Sunday, April 23, 2017

From Greenie to Snowflake

Last month, I bought a new bike.

This might not sound like a life-altering purchase, right up there along with buying a house or even a new car, but I've actually been in the market for a new bike since before I even started shopping for a new house (that was in early 2015), and in many ways, it has been an even tougher decision! I wanted to make sure that when I bought a bike, everything about it would be perfect. Which meant, of course, that I simply never bought a bike at all.

What finally spurred me to move from bike shopping to bike buying? Plain old-fashioned desperation. My old bike, Greenie, had been around the block a few (hundred) times, and he was really starting to show his age. At some point a few years ago, I tried to replace the front shifter cable, failed at that, and finally removed the front derailer entirely. Ever since then, my chain has been prone to falling off when I go over bumps. Pretty much everything else on the bike was equally out of tune. My problem downshifting into fifth gear hadn't improved in the 4 years since I first noticed it; the brake pads were on their last legs; and, the last straw in a cavalcade of minor annoyances, the pedal makes a scraping noise whenever it turns. It had progressed beyond my ability to fix it (make it worse) myself, but it didn't seem worthwhile to take it into a shop to be goaded into some temporary semblance of repair.

It was time for an upgrade! For real this time! A little before Christmas, I took the plunge and ordered myself a bike on Amazon. My boyfriend's Christmas present to me was professional assembly by our local bike shop. A few days after Christmas, we picked it up at the shop to was the wrong size! I had ordered a small and somehow ended up with a fully assembled (at the cost of almost as much as the bike itself) extra large!

With disappointment, a bit of shame (why had I not checked the box to verify I'd received the right size!?), and a certain amount of trepidation (would they accept my extremely costly-to-ship return in the not-original packaging?), I sent the bike back (they refunded me) and spent a few months wallowing in uncertainty. By this time, the fantastic deal I'd received on the first bike was unavailable, and I was beginning to have my doubts about whether I'd have liked that bike even if it had been the correct size.

Returning to the drawing board, I revised my expectations a little. I knew it wasn't very likely that I would find the bike of my dreams on the first try, especially since I was switching to a completely different breed of cycle—a road-leaning hybrid style after a lifetime of riding a mountain bike! So on my second round of serious bike shopping, my top priority was price. I would make some compromises, get a bike that would under no circumstances cost more than 400 dollars, I would find out what I liked and disliked about it, and then the next time I was in the market for a bike, I would know better what to look for.

Since I hadn't been so keen on the first bike I'd ordered online, I decided to give a local bike shop a chance to sway me. I tried a couple of mid-range hybrid bikes, at a significantly higher price than the ones I'd been looking at online. Both of them rode so much more smoothly than Old Greenie, I was almost convinced I could love them...except they were black. I hate to say that the single strongest factor deterring me from the purchase of these otherwise good bikes was their uninspiring color. But I I hop on my bike at least 12 times a week and spend 3+ hours weekly riding it. If I couldn't feel even the tiniest spark of enthusiasm when I look at it, I just couldn't commit to buying it!

A few days later, I finally found the perfect "starter bike" on the Performance Bicycles website. It wasn't black. It wasn't a beautiful shade of aqua like my second-choice model either, but it was also cheaper by almost a hundred dollars, so I decided that white was a good, affordable compromise. I was sold when I learned that it would come with free assembly and lifetime adjustments by Performance!

So finally I found myself in possession of my new bike! As I always do when I receive a new shiny thing, I waited a few weeks to give it a name, to see what really suited it. The name that kept coming back to me was Snowflake.

No, it may not be the most creative name out there, but I think it embodies the spirit of freedom and ease that I'm trying to achieve with my newer, faster, lighter wheels. My old bike (Greenie) had been named after its color, so it seemed it appropriate to keep the tradition alive. I'll probably never ride this bike in the snow, so its name adds just a touch of subtle irony as well.

