013 I can find old treasures and relive happy times of long ago with people who are no longer around. So that I can know they were real and still mine to keep.
It was a good day. Just the day before, on Saturday, clouds and fog kept us in twilight all day, and I longed to see the sun. God answered my prayers. Next time I whine, remind me of Sunday, Jan. 20. I have no photographs of that day, except for the pictures in my mind, but like the ones in that box, I hope they never fade.

Just Your Average Oregon Coast Storm

A super windstorm hit the coast Sunday and Monday. You might have heard about it on the news. Sunday night, a 98 mile an hour gust blew off part of the roof at Izzy’s restaurant in Newport. I can’t believe it didn’t blow mine off, too. Pieces of trees and yard decorations were flying all over. The wind chimes were doing somersaults. Meanwhile, I was packing for my trip to California, wondering if I could really go.

On Monday morning, it was still raining, still blowing, with reports of damage and road closures. My route was clear so far. I checked the reports over and over. I prayed. I asked my Facebook friends if I should go. I loaded the car. Once the dog was sitting in the driver’s seat, it was hard to change my mind.

I got as far as Lost Creek State Park, about a mile and a half from home, and decided to get off the road. The wind was blowing from the south so hard it was like trying to drive against an invisible wall. The rain slammed against the windows so thick I could barely see. This is nuts, I told the dog as I pulled into the parking lot and stared at an ocean that was all froth and fury.

We can’t go, I decided, but somehow when I came out of the parking lot, I turned south toward California instead of going home. The rain had eased a tiny bit, and I decided to keep going.

I had to take Annie east down Highway 34 to the kennel in Tidewater. I saw just small debris going, but 15 minutes later, coming back, there was a tree across the road. No cell phone service there. Several men had already parked and were cleaning up the tree branches with their hands. When they got one lane cleared enough, we drove over the rest of the tree and went on.

Back on 101, I turned south again. Wind, rain, water on the road, rivers rising nearby. Gripping the steering wheel so tight my hands hurt, and my accelerator leg hurt, but I couldn’t relax for a second. Speed limits meant nothing; we had to drive much slower than usual just to keep from sliding off into the ocean. I kept thinking: where will I have to stop, how will I rearrange this trip, I’ll never travel on Thanksgiving again.

I finally got to Florence, praise God, houses, stores, stoplights. I found the restaurant where I had planned to eat lunch, the Hot Rod Inn, with old cars literally sticking out of the roof. But it was closed! For sale. I drove on, hoping to eat at another place south of Florence. It was closed, too, for lease. Nuts!

The thirty-eight miles to Reedsport took forever, water blowing across the road like waves, car losing traction every hundred yards. But I made it to Harbor Lights, at the intersection of 101 and Highway 38. Got soaked on the way in. I highly recommend this restaurant. Specials in colored chalk on the blackboard on the far wall, display case with pumpkin muffins, carrot cake, Marionberry crisps, lava cake, yum. Meat lovers can order wild elk or boar, and there are eggplant sandwiches for the vegetarians. I had a mushroom burger on chiabatta bread, oozing mayonnaise. Heaven. Perfect French fries, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.

I talked to a guy there who was worried about the road north to Yachats. Just rain and wind, I said, but it could change with the next gust of wind. It turns out we both went to San Jose State.

As I paid my bill, the waitress wished me a nice evening. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon but dark as twilight when I ran out to the car, getting wet again, and started my eastward trek along the Umpqua River away from the ocean.

I saw more elk than ever at the elk preserve, most of them close to the road, most of their land under water. Usually there are crowds of camera-bearing tourists taking pictures. Not this time. Too wet and wild.

The rain began to lighten up after Elkton, a few more miles down the road. I looked around and remembered how incredibly beautiful western Oregon is. I cranked up the radio and made it to Yreka at 6:00. Clear, light wind, temps in the 50s. After all these years going back and forth, this motel room feels like home.

I had put a call out on Facebook, asking my Oregon friends whether or not to go. My friend Pat, from Massachusetts via California, said don’t go. My friend Sandy said, too late, that newscasters were telling people not to drive if they didn’t have to. My Oregon friends said check the weather and go if it’s not snowing. My friend Lauren said she had just driven to Eugene from the coast against 60 mile an hour winds. Go, she said, we’re Oregonians.

Exactly. We pull our hoods over our heads and go.

Somewhere up ahead, there’s sunshine.

Time for rain, giant pumpkins, and fleece


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Tis the season when I stand in the rain every morning and evening urging Annie to leave the doorway and “go potty,” when I pile up damp towels and soggy shoes, when the sun is but a memory. The rainy season has begun, and the snowbirds are heading to Arizona.
It happened so quickly. Last week, I lived on the deck in the sun, reading, writing, playing music, doing yoga, snuggling with the dog or just lying flat out soaking up the warmth and light. Did you know that many of us who live on the Oregon coast are seriously short of vitamin D? It’s true.
We hadn’t had any measurable rain for two months. That’s normal in many places, but not here. The lawns were turning brown, and for the first time ever, fleas showed up at our house, finding Annie’s dense fur a fabulous playground. After a couple days of her hiding in her crate and literally dragging her tail, we made an emergency trip to the vet, thinking she was sick, only to find she was infested with fleas. An expensive triple-pronged pharmaceutical attack later, she’s feeling better.
The leaves have been falling for weeks, and now I understand why I should have raked them up. They have become a soggy brown mat on the lawn, now joined by the season’s first fallen branches. The bird bath, which had gone dry, is now a floating pool of pine needles. Although I did pack in a load of pellets last week, I never cleaned out the gutters, so waterfalls cascade right over my front door. I’m wondering how I’m going to keep my spa cover from flying off in today’s high winds; last year’s winds ripped all the straps off.
This is just the beginning. The weather forecasters say we will see the sun again on Wednesday and Thursday before the rain returns. Meanwhile, although I still have my tan lines, I’ll be putting on my rain suit to walk the dog. A neighbor stopped Saturday to tell me I was awfully dedicated to be walking Annie in the rain, but nine months out of the year, if we don’t walk in the rain, we don’t walk at all.
There are bonuses to the arrival of the rain. The mushrooms are popping up, just in time for the annual mushroom festival held in Yachats every October. People are hanging Halloween decorations—I’ve got my orange lights ready to string in the front windows. They had 100-pound pumpkins at Fred Meyer Saturday. And Christmas is coming.
I’ll miss going out without a jacket, but it is kind of nice to put on the layers of fleece and read by the flickering light of the pellet stove while the rain patters on the skylights.
When my brother visited in May, he wanted to know why everyone he met kept talking about the weather. Well, that’s because it grabs and keeps our attention around here. What are we going to do today? Well, let’s check the weather.
Wherever you are, try to stay dry and warm, but if you get wet, know it will feel fabulous when you change into dry clothes.