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Water started pooling at the bottom of our refrigerator under the vegetable bins about six weeks ago. Since it had no water features such as ice maker or drinking water, the problem had to be with the freezer defrosting unit. Crap! Fix it or replace it? How much is a new fridge… six or seven hundred bucks? How much for repair… three or four hundred? A records check showed it had been fifteen years since we bought it. Repair? Fahgeddaboutit!
We refinanced the house in mid-May and our first payment wasn't due until the first of July. But we were still syphoning $825 each from our personal accounts into our house account from which the mortgage payment is taken each month. Some quick math indicated that when the first new payment was taken out in July we'd still have $1,750 leftover in the house account.
Our old fridge sits under an overhanging kitchen cabinet whose bottom trim we had sawed a quarter inch off of so the fridge could fit. So we measured the fridge from floor to top: 64¾ inches. No new fridge could be taller than that without having to cut the cabinets down. So we checked online for Western Appliance in San Leandro to see what they had and discovered the store had gone out of business. Next option: drive the 19 miles down to Lowes in Union City.
With our measurements and tape measure in hand, we headed to the appliance section in the back where there were 35-40 refrigerators on display, only three of which were as short as ours. Refrigerators had changed since last we bought one. And prices ran as high as $3,000. Our current fridge was 22 cubic feet. New ones ran as high as 27 cubic feet. Tired of constantly moving things around in the old one to get them to fit, I wanted something bigger. But we'd have to shorten the overhanging kitchen cabinet. Pat, not a big fan of changing things, shocked me when he quickly agreed. Tired of emptying and refilling ice cube trays, I wanted a unit with an ice maker. We'd have to hire a plumber to run a water line.
Pat picked out a $2,000 Samsung that with Memorial Day Weekend sale prices and rebates came to $1,568, two hundred dollars less than our budget that could be used for the carpenter and plumber. But the model was black and Pat wanted white. Seven days to order it in, deliver & install, and take away the old fridge which, despite the water accumulating at the bottom, otherwise worked just fine.
I was ready to write the check when the salesman said we could get an additional 5% off if we got and used a Lowes credit card. So off to customer service we went where a gal took our information verbally, entered it into a computer, and issued a card with a $12,000 limit on the spot which we used at the cash register for the new fridge. Total cost: $1,490.18. And when the bill arrives, I'll simply write the check I was prepared to tender in the store, albeit for less money! The new fridge would be delivered the following Thursday, May 30th.
Back home, I called Charlie Adams, the carpenter who had installed the new picture window and door on our back porch and he agreed to come Tuesday to shorten the cabinets so the new 72” fridge would fit. Then I called ABC Heating & Cooling to see if they could recommend a plumber. Good news: they were bringing back their plumbing department starting Tuesday and would send a guy out then.
Charlie has a standard rate of $200/day. Angel, from ABC, gave us an estimate of $320 based on Lowes telling me that their folks would take care of all the hookups. By late Tuesday afternoon, both men were finished with their work, paid, and our kitchen was now ready for the Thursday delivery from Lowes.
Three guys in a Lowes delivery truck arrived early Thursday afternoon and, after looking at the spot where the new fridge was to go, the foreman told me we had a problem: they would not be able to hook up the ice maker because Angel had run copper tubing but had neglected to put a connector on the end. Angel had told me Tuesday that without the new fridge there, he didn't know what type of connector it required. The foreman was adamant that the line to which the fridge was to be hooked to was my responsibility and, in any event, didn't have the connector we needed in his truck.
The new fridge was rolled in sans doors and placed in position. Packing tape was removed, doors and handles mounted, and the unit was plugged in. The foreman pressed the buttons to turn on the fridge and freezer units, adjusting the temperatures as needed, all the while showing me how it was done. The old fridge was hauled away, I signed for the delivery, Pat started putting the food into the new unit, and I called ABC to get Angel back to install a 30¢ connector. When he arrived he informed me that it would be a $130 service call! Between the plumber and Lowes, I was caught in the middle because of a question I didn't know I was supposed to ask. I called ABC, talked to the boss, and because we have been their customer for over fifteen years, he agreed to cut the bill in half. Hence, a 30¢ connector cost me $65.