I wanted to introduce you, my loyal readers, to this bike now, because, with the change in my lifestyle that comes from changing my bike-style, I'm sure I'll have a lot of stories in the future about how I'm adjusting to my new ride.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Don't It Yourself

I once said that every guy I ever dated, no matter how briefly, came into my life for a reason.

One guy, who I only ever met online (but with whom I had a short and very fiery online relationship full of drama), said on his dating profile that his talent was "Fixing things, rigging things to make them work."

Was it that throwaway line on okCupid that set me on my current trajectory – instilled in me my  philosophy of DIY-til-you-die? (Or was it the plethora of "life hacks" I keep stumbling upon on the internet?) I can no longer remember, but I can be certain that it had an impact on me. Before that, it had never occurred to me that being able to cobble something together was something to take pride in. But now, it's part of my unshakable M.O.

I have more love for my home improvement projects that end up like a Frankenstein's Mashup of glue, scavenged parts, and a smattering of mismatched screws, than I ever would for a beautiful brand-new, store-bought version of the same thing.

But there comes a time when every do-it-yourselfer must draw the line. And for me, that time came when I needed to install a handrail for my basement stairs.

The basement staircase was one of the many "special" qualities of my house when I moved in—it had no handrail whatsoever. That was not a problem for me, young and nimble and indescribably graceful at all times, but it became an issue when I wanted to begin renting out the basement bedroom. Suddenly the primary user of the basement staircase wouldn't be me with a load of laundry in my agile and capable hands, but a paying guest. Who would no doubt be happy to sue me for any slip or fall. I don't have much of a defense in a lawsuit when my staircase lacks a basic safety feature such as a railing.

But I wasn't worried! As an avid DIY-er, I was ready to take on the challenge. Fortunately, the stairs had come with a just wasn't installed. I found it in the storage cubby under the stairs! All I needed was a few screws, and my staircase would be ready for business!

Cut to 5 months later. The railing has still not been installed. Turns out the hardware that came with the railing was bent and needed replacement, and it took me this long to get motivated and find suitable parts (I got them from Community Forklift for 99¢ each, of course!)

Cut to 4 months after that. The railing has still not been installed. Turns out my basement drywall is just as "special" as the rest of the house, and has no studs upon which to anchor a handrail. But that hasn't stopped me from trying. Now my drywall is pocked with screw holes of varying sizes, and a couple of places where whole chunks are missing, thanks to my inability to master the art of drywall anchors.

I had literally been failing to install my handrail for 9 months, before I finally reached the line of Don't-It-Yourself. I brought in the professional contracting big guns (which was of course a struggle in itself, between the lack of call-backs, the no-shows, and the refusals to provide an estimate). But once they arrived, my handrail was up and stable in less than 30 minutes. And in the two hours that they were there, they also replaced my non-functioning gas oven with a new one (one which I'd picked up for free from a Craigslister, of course!), and installed a new bathroom fan in my basement.

Those tasks would have taken me, on my own, days, weeks, or even months, which would have undoubtedly been filled with many frustrated tears, and possibly a blown-up house!

So no, I'm not ashamed that this time I decided to let the pros handle it. In fact, I just might be changing my tune. Next time I'm faced with a home improvement, no matter how DIY-able it might seem, I may just treat myself to a professional job.

Monday, April 3, 2017

All washed up: The never-ending search for hygienic hair

Warning! This is a long post...but if you read all the way to the end of it, you might hear an encouraging message and get some takeaway tips for managing your hair!

I'm no stranger to experimentation with my hair—short, long, blond, streaked, blue, black, self-cut, every kind of curler—I've tried it all, and you've seen it all. Well, almost all.

What you don't see are the continual behind-the-scenes experiments that I've been running for years, regarding the less glamorous aspects of hair care—mostly, how to keep it clean.

Up until around 2013, I'd had a pretty simple hair routine: I washed my hair every day with whatever 3-dollar bottle of Suave I'd most recently bought at Target. I didn't even use conditioner.

