Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Appliance Problems - Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote about all the problems I had getting a new washer and dryer installed. Last week, my refrigerator died and if anything, replacing it has been even more stressful than the washer/dryer fiasco.

First, the fact that it happened at all - although it stands to reason since the washer, dryer and refrigerator were all bought at the same time, they would all give out at more or less the same time. My budget isn't flexible enough to encompass the purchase of three big ticket items in the space of a month. Still, it had to be done - a refrigerator isn't really optional - so off to Sears I went.

The salesman, who was young, was disbelieving of the fact that I'd had my old washer, dryer and refrigerator for two decades.

"Well, don't expect that again!"

He was so sure the appliances Sears now produces are not designed to last, he tried to convince me to purchase a maintenance policy. For an additional fee, I could guarantee that for five years, Sears would replace any parts that went bad in my new frig.

"So, you're telling me that Sears expects me to pay many hundreds of dollars for something they made but because it is so likely that it won't hold up for even five years, they then want me to pay them extra if I expect them to repair it?"

"That's the deal."

"Whatever happened to honor, reputation, integrity of a proud American company? I think when I spend this much money on their product, I should expect it to last five years without going bad and if it does, they should be so ashamed to have sold me a defective refrigerator, they should rush to fix it for free."

"Well, that's because you're old and senile about the way business works in the 21st century."

No, no, he didn't really say that! He just looked at me as if he was thinking it.

I bought the refrigerator on a Sunday and they were to deliver it on Monday. On Sunday night, we transferred everything from the freezer in the frig to the big freezer. Before I went to work on Monday morning, I moved the kitchen table and rolled up the rug and took a lot of the food out. When Mom got up, she removed the rest of the contents and washed the inside of the refrigerator.

The kitchen is Mom's bailiwick and she was thrilled at the thought of a new kitchen thing. She filled a big sack of stuff for Louise, like jelly and ketchup and pickles, on the grounds that she didn't want nasty old half-used jars of strawberry jam in her brand spanking new refrigerator, even though they were still perfectly good.

The delivery men were supposed to be here at noon so Mom lured Raleigh (who can sometimes be testy with strangers) into the bedroom with a dog biscuit. They called at 1:00 to say they were running a little late so she let him out of the bedroom. Figuring "a little" was about an hour, at around 2:00, she put him back in the bedroom, once again, tempting him with a biscuit. After he ate his treat, he howled to let her know he was sick of being imprisoned and Caesar howled in sympathy right along with him. When the installers hadn't arrived by 3:00, she let him out, as her ears were ringing from all the howling. At 4:00 she called Sears to see if the installers were still coming. They had just left Huntington. By now Raleigh wasn't about to go back in the bedroom no matter what she offered him. I got home from work and had to physically drag him in by his collar, although I did give him a biscuit once he was there to placate him. As soon as he ate it, he started howling and Caesar joined in.

The Sears guys first tried to bring the refrigerator in through the back door, although Mom who for years was a Quality Assurance rep for the Department of Defense and knows a little something about measurements, warned them it would not go that way. In the way of the male species, they could not, of course, take the word of a little old white-headed lady without seeing for themselves first. Eventually, they said, "it won't go through the back door." I moved my truck so they could come in through the yard, across the porch and in through the front door.

When things like moving refrigerators through the house is occurring, Mom's strategy is to watch with an eagle eye in case she needs to give advice, make a comment, move something out of the way or simply to worry about the giant refrigerator-on-a-dolly that seems to be heading toward the cupboard filled with antique teapots.

My way of handling the situation is to ignore them. I keep my eyes steadfastly on the computer; I close my ears so as not to hear any thumps or bumps. They are, presumably, professional movers. Let them do their job. Just tell me when it's over. My attitude irritates Mom who thinks I should be wringing my hands right along with her.

Finally, it was over. The old refrigerator was out; the new refrigerator was in. The delivery guys were gone. No wait, they weren't gone. They were still parked out in the yard. I played a game on the computer, watching out the window. "They're still out there," I reported to Mom. Finally, they came to the door. It seemed their battery was dead and they wanted to know if Mom's car or my truck had the battery on the left side.

"Huh?" I said - like I've ever paid the slightest bit of attention to the location of my battery. I told them they could go look and gave them the keys to the truck. Turned out the battery was where it was supposed to be so they asked if they could bring it up to the yard and use it to jump-start their own vehicle.