Angel installed the connector, hooked the refrigerator's line up to it, turned on the water, collected his check, and left. The owner's manual clearly states that once the ice maker is turned on, it will be 24 hours before it spits out its first ice cubes. I noticed that the ice maker's light was not lit, so I pressed the button to turn it on. The little blue symbol that lights up is a water glass despite the fact that our model did not come with an in-door water dispenser. The other two symbols for the freezer and fridge sections were also lit up with blue light and clearly the new unit was cooling down both top and bottom.
Twenty-four hours later not a single ice cube was to be seen in the ice bucket. The user's manual was 75 pages long, only 25 of which were in English, and 15 of those were dedicated to warnings, warrantees, and trouble-shooting. Nothing in the manual even mentioned the little blue-lit water glass. Essentially it was useless.
I checked the unit and found a single water droplet under the filter in the fridge section, indicating to me, at least, that when Angel turned the water line on, water had gone into the unit. My fingers sensed frost on the bottom of the ice cube dispenser in the freezer section which told me water had made its way down there.
Then I discovered a separate sheet of paper that came with the unit entitled Before calling service. And in the fine print was this:
IF ICE OFF is lit, the ice maker will not make ice. To activate the ice maker, press the ICE OFF but-ton (sic) on the control panel so it is no longer lit.
You've got to be fricking kidding me, right? There are three blue lights. Two of them indicate that the unit is on (the fridge and the freezer) but the third one (the ice maker) indicates it is turned OFF??? If the light indicates it is off, why isn't it red or amber instead of blue like the others? I hit the button to turn off the light. Nothing happened. I called Samsung customer service and asked how long I would have to wait to see any results. Answer: another 24 hours.
Four hours later, while Pat was making dinner, he brought me our first ice cube. There were seven altogether in the bucket. By bedtime there were fourteen. By this morning there were enough to fill the bottom of the bucket in a single layer. As I write this twenty-four hours after turning off the blue light, the ice bucket (13½ long X 9½ wide X 4½ deep) is 1/3 full. Hallelujah! Another Adventure in Home Improvement comes to a successful conclusion!!
To say it's been a bizarre year would be an understatement. It started, of course, in January when Pat was forced to retire after 32+ years with JCPenney. Bye-bye health insurance. And goodbye to what little disposable income we had left after my investment income went south with the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.
After tweaking and printing out multiple copies of his résume, we both lost count of how many job applications he filled out, sent in, or dropped off. The few interviews he did get all had the same result once they saw how old he was: “We'll let you know.” And, of course, they never called back.
Going stark-raving mad from doing nothing around the house day after day, he finally put in applications to two different volunteer organizations, passed the interviews, and started working one day a week at each… for no pay, of course. The first was at the Re-Use Center here in Oakland, the other at PAWS over in San Francisco. The rest of the time he spent cleaning out the garage and sprucing up the garden in the backyard.
Turns out we weren't the only ones hit by a lifestyle downturn. Starting in the spring our population of street cats showing up in our yard for something to eat more than doubled. So did the feeding times. In addition to regulars Scruffy and Blackie, we gained Inky, Zorro, and OJ. Instead of once a day, all five started coming around for both breakfast in the morning and dinner in the evening.
Initially, Inky would come into the backyard and eat with Scruffy, but after a run-in with our semi-housecat, Bobo, she decided it was safer to stay beyond the gate in the driveway and eat with Zorro who also had been run out of the yard by Bobo. Scruffy, on the other hand, seems to get along with everyone, though Blackie keeps her distance from him.
OJ is the exact opposite of Inky. Big and burly, orange & cream, faintly striped, to Inky's petit black nerf-ball figure, he saunters through the summertime open backdoor into the kitchen and, in his Siamese voice, demands to be fed. After eating, he heads to the living room, locates the jar of catnip on the coffee table, and demands his daily dose of drugs. He is, after all, an Oakland cat! After food and catnip, he takes a two-hour nap on either the sofa or Pat's bed before demanding more food, then asks to be let out, only to return the following day.
