August Doldrums: Dirty Air, Dryer Woes and a Cat Named Slinky

I have the August doldrums. Blah!

It is usually hot, dry and smoggy in San Jose throughout August. It’s been particularly bad this year with multiple wildfires burning up and down the state.

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

After five years of the drought, there is plenty of fuel feeding the wildfires. Millions of trees have died from drought-related conditions, providing even more fuel than usual. According to News Deeply

A bark beetle epidemic driven by drought is killing off millions of trees in the Sierra Nevada as California starts another summer plagued by drought and higher temperatures.

This is the driest time of year, with virtually no rain during the months of July, August and September.

The Soberanes fire started in July in Monterey County, not far from the lovely town of Carmel where we spent our get away weekend in March. It’s only 60% contained and fire crews don’t expect to have it out until September 30th!  Because San Jose is in a valley, the smoke gathers in the basin, with no wind or rain to carry it away. It adds to such a sense of gloom when the skies are a hazy gray. Even when you avoid the news, as I’m trying to do, it’s impossible not to see those hazy skies and realize what’s happening around us.

august smog

Believe it or not, there is a mountain range beyond the trees. You can just make it out.

valley fair view smog

View of the mountains from a nearby shopping center.

My dryer woes aren’t nearly as dramatic, but oh what a pain. We bought a new washer and dryer in late June and took deliver July 8th. They purred like the proverbial kitten and as with all new appliances, they use less water and less energy…when they work.

The first time I used the steam setting on the dryer it leaked water on the floor. Assuming it wasn’t properly connected, Mike contacted the appliance store who referred us to a certified repair shop. The first repair person said he needed a part (for a brand new dryer!) and would have to take the dryer to the shop because he didn’t have enough room to repair it in our home. I asked him to please leave the dryer till he received the part so that I could dry clothes on other settings. A week later, and before the part arrived, the dryer started making a loud banging noise, akin to putting a bowling ball on the fluff cycle. In addition to that awful noise it also smelled like stale smoke. Did I mention that the dryer was only a few weeks old?

A second crew came out on a Friday and took our dryer back to their shop. Meanwhile, laundry for four piled up. They promised to return it Monday, than Tuesday and by Wednesday we were mostly out of clean clothes and towels. I loaded up the dirty clothes, headed to the laundry mat, and spent three hours getting it done.

A third repair person returned and reinstalled the dryer on Thursday, turned it on and asked “does it always make that noise?”

Ah….no.

I explained that the “bowling-ball-on-the-fluff-cycle” noise was one of two reasons the dryer was in for repairs. He said he didn’t understand why they would take the machine back to the shop, but there was nothing to be done for it that day and off he went.

Are you still with me?

A fourth crew (an experienced repair tech and a tech-in-training came out and spent three more hours trying to repair the machine. They completely dismantled it, spreading out the parts in my narrow side yard, then left to buy “longer screws” assuring me that the manufacturer-installed screws were too short.

This made no sense to me, but I’m not an appliance technician. I gave them directions to the nearest Home Depot and off they went. Once they had it all put back together they insisted all was well and that the sound of the dryer was “normal”. I signed the repair order but with an asterisk and note saying that my signature did not mean it was “repaired to my satisfaction” only that it appeared to be working…for now.

Gosh it felt good to have my dryer back and in working condition.

For two loads, that is.

The appliance repair shop has now washed their hands of us and the manufacturer opened a claim. I’ve tried (twice) to email my request to the service protection plan, only to receive error messages. When I call they say “volume is high” and to please fill out the form on the web. Sigh

And then there is Slinky.

Slinky napping in the garden

Slinky napping in the garden

She is still hanging in there, but I’ve seen a recent decline. She saw our vet twice last week, which led to a diagnoses of a “very large hyperechoic cystic mass on her liver”. The better news is that it is NOT cancer, but a benign growth. She continues to eat, groom and purr, all good signs, but she’s lost more weight. She’s a tiny 5 pounds, about 2.5 kilos. She’s not in any pain and as long as she continues with a good quality of life, we are happy to have her with us. My heart is heavy when I see her tiny frame, but then she purrs in my face or crawls in my lap and I can see that for now she’s doing okay.

I know many of you live with cats or dogs, so you can relate to the angst.

Nothing magical or transformative will happen when I turn the page to September, but I still find myself craving the fresh start of a new month.

I’m grateful that Slinky is still with us. I appreciate Cal Fire crews and their tireless efforts fighting wildfires throughout the state. I’m grateful for the clean and well maintained laundry mat nearby. Having a washer and a dryer in my home is a luxury that I know others can’t afford. The same was true for me for many years and I try hard never to take it for granted.

cal fire collage

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the cooler days of autumn, clearer skies and the days we have left with Slinky.

How is the world treating you?

Of Possible Interest:

Topographical map of San Jose/Silicon Valley

CalFire official website

Fascinating article on prototype design for the Developing World Laundry System

Strange Little Weekend

air quality at dusk

Smoky gray skies at dusk

Local temperatures soared again this weekend, breaking into the triple digits. What made it surreal was the oppressive air. Though wildfires still burn up and down the west coast, the Bay Area has been relatively untouched, other than a few small and quickly contained grass fires. This weekend the skies were a murky grey with the smell of burning wood. We kept going outside hoping to locate the source. The acrid smell got worse at dusk, probably due to the heavier evening air.

According to KTVU, one of our local TV stations:

Fire departments across the Bay Area received numerous calls Saturday, from concerned residents about seeing and smelling heavy smoke in the area, officials said.
KTVU meteorologist Rosemary Orozco says it has to do with a shift in the weather pattern. She says the onshore breeze normally would blow the smoke towards the Oregon and Nevada borders.
But a change in the weekend weather pattern is blowing the smoke from the Gold Country down towards the Bay Area.

Leading up to the weekend, I couldn’t wait to get started on another sheet-mulching project. After nearly four months, we finally have our lawn replacement plans in hand. Yes!!!

To qualify for the lawn replacement rebate, I have to wait for San Jose Water Company’s final plant approval. They have strict instructions NOT to start planting without prior go-ahead and that could take up to six weeks. The rebate pays $2 a square foot so it pays to play by the rules. That said, I am so over our brown, crispy “lawn.”

landscape rebate application

Forms and more forms. Santa Clara County likes to keep it old school

I drove the list of plants, the application and other requisite forms to the water department. Knowing how slow government agencies are, I didn’t want to waste another day mailing the packet. I left with an official looking date-stamped slip of blue paper. Now we wait.

The better news is that they we’re allowed to remove the lawn while we wait. The preferred method is sheet mulching.  Since I already sheet mulched half the lawn last fall with great success, I was ready to get started.

sheet mulch fall 2014

I sheet mulched this area starting last October. It used to be lawn.

On Saturday morning, my back garden looked like this:

beginning sheet mulch august

Did a wild raccoon go crazy with an overturned garbage can?

Did the rats throw a party in the compost bin?

Nope. I made that mess. On purpose. But only because my Friday night self didn’t know about our Strange Little Weekend ahead. Excited to get started, I tossed cardboard, compost and compostable material on to the pile just before dark. By the time I was home from Pilates and haircuts the following day, temps were searing hot.

This week I’m practicing patience while I hide from the heat. I’m thanking the universe for the extra time indoors to catch up on (yawn) my boring (yawn) paperwork. This heat won’t last forever.

How was your weekend? Is your week off to a good start?

san jose weather

I have no right to snicker since I make mistakes all the time, but according to the paper, we can expect low “clodus” at the beach.