I reminded them that lending them my truck to jump their own was sort of like a service call and if Sears had to do the same for me, they probably charge me a service fee. But then I said yes on the grounds that they would probably have to move in with me if I didn't and Raleigh would never get out of the bedroom again and we'd all go slowly crazy from the howling.

Mom read the instructions for the new refrigerator, something I would never do. I mean, you plug it in, what else do you need to know? Well, she discovered that the manufacturer recommends that you not put anything in your new refrigerator for 24 hours! We put our butter, mayonnaise, cheese and eggs in sacks on the air conditioner vents hoping to be able to salvage some of it. Eight hours after the refrigerator had been plugged in, Mom stuck her hand in (although she been warned by the New Owner's Guide not to keep opening the door!)

"It doesn't seem any cooler at all. Shouldn't it seem a little cooler by now?"

"It probably takes a while for all those pipes and things on the inside to cool down," I said, pretending knowledge about the innards of refrigerators that I don't really have.

When I got up the next morning, the frig had been running non-stop for over 12 hours. It didn't seem even a little bit chilly, not even the freezer.

Shortly after I got home from work, we hit the 24-hour mark. The refrigerator was room temperature.

We called Sears and told them the refrigerator wasn't working. They promised to deliver another one the next day, not the same model I'd originally picked out, of course, because they couldn't get another one like that on short notice.

"I don't care what brand it is, just bring me a refrigerator that works!"

I told him, he warned me that my new refrigerator wouldn't last for 20 years but I'd thought it might at least get cold for 20 minutes or even, if I was lucky, for 20 days.

We threw out everything that had been in the old refrigerator. Even the air conditioner couldn't save our milk and orange juice and sour cream. So we have a shiny new frig and all shiny new food.

Mom, the optimist, said, "well, look on the bright side, Honey. In the last year, you've replaced the stove, the washer, the dryer and the refrigerator, there's nothing left to go bad."

I agreed with her to make her feel good but in my mind's eye, I picture the old water heater squatting down in the basement that has been there ever since I bought the house. I wonder what the life expectancy of a hot water heater is?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Puzzle Pressure

A few months ago, Mom cleared off one end of the dining room table so she could work jigsaw puzzles there. She used to be a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast years ago but hadn't worked one in a very long time. We all jumped in to get her started back into this renewed pastime. I bought her new jigsaw puzzles; Louise brought her some she had stuck back in her closet; LeAnn sent her one for Christmas. I even bought her a new office chair that she could swivel to the right height since she believed she was having difficulty working her first puzzle because our dining room chair was too low to oversee the pieces. I even got a little bit interested myself since the puzzle is right beside me as I sit at the computer. Every now and then, I would plunk down and try to find a piece or two.
Mom probably has half a dozen puzzles now but let me tell you, neither she nor I will live long enough to get them all done. It took us weeks to finish the first one which we chose deliberately because of its simplicity. Periodically, John would come over and immediately pick out two or three pieces we had shoved into the wrong places. Both Mom and I have tendency to convince ourselves that if a piece doesn't quite fit in the spot into which we believe it goes, it is because the puzzle manufacturer cut the piece slightly wrong and not because we are trying to force it where it doesn't belong.
After we finished the first easy kitten one, we started on one of four Thomas Kinkade season puzzles. We began with Summer in the winter but it became summer while we working on it. Usually, the quickest part of a jigsaw puzzle are the sides. You can, of course, distinguish them by the perfectly straight edges. But, we even had trouble with the sides of our Summer puzzle, moving on to the middle with one of them left incomplete, much to John's dismay. "You have to get the sides done first," he claimed, "it's the puzzle law." We ignored him.
Meanwhile, Mom struggled with the sky while I concentrated on the flowers along the path at the bottom. I would sit for an hour trying to find one piece of a poppy while she tried to decide if her piece of sky had a little bit of cloud in it that just might match up with the merest drift of cloud in another piece.
I finally got sick of flowers and tried my luck on lighted windows of which there are many in Thomas Kinkade's cottages. Little blocks of gold-lit window that all look exactly alike so that there is no way to distinguish between the windows in any particular cottage. And until I began working on a Thomas Kinkade jigsaw puzzle, I never realized that there are 432 shades of gray. Slate roof gray is slightly different than sidewalk gray which is slightly different than chimney gray which is slightly different than woman's skirt gray. All the grays made me want to sweep all the puzzle pieces off into the floor in a fit of impatience.
I finally had to give it up. It was either that or ask my doctor for a prescription for high blood pressure medication. I have enough stress in my life without allowing Thomas Kinkade to add to it.
Mom forged on though. She probably averaged finding one piece every other day or so which means she would have completed her 1000 piece puzzle in roughly three years. We told everyone how hard Thomas Kinkade puzzles were and we believed it too - until my cousin and her husband came to visit us for three days and while they were here, he finished the puzzle!
We were astounded that anyone could do something in three days that we'd been working on for three months with only about 1/4 of it complete for all our struggles.
Once it was done, Mom put it back in the sack and poured out the next season, Autumn, but somehow her heart doesn't seem to be in it. It's been three weeks since Nancy and Rick left and she has one corner done. I haven't even tried to work on this puzzle although I did notice that while there isn't much gray, there appears to be about 888 shades of yellow.
Now and then, Mom will say, "well, I think I'll go in and work on my puzzle," but then she'll sit down at the piano instead.
So if you come visit me this year, next year or the year after that, I expect you'll still see Thomas Kinkade's Autumn taking up one end of my dining room table....unless Rick and Nancy pay us another visit.