Yes, despite two years of living in the house, Bobo still will not allow us to touch him. He still adores Tipper and the two are inseparable. And with her 'grandmothers' now gone, Tipper likes to spend her days in the backyard with Bobo. At night she alternately washes Bobo and wrestles with him in the house.
Traditionally every spring, raccoon mothers show up in our yard at night with their new litters to feed at the bowl of kibbled cat food that we leave out for them. But not this year. No babies. No mothers. Rarely any raccoons at all. Three 17-pound bags of catfood from Walmart were lasting three months instead of three weeks. We checked with our neighbors: they hadn't seen any raccoons either. Nor had friends and acquaintances around the Bay Area. Global warming? Climate change?
In late spring Pat & I went to our neighbor's yard to install a 2x4 between two fence posts to screw our leaning fence boards to. In the summer we tackled the crumbling garden box fencing out under the backyard pergola. We ripped out the rotted two-foot fencing on both sides, removed the dirt behind, and extended the brick patio to the property fence. Then we built a brick retaining wall on the pond side and back-filled the area with the dirt we had removed from the other side.
The brick project marked the first time Pat & I were able to work together amicably and at a slow pace. After six months away from JCPenney and several years away from prop building for community theatre companies, he had finally learned how to slow down to a pace I could keep up with. Coupled with the realization that the sooner we got the brick project done, the sooner both of us would return to wiling away the hours playing solitaire at our respective computer screens, we both dragged the project out as long as possible.
Deb & James, three doors down, moved to Tennessee after Deb retired from her job at U.C. Berkeley, leaving daughter Tracci, who turned twenty in August, to get a few room mates to keep her company in the house while she attended her third year of junior college. For the first few weeks after Deb & James left for their new home in Tennessee, Tracci drove us nuts coming over nearly every day to borrow ketchup, onions, mayonnaise, a funnel… you name it. But eventually she got the hang of living on her own and we began to see less and less of her.
In August I started getting telemarketing calls and mailers regarding Medicare. I honestly hadn't known that I was eligible for Medicare when I turn 65 this coming February and thought I'd just have to wing the loss of coverage until Obamacare took effect in 2014 when they could no longer turn me down for being a smoker. So I signed up on the first of November and bought a supplement plan from Colonial Penn, all of which takes effect on the first of February. Unfortunately, Pat doesn't turn 65 until 2015.
Louis, Pat's former co-worker at JCPenney, and his partner Danny had been having Thanksgiving with us for the past ten years. But this year, despite a few emails back and forth, failed to get back to us. So we invited Tracci and our neighbor Beulah from across the street to join us. Beulah brought along her 57-year-old son, Dennis, and for the first time in our lives Pat & I were the minority race in our own house. By six o'clock, everyone had left and Pat & I headed into the living room to watch TV, clearing dishes away between shows. And for the first time in 32 years, Pat didn't have to be at work by 3:00 a.m. the next morning.
And then came our late November surprise. Checking the backyard after dark, there at the raccoon food bowl was a momma and three babies! The next night she and the kids were back. An hour later another mom and four babies showed up. Then a mom with five and still later a fourth mom with a litter of six! On rainy nights we put their food bowl in the open garage and after eating, the kits would have a blast playing with all the props, sheets, and blankets stored out there.
This past weekend Pat decorated the house for the holidays. He built a new, taller Christmas tree from a straight tree branch and old green tree garland, then decorated it with blinking lights and small icicles. He then filled a twig basket with cotton batting, twinkle lights, colored glass ornaments and greenery and placed it on the fireplace mantel. He placed a wreath on both the front door and the living room picture window. He then placed three doll tree-toppers next to the new tree and a runner with bowls of colored ornaments on the dining table.
So, despite the whole year seeming quite boring, a look back indicates otherwise.
Sunday, May 20, 2012:
In our 60+ years on this planet, Pat & I have seen our share of eclipses: most partial, one or two totals, and several promised but missed due to cloud cover. Most that I recall were at mid-day or mid-morning. The one promised for Sunday, May 20th, is the first I can recall to occur near sundown for those of us here on the west coast. Of course sundown for us means night time for the other three time zones, but it seemed a reasonable payback for one the east coast had before the sun ever rose out here.