I'd long ago come to the conclusion that if I didn't wash my hair every day, it would become streaked with oil, stiff, and stringy looking, within a few hours of that magical nightly cutoff point. They say that blond hair, straight hair, and fine hair are all more predisposed to be oily, so I got the triple whammy.

I was fine with my daily washing schedule, until I read something telling me that shampoo is bad. Well, not unequivocally bad, but definitely not your hair's best friend. Shampooing, you see, dries out your scalp, causing it to freak out (in scientific terms) and produce more oil in a desperate attempt to balance out the dryness. Unsurprisingly, the result is even more oily-looking hair than before! A vicious cycle!

The solution, I read in some natural beauty blog, was the "No-'poo" method. It was a silly name, but it promised to return your hair to its perfectly balanced, healthy, pre-shampoo state, by basically not washing it. If necessary, you were supposed to "gently" clean your tresses with "natural" baking soda—and no harsh surfactants! 

I followed the dictates of the No-'Pooers for several months, leaving my hair unwashed and only using a baking-soda-water mixture to get it clean. The baking soda was not enough to really get rid of the grease, so I still had to shampoo every several days (they said that was an OK compromise for the initial stages when your hair was getting used to its new routine). But it never really did get used to its new routine. During this time, my photos all reveal me in a seemingly permanent style of overly long, limp, grease-soaked bangs. 

Bangs plastered to my forehead, as per my Summer 2014 usual.
I eventually gave up on no-'poo; I can no longer remember whether it was before or after I read that baking soda is just as drying as shampoo, not to mention it wreaks havoc on your scalp's natural pH any case, learning that was enough to dispel any sense of guilt I had at my shampoo-a-day habit.

Well, maybe not completely any sense of guilt. Everywhere I turned, I was still reading articles telling me to cut down on my shampooing.

From these articles, I gleaned that it's a measure of success among stylish women, how long one can go without washing one's hair. Once a week seems to be the golden standard to which we all must aspire, while oil fountains like me, who start to look like wet dogs in under 24 hours, are doing something wrong. (Women's media: promoting unattainable standards since the 1600's!)

From this new crop of self-hatred beauty resources, I learned about dry shampoo. At first, I thought it sounded fake—how can you really wash your hair without liquids? As it turns out, dry shampoo doesn't really "wash" your hair—it just absorbs the oil so it looks cleaner. It's basically like a spray-on version of the baby powder I'd long been using for emergency bangs-refreshing, but easier to use and less static-causing.

So my new routine became thus: Wash my hair every two days; then spruce it up on the second day with a hearty misting of dry shampoo, thereby saving my locks from a daily encounter with the dreaded real shampoo.

It was a system that was working for me—making me feel virtuously balanced between cleanliness and earthiness—until some other publication had to go and ruin it by reminding me that caking my hair in a desiccating powder every two days wasn't really doing it any favors. As I read it, I had to concede that, just as diatomaceous earth kills insects by absorbing all their moisture, dry shampoo is probably killing my hair, little by little, by stripping it of moisture in the same way shampoo does.

So at this point (it's only taken me 4 years to reach this conclusion), I realized I was in a catch-22. The same catch-22 I was in 4 years earlier, but with fewer options left to try. Either wash my hair every day, making it look nice and clean and shiny, or don't—replacing the shampoo with some other product which is probably worse for my hair in the long run.

Framed like that, it seems pretty obvious that I should just give up on the "alternative" beauty methods and stick with the shampoo that has been working for me all my life.

But the problem is, I don't know when to quit.

So I decided to try an extreme measure. The next time I was on vacation and didn't need to go to work for a few days, I would completely stop washing my hair. Free from the constraints of looking office-appropriate, I could cover it with a hat or scarf if it then started to look hideous. That time came just a few weeks ago, when I was on spring break and had 5 straight days off work. I washed my hair on a Friday evening, and then didn't wash it again until Wednesday afternoon.