Current Events

- Is the Iraq War over? It's not? Oh, well, I guess I got confused because the media never mentions it anymore. They have totally switched over to 24-hour-a-day coverage of the Israel/Lebanon situation. What is it with cable news especially that they seem capable of covering only one crisis at a time? I care about what is going on in Lebanon but not to the exclusion of everything else in the world. As it is, I believe more people have died in Iraq in the last ten days than in Lebanon and Israel together. Has Iraq gotten boring because its drug on for so long while Israel and Lebanon offer fresh, exciting carnage?

Meanwhile, our government seemed to be, once again, Katrina-ishly, a day late and a dollar short in evacuating our refugees from Lebanon. And Condi sort of ambles her way toward a diplomatic meeting to discuss intervention in this latest middle-east conflict, saying, "I could shuttle off but what would I be shuttling for?" Well, I'm not sure but I think knowing that is why we pay her the big bucks.

Grover Norquist, one of the gurus of modern neo-con Republicanism once said he wanted to shrink government to the size where it could be drowned in the bathtub. The fact is that people who hate government do a terrible job of governing and that's what we're seeing today in Washington. Maybe I'm prejudiced because I've been a government worker for many years. If there was no government, there would be no cops, no firemen, no snow plowing, no courts, no state or federal highways. If it wasn't for government, you'd get no unemployment check when you're laid off. Your food wouldn't be inspected; your lakes and rivers would still be polluted; there would be no rules for the safety of your workplace. If we'd "drowned" government long ago, there'd be no FDA to ensure that medicines we take have been tested for safety or no weather bulletins from NOAH telling us when a hurricane was coming. If we'd killed off government even longer ago, your elderly parents would not get their social security checks, children would still be working in the mills or mines for 12 hours a day, there would be no such thing as overtime pay.......

- One thing that happened here in the USA this week was the president casting his first veto -
against stem cell research. I am personally in favor of stem cell research because I simply don't equate embryonic stem cells with real live people but I can respect the feelings of those who believe they are imbued with human potential. But here is something that I would like to have explained. If you truly believe that stem cells are humans, how can you possibly be in favor of in vitro fertilization? In vitro fertilization is the reason there are so many stem cells to debate about. As currently practiced, many more cells are harvested than will likely be needed. They are like tiny little insurance policies to ensure that a pregnancy will result. A very few have been "adopted" but most will simply be discarded at some point. I don't understand why the moralists believe that is a preferable option to using them for research. But I've heard none of the politicians who pontificate about the immorality of stem cell research also arguing to outlaw in vitro fertilization.

If it is wrong to use stem cells for research as George Bush argues, then it seems as if it has to also be wrong to over-produce them in the first place. And if objections to stem cell research are based on religious grounds, then shouldn't women who can't get pregnant have to put their faith in God and perhaps, only create, say, two stem cells and then resign themselves to the outcome in the belief that they will get pregnant if it is God's will? It seems to me that the anti-stem cell research folks have to pick a side and stick with it. Instead, they are trying to have it both ways. That's called hypocricy.