The type of eclipse presented varies with one's proximity to the path of the aligned sun & moon as well as the moon's proximity to earth which affects the amount of blockage of sunlight behind it. Sunday's event was billed as "annular," meaning at peak the sun would be visible around the edges of the new moon as opposed to a total eclipse where the sun is completely covered for a few moments.
Though we knew it was coming, we didn't run out and buy a pair of welder's goggles and, no, we didn't have any special lenses for our cameras. Instead, I grabbed a large piece of cardboard and poked a hole through it. When the eclipse began at 17:16, I aimed the light from the hole at the flagstone covering our backyard patio. Pat took a couple of pictures, but the depressions in the stone, albeit subtle, begged the question, "is the sun actually being punctured by the moon or is the light being warped by the uneven surface of the flagstone?"
I asked Pat if we had any white tagboard and he promptly retrieved a sizable piece from the garage. Ah! Much better! While I held up the cardboard and tried to angle it for the sharpest image possible on the tagboard, Pat zoomed in with his camera and shot the pictures. However, there was a light breeze blowing against the cardboard I held above my head which produced a moving target on the white tagboard.
The sun was relatively high above our neighbor's roof when the eclipse began, but as it sank in the sky, the tagboard had to be repositioned upright and by the time of the peak at 18:33, Pat had to bring out a five-foot-tall tri-fold screen covered in white foam core to project the image above the now shadowed patio. Which is, of course, why we stopped taking pictures once the peak had passed and headed back into the house for dinner & TV.
We turned first to the local news and discovered why we had never seen a ring of sun completely around the moon: we were just outside the path of total angularity. Had we been in Humboldt or Del Norte counties…
Monday, April 16, 2012:
Last Friday an article appeared on SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle's online edition, about the reopening after two years of the Point Bonita Lighthouse. I hadn't realized it had been closed but, as the article explained, the 132-foot suspension bridge that leads to it had become dangerous and needed to be replaced. I had walked across the old bridge that spans a razor's edge of rocks a hundred feet above the crashing waves that surround the little point jutting into the ocean ten years ago or so. But Pat had never been beyond the locked gate at the entrance to the tunnel that leads out to the suspension bridge and lighthouse.
The lighthouse would be open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 12:30 to 3:30. I decided to skip the weekend to avoid the inevitable horde of tourists and take Pat there on Monday instead, especially since he was retired now and the unending days hanging around the house were becoming quite a bore. Sunday night I told him to make sure his camera batteries were fully charged as we would be going on a daytrip in the morning, but I wouldn't tell him where. A little mystery is always good for a relationship, don't you think?
It was 9:30 by the time we pulled out of the driveway and headed down Seminary Avenue towards the Coliseum. "We're going to Point Reyes, aren't we," Pat asked? I knew he meant Point Bonita because he had read the same article I had back on Friday, but he is geographically challenged and easily mixes up the names of lots of destinations here in the Bay Area. "Why would we be going to Point Reyes," I asked? "Besides, if we were going to Point Reyes, we would have headed up the street to catch I-580 to the Richmond Bridge!" And with that, I managed to preserve the mystery a little bit longer.
It was a gorgeous sunny morning with just a few white wisps of stratus high above and a hint of haze in the air. At the Coliseum, I hopped on I-880 northbound to downtown Oakland and the Bay Bridge which neither of us had driven over in at least three or four years, relying instead on BART for our forays into the city. We had yet to see the new tower being strung with cables for the new eastern span of the bridge which parallels the current structure or the 35-mph curve as the bridge lands on Yerba Buena Island. It was 10:00 o'clock when we pulled into the toll booths and the morning rush-hour toll had just dropped to $4.00; great timing!
I kept my eyes on the traffic as Pat clicked happily away at all the changes on the bridge. Once in the city, I headed up Van Ness on U.S. 101, making the left turn onto Lombard Street towards the Golden Gate Bridge. At 10:30 we pulled into the parking lot of Mel's Drive-in, our favorite 50's diner in Cow Hollow, and ordered coffee and our usual Lumberjack breakfast which, at $11.50, was now three to four dollars more than the last time we had eaten there. There were now three eggs instead of two, two pancakes instead of three, and the sausage links and toast were no longer included at all. And at $2.25 each, the coffee was no longer free as it used to be. Grand total for breakfast for two including tip: $35. Yikes!