By the second day, it was looking its usual oily self, but I persisted. Surprisingly, as the days went on, it didn't look appreciably worse (I guess a certain degree of greasiness is indistinguishable from any other). It never got so bad that I needed to cover it with a hat or scarf...and I actually got to experience the surprise benefit of increased stylability! That is, if I brushed my bangs to the side, they would stay there instead of immediately flopping right back into my eyes. I was beginning to see the upside of having greasy hair.

Since being unwashed didn't look nearly as bad as I'd been expecting, I've continued the experiment, going as long as I possibly can without washing my hair. Since March 17, I've washed my hair exactly 4 times (4 times in 18 days! That's 1.5 times a week! I'm basically a glamour girl now!). I've made some concessions, putting baby powder in it when I needed to look presentable for a photo or an important night out, but basically I'm rocking the hippie hair like I was born for it!

When I do wash it, I try to only wash my strands and avoid rubbing shampoo into my scalp. I figure if oil overproduction is really caused by distressing my scalp, then the solution is to just make sure my scalp is happy—I can do whatever I want to my hair and my scalp won't know about it! Eventually I might reach a point where my scalp thinks it never gets washed, and then maybe I will finally be the beautiful, fluffy-haired princess I always wanted to be!

Maybe. As with any good experiment, more research is needed. Consider this post my preliminary findings, with more data to be released at the end of April.

This is my head, 4 full days after a my last hair-wash, plus a baby-powder
bangs-refresh two days ago. Pretty, right?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dog Life

I never approved; I tried to resist; but somehow, despite all my efforts, I ended up living in a house full of dogs. By "full," I mean there are two of them, but that's plenty when they generate enough unwanted byproducts (fur, pee, poop, noise) to belong to a whole canine army.

Though I task my boyfriend with the responsibility of keeping said byproducts under some semblance of control, it's not enough. Not too long ago, it suddenly occurred to me the extent to which I've had to rearrange my entire existence around these two stupid dogs.

The moment I realized I was living the dog life was when I walked out of the thrift store carrying two coats I had selected specifically for their ability to disguise the pale hairs of my two sheddy (Neologism by Valerie! Meaning: characterized by shedding a lot of hair) pets. When you buy your clothes to match your dogs, that's when you know you're committed.

One coat was a yellow and white houndstooth, which, while a very apropos pattern, I probably would have bought even if I didn't have dogs, because it's not often you run across such a sunny winter coat. The other one, however, is purely for the pups. It features a small chevron pattern alternating between dark grey and light tan, for an overall effect, from the distance, of being a brindled grey.

The chevrons work a miracle, though, because the light bands disguise white and tan hairs, and the dark ones hide black hairs (on the occasions when I travel with a friend who has a black dog). I call it my "fur coat" because it's so good at hiding the fur that constantly covers it.
Compare my old dress coat (a lovely black wool) with my new one up close, and you'll see the difference a camouflage color can make.

The brindled one is just as covered with hairs as the black one (you can see one dangling off the sleeve if you look closely) but you would never know it until you take a lint roller to it. 

The coats, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more examples of how the dogs have totally taken over my life.

As I once complained shortly after the first unwanted dog entered my life, he likes to eat the trash. As soon as he's alone in the house, he shuns his dog food in favor of finding some juicy tidbit in the garbage can. Previously, we would put the trash up on a counter or chair so he couldn't reach them when we were not home (nothing like displaying your trash up on a pedestal for all to see), but now I've invented a better solution. 

The trash can now goes inside a microwave cart, which is just tall enough to house it, but not tall enough to allow it room to be tipped over. This doesn't protect the shorter recycling bin, however, so the search continues.

Exhibit B: the rug where Bubalou loves to poop, decorated with the ever-present bottle of vinegar spray that we use to clean up dog messes. I put the spray bottle on top of the rug to remind me that it's still wet so I don't step on it. This occurs pretty much every other day, so the vinegar bottle is basically part of the decor. Word to the wise: if you ever come to visit my house, don't lie down on this rug, no matter how tired you might be.

