Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Hot Time in the Old House Tonight!

It's here! It's here! The new gas furnace is here! Wonderful, glorious heat can once again pour through our home! My days as a rustic pioneer woman are over! No more electric blankets! No more running swiftly over the tiled bathroom floors! The ways of modern technology are back and we are ever grateful.

Well. Most of us are ever grateful.

I am. I am ever grateful. I was happy to walk into my home and embrace the warmth. I skipped joyfully through the house and found myself standing before the thermostat. The new thermostat. I blinked. It had not dawned on me that there would be a new thermostat. It makes sense. You get a new system... you get a new means of running said system. Our old thermostat was beige with some gold trim. Once upon a time, the thermostat was green. This happened the year that my mother painted our hallway an unusual shade of aqua green. She painted the entire hallway this color.

When I say entire... I mean ENTIRE. She painted the outlet covers. The light switch covers. The chimes for the door bell. The grate over the intake screen. And last, but not least, the thermostat. That was probably the beginning of the demise of our heating system... but I don't have any scientific facts to back up that claim.

So. I stood there and marveled at the new thermostat and instantly went numb with dread. Our new thermostat is digital. DI-GI-TAL. There are no knobs to turn. There are no levers to slide. There is not a simple on and off button. Nope. Digital. I lowered my head to my hands and sighed.

They were never going to be able to operate the new thermostat. My parents. My loving and wonderful and giving parents. They can't figure out how to turn on the television. How in the world will they operate a digital thermostat?

In two very separate ways. My father simply instructed the men who were doing the installation to set it at his desired temperature, and probably never planned to touch it again. He was comfortable, so the world must be comfortable too.

Too bad he wasn't at home when Mom came in from work.

She was not comfortable. She was cold. She came in the back door and wanted to head straight up into the attic to see the new furnace. She was not that impressed. "It doesn't look that much smaller." She went on to worry about the fact that she can no longer see the pilot light.

"What is the problem?"

"I can't see the pilot light. I want to be able to come up here and watch the pilot light."

"Watch the pilot light do what?"



Once I realized her dismay over the diminishment of our own version of the Eternal Flame, I hated to see her reaction to the new thermostat. I was not disappointed.

"Well, *#(@(!*~$"

"What's wrong?"

"Where's my thermostat? Why did they change the thermostat? There was nothing wrong with the old one. I hate this one. I don't know how to operate it..." begins randomly pushing buttons.

As I hear the heat come on and then go off again I say, "I'm sure there's a book that will tell you how to set the temperature."

"I don't want a book. I want my thermostat. Where is your father?"

"Getting dinner."

It was about this time that my father arrived, arms loaded down with sustenance for his family from Ruby Tuesday's... Great White Hunter that he is... when my mother began.

"Why did they change the thermostat?"

"We got a new system. It came with the new system."

"I don't like it. I want the old one back."

"It's fine. They left a book. You'll read it. You'll figure it out."

"I don't want to figure it out. I want heat. The heat isn't working."

"Of course the heat is working."

"It is not."

"It is so."

"Is not."

"Is too."

And just that quickly, my parents shed 70 years and became arguing toddlers. After a break, my father said, "You don't have to worry about it. They set the thermostat before they left. You don't have to touch anything."

"I already did. I pushed the buttons."

"Why? What made you do that."

"It's cold in here." "It is not." "It is too." (I think you get the picture)

Finally I suppose my mother read something, because she made the heat come on. The problem is, I don't think it went off ALL NIGHT LONG. At midnight I woke up in my bedroom, that had been magically transformed into a sauna. I didn't dare touch the thermostat... I just kicked off all the sheets on my bed and went back to sleep.

We're still arguing about the heat here... but I am ever grateful.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


It's not just for breakfast anymore!

When will the elderly learn to listen to their children and heed their advice? I think this is a question that many 40 somethings face when they are dealing with loving parental units who enjoy their independence as they continue to grow older, but every once in a while will ask for advice from their children.

But, will they listen? No. Oh, my goodness no.

Take for instance my parents... Mama Bear and Papa Bear... who bought the house we live in some 25+ years ago. It was not a young home when it was purchased and it has gone through a number of changes. We have painted and we have wall papered. We have carpeted and we have ripped carpet up to reveal beautiful hard wood floors. And then we carpeted right back over them. We have installed new light fixtures and we have used contact paper in ways never thought of by man. We are, in a word, resourceful.

There are two things that are the bane of my existence in this home: the electrical system and the heating/cooling system.

