Still no heat–and then it snowed

snow-1417cThose who follow this blog will remember that last week I was struggling with a dead pellet stove and a conglomeration of space heaters that kept tripping the single electrical circuit that powers my kitchen and living room. The temperature had landed firmly in the 30s, and it was COLD. I had taken to wearing thermal underwear in the house, moved to the bedroom that was a couple degrees warmer and allowed the dog to join me for added warmth.

It stayed cold all week. On Wednesday, the third time weathercasters predicted we might have snow, it finally happened. I could see the white light coming through the windows before I crawled out of bed. Snow everywhere. Pretty. Powdery. Magical. But underneath that snow lay ice. Hard, slippery, can’t walk-on-it, can’t-drive-on-it ice. Everything canceled. Schools, meetings, my dentist appointment. We were stuck in the house with puny heat, except for a slip-sliding walk. Annie and I learned that pavement is bad, grass is good, and mud is messy but it holds onto your shoes.

The snow stuck around until Saturday. It was too cold to melt. But the roads cleared up. I got out on Thursday for a haircut and much-needed groceries. Free at last! I know, it was one day, and nothing compared to the folks stuck for weeks with snow up to their roofs, but I was running out of food.

Friday, the electrical outlet into which I had plugged the biggest space heater and my tiny Christmas tree ceased working, taking the porch light out with it. We have some interesting wiring around here. I played with the circuit breaker switches. No go. Plugged and unplugged, wiggled and shoved. Called my electrician dad, who said get it fixed immediately; you could have a short that might start a fire. Crap. Freezing and fighting electrical problems. At least a fire would be warm.

Broke and disheartened, I called my neighbor. “Do you know anything about electricity?” He replied, “I know if you stick your finger in the socket, you get a shock.” Funny. I explained my problem. He limped over on his healing broken ankle and was soon crouched on my floor pulling out my dead plug. A wire had gotten disconnected. Stuff is all corroded in there, he said. He fixed it. The lights went on. Glad to help, he said. Thank God for small towns and friendly neighbors.

While the neighbor worked on my plug, I took down my Christmas decorations. Not in the mood anymore.

All day Friday, the temperature seemed to go down instead of up. On our brief walk, the cold wind tore at my skin and made me want to cry. But Saturday it started to get warmer. And then the rain came. It got warmer still. I took off a layer of clothing. The patter of rain on the skylights sounded like music.

It rained hard. It rained cold. It rained sideways. I got soaked in five minutes in the yard. My gutters overflowed. New leaks sprang up in the laundry and garage. But this is all normal for January on the Oregon coast. It’s still frozen east of here, so I feel blessed. This morning at 9 a.m., it’s 42.8 degrees, and the only things frozen at my house are the ice cubes, peas and veggie burgers in my freezer.

No, the pellet stove is not fixed yet. I’m hoping it will happen today. But I’m warm enough.

NOTE: This was supposed to be just a caption for my snow photos. My brother wonders why people up here talk so much about the weather. We can’t help ourselves. It’s a new show every day.  I know this winter is crazy everywhere. Right now it’s flooding in California, land of perpetual drought. How is your weather? Tell us what’s happening at your house.

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In search of heat in South Beach

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I have turned into one of those women who is always freezing, whose fingers are icy when you shake hands, who wear three times as many layers of clothing as seems logical. It’s not my age, and I certainly haven’t gotten skinny. No, the pellet stove, the main source of heat at my house in the woods, is defunct again. On the Thursday before Christmas, it developed this habit of starting to light a little fire in the pot and then moaning to a stop. No more fire. No heat.

I cleaned it, scraping out a layer of pellets burned into  rock. Surely that would fix it. Nope. Little fire, moan, darkness. I hit reset 10 times that day. No go. I called the stove guy. Got the machine because a hundred other people are having stove problems around here.

The poor stove had been working overtime for weeks, with temperatures staying in the 30s much of the time. Threats of snow and ice had not materialized here yet but Portland and places not far inland were going crazy, with cars sliding all over in the big freeze. Schools and businesses were closed. A friend in Eugene had no power for six days. Not a good time for a dead pellet stove.

I love small towns for their lack of traffic and crowds and the way everybody knows everybody. I love that I can walk into the post office and Valerie grabs my package from the stack because she knows who I am. I can walk into my favorite restaurant and they know I want iced tea with no lemon. I can park my car by the pallets of pellets at Copeland Lumber, and a guy will start loading them into the Element before I even go in to pay. They know I’m getting 15 bags, 600 pounds of processed wood. It’s all good.

But this no-heat business stinks. You see, we have no gas out here in South Beach, unless you install a big expensive tank, and most of the houses were built without electric heating systems. We have baseboard heaters in some rooms, little “Cadet” heaters installed in some walls, but mostly we heat our homes with wood in the form of logs or pellets. Chimneys sprout from every roof, most with metal caps that swing around in the wind.

We used to have two woodstove shops in town. One went out of business. The other is trying to take up the slack, but there are too many stoves out here, and one must wait for an opening to get service. I was lucky the guy made it out here last Wednesday, after only six days and a chilly Christmas. He took one look and declared that I need a new thermocouple, a little piece that sticks out above the burn pot and enables the stove to light and stay lit. He would have to order one. It would not be here before New Year’s. Looking around at my assortment of plug-in heaters, he sympathized. “Well, you have some heat.”

Yes, enough to stay alive but not enough to be comfortable. Plus I have knocked out the circuit breaker six times so far. My electrical system cannot take the added stress of a plug-in heater plus almost anything else in the kitchen. If I want to use the microwave or toaster oven, I need to go without heat for a while. At least now I know exactly what to do when suddenly everything goes dark and silent. It’s number thirteen on the circuit board. My electrician dad says I can’t keep doing this; it’s dangerous. He says you get 20 amps on most circuits. The heater takes 12.5. That doesn’t leave much for extras, and if the refrigerator cycles on, it’s over. Maybe I don’t need the microwave.

The picture above was taken at 10:21 a.m. The sun was shining outside, and the three-foot-tall electric heater I bought with Christmas money two years ago had been on full blast all night. It wasn’t going to get much warmer.

People who live in snow country are thinking I’m a wimp. It’s not like it’s 30 below. I do have sources of heat. Remember the bedroom I moved out of a couple months ago? I have moved back in because that bed has an electric blanket, and I can’t afford to buy one for the other, larger bed. It also has a baseboard heater that I use reluctantly because it’s too close to the sheets. In addition, it has space on the floor for Annie, who can no longer jump up onto the bed and has decided she is not going to freeze alone.

The master bedroom, pretty though it is, is just too cold. In fact, when I was cleaning out Fred’s clothes after he died, most of his neckties had mold on them. It’s that cold and damp back there.

I have a baseboard heater in my office, too, but I only feel it if I’m sitting right here typing and only on my legs. My hands feel like iced bones with a thin covering of skin.

This morning, the frost-crisped lawn and leaves are edged in white. The sidewalk and driveway sparkle with flecks of ice. My phone weather app claims it’s 35 degrees now but feels like 26. I know it’s worse elsewhere. On the radio, the guy said it was below zero in Bend, Oregon. I’m not going to Bend or anywhere east. I’m from San Jose. I don’t do snow and ice.

Next time I go house-hunting, my first question will be: What kind of heat does it have?

Meanwhile, my neighbor across the street walks around his house in shorts as smoke billows out his chimney. It’s actually hot in his double-wide. Maybe it’s time to go borrow a cup of sugar.

May you be warm and healthy in the new year, and may the world come to its senses.