Speaking of spray bottles, one bottle is never enough in a house full of dogs. A similar bottle of water is always close by, ready to be deployed on any dog who has emitted one too many earsplitting yaps. My boyfriend is singularly unhelpful on this front—despite being the dog janitor, he does absolutely nothing to curb their annoying noises. His idea of discipline is to chuckle and tell them "Look, you made mommy mad" when I finally bring the spray bottle into action. Guess who's the "mean mom" in our family.

With a great number of dog supplies comes a great need for storage. Our dogs have earned a whole cabinet all to themselves, wherein we keep the leashes, the collars, the brushes, the medicines, the two kinds of food, the rags and the dog towels and all the spray bottles that are necessary for keeping two dogs happy, healthy, and well fed, while simultaneously keeping the house that they live in something resembling clean. Below, you see my large former pie safe, now dedicated to dog storage.
Oh, and that huge pink box next to it? That's the latest batch of diaper liners for Bubalou, which we must somehow stuff in the cabinet along with all the other detritus.

One of the nicest features of my house is the bay window. When I first got the house, I anticipated filling it up with a treasure trove of knick-knacks and a veritable jungle of houseplants. The only problem was, the dogs love it as much as I do. Every chance they get, they are leaping into the window, where they wreak all kinds of havoc, knocking over all the knick-knacks in their eagerness to demonstrate their earsplitting-yapping ability to every casual passer-by. In January, when my jungle of houseplants had all but died from the cold, I covered the window with an insulating plastic sheet, and was quite proud of my work, until the dogs decided to tear it to ribbons in their futile efforts to scratch their way into the hearts of the aforementioned passers-by.

All that remains of my once beautiful window covering.
I had to wage a border war. On a trip to Community Forklift, I chanced to find a collection of metal grates (for 5 dollars!) that happened to be the perfect size to cover the opening of the bay window. I have no idea what the grates were for originally, but now they are a fence. Yes, I have what amounts to bars on my window—not to deter burglars, just to deter my own stupid dogs.

One of the dog battles that I finally won – at great cost to myself – was the battle of the couch cushions. For some reason, the dogs could never content themselves with sitting on the seat of the couch. Oh, no, they had to scramble up to the back and sit on the back cushions until they were squished and deformed into hideous blobs with dog-sized indentations. For a while there, my entire vocabulary seemed to consist of "Jack! Get off the back of the couch!" until finally one day, I simply removed the back cushions entirely.

I left one cushion turned sideways for old-times' sake.
The dogs can sit on that one all they want, cause it's certainly
not comfortable that way for anyone else!
Now, the only things on the couch are slipcovers (to keep the dog fur and drool stains at bay), a blanket (to cover the one spot where the slipcovers don't reach) a couple of pillows (with pictures of the dogs on them naturally), whatever squeaky toy they saw fit to bring up there with them today, and, of course, the dogs themselves.

To get the couch actually in a state fit for human use is such an ordeal that, well, it's just  a dog couch now.
As if the dog couch wasn't enough, each dog gets his own personal (dogal?) bed.

The dog beds take up all of the floor space next to our human bed...for absolutely no reason, because when we go to sleep, this is how it looks.

Notice that's a dog butt where my body should be, and another one where my head should be. If that doesn't prove I've let dogs take over my life, I don't know what does!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Musings on Midnight Mayhem

Not too long ago, I was reading a story. A very masterfully written and gripping story, by a very talented someone who just might read this blog once in a while.

In this story, I encountered the following line: "I screamed at the top of my lungs. My neighbors' lights went on immediately afterward and I ran back inside."
It got me thinking. This is a classic scene in lots of books, movies, TV shows, and other works of fiction. Loud noise from somewhere outside a residential area, followed by lights turning on everywhere (assuming the action occurs at night). But does it happen in real life?

Let's set up the scenario. You're resting in bed in your house (if you don't live in a house, you'll have to use your imagination). It's a little after bedtime, but you're not really asleep yet. You're just settling in when you hear loud banging and yelling coming from the direction of the neighbors. What do you do?