It has probably been 23 years ago when a fire broke out in the walls of my parent's bedroom. The official cause was faulty electrical wiring in the walls. The unofficial cause had to do with my parents causing so much heat in the bedroom. Pause now in horror. I remember waking up to an odd noise and then the telephone ringing as our neighbor had seen the smoke, and was calling to wake us up and let us know that he had called the Fire Department. I threw on some clothes, grabbed the dog, and woke my younger brother up to get out of house. We all stood outside while the volunteer fire department took care of the small fire and with grateful hearts, we returned to the house and had a long discussion about the faulty electrical wiring.

Our house is odd in that the first owners (we are the second) initially built the house, and then decided to enlarge it a couple of times. This explains the five fuse boxes, as well as the fact that our washing machine sits in the kitchen, while the dryer is in the den. I suppose the house was built before the invention of the dryer, as there are old-fashioned clotheslines in the backyard.

I remember asking then what it would take to re-do the eletrical wiring, and my parents told me it would take too much money. To this day, that is the answer. We have probably purchased enough 15 and 30 watt fuses to cover the cost. One must be careful with our wiring. Especially in the kitchen. For instance, you cannot microwave popcorn and do laundry at the same time while brewing a pot of coffee. Try that too many times, and you will be making daily runs to Wal-Mart or Home Depot for more fuses.

The second problem is our heating/cooling system. We have central heat and air, with a gas furnace that runs the heater in the winter. Our air conditioning system has a big problem of condensation and water run-off. The hottest parts of the summer find us heading into the attic with a turkey baster to pull water out of an overflow tray. Hmm... maybe it is time for a new one? Something a little more modern.

No. We'd much rather have the water spill out of the tray, soak through the drywall and sit back to watch large chunks of our living room ceiling fall. The biggest happening last year with a 4x8 section of drywall hitting the floor.

Last winter we were sitting comfortably in the heat when a small explosion sounded from the attic area. My younger brother was here at the time, and we stared at each other... stared at the attic door... and then proceeded to argue about who needed to traipse up there and check the problem out. I think we were both upstairs with flashlights trying to determine if anything had caught fire and we were going to die in our sleep.

We had a discussion at that time about replacing the furnace, but the parents did not see the need, and so the unit was repaired and we spent a lot of evenings sniffing around for gas leaks and grateful that my mother no longer smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.

This summer, we had another leak in the ceiling (this time in our dining room) that had nothing to do with our air conditioning unit, but with hail damage we knew nothing about. The insurance paid enough money that we were able to fix the leak and put in a badly needed ceiling in our den. That is when the fun began.

We had our kitchen redecorated and my mother finally acquiesed to purchase new carpet in the den, dining room, living room and hallway. The infamous pink carpet remains in the master bedroom, where my parents have hopefully cooled down some since the fire many years ago. We don't want anyone breaking a hip!

Then, we got the bright idea to purchase new furniture and move a couple of the rooms around. The formal living room is now our family room and the den has been restored as a Parlor. My mom just loves using that word. Everything was going swell, until... it was time to service the gas furnace.

"Guess what, Mr. and Mrs. Bell? Your furnace is leaking carbon monoxide."

Considering that we had been running our heat for a couple of weeks, this did not bode well. It struck fear and terror into my heart. I would think the old people were trying to off me for my insurance policy, but that they would be going down in the process as well. Of course, it could be a murder-suicide scenario... except that the Mom is really enjoying all the changes to our house.

Okay. What now? Now... we FINALLY get a new furnace. The old one is about 450 pounds, while the new one will be about 150 pounds, and we will see a significantly reduced gas bill. This makes us very happy.

The problem is that sometimes the old people don't think things through. Case in point: not two days after the verdict, I enter from the cool outdoors to a toasty warm home. I pause. I listen. I HEAR THE FREAKIN' HEAT RUNNING!!!

"Um... aren't we supposed to not run the heater FOR FEAR OF DEATH?!"

"It's okay as long as we only run it a short time."

"Because, a short exposure to carbon monoxide will only kill off half of our remaining brain cells?"

(Disgruntled sigh) "Okay, fine. Turn off the heater." Which I promptly did.

I cannot tell you how many times in the past week (a rather chilly week at that) when I have awakened from my slumber to feel and hear the heater running. I suppose I should just be happy to have lived through the night as my parents continue to cheat Death on a daily basis.

So, it was no surprise for me this morning as my father stumbled out into the hallway and I heard a pause in his footsteps. That could only mean one thing... he was standing at the thermostat and turning on the heat.

Fifteen seconds later and we heard a very familiar explosion sound from the attic. I promptly walked into the hallway... glared at my father who was standing with an astonished look on his face... and said "Well... that didn't sound good."