We had a cigarette in the parking lot before getting back into the car, driving through the construction mess along the Presidio on Doyle Drive and across the Golden Gate Bridge. No toll in the northbound direction, so this bridge crossing was free. Once across the bridge, we turned west onto the coast road that winds up through the Marin Headlands hugging the sides of the hills that form the north shore of the Golden Gate out to the ocean. The road distance from the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge is only 4.1 miles out to the lighthouse parking lot, but in that short distance climbs from sea level up to 820 feet and back down again offering spectacular views of the bridge, the City of San Francisco, and the ocean down below.
The Marin Headlands are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and are administered by the National Park Service. In the ten years or so since last I was up this way, the NPS has repaved the roads and added some newly black-topped parking lots… no need to park on sandy shoulders any more. Problem is the new parking lots are woefully incapable of handling the number of visitors even on a weekday morning and there, as yet, is no signage directing one to additional parking when the nearest lot to the lighthouse trail is full, as it was when we arrived. Newly painted white striping marked the ten or fifteen available parking slots. All were filled and only the truck parked on the slanted no parking zone was ready to pull out, so I waited and grabbed the only spot available since the spot was not blocking anyone's access to anything.
We grabbed our cameras and binoculars and started the descent on the trail down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, arriving at the locked door blocking the tunnel at 11:55 where we waited patiently for the rangers to arrive and open it at 12:30. We had successfully avoided the hordes of tourists by skipping the weekend. Unfortunately, Monday was a school day and a horde of kids from a local middle school were there for a field trip. Surprisingly, they turned out to be quiet and well-behaved. In the interim we struck up a conversation with a retired couple from Martinez. The wife was fascinated with lighthouses so we told her and her husband about some of the more interesting ones we had visited up and down the northern California coast.
It was 12:40 when the rangers arrived and opened up the iron door to the tunnel. A few minutes later we arrived at the new wooden suspension bridge that leads across the spine of rocks to the lighthouse with the waves crashing against them a hundred feet below. I climbed up on a rock ledge to get some better photos just before a ranger spotted me and ordered me down. Too late! I got 'em!!
While I was busy playing Ansel Adams, Pat was talking with the ranger. Okay, the "ranger" was really just a volunteer docent. He told Pat and the others gathered around that the original lighthouse was a 56' brick tower up on the cliff along the pathway, 306 feet above and further back from the water. Too high, as it turned out as it was typically hidden by the frequent fog. The gold rush of 1849 generated an invasion of ships coming into the bay and the rarely visible lighthouse left a lot of vessels crashed onto the rocks. So in 1877 they built a new one below fog level down on the cliff, 124 feet above the water.
Up until 1940 the lighthouse was reached by a trail which eventually eroded and crumbled into the sea. A wooden walkway was installed but by 1954, it, too, had become treacherous and the first suspension bridge was built. Despite repairs in 1979 and again in 1991, the salt spray from the ocean rusted the metal cables and it was closed to the public in 2010 while a new suspension bridge was built. Due to budget constraints all materials for the new bridge, including the South African lumber, had to be brought by hand through the tunnel to the site. He also stated that the sides of the new structure were taller for safety reasons.The new bridge is made of more salt spray resistant materials, cost just over one million dollars, and should last 50-75 years.
Pat & I walked across the bridge to the lighthouse and ran into the Martinez couple again. We yakked for twenty minutes or so and gave them our business cards so they could find our website and look up our past lighthouse adventures.
The steep hike back up to the parking lot was a killer though not nearly as bad as the 308 steps back up the hill from the Point Reyes Lighthouse thirty miles away. Besides, hiking back up the trail beside us was a couple in their nineties which made me feel foolish to be so out of breath. To add insult to injury, a $75 dollar parking ticket was attached to our car's windshield. We headed back out to U.S. 101 and headed northbound to San Quentin where we drove back to the East Bay via the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge… also free when traveling eastbound. Not bad: three bridges for the price of one! Home by 2:30. I needed a nap.
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