I know what I would do. I would crawl out of my bed, creep to the window (or door or whatever portal was required to give me a line of sight into my neighbor's territory) and try to see what was going on without being observed myself. If the disturbance was coming from a place I couldn't see, I'd put my ear to the wall or floor and be quiet, hoping I could hear some information. That would be my first instinct, which I would act on without engaging in very much thought.

This is not what happens in stories, and movies, and TV shows, and pretty much any work of fiction I've ever encountered. In these kinds of made-up scenarios, the first thing that happens when someone creates a ruckus at night, is the neighbors all start turning on their lights.

Is this really what people do when their environment is disturbed? Light up giant glowing beacons and make huge targets of themselves?

I'm not saying, of course, that every neighborhood disturbance is a dangerous situation that requires stealth and self-protection strategies, but I am saying that anyone with a lick of sense would probably want to exercise a bit of discretion and not immediately reveal their position (or their nosiness) before even knowing what was going on. 

What do you think, friends and readers? Am I the odd one out here, or is this just a classic case of "Everyone in the world of fiction has to be stupid, or how else would we have horror films?"

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Adventures in Cooking: Peanut Butter Bars

This recipe is ideal for when you've been craving good chocolate chip cookies for like 3 weeks straight, but whenever you go to MOM's, they are out of your favorite brand, so on your third visit, you finally settle for the other brand, which is so awful you decide to swear off reviewing Giant Cookies because you just can't take the disappointment any more, and when you try to go to Safeway to get some of their delicious chocolate chip cookies which are even better than their chocolate candy cookies, they are so overcooked you leave without buying them, so finally after days of being too busy to buy or make cookies, you are finally on your last nerve and you vow to make some cookies of your own. Yeah, this recipe is perfect for that.


1 ¾ c. flour
1 ¼ c. packed brown sugar
¾ c. peanut butter
½ c. butter, softened
3 Tbsp. milk
1 egg
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
¾ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 c. chocolate chips


Mix ingredients together.

Wow, this recipe is so simple—let's make it a bit more complicated.
  1. Start midway down the list, with the peanut butter, then work on the butter.
  2. It would be wasteful to get out a whole new bowl just to soften the butter, so just cut the stick in half and microwave it in the lid of your peanut butter jar, which you have used up anyway.

    Nothing can go wrong with that!

    Nope, nothing went wrong with that!
  3. Scrape the thoroughly melted butter into the bowl.
  4. You don't have milk, so use 3 Tbsp. egg nog.
  5. Move back up to the top of the list and add the flour.
  6. Make sure that your brown sugar has completely solidified since the last time you used it (how did that happen?) and somehow manage to scrape the approximation of a cup and a fourth into some measuring cups.
  7. Boy, this dough is sure dryer than you remember it being! Add a splash of water to make it easier to mix. Then remember you haven't added the egg yet, which would contribute the missing amount of liquid.
  8. You don't have an egg, so use vegan egg substitute.
  9. Don't bother measuring out the vanilla, just estimate with your eyeballs...but be sure to accidentally estimate a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon!
  10. Also estimate the salt and baking soda. Baking—despite the drivel they try to sell you about chemical reactions and all that nonsense, it's not an exact science!
  11. Now the dough is too soft, so balance out that added water with a light dusting of flour.
  12. Toss in a few handfuls of chocolate chips.
Tada! That was easy. Hardly an Adventure in Cooking at all!

Pour batter into a greased 9x13" baking pan.

Bake at 375° for around 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. But you don't have a toothpick either, so just guess you'll need 5 more minutes, then remove the pan when the top is slightly browner than you would like it.

Let cool, then put in refrigerator. For some reason this type of cookie has a much nicer texture when kept cold. Eat it, and wish you'd taken it out of the oven after the original 20 minutes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

...But there is a great big ARRRRRRR!

"No news is good news," they say, but whoever does say that probably isn't freezing their buns off waiting to find out when their furnace is going to be fixed. I, however, am.