- The president used one of his recent radio addresses to trumpet the news that our budget deficit will only be $299 billion instead of the $329 billion they'd originally predicted. Wow, I'm impressed. Meanwhile, we've spent half a trillion dollars on Iraq.... with no end in sight....of either money or bloodshed.

- In other political news, Dan Quayle stalked out of a John Mellencamp concert in a huff because Mellencamp made a disparaging remark about George Bush. Charles Barkley sided with John saying, "I used to be a Republican until they all lost their minds." Two Hoosier icons - John Mellencamp and Dan Quayle - choose up sides.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Stay Safe

Jason will be leaving for Iraq in two days so we all convened at his house on Saturday night for an informal going away party to wish him well. It was a kind of celebration, although bittersweet considering the occasion, of friendship and old times and good times. While we offered him prayers and good will and crossed fingers in his new incarnation as soldier, he offered us fireworks.
Turns out that Jason is a fireworks buff. His fireworks spectacular was as outstanding as those offered by any of the communities in Wabash County - brilliant bursts of color covering the night sky, punctuated by booms and whistles. Brilliant streaks of blinding white corkscrewing into the air to turn into waterfalls of gold. Colors cascading into one another - red turning to green turning to purple turning to blue, one after another.
And, of course, with Jason we got fireworks lessons along with the show. He knew the name of each firework and its producer. Usually, Jason himself is the lighter of the fuses but because this was his party and he would be indulging in a little Gray Goose, Tammy insisted that someone else, alcohol-free, do the honors this year. But Jason had set them up on the trailer earlier in the day. He knew precisely the order he wanted them to explode. He gave us the names as they went off, most of which I don't remember - Willows and Quadbusters and Get Big or Go Home. He informed us that in grading fireworks, you look for height and skirt (which is the volume of sky covered by the color of the firework). This year, he had included one new firework, the 202, which all of us declared the best one of all, as it shot off in rapid-fire rainbow hues from left to right and back again.
It went on for over an hour, these multi-color explosions over the skies of Lagro. When it was over, we all agreed that the 202 should be the show-stopper next year. Next year, when our friend is home safe - a real cause for a celebration.

Warning Number 7!

I'm in the habit of ignoring directions. Usually, if I buy a new product, I'd rather root around, pressing buttons and setting dials at random to see what happens, than to read the actual instructions. If it is a big-ticket item that comes with a fat manual (fat, of course, because it is written in English, Spanish, French, Hungarian Laotian and Latin), I place that manual in a special folder I have in my file cabinet. But if the instructions come in the form of a flimsy little pamphlet or simply, a fold-out of paper, I normally pitch it in the trash along with the warranty and the return receipt. As a consequence, when the electricity goes off, I end up desperately pushing buttons in an effort to find the right sequence to re-set the date and time on the new phone. It is because of this that the telephone on the kitchen wall currently tells me in its robotic little voice - "February 12, 2005 - 3:17 a.m. - you have one (1) new message and two (2) old messages."
It is because of this penchant of mine to assume that I know more about my new calculator than the engineers at Texas Instruments that caused me, when I bought a new curling iron, to saw through the hard plastic bubble (a substance so strong, that if they made our vehicles out of it, insurance companies would have to halve our rates) that protected it, extracting the appliance and throwing everything else away. And, in fact, this curling iron (1" barrel) seemed to work pretty much on the same principle as the other two curling irons I own (3/4" barrel and 1/2" barrel).
Then Louise came over. I had bought her the exact same curling iron at the same time I bought mine. Unlike me, she actually read the Instruction and Styling Guide that Conair had so thoughtfully provided, along with a handy little diagram labeled: Getting to Know Your Curling Iron. I don't know about you, but I don't really have the time to embark upon a long-term, committed relationship with a curling iron, although I really was rather surprised to learn that my new appliance has 25 temperature settings. I can't even imagine how into doing your hair you'd have to be to ponder which of 25 settings was the correct one. I have always found that the basic "High" and "Low" work well enough for my needs.
But what Louise mostly wanted to inform me of was the WARNING section of the pamphlet. There are 14 of these warnings about how to prevent the risk of "burns, electrocution, fire or injury to persons". Louise drew my attention particularly to Number 7 which states in no uncertain terms, "never use while sleeping!"
Never use while sleeping??? Darn, now I'm going to have to start getting up an extra half an hour early every morning in order to curl my hair while I'm awake!
Seriously, can you even conceive of the discussion among the Conair people when they decided to include Warning Number 7 in their instruction paper? What even brought this subject up? Have they discovered that this is a common problem with Conair users - curling while sleeping? Are there women across the country right now who keep their curling irons on their bedside tables, plugged in and ready to go, so curls can be produced before the alarm goes off in the morning? Is it sleepwalkers who are engaging in this dangerous practice, but if so, what good will the warning do. Sleepwalkers aren't conscious of what they are doing, are they? Have they been sued by someone who claimed to have gotten burned while curling her hair in her sleep?
I'd like to think that at least one Conair representative presented the argument that Warning Number 7 was an insult to their customers but if so, they were overruled by the "better safe than sorry" gang.
So, if you, like me, are the kind of person who doesn't pay much attention to instructions, you've hereby been warned - "Never use your curling iron while asleep!" And you might not want to stick it down into your coffee to warm it up either.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