I walked over and turned the heat back off and waited for the smell of gas to permeate our house.

Still smelling the air until the new furnace arrives on Monday.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sand Between My Toes

I know... I know... I should be working. Really. I should be. WORKING. But, alas, I am not. I am blaming it on the sand between my toes. Not literally, but figuratively. It is not physically there, but if I close my eyes for the briefest of moments, I can certainly picture the sand.

I just returned from vacation with Amykins and LouLou and we had a great time! I am typically very anal about the traveling time of my vacations, but even this was thrown out the window on the first day. We got a bit of a late start and IT WAS ALL MY FAULT! That usually wigs me out, but Amykins and LouLou are just the best traveling partners a girl can have, and there was no irritability or derision at all. We just piled in the 'Vous, and set off on 65South to Exit 69!!!

Our first stop was before we hit the Alabama state line for some breakfast for Amykins and LouLou. I didn't even complain, and since I was driving, their very hunger pangs were in my hands. I could have been the Driving Nazi and refused to stop, but we were ON VACATION with no plans other than to arrive safely at the Dean house and enjoy the company of good friends! And enjoy them we did! Crazy Amy made a great impression on the Dean tripletts, who were horrified for the safety of their personal effects. Amy Dean was not feeling well, so we packed up the kiddos, and hit the nicest nature reserve smack dab in the middle of Niceville, Florida.

Turkey Creek is a lovely park that has been developed in Niceville with picnic tables under a pavillion and bridged walkways that traverse the length of Turkey Creek. The kids were able to get in the creek and swim around while we swatted at mosquitos and took copious amount of digitals photos! It was a blast! Sunday morning found us worshipping with our friends. Lou and I were in the choir while Amykins sang with Carey and did the special music as well. After a wonderful lunch that Amy Dean prepared (minus a few scorched green beans) we headed west to Panama City Beach and the fulfillment of Operation Surprise-the-Bell-family.

Yeah, I know. I surprised someone. How novel of me, right? I love to surprise people. I don't know why... but I like it and I'm pretty good at it, and so I take the opportunity to do it when I can. The parental units thought that the three Amigos were heading to the mountains for our annual trip to Pigeon Forge. But, alas... we booked a condo in the same place and arrived there a day after they had checked in. My aunt and uncle were also in PCB, but down at the other end of town.

We went to the grocery store and stocked up on food. Then we unpacked all our belongings, just a couple of buildings away from the parentals and then headed down the road to eat at Pineapple Willy's... one of my favorite places to eat on the beach! We kept missing our "Surprise" moment with the parents, so we opted to do that on Monday.

Monday morning, our scout Amykins, walked in front of the condo unit that my parents were staying in to do some recon. She found our objectives sitting in their space and gave the nod... then We Went In! Walked right up to the sliding glass door and knocked. When older people are confused, they take on that toddler/puppy dog look. They know what they are looking at and you can see the gears turning, but something is missing. My mother and father had those looks on their faces. Staring unseeingly at me. Knowing they gave birth to me but not understanding how I came to be standing in front of them since I am supposed to be in the mountains. We waltzed right in like we owned the place and laughed at our surprise. My aunt and uncle gave similar looks later that afternoon when I arrived at their condo too. The operation was a success!

We spent the rest of the week lying about in the sun either by the pool or on the beach. We slept late and read books (Lou getting the reader award for the most books read in a short amount of time) watched movies and ate great food! We hit Montego Bay, Sharkeys, Pineapple Willy's and Angelo's Steakhouse (my least favorite) before the aunt and uncle cooked boiled shrimp and crab legs for us the night before we returned home.

LJ, the cabana boy, took a liking to Amykins (as most men do...) and was very attentive to our every need. Amykins rented beach chairs for the week from LJ and whenever the sun began to creep onto flesh, LJ was right there to rearrange the beach umbrella. What a guy! He took Amykins out on a wave runner Thursday morning to show her the mating habits of the local dolphins (Amykins was rightly awed) and later took her on the ride of her life out to Shell Island (some miles away) and was so busy impressing her that he lost track of the time. When his boss sent a minion out to fetch him back, Amykins had to hold on to the wave runner for dear life as LJ sped back over some choppy seas to return to home base. Amykins arrived safe and sound!

So now, we have returned to the real world. It is not as wonderful here. It is okay... but it is not the beach. It is not the relaxing world of sand and surf that encompassed our lives for a brief, shining moment. We have returned to the grind and are currently looking for the Mr. Right who will sweep us off our collective feet and pamper us to the extent to which we find ourselves willing to become accustomed to!

Patiently waiting for my knight in shining armor...