On Friday, when I hadn't heard anything from the warranty company regarding my claim for my pooped-out furnace, I called them. At 4:00 in the afternoon, I finally got the news: despite having had a whole day to do it, my furnace technician had not yet contacted my warranty company with a status report, and without a report, my warranty company could not move forward with authorizing the repair. This news was assuredly not good. Perhaps "no news" would have actually been better, as in that case, my ignorance could have possibly been bliss. Now I'm not feeling bliss so much as a seething rage.

At that time, I was told by the HMS representative that I might have to wait up to 48 hours for any kind of response. At 54 hours, I called again, and was given the heartening news that the report still had not been filed, and they would call me as soon as they had an update. Meanwhile the temperature outside was 32 degrees. For something that qualified as an "emergency" 3 days before, it certainly seemed to be of no importance to anyone now.

Finally, Monday morning, I was notified that my claim had gone to their "research department," to determine whether my policy would cover the replacement. When asked how long that would take, the representative guessed it would probably be about one business day.

Well, thanks, HMS! I may not have any heat, but by now, I could probably construct a cozy snowsuit out of red tape.

How does someone function under conditions like these? Well, let me tell you!

Something that I learned from the technician's visit was that if your furnace is overheating, it might not be enough to just turn it off and back on again (the first trick that every IT professional turns to when trying to solve a problem). The rollout switch (the thing responsible for turning off the burners when it overheats) needs to be reset by hand, and can't be accessed without taking the front plate off the unit. The tech showed me the flames "rolling out" (how the switch gets its name) as well as how to reach in underneath (when the burners are no longer lit, of course!) and reset the switch. 

As he was speaking, you could see his face change as he realized, "OMG, I'm just teaching this nice lady how to set her house on fire." As he kept talking, his advice changed from, "Here's how to do it," to "You should probably only do this when you can be downstairs to keep an eye on it, " to "You really shouldn't do this at all."

But it was too late! I did it! I'm not going to let a little fire hazard stand between me and being warm!

So, since the tech's visit, I began visiting my furnace every time it crapped out, to reset the rollout switch and give my geriatric piece of HVAC equipment another chance at life. When the tech came, the furnace only would run for 10-15 minutes before overheating, so as you can imagine, it never got very warm in the house, and I was required to be constantly on the alert for cold-air-blowing (as well as, I guess, fires). It wasn't long, though, before I learned a trick to make this process more efficient.

When I began writing my last blog post and started looking online for the names of furnace parts so I could accurately describe what was going on, I ran across this tidbit of advice: "Do not close off more than 20 percent of the registers in your house. This can cause high resistance and unnecessary heat build-up in the furnace." Well, shiver me timbers! As a rule, I have always closed almost all the registers in my house (the better to keep a tropical level of heat, but only in the rooms I spend the most time in). I decided to open a couple of the vents and see if this would enable the furnace to run longer.

It seemed to work! Friday evening, the furnace ran consistently right up until its scheduled shutoff time. Saturday morning, I had less luck—I had to reset the rollout switch one time, but after that, it was smooth sailing.

That is, until the carbon monoxide detector went off. I'll keep this part brief so as not to terrify those who value my life, but suffice it to say that no one was harmed by any toxic fumes. Since the carbon monoxide incident on Friday, I've been much more creative with my thermal maintenance.

My new strategy for keeping warm involves lots of strategic window-covering and uncovering (not particularly helpful on a gloomy day like today), 2 space heaters, a heat lamp, and liberal use of the oven.

This has kept the house a nice toasty 58 degrees (its lowest temp so far was 54, which is what the thermostat read when I got up this morning), and I hope it will do the job until my replacement furnace arrives on (fingers crossed!) Thursday.

I have to give HMS credit; while it took forever and a day for the HVAC people to send in the proper forms (or whatever mysterious behind-the-scenes things they do when submitting claims to HMS), it was only a matter of hours from the time my claim went to the research department, before I received another call to let me know my claim would be covered.

That's right, I'm getting a new furnace for free! Free plus 1,567 dollars in required upgrades and modifications.