View of Two

The latest NutriSystems Weight Loss ad features an ecstatic woman who lost 30 pounds with NutriSystems and is down to a SIZE TWO! Size Two??? I didn't even realize they made a size two. Of course, when I'm out clothes shopping, I pretty much only have to go down the size rack as far as the 16s, so maybe I just stopped too soon. I'm truly curious. Does anyone out there wear a size two? If so, do you have a difficult time finding clothes that fit or is this size more common than I think?

If you wear a size two, and the answer isn't too personal, what do you weigh? I was trying to figure about how large this woman was before she lost her dreaded 30 pounds. I have friends, whom I've always considered extremely lucky to be naturally small (not realizing, of course, that they were practically obese in NutriSystems world). When I recall hearing them talk about buying clothes, I seem to remember the sizes they most often mentioned were 6 and 8, maybe even an occasional 4 depending on the brand name. But, I honestly, don't think I've ever heard anyone I know telling me they wear a size two.

So, I'm estimating roughly that a size two person would have to weigh under 100 pounds, let's say for the sake of discussion, 99 pounds. So that means she was a grossly fat 129 pounds prior to her glorious NutriSystems transformation. And what size does a 129 pound woman wear? A ten, maybe? Unfortunately, someone else has to answer this question because my memory doesn't go back far enough to remember what size I wore the last time I weighed in at 129 pounds. I do know one thing. I would joyful if I DID weigh 129 pounds! It would never occur to me that I needed to join a weight loss program. In fact, if I got down to 129 pounds, I would probably make an appointment with the doctor on the grounds that I must be afflicted with some dreadful wasting disease.

But, the NutriSystems woman was obviously nearly to the point of being suicidal with her 30 extra pounds of blubber. She tells us that NutriSystems helped her get her sense of self esteem back and feel good about her body again, and further, that her husband felt like "he got his wife back". So, it is clear that, although he courageously supported her during her however-long-of-a-time she was a porker, he no longer found her desirable. Her marriage was very likely heading for divorce court had she not joined NutriSystems in the nick of time.

You know, the thing is - I don't give a damn about the NutriSystems' view of what women should weigh. They want to sell their product and they don't care how deceitful or slimy their ad campaign is if it helps them accomplish their goal. What I do care about is what kind of message NutriSystems sends to America's daughters when they see this ad encouraging them to believe that they should strive to wear a size 2 in order to be attractive and sexy. We already know that in our society extreme thinness is in to the point that even girls as young as six are conscious of their body images, with most of them believing they are too fat. We know that the diet business is a mega-billion dollar industry. We know that lots of women willingly go under the knife in invasive procedures such as liposuction. We know that we have a serious problem with eating disorders as young women try to live up to the ideal of emaciation as illustrated by models like Kate Moss. And, we flat-out know that for the average female, a size two is an aberration, one that very few can achieve, NutriSystems or no NutriSystems, - which leaves the size 8 girls and the size 10 girls and the size 12 girls and God forbid, the size 14 girls feeling that they are ugly and unnatural.

NutriSystems is only playing into a hurtful attitude that has been prevalent in this country for a generation - but they've upped the ante to a whole new level.